If you ever wondered how competitive the truck market has become, take a look at the 2006 Ford F-150. We pointed out in our intro that normally we wouldn't have evaluated this truck because it hasn't been redesigned yet. But, we needed to beef up our story and thought it would be a great idea to include America's best-selling truck in the mix. Unfortunately, the somewhat refreshed '07 model was not available when we needed it, so we fell back on the '06. What a learning experience.
We touted the well-deserved merits of the newly redesigned F-150 just a few years ago, but, boy, how the market has changed. The F-150 may have set the standard, but almost every other truck we evaluated for this story had strong points that cast a harsh light on the now-tired F-150. We hope that the '07 F-150's changes-boost to a 10,500 lb max tow rating; cuts in price; and the addition of the FX2 and Harley-Davidson Super Crew models-will be enough to keep its numbers up until the redesign that might happen by 2008.
Our F-150 had a great interior and a nice ride, but was underpowered. It ranked just a step higher than the heavy and underpowered Avalanche on the quarter-mile. It's 5.4L got 14.08 mpg, which is slightly better than the Ram's 5.7L and a little worse then the Sierra's 6.0L. The King Ranch package is plush and distinctive in its styling, but we thought it worked better in the Super Duty we evaluated earlier in the year than in this model. Also, 2WD just doesn't jibe for the King Ranch's rugged-west motif, but we presume that Ford wouldn't offer it if nobody was buying it. Its brake performance stood in the middle of the pack; its cab was quietest; its interior was roomy but not the most; and its powertrain didn't stand out either. As it stands, our '06 F-150 King Ranch is more like an average truck, probably because everyone else has been gunning for it. Unfortunately, average is not quite good enough for today's tough fullsize market.
The redesigned GMC Sierra also was one of the strongest contenders for Truck of the Year. As the step-up brand in the GM truck line up, GMC tends to get crowded by Chevrolet both in the market and among our readership. But that doesn't mean that it isn't a worthy truck. It shares the same guts as the Silverado and is certainly built for work, but it's the truck that the owner of a construction company drives, while the Silverado is driven by one of the carpenters. And boy, doesn't that business owner live large.
Our tester was equipped with the Vortec Max 6.0L V-8 and four-speed transmission. It ran even with the Ram on the quarter-mile and stayed barely ahead of the Ram and F-150 in fuel economy. Its exhaust note was noteworthy whether the engine was idling (more like loping) or under load. The Sierra came with navigation-again, it's a toss up over whether the GM or Ford system was the best. Refinement of the interior tracks with the Silverado and Avalanche as far as quality and design, but it certainly takes interiors to the next level. Its seats topped the leather seats in the Silverado, Avalanche, and F-150 as far as comfort and their ability to smooth the rough edges of its leaf-sprung rear end. The pricey Bose audio system doesn't sound as good, or at least as loud, as the Titan's Rockford Fosgate setup-a shame when you consider its diversity of media playback options (CD changer, iPod jack, DVD in the back) and the fact that it's a $2,500 option. The exterior is certainly improved, but it is not as distinctive as the Silverado's and gets blown away by the upgraded Denali version.
Honestly, though, if you want a Sierra, then go for Denali. It's the ultimate expression of the Sierra; offers an exclusive powertrain and unmistakable appearance; and starts at $40K and ramps up sharply from there. That's a lot of dough, and if that makes you nervous, then you might want to consider sticking with a Chevy.
Always a bridesmaid but never a bride? The Nissan Titan is the reliable, plain-Jane friend to the pretty bride who has been asked to stand up front many times but has yet to garner her own engagement. A solid performer, the Titan was the fastest of our trucks in the quarter-mile and has the most useful interior room (especially in the back for cargo and passengers). The Titan comes with aggressive and sort-of-traditional body styling and possesses strong brakes and good maneuverability. We like the storage scheme in the center console; there is plenty of capacity there, including the "lip" that extends along the side of the console and abuts the front seats and catches dropped pens, coins, and French fries. The Titan and the Dodge were probably the best off-roaders in the group, thanks to their power and appropriate tires.
The domestic brands have defined what a fullsize truck is supposed to look like, so it's no surprise that it might take time for the Titan's body style-different, yet still aggressive-to grow on some of our staffers. But that's OK, it still has appeal...until you sit inside of it. The concept behind the spartan interior probably looked great on a designer's sketchpad, but its rendering in reality fell flat. The truck's interior is certainly functional but only passably interesting. The other trucks certainly pull ahead in this area. Now, the SE that we drove is the mid-tier trim level, so we weren't expecting a limo here. But, we have driven and seen Titans before and came away with the same impression. The wide A-pillar affects visibility a tad and creates extra wind noise, but the wide, blocky, side mirrors erase blind spots behind the driver. The Titan 5.6L got 10.79 mpg, abysmal when compared to the Ram's 14.03 mpg from its 5.7L.
The Titan offers no surprises, but then maybe we shouldn't expect much change since this is, for all practical purposes, the first generation of this truck. It is a well-intentioned, solid, meat-and-potatoes pickup. It certainly gets the job done. In a market where everyone can pretty much "get the job done," however, you need some sizzle to go along with that steak.