As the summer months each year come to a close, the weather change signals the literal beginning of a new fall season. It also signals the figurative change of the automotive season, a time when new models come out with fresh faces and complete redesigns. As automotive critics, it is up to us to look at each manufacturer and see which new or freshened vehicles match our criteria for Truckin's Truck of the Year testing.

The first step of the Truck of the Year process includes a meeting to discuss the various new trucks on the market. Only vehicles that are all-new or significantly revised make the cut. For 2005, our finalists included the redesigned Dodge Dakota and the new Dodge Ram SRT-10 -- now wearing Quad Cab garb -- the newly freshened Ford F-Series Super Duty, and the completely new Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. We invited the Lincoln Mark LT to join us, but due to its late availability, Lincoln was unable to provide us with a vehicle in time for this year's test.

When considering a finalist in the Truck of the Year competition, we compare vehicles, not only against those in the test but also against vehicles that they compete with in their segment. Since Truckin' is an aftermarket-based magazine, we not only gauge aftermarket potential of a prospective winner but also judge the vehicles on overall value, which means determining if you get what you pay for and if a vehicle offers the expected amenities for the price. Other factors that determine a winner are exterior, interior, performance, handling, quality, and, of course, which one we want to take home and keep for ourselves. A vehicle that tugs at our emotions or is fun enough to cement a smile on our faces is always at the top of our list.

Going forward with our five finalists, we requested a version of each from their respective manufacturer for a two-week stay with our eager staff. Each staff member was able to swap in and out of vehicles over the course of its stay and put in ample seat time in each one, using it as he would use his own truck. Logbook entries were made and gas mileage was noted. This years' testing also included a two-day loop over and around our favorite roads in Southern California.

Day One started with an early wake up call and a caravan of manufacturer-plated vehicles to the Los Angeles County Raceway (LACR) in Palmdale, California. It was at the LACR where we performed our performance testing on each vehicle and also where Senior Tech Editor Bob Ryder put each truck through the rigors of acceleration testing, including 0-60, quarter-mile tests, and 60-0 braking trials. Associate Editor Sean P. Holman manned the test equipment, and Managing Editor Carl Calvert, Feature Editor Travis Noack, and Associate Editor Dan Ward recorded the day's events on their cameras. In between performance runs, all of the staff members had a chance to compare the vehicles side by side, for a more accurate evaluation. Once testing was completed, it was off to Lucerne Valley for an afternoon photo shoot and then to the quiet mountain resort town of Big Bear Lake, California, for an overnight stay.

Day Two took us down rugged mountain trails in the four-wheel-drive trucks to compare their off-road prowess, while the SRT-10, which was not meant for off-road encounters, was flogged on winding mountain roads to gauge its asphalt agility. After a couple of hours in the dirt and before we headed home, the 4x4 group met up with the SRT and we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the roadside town of Yucca Valley, California.

With the logbooks filled, the testing completed, and the points tallied, a clear choice emerged as the winner of our 2005 Truck of the Year award. Find out which vehicle wowed our testers and was worthy enough to be called Truckin's 2005 Truck of the Year.

'05 Toyota Tacoma
A Lexus With a Bed

Toyota is well known for its hard-earned reputation of building quality vehicles and has made great inroads into the American market with its Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks. For years, Toyota has set the standard in the small truck category and was the first to offer a crew cab compact in the U.S. market with the addition of the Tacoma Double Cab in 2001.

Now in its second generation, the '05 Tacoma Double Cab, along with the regular and extended cab Tacoma, has grown significantly in size and capability. The new chassis is 4 inches wider and 5-1/2 inches longer than before, and the frame is fully boxed from nose to tail with seven crossmembers for strength. The Tacoma is now available in three cab configurations and two bed lengths, including a Double Cab longbed. When properly equipped, the '05 Tacoma can tow as much as 6,500 pounds of toys.

