Every year, we take the new crop of trucks and run 'em head to head in our Sport Truck of the Year competition. This annual rite of passage is open to any manufacturer whose product is new or radically improved for the coming model year. For '05, the field of new trucks engaged in our battle are all downsized, with the exception of the Dodge SRT-10 Quad Cab. Nissan's all-new Frontier, Toyota's all-new Tacoma, and Dodge's all-new Dakota are midsize pickups packed with lots of performance and serious convenience, style, and mobile-entertainment content.

To find the best of the best of the '05 light trucks, we divide our Sport Truck of the Year testing into two categories: hard empirical data from a battery of track tests and data derived from the real work of the test -- behind-the-wheel driving impressions from our hard-core staff of testers. It's a tough job and somebody's got to do it, so we put these trucks through every kind of driving situation we could dream up and fabricate, from day-to-day commuting and long freeway drives to miles on winding mountain roads to test-handling and -braking under real-world and worst-case conditions. That's the only way to get a feel over the course of two weeks what it's like to live with these trucks for the long haul.

This year, we reprised our track-testing session at California Speedway in Fontana, California, with the help of John Hotchkis and crew. Unfortunately, Hotchkis, a race-car driver and manufacturer of high-performance suspension components under the brand of Hotchkis Suspension, had a surfing accident the day before our test. Not to worry, though, as Gary Pinkely, John's backup hot-shoe, was available to slam our test trucks through the 600-foot slalom course with 100-foot cone spacing, through the 0-60 testing, down the quarter-mile, and through the 60-0 brake testing. And as we did last year, we also conducted multiple stops to measure brake fade under extreme conditions. After a long day at the track shooting Gary threading the cones, toasting brake pads, and boiling the hides, we washed and fueled the trucks and headed out to the real-world segment of the competition.

Our loop began at the March Air Force Base in Perris, California, in front of the Air Museum that's part of the base. From there, we drove through stop-and-go traffic and pulled serious grade as we climbed into the San Bernardino mountains near the 11,502-foot roof of SoCal, Mount San Gorgonio, on our way to Palm Springs. The 200-plus-mile loop, outbound and return, gave us a chance to test both the passing power and speed limits of the trucks as well as ride quality and A/C performance in the 100-degree (OK, it's a dry) heat of the Springs.

All of our test drivers spent plenty of time at the controls of each pickup. We found the weaknesses and strengths of each and scored accordingly. Each truck had something to offer, some more than others, but ultimately there can be only one Sport Truck of the Year. To find out which was the one, keep turning the pages.

Sport Truck of the Year Scoring
To determine the Sport Truck of the Year, we perform objective and subjective evaluations. In other words, some tests we can measure, for example, 0-60 mph, quarter-mile e.t., 60-0-mph braking, and speed through the 600-foot slalom course. Other tests are simply putting a value on an educated opinion of some aspect of the test truck, for example, styling, materials choice, powertrain integration, and refinement.

We organize our test results to judge the truck in three basic categories with 1,000 points possible: instrumented track testing; test-driver opinions on performance; and test-driver opinions on style and comfort. The maximum possible score for the instrumented track testing portion is 300 points, or 30 percent of the score. Tester opinions on performance also has a maximum value of 300 points, or 30 percent of the score. The third category of subjective judgments on style, ergonomics, and other conveniences carries a maximum score of 400 points, or 40 percent of the score. An example of a perfect score in the objective portion of the test would be a vehicle that had the quickest acceleration and shortest stopping distances, and was rated to tow the most weight. That would give it 300 points; 700 points are also up for grabs in the other two categories.

Weighting the scoring in this manner rewards powerful trucks that accelerate quickly, brake forcefully, handle well, and produce good ride quality. A vehicle that's mostly style and comfort with very little performance will score poorly with this test design.



'05 Dodge Dakota - Third Runner-Up
All-New Dakota Laramie Impresses With Sharp New Body Lines and Smooth SOHC V-8

Dodge's midsize Dakota rolls into '05 as an all-new machine with a new 4.7L SOHC V-8 and available six-speed manual, as well as sharp new body lines.

