Let the games begin! Once again, it is time for Truckin' magazine's annual Truck of the Year contest: a contest of the best, the newest, and the most innovative crop of vehicles equipped with beds to strut their stuff.

The staff of Truckin', along with help from the staffers of Truckin's SUV, Mini Truckin', 4 Wheel Drive & Sport Utility and OFF-ROAD, put all-new model vehicles or vehicles with significant changes for the year 2002 through their paces to determine which truck offered the most performance, comfort, convenience, and value for the money. Our collective group also tested the latest group of SUVs in a simultaneous heads-up comparison with the trucks, and the results of that test, Truckin's SUV of the Year, will be published in these pages next month.

The Evolution of the Truck Continues

Astute readers will notice we have included three new vehicles that fall into the Sport Utility Truck category in this years' competition. The Lincoln Blackwood, the Chevrolet Avalanche, and the Cadillac Escalade EXT are the players in this new category. Although all three can technically be considered pickup trucks due to the fact they have truck beds, all are also heavily influenced by SUVs and are aimed squarely at the buyer who wants the versatility of a truck and the four-door cabin comfort of a sport utility vehicle.

The 2002 trucks in the running this year consisted of the new Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Long Bed (supercharged version), the new GMC Sierra Denali (with four doors and four-wheel steering), and Dodge's all-new Ram pickup (in regular-cab configuration, riding on the truck industry's first factory-supplied 20-inch wheels).

Not to be ignored, vehicles running in the Sport Utility Truck category included the all-new Lincoln Blackwood (sporting ultra-plush interior amenities and the highest price tag in the test at $55,495 MSRP), Chevrolet's innovative new Suburban-based Avalanche, with its shortbed/longbed adaptability, and Cadillac's high-end version of the Avalanche, the Cadillac Escalade EXT.Sport Utility Vehicles competing in the test included the Buick Rendezvous, Nissan's Supercharged Xterra, the Isuzu Axiom, the Jeep Liberty, the GMC Envoy, a new '02 Ford Explorer, and finally, Cadillac's powerful Escalade. Separate results of SUV of the Year will be published in the next issue of Truckin's SUV and will also be presented in the March issue of Truckin'.

All of the trucks (SUTs and SUVs included) were tested simultaneously, and all were subjected to a variety of pleasure cruising as well as what could best be called torture-testing.

Testing involved a comprehensive mix of performance evaluations, testdrives, intense scrutiny of interior and exterior styling and amenities, comparisons of cargo capacity, towing prowess, mpg figures, acceleration and braking tests, and of course, quarter-mile elapsed times.

Each editor drove each vehicle in various types of terrains and points were awarded (or subtracted) in all categories. Testing sites included drives throughout the Los Angeles basin, a trip through the scenic San Bernardino mountains at 7,000 feet, blistering the tarmac (and a few tires) at the San Bernardino County Sherriff's EVOC testing/training facility, and finally, a hot and windy day at the Los Angeles County Raceway's dragstrip in Palmdale.testing was completed.

The pages to follow will reveal our conclusion as to the winner of the evaluation. Prior to the final determination, you will find a page of information on each vehicle tested. Included for each vehicle is a spec box outlining vital statistics and our combined staff observations. Follow along as we present our evaluations and announce our choice as Truck of the Year for 2002.