Helping to yank those toys around is a standard DOHC 2.7L I-4, which has a respectable 164 hp and 183 lb-ft of torque, and the stellar DOHC 4.0L V-6 from the 4Runner, which puts out 245 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque. The V-6 is definitely our choice because it spins freely all the way to redline. The V-6 fuel economy penalty is somewhat mitigated thanks to the use of a new five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. We saw our mileage figure hold steady in the mid-16s through mixed testing. The automatic is a smooth operator, while connoisseurs of manual transmissions may balk at the very un-Toyota-like, vague shift action that our tester exhibited.

The '05 Toyota has also brought many innovations to the table, such as the corrosion-proof composite bed, which is said to have a higher impact resistance than steel. The new bed also incorporates a rail system with four sliding cleats, weather-resistant storage pockets, and a 40W/115V AV outlet. The exterior panels of the bed continue to be made of steel.

Once again, Toyota offers the TRD, and now the new TRD Sport, enthusiast packages to off-roaders, but also throws a bone to the sport and tuner truck crowd with the introduction of the lowered X-Runner, a truck that offers the driver more grip than the benchmarked 350Z.

For this test, Toyota sent us a Double Cab 4x4 equipped with the TRD package, which included Bilstein shocks, progressively tuned front coil springs, a 28mm front sway bar, P265/70R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A all-terrain tires, locking rear differential, and sport seats.

When it came time to grab a truck for the off-road portion of our test, the Toyota was clearly the truck everyone clamored for. In the dirt, the Tacoma exhibited a plush and controlled ride, just as capable, but a little bit more comfortable than the Nissan. The Tacoma's advantage in ride quality also extended onto the highway portion of the test, where it was a toss-up between the Tacoma and Dakota for most comfortable cruiser. The Tacoma also had the most pleasing interior in the test, draped in Lexus-like refinement, high-end soft touch plastics, and excellent ergonomics. The JBL sound system also received high marks. With the increase in size, also came a larger cabin which can hold four adults in comfort for the long stretches of highway that are often found between adventures.

While it wasn't our overall winner in this test, the Tacoma still ranks as one of our favorite trucks on the market and should definitely be high on anyone's shopping list. It's Toyota's mix of quality, style, and performance, in a competitively priced package, that makes it the final answer for so many buyers.

From the Logbook:
This new Tacoma offers typical Toyota quality and workmanship, but I was expecting a more dramatic change over the previous Tacoma.
Managing Editor Carl Calvert

The front seats feel just right with good lateral support. The back seat is firm but comfortable.
Senior Tech Editor Bob Ryder

The transmission shifter felt sloppy with no reassurance of what gear we were in.
Feature Editor Travis Noack

Despite driving in Sixth gear at 70 mph, the truck still accelerates hard, which is amazing.
Associate Editor Dan Ward

'05 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab
The Gentleman's Hauler

When Dodge released the Dakota back in the '80s, its primary competitors were the smaller Ford Ranger and Chevy S-10. Back then, Dodge touted it as the only midsize truck, nicely splitting the difference between the Ford Ranger and the Chevy C/K. While its philosophy may have been ahead of its time back then, it is perfectly in step with the size requirements consumers are now demanding.

The '05 model year brings major change to the Dakota in the form of a completely new platform, which relies on a stronger, fully boxed frame, and new front and rear suspension to keep the Dakota at the top of its game. The new Dakota is 3.7 inches longer than its predecessor. It also remains the only midsize entry that offers a V-8 option. The tow rating is 7,150 pounds.

Standard on the '05 Dakota is Dodge's 3.7L SOHC V-6, but our Dakota arrived with the optional 4.7L SOHC V-8 pushing out 230 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. Compared to the import V-6 competition, the V-8 is down on power and doesn't offer the same fuel economy. Staffers also complained about the way the Dakota's engine and five-speed automatic transmission communicated. We were often left wishing we were driving the other optional V-8, a 4.7L SOHC High Output variant that tops 250 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. One thing we did like about the V-8 was the great exhaust note, which had us pretending we were driving the Hemi. Both 4.7L engines are rated at 3 to 4 percent better fuel efficient than the outgoing V-8s.