Our crew was split on the styling. One camp said, "Its aggressive front and rear styling as well as its crisp exterior styling give the truck an exciting street presence from any angle." While the other camp said they weren't enthusiastic about how the box flares were incorporated into the doors. Both camps agreed that the Dakota's new styling was extreme and would probably respond well to traditional custom techniques. In that regard, the Sport Truck magazine crew's instinct was spot-on, as you'll see when you spin the pages to the end of the article and check out a few custom concepts we had Kutting Edge Graphix do up. The Dakota's new shape absolutely jumped off the page. It's a shame we don't score the concept -- perhaps next year.

Dakota's new 4.7L Magnum engine gives Dodge's midsize an advantage, as it is the only V-8 offered within a midsize pickup. If you have towing to do and need or desire a midsize, Dakota's 7,150-pound towing capacity makes it worth a road test. The 4.7L replaces the 5.9L

V-8 Dodge last used in '03 Dakotas, to which we say, It's about time -- the 4.7L produces more horsepower and better fuel economy than the ancient 5.9L Magnum V-8 engine. Dodge is telling us a high-output version of the 4.7L is coming, but it wasn't available for our competition.

The engine in our tester was the standard 4.7L V-8 Magnum rated at 230 hp at 4,600 rpm and 290 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm backed by Dodge's 5-45RFE five-speed automatic transmission. The power team moved the Dakota ably enough, but it surprised us to find that at the end of the test session, the V-8 was the slowest of the bunch. On the plus side for the Dakota, even though we didn't measure the mileage, the new V-8 seemed a lot more economical than the 5.9L Dakota we've driven, and yet still had more power than its earlier performance cousin.

In the handling department, the new Dakota is competent in every way. Its tuning is more mainstream, so it didn't score well with our crew of performance-oriented testers because it had too much body lean, nose dive, and acceleration squat. However, we found nothing in the DNA of the truck that'd prohibit tuning for sport truck performance, and we suspect Hotchkis Performance is now calculating antisway bar diameters and spring and shock valve rates for the new Dakota.

The truck's interior seemed to hit a chord with our test crew. It was smartly styled and came with a tuned six-speaker sound system with a six-disc MP3 player as the source. So, as one tester remarked, "The tunes really filled the air throughout our test week." Another observed, "Like most Dodge trucks, the interior is spacious and provides good storage for a midsize truck." The instrument panel styling also got high marks in the scoring.

Overall, the Dakota was restyled well, and seemed to be a good choice for a combination commuter/light-work pickup. As a performance-oriented sport truck, however, the suspension tuning was overly soft but with adequate road feel. We'd also like to see more power from the new V-8. However, for custom-truck enthusiasts looking for a new shape to work with, the new Dakota may be the new cool kid on the block. We can see it with huge rims and low-profile tires stuffed in the overly exaggerated fenderwells.

Performance specs:
Acceleration 0-60: 8.53 sec
Quarter-mile elapsed time: 16.12 @ 83.82
Braking 60-0: 119.83 ft
Brake fade 60-0: 123.21 ft
600-ft slalom: 59.04 mph

Sport Truck of the Year Score:
Acceleration/towing: 262 of 300 possible
Ride and handling: 151 of 300 possible
Ergonomics/style/build quality: 219 of 400 possible
Total: 632.25 of 1,000 possible

Likes/Dislikes
Likes:
The new front end and sharp body lines
The 6-disc MP3 player and sound system
The Indiglo gauges and instrument lighting

Dislikes:
For a V-8, the acceleration was lacking
The rear seats could be more accommodating for a midsize pickup
Mushy-shifting transmission

Dodge brings a bigger, bolder, and tougher all-new Dakota to market in '05. The company claims it stands alone as the largest, most powerful, and most capable midsize pickup in the market, with its best-in-class torque, horsepower, and towing capacity. Dodge is also touting the new Dakota's fullsize pickup styling, feel, and power, with the only V-8 in its class.

Spec-wise, it looks like a contender. And while we weren't impressed with the stock appearance, after we got the concept art on a slammed and squirted Dakota, it turned out to be one of our favorite stock-to-stylin' transformations.

