Dodge Dakota Quad Cab
Ford SVT Lightning F-150
Winding through the western wilderness in a caravan of trucks, six young fellows of Sport Truck found themselves in the midst of a mission far greater than they had imagined. The drivers traversed roads so twisted they could tie a man’s mind in knots and make the whole trip seem like one big, inescapable circle.
The six, a mix of leaders, followers, and odd ones in between, encountered breathtaking views of sequoia-filled valleys beyond life-threatening hairpin turns with nothing more than pebbles to serve as guardrails. They experienced afternoons at a dead lake ringed by a salty shore and a few dusty hours in a ghost town, and they spent brisk evenings in a mountainside lodge with several half-drunken wanderers. They glimpsed wild deer, sheep, possible Sasquatch tracks, and starry night skies. But the only thing they could return home with was the King of the Mountain.
If all this seems too fantastical for the normal Sport Truck reality, think again, because that’s what it was like on this year’s quest for the 2000 Sport Truck of the Year. Since our first annual contest, we’ve resisted the temptation to consider all participating trucks as champions, although each, in its own right, is a masterpiece. In that spirit, we committed to traveling more than 1,000 challenging miles in the 21st century’s first batch of top-quality factory trucks--all to narrow down the crop to one winner to be named Sport Truck of the Year.
We claim no allegiance to any make of truck, so we have no obligations to satisfy any interested parties. We had only to subject six trucks to various tortures to expose their strengths or weaknesses and to separate five near-winners from the one true road-ruler.
We designed our tests to be merciless on the trucks, and we challenged the manufacturers to run their designs through our gauntlet. The criteria each truck had to meet was that it contain entirely stock, factory-installed components and it had to be a new, 2000, two-wheel-drive truck. Basically, no dealer-altered, 4x4, or any truck older than newborn was allowed. We wanted only the newest and best that the industry had to offer. We wanted manufacturers to submit what they considered a sport truck should look and perform like. What we got were candidates that ranged from bare-minimum, hard-knock trucks with uncarpeted, radio-only interiors to all-out rolling living rooms complete with full CD/stereo systems, power everything, and cupholders to spare. We got trucks laced with everything from a supercharged V-8 turning low-profiles to a spirited six-banger cranking on all-terrain rubber.
The result? A handsome fleet consisting of a Chevy 1/2-ton Silverado, a Dodge Dakota Quad Cab, a Ford Special Vehicles Team Lightning F-150, a GMC Sierra, a four-door Nissan Frontier (the only V-6 in the group), and a four-door Toyota Tundra--all automatic, two-wheel-drive, 2000 models hot off the press--and ready for the slaughter.
Our process of elimination consisted of two major events, the first of which would be the initial proving ground. This D-Day--or Drag Day--took place at the Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale, California, and was designed to subject all six trucks to some rigorous, hard-core performance testing. Once all the trucks reached the strip, they were promptly placed in the skillful hands of John Hotchkis of Hotchkis Performance, who is an undisputed professional of high-performance testdriving.
The day began with the quarter-mile acceleration evaluation, where raw power was pushed to the limits. It was like another hot, loud day at the drags, with plenty of burnouts to smoke up the scene.
Next, the timing lights were calibrated for the 60-zero braking test. Firmly strapped in, Hotchkis brought the trucks to 60 mph and shoved the brakes into the floorboards to see how dependable each would be in a panic stop. Some trucks hopped, some skipped, and some did the job in a smooth, controlled manner.
After that, we submitted the trucks to what has become one of the all-time-favorite events for our staff: the slalom. Applying his floor-it-without-a-flinch method, Hotchkis zigzagged each truck through a set of cones at the highest speed possible while maintaining control. The slalom is designed to expose the positives and negatives of every characteristic of a vehicle’s chassis configuration. As each truck passed through the slalom course, tensions rose as speeds increased and rearends wagged. Each truck came through this event with every piece intact, but a little rubber was lost.
The time came for the last performance test of the day: the skidpad. This was no sissy skidpad: It wasn’t exactly as smooth as glass. In fact, it featured several dips and bumps. But we figured this test would quite accurately measure each truck’s ability to handle a real-world turning emergency. So, once again, Hotchkis strapped in and did his stuff. He drove each hauler to its limit in a continuous circle at the highest possible speed in each direction. We evaluated body roll, overall chassis control, steering, tire grip, tire temperature, controlled speed, and even g-force on the skidpad--all this to aid the process of natural selection in the world of sport trucks.
The second major event in Sport Truck of the Year testing was the ride & drive 1,000-mile trek. On this round trip, we journeyed from Los Angeles to Mono Lake, near Lee Vining, California, and then on to Yosemite National Park, where we reached altitudes of almost 10,000 feet above sea level. The six of us took turns driving each of the trucks. We allowed ourselves adequate time to get a good feel for what we liked or didn’t like about each truck. While driving the trucks, we paid attention to overall feel and performance. During the course of this trip we gauged gas mileage, and ranked each truck on a scale of 1 to 10 in almost 30 different design and performance categories ranging from ease of entrance to sound system quality to interior noise to body panel alignment to paint quality to cargo practicality and many categories in between. Each truck had its strong points. Some that were ranked low on interior comfort topped the chart on passing power. The purpose of this ride & drive evaluation was to produce an exhaustive record of the overall appeal of each truck.
With that in mind, we spent time driving on smooth stretches of desert highway, on twisting mountain two lanes, and on dusty gravel roads. We drove at sea level and snow level. We drove in traffic-jammed cities. We drove to a ghost town and into shady forests. We drove and drove and kept driving until our minds were wracked by every possible opinion on every truck. During this drive we also formed every possible opinion of one another--but that’s another story.
Six individuals spent enough time in six different trucks to obtain a competent, educated opinion of each vehicle. We present this account to you as proof of what we feel to be an adequate basis for choosing a truck that bears the title Sport Truck of the Year.