Another area of contention for our testers was the Dakota's love-it-or-hate-it styling. Staffers were split on whether the Dakota was cutting-edge with its clean and chiseled flanks, or in need of a facial because of its slanted-back grille and robotic face. Either way, the Dakota drew looks from bystanders and other drivers alike. Our guess is that the design will age well and will become a familiar sight out on the highway.

One thing everyone did agree on was how much we liked the Dakota's interior. It received high marks for its spacious accommodations, tons of storage nooks, and sweet-sounding stereo with Sirius satellite radio. The interior of our Dakota Quad Cab was comfortable enough for four fullsize adults and would probably be sufficient for five smaller adults on short trips. If a complaint has to be leveled at the Dakota's interior, it would be that we wish there were some colors to contrast with the expanse of gray.

Thanks to the new coil-on-shock front suspension and improved suspension tuning, the Dakota had the best ride on the highway. Benefiting from the new rack-and-pinion steering, on-road handling was remarkable for a 4x4. Off-road, the Dakota's lack of ground clearance and soft suspension tuning made it less capable than the other trucks with their comprehensive off-road packages.

If you are looking for fullsize capability in a smaller truck, the Dakota should fit the bill nicely. Just as it was when it was first introduced, the Dakota's size is the perfect compromise between compact maneuverability and fullsize capability. It's definitely our choice for a road trip. However, if your plans include using the Dakota like a fullsize, be sure to get the HO 4.7L and you won't be disappointed.

From the Logbook:
The Dakota has the best ride and handling in its class, but the powerplant is disappointing.
Managing Editor Carl Calvert

The back seat is comfortable with ample legroom.
Senior Tech Editor Bob Ryder

The Dakota has decent performance, but the tranny is clunky and soaks up a lot of power.
Feature Editor Travis Noack

Styling is improved, but the front end is too much Durango and not enough Ram.
Associate Editor Dan Ward

'05 Ford Super Duty F-250
A Ton of Truck

When Ford announced the Super Duty lineup for 2005, we were eager to get our hands on one for this test, especially since the '04 Harley-Davidson edition F-250 Crew Cab won our Heavy Hauler Shootout in our Nov. '04 issue. On the surface, you might be hard-pressed to spot the changes to the '05 Super Duty, but if you look closely, they are there, most noticeable in the more contemporary headlight assembly and billet-look grille, with the major tweaks lurking just under the surface.

Wanting to test out both the SuperCab and the top-dog gas motor for this test, we ordered up a differently configured truck than from our Heavy Hauler Shootout. This time, our test truck arrived with the new three-valve SOHC 6.8L V-10 churning out 355 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque through a TorqShift five-speed automatic transmission and 4.10 gears underneath the monochromatic black exterior. For 2005, all three engines in the Super Duty lineup benefit from more power. The 5.4L V-8 is now the same three-valve motor found in the F-150 and is rated at 300 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque, while the 6.0L Power Stroke diesel gains 10 more lb-ft of torque to a satisfying 570.

With the heavy duty user in mind, Ford went to great lengths to improve the chassis, starting with thicker-gauge steel and longer boxed sections on the frame for enhanced strength and durability. Re-designed 17-inch wheels are now standard equipment and 18-inch wheels are optional, which enabled Ford engineers to increase the size of the brake rotors. But, none of these changes are as major as the new front suspension on 4x4 models. The venerable leaf spring solid axle has been dropped in favor of a better riding link-coil spring solid axle, reminiscent of the proven system found on previous generation, solid-axle and coil-sprung Fords. This new suspension improves the Super Duty's ride and shortens the turning radius by several feet, which makes parking maneuvers a breeze.