'05 Dodge Dakota
Base price:$24,339
Price as tested:approx. $26,000 (excluding shipping charge)
Vehicle type:1/2-ton midsize pickup
Construction:body on hydro-formed frame
Engine:next-generation 4.7L (287 cid) Magnum, SOHC, 16-valve SMPI V-8; cast-iron block, aluminum alloy heads; CR: 9.0:1
Horsepower:230 @ 4,600 rpm
Torque:295 @ 3,600 rpm
Fuel:87 octane unleaded
Transmission:5-45RFE, automatic, five-speed overdrive
Suspension:F: upper and lower A-arms, coil springs over gas-pressure shock absorbers, link-type stabilizer bar. R: live axle, multileaf two-stage longitudinal springs, staggered gas-pressure shock absorbers, link-type stabilizer bar
Steering:power rack-and-pinion; ratio: 17.4:1; lock to lock: 3.18
Wheel F/R:17x8-inch aluminum
Tire F/R:P235/50R17 low-profile radial; fullsize spare standard
Brakes:power, front disc/rear drum, four-wheel antilock brakes: front: 12.3x1.1-inch vented disc with 2.13 dual-piston sliding caliper; rear: 11.6x2.28-inch
Wheelbase (in):131.3
Length/width/height (in):218.8/71.7/68.6
Track (in):F: 62.8; R: 62.9
Turning circle (curb to curb):44 ft
Curb weight (lbs):4,413
Tow rating (lbs):7,150 (w/ 3.92 axle)
EPA city/hwy/combined mpg:15/20/N/A
Fuel-tank capacity:22 gal



'05 Nissan Frontier - Second Runner-Up
It's a midsize titan in every respect

Nissan has put an emphasis on off-road performance for its line of pickups, and the '05 Nissan Frontier tester we got for our Sport Truck of the Year competition came with the off-road NISMO package. While it obviously didn't handle the S-curves in the canyons and the slalom test like some of the more street performance-oriented trucks, the new Frontier's NISMO high-performance off-road package performed above our expectations, given the off-road bias of the suspension tuning.

In terms of street performance, the Frontier impressed, with a 0-60-mph time of 8 seconds and a 15.51 at 89.61-mph quarter-mile performance. It wasn't the quickest of the competition by any means, but these stats show a fun-to-drive sport truck with a good power reserve for maneuvering through traffic and pulling steep grades. As for braking power, we found the brakes adequate. It's stopping distance from 60 mph was roughly what we expect from a fullsize pickup, and was a little long compared with its midsize sibs.

Regarding the truck's handling envelope, it was definitely tire-limited in terms of grip and steering response. However, the truck proved to be a balanced pleasure to drive through the more demanding sections of our drive loop when we were driving within the tire's performance envelope. (Overdriving all-terrain tires on pavement is always more work than pleasure.) We also liked the midsize footprint of the vehicle when the road grew narrow with tight-twisting turns.

In general, we found the suspension supple, with a moderate, controlled amount of lean, indicative of the need to let the suspension articulate for off-road driving. In our opinion, the suspension tuners struck a great balance between on and off-road handling, one that offered a great ride in the wide variety of road surfaces we drove, with enough grip and balance to make it fun to drive. One last item: We didn't have a chance to test the cool electronically activated rear differential lock in an off-road setting. We did, however, use it in a burn-out test to get both tires smoking. It worked great for that, and we trust it'd work even better on the trail or in the snow.

The Frontier's interior is cleverly designed, with an understated sporting-gear quality to it. It's a piece of equipment, what with the flip-down feature of the front seats that provides a convenient flat surface, and comfortable, flexible seating. But the best part of the truck's interior was grabbing the thick-rimmed, stitched-leather-trimmed steering wheel. It's a smaller diameter than the other testers and a little thicker, and it gives the driver a manly sense of command of his craft. That, in combination with the no-nonsense easy-to-ready instruments, made you feel like you were driving a sports coupe -- until you leaned on the all-terrain tires in a corner, that is.

Overall, the new mini-me version of the Titan was done very well, and the new aggressive styling really complements Nissan's line of pickup trucks. We can't wait to see what this bad boy looks like prerunned and jumping some dunes, or with the right tires and tuning, it should be a road rocket. We'd like to see how the sport truck version of the Frontier would perform.

