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High performance: pickups - Any truck can haul, but which one is best?

Engine size, tow ratings and cab configuration among factors to consider

So you?re off to the racetrack, but you need to get your RV or your race car trailer there. What truck will do the job?

The good news is that all new pickups are good haulers. The tough part is figuring out which one?s right for you.

Towing and payload capacity depend on several factors, including the engine, cab configuration, and two- or four-wheel drive. Not all models achieve the sky-high capability that manufacturers trumpet in their ads.

Don?t just look at the truck side of it, either. Work with your RV dealer to match the right trailer and hitch to it.

Ford?s F-150 is currently Canada?s bestselling pickup truck, and has been for the past 48 years. The company will introduce an all-new 2015 version later this year, but for now, dealers have the 2014 models.

Engine choices depend on the trim line, and available powertrains are a 3.7-L V6 (302 hp/278 lb.-ft. of torque), 5.0-L V8 (360/308), 3.5-L V6 with EcoBoost (365/420), and 6.2-L V8 (411/434). The Super Duty 2500 and 3500 models also offer a 6.7-L V8 turbodiesel, making 440 hp and 860 lb.-ft.

The EcoBoost technology is a popular choice, and will figure prominently in the next-generation F-150, too. It uses a turbocharger to produce the power of a V8 when needed, with V6-style fuel efficiency under light load.

Of course, as with all engines, your gas gauge moves a lot faster when you?re hauling a trailer, but it?s nice to get a break when you?re just driving around empty.

Of all the available trucks, I like Ford?s nimble handling and steering feel the best. If you don?t need a great deal of power, try the 3.7-L V6, a very smooth and stout little engine.

RAM 1500

Chevrolet?s Silverado, and its mechanically-identical-twin GMC Sierra, were completely redone for 2014. It?s an excellent makeover.

The engine sizes are the same as in the previous generation, but the engines themselves are completely new: a 4.3-L V6 (285/305), 5.3-L V8 (355/383), and 6.2-L V8 (420/460).

All of them include cylinder deactivation, which shuts off half the cylinders when full power isn?t needed ? such as when cruising at a steady speed ? for better fuel economy. That?s relatively common on a lot of V8 engines, but finding it on a V6, as here, is rare.

The heavy-duty GMs have been updated to the new styling for the 2015 model year, and feature a 6.0-L V8 (360/380) and a 6.6-L V8 turbodiesel (397/765) that, combined with its six-speed automatic Allison transmission, is my pick for the best diesel engine/transmission combo available right now.

All full-size pickup trucks are larger than they need to be, but I find the GM trucks easiest to access, thanks to a lower seat hip point.

Extended-cab models now have front-hinged rear doors, so you don?t have to open the front door before you can open the back one. And there?s a brilliantly simple rear bumper step, with corresponding hand-hold in the bed rail, for easy access into the box.

Ram puts three engines into its half-tonne 1500: a 3.6-L V6 (305/269), a 5.7-L Hemi V8 (395/410) with cylinder deactivation, and my favourite, a 3.0-L V6 turbodiesel making 240 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, currently the only diesel available in any light-duty pickup.

Move up to the heavy-duty models, and there you have a choice of the 5.7-L V8 (383/400 in this model), a new 6.4-L V8 (410/429) with cylinder deactivation, and a 6.7-L inline-six turbodiesel that comes in three power variants, depending on the transmission, making a maximum of 385 hp and 850 lb.-ft.

Ram?s gotta-have-it option is a four-corner air suspension, which lets you lower the truck for easier access (important because, unlike most of its competitors, Ram doesn?t give you an easy way to climb into the bed), or raise it for extra off-road ground clearance.

It also automatically levels the truck whenever you throw in a load or hitch up a trailer, which makes the towing-n-hauling experience that much more pleasant.

On most models, you can also order the RamBox system, which slips two locking, drainable storage boxes inside the bed rails. You lose a little bit of bed space, but once you?ve tossed in tow straps or tools, you?ll wonder what you did without them.

Toyota has also redesigned its Tundra for 2014, and although the engines are the same as before, exterior styling is now more rugged and in-your-face, while the interior receives a much-needed makeover that not only looks considerably better, but also brings the centre stack controls closer to the driver, and puts folding rear seats in the CrewMax for extra interior storage.

Only a half-tonne is available, but it?s very capable, with a maximum towing capacity of 10,500 lb. (4,760 kg) when properly equipped.

Engine choices are a 4.6-L V8, making 310 hp and 327 lb.-ft., and a 5.7-L V8 that makes 381 hp and 401 lb.-ft.

Toyota has also fine-tuned its truck, and I find the Tundra now tows straighter and rides better, especially over rough pavement. It?s also quieter inside than it used to be.

As with all of its competitors, you can gussy it up with numerous options and, if you get into the 1794 Edition ? named for the founding year of the Texas ranch where the truck?s assembly plant now sits ? you end up with a seriously luxurious model that includes ventilated leather seats, sunroof, leather dash, and premium stereo with navigation.

Trucks enjoy some of the fiercest brand loyalty in the industry, but don?t just automatically look at the badge.

All have strong and weak points, and you need to cross-shop to find precisely the truck you need when you?re hauling a heavy trailer.

There?s no best truck, just the best one for the job you need to do.

wheels@thestar.ca

  • High performance: pickups - Any truck can haul, but which one is best? Re: On 2013-11-06, at 3:16 PM, Devine, Doug wrote: Supplied photos of the 2014 Ram Ecodiesel pickup truck <> <>
  • High performance: pickups - Any truck can haul, but which one is best? Only the Detroit manufacturers currently make heavy-duty trucks; the contest pitted the Ram 2500, Ford F350 Super Duty, and GMC Sierra 2500 - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels

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