Another interesting option that came on our Super Duty was Ford's new TowCommand system, which integrated a factory trailer brake controller with the vehicle brakes for better control. It uses different braking strategies for normal versus emergency braking, has a message center that can alert the driver to a malfunction or disconnected wiring, all while being covered under the factory warranty. This will be a popular option among consumers who tow; especially since the Super Duty tow rating has leaped to 19,200 pounds when properly equipped with the TowBoss package, besting the nearest competitor by more than 2,000 pounds. As a bonus, the TowCommand module comes with four auxiliary switches that can be used to control any aftermarket product you please.

Although the cabin benefits from a re-styled dash and gauge cluster, the staff still felt that our XLT was a little spartan on the inside. The softer colors, wood appliques, special gauges, and leather of the Lariat package do look more upscale than did our XLT. Testers noted the quietness of the cabin and smoother ride offered by the coil-spring suspension, however, we miss the tightness of the CrewCab, since SuperCab models suffer from a bit of the wiggles and jiggles with the suicide-style doors.

Off-road, our Super Duty had excellent clearance and good tires from the factory, but even on the FX4 Off-Road package, we felt the shocks could use a little better tuning. We would also order ours with the optional limited-slip differential, since we got in a few situations where the extra traction would have been welcomed. However, the Super Duty with its manual hubs and manual transfer case lever, coil springs and solid axles remains a rugged and capable platform for off-road projects.

The Super Duty has always been a great base for aftermarket upgrades, and with the improvements for 2005, it is even better, especially for those who regularly tow or haul. However, if you are looking for a daily driver, make sure your mutual funds accountant has your portfolio invested in oil, as our tester only delivered 10 mpg during its two-week stay with us. For those concerned with such things, the 6.0L Power Stroke diesel is always a good choice.

From the Logbook:
The F-250 offers excellent driveability for such a big truck.
Managing Editor Carl Calvert

The Super Duty is a fine truck and tows nicely. However, off-road, the ride was harsh.
Feature Editor Travis Noack

Wow, the V-10 finally sounds like a big-block V-8 and actually pulls strong all the way to redline.
Associate Editor Sean P. Holman

'05 Nissan Frontier
One Serious Midsize

It has been a full year since Nissan told America it was serious about building competitive fullsize trucks, illustrating that point with the release of the Titan 1/2-ton to compete head to head with the Ford F-150. And just in case there was any doubt, Nissan has completely revamped the Frontier line to show everyone that it is also serious about midsize trucks.

For 2005, Frontier has grown in size, and the line of anemic 3.3L V-6s have been eschewed for an all-new, class-leading 4.0L DOHC unit making 265 hp and 284 lb-ft torque, all without the use of a blower. For those who enjoy the fuel economy and simplicity of a four-cylinder, a 2.5L DOHC unit is available in the King Cab 4x2 versions. Buyers can choose between a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.

Featuring a fully boxed steel frame, with all components tucked inside the framerail for maximum ground clearance and protection, the Frontier is based on the Titan's F-Alpha platform. Other Titan features include two cab configurations, two- or four-wheel drive, and a factory-applied spray-in bedliner with Nissan's Utili-track bed channel system. With this new chassis and engine, the Frontier is rated to tow 6,500 pounds or carry 1,600 pounds of payload, which is 100 more than the Tacoma.

One of the biggest changes to the Frontier line is Nissan's Nismo Off-Road package, which is aimed at off-road enthusiasts. Think of it as Nissan's answer to the TRD Off-Road package, and after spending a day in the dirt, we really feel that Nissan has hit its mark, offering a very competent and capable off-roader. The Nismo package comes in either two- or four-wheel drive and with Bilstein shocks, largest in class P265/75R16 BFG Rugged Trail T/A all-terrain tires, full skidplates, an electronic locking rear differential, four-wheel limited slip (ABLS), Hill Decent Control (HDC), and Hill Start Assist (HSA). Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) is optional. With this type of hardware, you won't need much more than a quality lift to tackle extreme trails.

Out on the highway, we thought the Frontier offered a firm but comfortable ride, if not as smooth as the Tacoma TRD we tested. Handling is about what we expected from a midsize 4x4. The operation of the new engine and transmission are exceptional together, but some vibration does reach the cabin. For those in adverse climates, the Frontier is one of the few entries in this segment that offers heated leather power seats and heated mirrors as options.