Performance specs:
Acceleration 0-60: 8.05 sec
Quarter-mile elapsed time: 15.51 @ 89.62
Braking 60-0: 131.43 ft
Brake fade 60-0: 137.26 ft
600-ft slalom: 57.32 mph

Sport Truck of the Year Score:
Acceleration/towing: 250 of 300 possible
Ride and handling: 181 of 300 possible
Ergonomics/style/build quality: 252 of 400 possible
Total: 682 of 1,000 possible

Likes/Dislikes
Likes:
Powerful V-6
6,500-pound tow rating
Fullsize capability wrapped into a midsize truck
The new aggressive styling and front end fascia with similarities taken from the Titan
The fully boxed frame; multifunction cargo box

Dislikes:
Didn't get the 170-degree swing-open rear doors of the Titan
A little heavy for its size
Center console too narrow

The Frontier comes on strong with a powerful new engine -- a 4.0L DOHC V-6 producing an estimated 250-plus horsepower and 270-plus lb-ft of torque. That's an increase of 70 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque compared with the current normally aspirated 3.3L V-6-equipped Frontier. Nissan says the new 4.0L V-6 is based on the Nissan VQ engine series used in the 350Z, among other Nissan models, but is specifically tuned for truck use.

Last year, we awarded the Titan Sport Truck of The Year, because it set the standard for innovation in pickup design and performance. If the '05 Frontier has much of the Titan's DNA in its frame and the new V-6 moves the truck like the Titan's 5.6L V-8, it's going to be a rough test session for the competition.

'05 Nissan Frontier
Base price:N/A
Price as tested:N/A
Vehicle type:midsize King Cab pickup
Construction:body-on fully boxed, all-steel (F-Alpha frame, based on the Nissan Titan), rear drive
Engine:4.0L DOHC V-6
Horsepower:250-plus horsepower*
Torque:270-plus lb-ft torque*
Fuel:87 octane unleaded
Transmission:five-speed electronically controlled automatic
Suspension:F: double-wishbone front suspension with coilover shock absorbers, stabilizer bar; R: rigid leaf rear
Steering:power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Wheel:as large as 17 in/265/65R17
Tire F/R:N/A
Brakes:four-wheel vented disc brakes with antilock braking
Wheelbase (in):125.9
Length/width/height (in):205.5/72.8/69.7
Track:N/A
Turning circle (curb to curb):38.1 ft
Curb weight (lbs):est: 4,000
Tow rating:5,500-plus lbs
EPA city/hwy/combined mpg:N/A
Fuel-tank capacity/range:N/A
*Final figures will be announced closer to production



'05 Dodge Ram SRT-10 Quad Cab - First Runner-Up
Get in, Sit Down, Step on the Gas

Dodge's SRT-10 Quad Cab is a balanced and refined piece of equipment. Not only is it incredibly powerful, but it also sports the fullsize Ram body with the sleek body lines we've grown to covet -- so much so that we could do without the side cladding and the wing mounted to the tonneau cover. We're told it's part of the aero package and stabilizes the truck when it's doing 150-plus mph. That may be true, but it could be done with more style.

This year, the big red-headed V-10 is coupled to an automatic tranny, it's more user-friendly, and the heavy-duty trans is built for towing, so now you can enjoy the performance of this truck hauling your favorite toys to wherever the urge takes you. We do have a couple of quibbles. First, the power management takes a lot of the power out of the driver's control. And second, the truck is equipped with traction control that you can't turn off. And the fact that Dodge took off the horizontal differential shock the previous SRT had is proof that all the power management was going to prevent the usage of the all-new V-10's ability.

We have to admit that the cockpit of the SRT-10 is the best of the bunch. It's as good to look at as it is to sit in. And the stereo is incredible. Plus, it has navigation built in already.

