Diversity is a good thing; it helps make the world go 'round. That pretty much sums up this year's field of candidates for the coveted Sport Truck of the Year award. The field of contestants included entries from every truck manufacturer in America, and even a couple with headquarters outside the country. And judging from the quality of this year's candidates, it's a great time to be in the light-truck business.
Setting The Field
For those of you who are tuning in for the first time, the Sport Truck of the Year competition is open to any manufacturer whose product is new or radically improved for the coming model year. For '04, our test included a full field of players. Right off the top, some of the more notable are the all-new Ford F-150 and Nissan's first entry in the fullsize truck market, the Titan. Also new for '04 is Chevrolet's street-rod-inspired SSR and the heir apparent to the S-10, the Chevrolet Colorado. And then of course there is the long-awaited debut of the Viper-powered Dodge Ram, dubbed SRT-10. On the much-improved side of the coin is the Toyota Tundra, which is now available as a true four-door pickup. Notably absent from this year's field was the GMC version of the Colorado, called the Canyon, which would have brought the field to seven.
The Testing Process
Sport Truck magazine's Sport Truck of the Year testing is divided into two basic parts. The first is hard empirical data from a battery of track tests. The second is data derived from the real meat and potatoes of the test: behind-the-wheel driving impressions from our first-rate staff of testers. We put these trucks through every kind of driving situation imaginable, from day-to-day commuting and long freeways drives to miles on winding mountain roads to test handling and braking under real-world conditions. The idea is to get a feel over the course of two weeks what it's like to live with these trucks over the long haul.
This year's track testing was conducted at California Speedway in Fontana, California, with the help of John Hotchkis, a former race car driver and builder of high-performance suspension components. Hotchkis and his team conducted the 600-foot slalom course testing, while the Sport Truck staff motored the trucks through the 0-60 testing, down the quarter-mile, and through the 60-0 brake testing. We also conducted multiple stops to measure brake fade under extreme conditions. After a long day at the track, the trucks were washed and fueled and the real-world portions of the competition began.
Turn six truck fanatics loose with six brand-spankin'-new pickups on the freeways and roads of Southern California and you've organized chaos - just kidding. Despite what it looked like to unsuspecting motorists, our parade of pickups was on a mission. First stop: the Calico Ghost Town in the Mohave Desert for some photos. Part of the San Bernardino County Park system, Calico is a former mining town that's now more of a tourist stop than anything else. Its Old West setting was the perfect location for the lead photo in our annual Truck of the Year Shootout. The 100-mile drive also gave us a chance to test both the power and speed limits of the trucks, along with ride quality and how well the A/C performed in 100-degree heat. Our next destination on the Highway to Hell was up through the mountains north of Los Angeles to Lake Arrowhead.
During the extensive driving portion of the testing, all six testers got full rotations behind the wheel of each pickup. We learned the good, the bad, and the ugly on each. Some we liked, others we didn't, and a couple we liked a lot. Keep turning the pages to see how we ranked this year's crop of candidates and to find out what truck took home the gold.