2011 Truck Buying Guide

Top Recommended Trucks

Despite increasing concerns for fuel economy, the selling power of full-size trucks has not diminished. That's probably because these trucks are better than ever, with a wealth of innovative features and fancy creature comforts to go along with the traditionally limitless array of body styles (regular cab, extended cab, crew cab). Improved fuel economy certainly helps, as well. For those who don't need the capabilities of a full-size truck, there are a couple of worthy smaller trucks on the market.

Large Trucks

Big engines, big torque, big towing. This is what this segment is all about, but it's the finer points that set the top trucks apart. The Dodge Ram 1500's solid-axle rear suspension with coil springs offers a smoother ride than traditional leaf-spring designs, and that alone nearly puts it over the top. But its top-dog Hemi V8 (390 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque), a 10,250-pound towing capacity, voluminous cabin with loads of storage space and an interior that leads the class in materials quality and design set the Ram well apart from its rivals.

But the Ram's counterpart, the Ford F-Series, hasn't been America's best-selling vehicle for most of the past three decades on badge strength alone. Simply put, Ford understands full-size truck buyers. Formidable towing and hauling capacities, proven reliability, an array of body styles and configurations, and unique features like Ford Sync and a deployable step make it a strong contender. Its all-new engine lineup for 2011 makes it even stronger, ranging from a fuel-efficient yet stout V6 to a new 6.2-liter V8 that corrects last year's F-150's significant power difficiency. There's even a twin-turbo V6 that provides the power of a V8 with the fuel economy of a V6.

Finally, American truck buyers took their time warming to the idea of a Japanese full-size pickup, but it's safe to say the Toyota Tundra has earned their respect, if not their affection. Properly equipped, the Tundra's stout chassis and 5.7-liter V8 is capable of towing a 10,800-pound load with a single, standard axle ratio. When the cargo bed is empty, the Tundra offers light steering that makes it easy to drive, despite feeling bigger than its competitors. Its ride quality is excellent, though its rivals have improved thanks to the Ram's coil suspension and the F-150's sturdier frame.

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Compact Trucks

There isn't much room in this debate. American automakers have largely ceded this category to the Japanese, with the Chevy Colorado, Dodge Dakota and Ford Ranger being old and woefully neglected in lieu of their full-size siblings. As a result, Nissan and Toyota now are the best choices in this segment.

The Nissan Frontier combines blue-collar utility with an adventurous spirit; it hauls dirt and lumber as effortlessly as it hauls friends, dogs and tailgate parties. A four-cylinder Frontier is available — a good choice if you just need a small runabout. But the optional V6 models are the true workhorses, offering ample torque and acceleration, 3-ton towing capacity and handling that's polite on pavement and composed on trail. Although its flanks now more resemble a midsize pickup and its stiff backseat angle won't endear passengers on long hauls, the Frontier is a solid choice for those seeking a champion multitasker.

The Toyota Tacoma represents the only legitimate competition to the Frontier. It, too, offers four- and six-cylinder engines, similar towing and payload capacities and 5- and 6-foot bed lengths. The Tacoma is offered in three body styles, all available with four-wheel drive (with the exception of the street-oriented X-Runner). Multiple options packages offer more creature comforts than the Frontier, and the Tacoma's interior is generally better, but you really won't go wrong with either choice.

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