This ultra-high-performance sport truck, though, is not as capable in the corners as its standard-cab sibling handles at incredibly high levels for its mass. This beast will drive deeper into corners than the depth of your courage and just absolutely peel back the pavement when you accelerate off the turn, and yet it still rides smoothly for long hauls

Performance specs:
Acceleration 0-60: 6.03 sec
Quarter-mile elapsed time: 13.85 @ 102.11
Braking 60-0: 131.50 ft
Brake fade 60-0: 130.64 ft
600-ft slalom: 59.74 mph

Sport Truck of the Year Score:
Acceleration/towing: 287 of 300 possible
Ride and handling: 244.4 of 300 possible
Ergonomics/style/build quality: 308 of 400 possible
Total: 839.4 of 1,000 possible

Likes/Dislikes
Likes:
Viper V-10 motor rumbling under the hood
Big 22-inch wheels and the big brakes
Sweet bucket seats wrapped in a suede and leather combo, and the overall look and feel of the interior

Dislikes:
The wing on the back
The side skirts need to go
Ride height too high; too large fender-to-tire gap

Here's how Dodge puts it: "If a Dodge Ram pickup -- complete with 500 hp courtesy of the Dodge Viper SRT-10 engine -- is good, a Viper-powered Ram with four doors is even better." OK, we're with 'em on that. Last year, the SRT-10 Ram was so good, we gave it a special award. This year, we're looking at the Quad Cab version with shock and awe.

Is it good enough to win this year's competition? We'll be the judge of that.

'05 Dodge Ram SRT-10 Quad Cab
Price as tested:est. $50,000 MSRP (excluding shipping)
Vehicle type:Ultimate Performance four-door pickup
Construction:body on frame; rear drive
Engine:8.3L (505 ci) 10-cylinder, 90* V-type, aluminum alloy block with cast-iron liners, aluminum alloy heads, 9.6:1CR OHV w/ roller-type hydraulic lifters, two valves/cylinder, sequential multiport electronic fuel injection, redline: 6,000 rpm
Horsepower:500 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque:525 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
Fuel:premium unleaded 91 octane
Transmission:48RE gearbox, specially adapted from diesel engine application; heavy-duty torque converter; custom transmission calibration; two-piece driveshaft
Suspension:F: upper and lower A-arms, coil springs with gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bar. R: live axle, longitudinal leaf springs, gas-charged shock absorbers
Wheel:F/R: forged-aluminum "Viper-style" 22x10 in
Tire:F/R: Pirelli Scorpion Zero 305/40YR 22
Brakes:ABS-equipped four-wheel disc brakes; front rotor: 15 in; rear rotor 14 in
Wheelbase (in):140.5
Length/width/height (in):227.7/79.9/74.7
Track (in):F: 68.5; R: 67.4
Turning circle (curb to curb):45.7 ft
Curb weight (lbs):est: 5,280
Towing (lbs):7,500 (4.56 axle)



'05 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner - 2005 Sport Truck of the Year
Sports Car Levels of Grip and Handling Balance, Striking Street Presence, Roomy Interior Give Toyota Tacoma X-Runner the Title of 2005 Sport Truck Of the Year

The '05 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner is our Sport Truck of the Year. It was a seriously close competition this year, with the X-Runner barely edging out the Dodge SRT-10 Quad Cab. But win it did. And as with all the past-winning sport trucks of this competition, the designers and engineers deserve credit for building, what, in our opinion, has the performance and style that elevate a mere street truck into a sport truck. They did a great job for their boss Yuichiro Obu, chief engineer for the '05 Tacoma and a self- professed gearhead.

Exterior
In scoring the competition, we were surprised that the new Taco' actually had the highest score in exterior style. Generally speaking, Toyota trucks aren't known for their exterior stylishness. In fact, the company has a reputation for conservative, bland styling on its light trucks. They're popular more for their reliability and durability, and enthusiasts put a lot of time and effort into customizing the truck's street presence. As such, we weren't surprised it scored high in fit and finish, which have long been Toyota's strong suit.

In addition to the hip-styling and sporting layout of the dash and IP, the X-Runner drew admiring comments from our testers on the smart use of space in the now-roomy cabin. In particular, we liked the fact that the console includes three integrated cupholders, two that can accommodate super-sized drinks for long-haul sport trucking, and added liquid storage in the form of dual bottle holders in driver- and passenger-side doors, and the tumble-flat rear seats with underseat storage in the rear compartment are efficient, clever, and convenient. Our judgment is that the interior generates an exciting performance atmosphere equal to the raw performance of the truck, as well an ergonomically sound driving position, to take full advantage of all the capabilities.

