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America invented the pickup truck, and this vehicle still speaks to our national enthusiasm for getting things done. For a short time, rising fuel prices put a damper on the American driver's love of trucks, but truck manufacturers have responded by engineering a new breed of fuel-efficient engines. Trucks have also become more comfortable to drive, matching carlike interiors with carlike handling. These days, trucks now offer all the amenities that used to be found only in cars — leather interiors, premium stereos, Bluetooth and other advanced electronic features. As always, however, trucks are about utility, which is why they come in a wide array of body styles (regular cab, crew cab, extended cab) and a sometimes bewildering number of engine/payload combinations.
The Ram 1500 boasts a winning combination of strong powertrains, a smooth ride and a well-trimmed cabin, and it's our top pick in the large truck category. The Ram's class-leading Hemi V8 engine and 5-ton towing capacity deliver impressive brute force, while its solid-axle rear suspension with coil springs provides finesse in the form of a smoother ride than traditional leaf springs. A roomier interior, ample storage space, first-class cabin materials and electronic amenities (including one of the best voice-activated Bluetooth hands-free systems available) make it a serious contender for the truck in your driveway or work shed.
For more than 30 years, the best-selling Ford F-150 has been steadily evolving in both power and feature content, which has kept it at or near the top of the list for best full-size truck. This year is no different. With 10 trim levels (ranging from plain-Jane basic to leather-trimmed luxurious), three bed styles and engine options that go from a twin-turbo V6 to a 6.2-liter V8, the F-150 offers enough variety that you're likely to find the version that fits your needs. And Ford's Sync technology makes connecting and using portable devices easy — and makes the F-150 stand out from the competition even more.
Our third pick in the large truck segment is the Chevrolet Silverado (and its GMC Sierra twin). Despite an aging design, the Silverado/Sierra features some strong advantages that may sway some buyers. Though it straggles a bit behind the competition in terms of in-cabin storage, towing capacity and options, the differences are actually very slight. The Chevy's/GMC's smooth, quiet ride and muted levels of wind and road noise, as well as comfortable seats in the upper trim levels combine to make this truck a better long-distance road-tripper than its competition. And it's the only truck that offers the safety and convenience of OnStar.
Searching for a smaller affordable work truck, off-road explorer or occasional family transporter? The brawny Nissan Frontier is our top pick for compact pickup. It handles well on streets and highways but is rugged enough to tackle light hauling and towing duties and all but the toughest trails. The Frontier also has a wide range of models (from no-frills four-cylinder base version through V6-powered off-road-ready PRO-4X; note there is no regular-cab option), and the long list of standard features and available options also means you can easily tailor this stylish small truck to match your intended use.
Like the Frontier, the Toyota Tacoma is a strong contender, if your towing needs are modest but you still want to haul dirty stuff. It can be equipped with a four- or six-cylinder engine and has similar bed-length options and payload and towing capacities as the Nissan. But compared to the Frontier, the Tacoma places more emphasis on smooth-riding refinement and lots of cabin configurations. All models (except the street-oriented X-Runner) are available with four-wheel drive. And an extensive list of option packages makes the Tacoma potentially more comfortable and tech-savvy than the Frontier, plus its interior is a tad better, too.