While we were pretty impressed with the Frontier over all, our complaints centered on the somewhat bland interior, which falls short of new truck buyer expectations for quality plastics and exciting looks. For example, Nissan surprised us with a very comprehensive gauge cluster and trip computer, one of the best in its category; however, they lack the style buyers are looking for when compared with the competition. Most of the testers agreed that the Frontier is a stout, go-anywhere, do-anything, functional performer, but it sacrifices a little form in the process.

From the Logbook:
If you want to seat more than two, get a Crew Cab!
Senior Tech Editor Bob Ryder

The interior is basic and bland, not very exciting.
Feature Editor Travis Noack

Off-Road, the Nismo package proved that Nissan has spent its fair share of time in the dirt, mud, and over rough terrain.
Associate Editor Dan Ward

After several tries to fishtail the Frontier in the dirt, I realized that the VDC was doing its job. Thankfully, Nissan provided a switch to turn the fun back on.
Associate Editor Sean P. Holman

'05 Dodge Ram SRT-10 Quad Cab
Truckin's 2005 Truck of the Year

Last year, our Truck of the Year competition was a close one, and the outcome provoked an outcry among our Mopar readership as to why we chose the '04 Ford F-150 over the '04 Dodge Ram SRT-10 for our winner. To us, the decision was hard, but the answer was simple: the Ford F-150 had a bigger aftermarket following, more versatility, and more potential for customization, while the SRT-10 was a purpose-built hot rod that came so modified from the factory that it left little for the buyer to do. Both trucks were exceptional, but we felt the F-150 would appeal to a broader audience.

So, here we are for Round Two, and Dodge has added a Quad Cab model to the Ram SRT-10 lineup that addresses all of the complaints we could ever make about versatility. With very little difference from the regular cab model, the SRT-10 Quad Cab gains a bigger cabin and the 48RE four-speed automatic, adapted from the diesel, but retains a performance suspension, world-class brakes, upgraded interior with red start button, and bold styling. Of course, power comes courtesy of the very same 8.3L monster V-10 that can be found in the Viper, putting out the same 500 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque.

Not only can the SRT-10 Quad Cab haul as many as six people to the grocery store swiftly, it can also tow as much as 7,500 pounds, which means you can load up the trailer with your Viper, maybe both of your SRT-4 Neons, or your SRT-10 regular cab and take them to the track. Or, if you don't have any toys to tow, the Quad Cab will definitely hold its own at the track. However, if you are like us and have been spoiled on the engaging and responsive nature of the regular cab, you might feel a bit jaded and think the automatic and extra weight in the Quad Cab has dampened some of the fun, domesticating its wild personality. While it's true the SRT-10 Quad Cab is as docile as a puppy around town, it only takes one mash of the mighty go pedal to quickly dismiss from your mind of any of those blasphemous thoughts. And, hey, the Chevy Silverado SS, Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson, and Ford SVT Lightning all come with automatics and have at least a 120 horsepower disadvantage when compared to the SRT-10. As they say, at 9.7 mpg, the only thing it can't pass is a gas station, and a six-speed regular cab SRT-10.

Another change made to the '05 Ram SRT-10 is the switch to 4.56 gears for quicker off-the-line performance, though with this change from 4.10s, the rpm was lifted just enough that the old exhaust system wouldn't meet the EPA's noise testing standards. So, all '05 models have a resonator to cut down noise, but, unfortunately, this also cuts down on the magnificent mechanical symphony that we reported on last year. Fortunately for you, the guys in Dodge's SRT group are true gearheads and have designed the new exhaust to be directly replaced by the old exhaust, if you are so inclined.

