We were at the Chicago Auto Show in 2006 when Toyota unveiled the redesigned Tundra. What captured our attention, aside from the truck, was the response from some of the other manufacturers who had slipped into the room to see it right after the press conference ended. The GM and Ford staffs maintained their professional aplomb, while the Dodge folks appeared genuinely and objectively curious. The Nissan fellas, however, seemed particularly attentive to what the new Tundra was bringing to the table. As were we.

Toyota released the truck in early 2007 with great fanfare and a marketing budget that allows it to put the Tundra name all over the place, such as the Tundra Parking Pavillion in downtown Houston. Even so, it's been a tough row to hoe for Toyota so far, as the company has learned that the domestics aren't giving up without a fight, and part of that fight requires laying money on the hood for buyer incentives. Still, the Tundra unit sales seem to be meeting the company's stated expectations.

The Tundra had previously been derided by some as being a 7/8-sized truck, not quite fullsized to play with the big dogs. Toyota may have overcompensated a bit, in our opinion, by giving the truck outsized proportions like a sumo wrestler ... flab and all. Still, you can't miss these trucks when they are rolling down the freeway. Inside, the truck we tested was the base trim level. It's cloth seats (powered for the driver) look jarringly functional and the colors on the dash (silver and piano) clash with each other. The HVAC and transfer-case knobs are close enough to each other to create a little confusion: "Man, I need to turn up the fan, it's hot in here. Oops!" It can feel awkward to peer into those coffee-can instrument gauges in the dash. The interior design of the Limited looks pretty good, almost as good as Ford's, and certainly beats the Ram and Titan. The Tundra offers that huge center console with the nifty laptop and file storage space. The included cold kit has the heavy-duty battery, heavy-duty starter, heavy-duty anti-corrosion protection, and wiper de-icer with timer. These were standad, as were the six-disc radio and a few other features. Options on our tester included an 18-inch alloy wheel and tire package, front and rear parking sensors, tow mirrors, deck rail system for the bed, a tiny flip-down backup camera, and carpeted floor mats with a doorsill protector. The CrewMax version we had was Toyota's answer to the Dodge Ram Mega Cab, and has mega-uh, max-legroom as well as reclining and sliding seats. The front seats are spacious, as well.

The available powertrains are the most noteworthy, with the horsepower and torque of all three engines beating the competition's engines of comparable displacement, with the exception being the Ram's 4.7L rating higher than the Tundra's. The 5.7L we drove surges like a beat mule and likes to rev high, and the brakes inspire confidence. That 10,000-pound tow rating is nothing to sneeze at, either, beat only by a couple of hundred pounds from the Ford. And the fuel economy of 15 mpg is better than anybody else's V-8.

The Tundra gives you a lot of legroom, tow capacity, payload, fuel economy, roomy beds, and gutsy engines, for the money; at least for the SR5 that we had that was priced with options and destination at $37,226. The Limited models all optioned out do push the truck's price significantly higher. Right now we feel that the Tundra presents the better value proposition compared to the other models that we tested. It's not a perfect pickup, but you do get a lot of truck for the money. The Tundra wins our Truck of the Year Award.

Dodge Durango
Our biggest surprise came when we drove the new '08 Dodge Durango SLT 4x4. Having tested the similar Chrysler Aspen last year and felt it lacked real soul, we were concerned the Durango wouldn't inspire us to take kindly to the almost fullsize SUV. Those fears were quickly squashed as the interior is nicely appointed and roomy, the freshened 4.7L provides ample power with smooth shifts from the five-speed auto, and the ride is not overly cushy, which was a big problem with the Chrysler. As with any truck or SUV, the real appreciation comes from long-term seat time and the Durango was ready to answer that call.

Driving the 4.7L equipped Durango, the 303hp and 320 lb-ft of torque were apparent, yet the throttle wasn't too sensitive for our driving styles. Its new five-speed automatic transmission provides smooth down-shifts, whereas the 13.63 MPG we received during our test wasn't the best, its sprite performance helps us overlook that fact. Steering is lighter than most large SUVs and the Durango's brakes were firm, thanks to the four-wheel discs. Its ride was soft and yet when towing felt very stable, which we're sure is in part due to the trailer sway control and electronic stability control. Full-time 4WD makes driving in any condition safer and provides confidence to the driver.

Starting at $33,065, the Durango is available with a fuel-friendly V-6 and a tow-ready 5.7L Hemi capable of towing 8,950 pounds and checking all of the options, which brings the price to $45,035. Our tester was well-equipped for an MSRP of $41,295. Options included the awesome MyGIG multimedia entertainment system, a backup camera, heated leather seats, power and key FOB-operated liftgate, a power moonroof, 20-inch chrome-clad wheels, a trailer towing package, and eight speaker Alpine sound system. These options, along with standard equipment like rear 115-volt outlet, power locks and windows, Sirius satellite radio, and all-rows supplemental airbags made the Durango an SUV with an impressive package of features.

An updated front fascia brings the traditional Dodge crosshair front grille and big-rig styled headlights to the Durango. Dual-round taillights add a little sportiness to the rear of the SUV and large wheel arches help make the 20-inch wheel package look proportioned. Dodge uses nicer materials inside the Durango, compared to its bigger Ram brother and the two-tones of neutral colors are pleasing to the eyes without being too boring. Controls are in logical places and are easy to use with features like steering wheel controls and the available UConnect hands-free communication system allowing you to program your Bluetooth cell phone into the integrated system and make calls safely and legally. Other improvements include second and third-row seats that fold flat and provide class-leading cargo space. Speaking of third-row seating, the Durango's third row is not as cramped as some of the other far rear seats we've tested, and was far more comfortable than the Jeep Commander we had for a year.

All in all, the Durango stood out from its competitors by providing what we consider to be the best value for its size and capabilities. Unique exterior styling, combined with logical interior design, and a drivetrain that feels solid, made this year's decision to name Dodge Durango as Truckin's SUV of the Year an easy one.

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