We're happy to report that the new Tacoma has a good look about it, especially with the X-runner's added styling panels and slightly lowered ride height. The nose and hoodscoop give it an aggressive attitude and, to our way of thinking, should respond to traditional bolt-on styling mods as well as more involved massaging.

Our crew also liked the profile of the new truck as well as the truck's rear styling. About the only negative comments regarded the rolling stock appearance in the wheelwell. The 255/45R18 Bridgestone Potenzas on alloy wheels are certainly on the aggressive side, and appropriately sized for the visual mass of the truck, but the overly large gap from the fender lip to the tire tread is a visual distraction. One of the key elements capability-wise of the new Taco' that drew applause from our testing staff is the composite inner cargo bed. It's lighter and stronger than a sheetmetal cargo bed, so it provides performance, ride-quality, and fuel-mileage benefits. It's also quieter than shee metal and is available with a variety of accessories, ranging from a 400-watt, 115-VAC three-pronged grounded outlet to locking storage boxes to bed dividers to bike racks.

Interior
The X-Runner's cockpit scored very high with us. It didn't get the top score, but for Toyota to receive the second-highest score for its interior shows just how much effort the company is putting into targeting its core market. Its instrument panel (IP) with the speedo, tach, and main gauge set recessed into a stacked arrangement of three pods sets a sporty tone for the interior. The X-Runner's center console flows with a sporting sense of design into an almost Titan/F-150-esque control panel. The control panel puts the audio and heating and ventilation controls front and center for easy manipulation by both the driver and passenger. That's better for the passenger than the driver, chiefly because the driver is provided audio and other controls on the steering wheel.

Powertrain
Motivating the X-Runner is a "revised" 4.0L VVT-i DOHC V-6, producing 245 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque. That's a significant improvement compared with the 190hp 3.4L V-6 found in the '04 model. The new engine features Toyota's throttle-by-wire system, which it calls Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-i), that's designed to improve performance and fuel economy. We didn't bother checking on the fuel economy, since our group of test drivers had the throttle blade cracked wide open at every possible opportunity. Though, from one staffers' recollection, the X-Runner required noticeably fewer trips to the fuel pump compared with the runner-up, while delivering almost the acceleration rates of the V-10 powerhouse.

That said, the performance of the X-Runner's power team is extraordinary. Not in terms of raw force, but in the precision of its application and generation. The VVT-i system gives the 4.0L a wonderful-to-drive wide powerband. It's got good low end, not as brutal as the SRT-10, but solid and useable. Combined with the close ratio and gear choices, with the six-speed manual offered, no matter what driving condition you found yourself in, you could get the right leverage to make the X-Runner scream. Passing was a breeze. Off the line, it was way too much fun, though hard on the clutch -- and talk about a top-speed runner! It'll do better than a buck-twenty at the top of Fifth gear, though we ran out of test track before we reached terminal velocity. We'll have to get one back and explore its limits more in depth. In the meantime, know that the X-Runner posted corrected 0-60 mph times of 6.9 seconds with a quarter-mile e.t. of 14.9 seconds at 93 mph. That's quick and exciting driving, but not the quickest of the bunch. But it was quick enough in combination with the truck's other capabilities to move it into the lead.

Handling and Braking
The suspension tuning of the X-Runner is the most significant aspect of this truck. It's designed to handle like a sport car with its tuned 1-inch-lowered suspension and 255/45R18 Bridgestone Potenza tires wrapped around 18-inch alloy wheels. The exclusive X-Runner suspension features special reinforcing frame crossmembers (X-Runner, get it?), and incorporates firmer and shorter springs and specially tuned Bilstein gas shock absorbers that are mounted outboard of the framerails' pick-up points for increased stability. It also gets a rear stabilizer bar with firmer bushings and specially tuned steering response, says Toyota.

The result is an X-Runner with serious cornering and agility that, in combination with the truck's respectable straight-line acceleration, managed to edge past, if just barely, the SRT-10 Quad Cab. The SRT-10 is a hard-nosed competitor and it didn't give an inch. The X-Runner had to take all the ground it gained by solid performance in the tests that favored it. And the handling and braking test is where this machine shined.