Other than sitting at standard ride height, the Quad Cab's suspension is similar to the regular cab with fully tuned Bilstein monotube shocks, performance springs, and modified steering in the front. Out back, the Quad Cab retains the leaf springs, Bilsteins, axle snubbers, and the power dampener system to reduce axle hop. SRT-10s also get a new braking system for 2005, which use a three-channel ABS system and unique four-puck opposed-piston calipers seizing humongous 15-inch rotors in the front and 14-inch rotors in the rear.

Even on the massive 305/40Y22 Pirellis, the highway ride of the SRT-10 Quad Cab is acceptable, and due to its longer 140-inch wheelbase, handling is a little more forgiving while you are flirting with the limit on the off-ramp on your way home from work. And, did we mention how easy it is to do burnouts? Oh, yes, another benefit of the automatic transmission. As if you needed any help from a nice smoky burnout to draw droves of people to the "Viper Truck." Trust us, if you are driving the Ram SRT-10, you will be getting plenty of attention -- some of it wanted.

So with an emerging aftermarket, enough versatility to be called a daily driver, and just about the most fun you can have in something that weighs around 3 tons, we think the Dodge Ram SRT-10 Quad Cab is worth every bit of its $50,000 asking price, especially since it will top 150 mph and provide endless grins. The World's Fastest Production Truck is now also the 2005 Truckin' Truck of the Year.

From the Logbook:
The automatic Quad Cab is a tamer animal than the regular cab, but this transmission has good feel and firm, solid shift points.Senior Tech Editor Bob Ryder

This is the perfect family hot rod hauler. It is fun to drive through the twisties, and you can rely on the brakes to bring the Viper power to a halt.
Feature Editor Travis Noack

After reveling in the original SRT-10, I found myself reaching for the Hurst shifter and wondering why there was a seat behind me.
Associate Editor Dan Ward

This has to be the baddest tow vehicle around.
Associate Editor Sean P. Holman

2005 Truck of the Year
Make/Model'05 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab'05 Dodge Ram SRT-10 Quad Cab'05 Ford Super Cab F-250 '05 Nissan Frontier King Cab'05 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab
Price (as tested)$32,884$50,000$38,215TBATBA
Engine4.7L Magnum SOHC V-88.3L Viper OHV V-106.8L Triton SOHC V-10 4.0L VQ40 DOHC V-64.0L DOHC V-6
Horsepower230 hp at 4,600 rpm500 hp at 5,600 rpm 362 hp at 4,750 rpm265 hp at 5,600 rpm245 hp at 5,200 rpm
Torque290 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm525 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm457 lb-ft at 3,250 rpm284 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm282 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm
TransmissionFive-speed AutoFour-speed Auto 48REFive-speed Auto TorqShiftFive-speed AutoSix-speed Manual
SuspensionCoil-over shock (f), leaf spring (r)Independent (f), live axle (r)Twin coil monobeam (f), rigid axle leaf spring (r)Coilover independant (f), rigid axle leaf springs (r)Coilover independent (f), rigid axle leaf springs (r)
BrakesFour-wheel antilockPerformance four-wheel antilockFour-wheel antilockFour-wheel antilockFour-wheel antilock
Wheelbase131.3 in140.5 in141.8 in125.9 in127.8 in
Length218.8 in227.7 in231.2 in205.5 in208.1 in
Width71.7 in79.9 in79.9 in72.8 in74.6 in
Height68.6 in74.7 in79.9 in 69.7 in70.1 in
Curb Weight4,758 lb5,450 lb6,299 lb4,000 lb (est.) 4,045 lb
Towing Capacity (as tested)5,600 lb7,500 lb12,500 lb6,000 lb (est.)6,500 lb
Acceleration (0-60 mph)10.41 sec6.94 sec10.58 sec9.77 sec10.69 sec
Quarter-Mile Time17.81 sec at 75.92 mph15.29 sec at 92.06 mph18.0 sec at 76.86 mph17.52 sec at 80.97 mph17.85 sec at 79.36 mph
Braking (60-0 mph)152.68 ft128.99 ft167.81 ft139.88 ft136.67 ft
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