The X-Runner blistered the slalom, with a best speed of 63.67 mph. (That, by the way, breaks the record by a little more than 1 mph for this test set last year by the SRT-10 Ram.) In terms of cold-stop braking, it posted a best of the competition at 119.8 feet. Not only that, but the brakes were almost totally fade-resistant, with the average distance in the fade test a mere 123 feet. Credit has to go to the big-brake option on the X-Runner and the finely tuned suspension. When this truck hit the binders, there is very little nose dive; it just rotates slightly and grabs ground.

The advantage of such a balanced and poised suspension became abundantly clear in the real-world driving portion because you can brake deep into turns, ease off the brakes, and get back on the throttle without upsetting the truck. It's razor-sharp and responsive -- an absolute joy to drive hard. And, in summary, given the incredible handling envelope, the added energy in the styling, and the exciting acceleration figures, we're not surprised to find the Toyota X-Runner reigning supreme in '05 as our pick for Sport Truck of the Year.

Performance specs:
Acceleration 0-60: 6.9 sec
Quarter-mile elapsed time: 14.92 @ 93.10
Braking 60-0: 116.56 ft
Brake fade 60-0: 121.02 ft
600-ft slalom: 63.67 mph

Sport Truck of the Year Score:
Acceleration/towing: 271 of 300 possible
Ride and handling: 268.125 of 300 possible
Ergonomics/style/build quality: 304.5 of 400 possible
Total: 843.625 of 1,000 possible

Likes/Dislikes
Likes:
Smooth-shifting close-ratio six-speed manual
Wide powerband and exciting acceleration
Amazing cornering grip, supple but firm suspension, incredible braking

Dislikes:
Ground effects too pronounced; could lower ride height a bit
Fender lip-to-tire gap too large
Clutch pedal too close to floor board for comfortable operation


For '05, Toyota brings an all-new Tacoma pickup truck line to market. The new midsize is larger, more maneuverable, more powerful, and more fuel-efficient than '04 Tacos. While the new Tacoma comes in a dizzying array of configurations, leading the Tacoma line in performance and style is the X-Runner model. This sport truck blends great truck design with sports car performance, mostly by virtue of its new 245hp V-6 engine backed by a six-speed manual and a specially tuned chassis.

Toyota is touting "documented industry-leading quality, dependability, and reliability" as the top reasons customers have chosen the Tacoma. And the company further asserts that the new-generation Tacoma will build on that foundation with its attractive design, greater performance and capability, and improved passenger room and comfort.

To which we say, Talk is cheap. We're putting the pedal to the metal on this one and it better not break.

'05 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner
Base price:$23,110
Price as tested:N/A
Vehicle type:midsize Access Cab pickup
Construction:body-on fully boxed, all-steel (F-Alpha frame, based on the Nissan Titan), rear drive
Engine:4.0L DOHC EFI V-6, 24-valve aluminum block with aluminum alloy head with VVT-I; 3,956 cc; CR: 10.0:1
Horsepower:245 hp @ 5,200 rpm
Torque:282 lb-ft @ 3,800 rpm
Fuel:91 octane unleaded
Transmission:six-speed manual overdrive
Suspension:F: coil spring independent double-wishbone with gas-filled shock absorbers; front stabilizer bar diameter: 1.18 in; R: leaf-spring rigid suspension; rear stabilizer bar diameter: 0.98 in (X-Runner only)
Steering:power-assisted rack-and-pinion. ratio: 17.4:1; lock to lock: 3.43 turns
Wheel:18-inch alloy
Tire F/R:P255/45R18
Brakes:power-assisted disc/drum four-wheel antilock braking system (ABS) with brake assist (BA) and electronic braking distribution (EBD); F: 12.56-in disc. R: 10-inch drum
Wheelbase (in):127.2
Length/width/height (in):208.1/74.0/65.2
Track (in):F: 62.2 R: 62.2
Turning circle (curb to curb):42 ft
Curb weight (lbs):est: 3,690
Tow rating (lbs):3,500
EPA city/hwy/combined mpg:16/21/N/A
Fuel-tank capacity/range:21 gal/N/A
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