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Best Pickups

After last year's humdrum pickup selection at TestFest, this year's edition sees the arrival of the all-new Toyota Tundra, arguably the first full-size pickup Toyota has built, and an across-the-board revamp of General Motors' entries.

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After last year’s humdrum pickup selection at TestFest, this year’s edition sees the arrival of the all-new Toyota Tundra, arguably the first full-size pickup Toyota has built, and an across-the-board revamp of General Motors’ entries.

The Tundra battling the new GMT900 trucks for market share – now that’s exciting.

Also vying for attention is the restyled Dodge Dakota, a mid-size pickup with the only V8 in its class.

But even with a number of updates, it’s unlikely that this truck will come up the middle between the Tundra and the GM twins to win the category.

Don’t think the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra are just rebadged versions of each other – they are not. Each sports its own sheet metal and design.

There’s enough of a difference to polarize votes among the judges on overall impression and perhaps create an upset.



CHEVROLET SILVERADO

The Silverado is the under-the-skin twin to the Sierra. Though it’s hard to notice, both trucks are slightly wider (7.6 cm in front and 2.5 cm in back) than the last generation, and the box has been raised about 3 cm.

These changes are a result of the new frame, a new suspension and altered shock orientations.

Powered by the FlexFuel 5.3 L Vortec V8, this entry puts out 315 hp and 338 lb.-ft. of torque. Towing capacity is 3,856 kg.

Silverado is available with an integrated trailer brake controller, which its maker claims as a first for a half-ton pickup.

Another breakthrough for this line: a choice of dashboards.

The first design is similar to the luxury style offered in the new Tahoe SUV.

The second, called “pure pickup,” a classic, flat, work-minded dashboard with glove-friendly controls.

A new mechanical differential locker by Eaton uses an internal spring-loaded pendulum that reacts to centrifugal force, flying out when wheel slippage occurs and locking the rear gear set.

Price as tested: $44,240

DODGE DAKOTA

The Dakota’s market has traditionally been among those that found compact pickups too small, but the price of full-size pickups too big.

With a wheelbase of 3,335 mm, length of 5,558 mm and curb weight of 2,187 kg, this mid-sizer really isn’t that much smaller than, say, the Dodge Ram.

Its success is seen in the growth of rival intermediates, all of which have increased substantially in size over the past decade.

For 2008, Dakota receives a sheet-metal facelift and once again serves up the only V8 in its class. FlexFuel capable, this 4.7 L V8 delivers 302 hp and 329 lb.-ft. of torque. It pushes the power through a new six-speed automatic transmission.

Inside, buyers get a new instrument panel as well as a centre console offering a pullout bin designed for iPods and other hand-held electronics. Storage choices are expanded. Towing capacity: 3,157 kg.

Price as tested: $37,330



GMC SIERRA

With its long truck-building legacy, GM knows the future holds a growing need for pickup capacity and the prospect of ever-costlier gasoline.

The auto giant addresses this scenario with a 6.0 L V8 with Active Fuel Management for the Sierra.

This engine pumps out 367 hp and 375 lb.-ft. of torque, yet still manages a mileage average of 14.4 L/100 km (Transport Canada figure).

But the new Sierra gets much more than an engine upgrade; it’s new inside and out.

Trim packages run the gamut from fleet-truck utility to full-bore luxury interiors, complete with heated leather seats, rear-seat entertainment system, dual-zone HVAC, tilt/slide sunroof, heated windshield washer fluid and distinctive ice-blue LED lighting.

Sierra rides on a wheelbase of 3,645 mm, is 5,844 mm long and weighs in at 2,394 kg.

Its integrated trailer brake controller is a must for a truck that can tow up to 3,856 kg.

Price as tested: $50,985



TOYOTA TUNDRA

This is the truck that is supposed to vault Toyota into the North American pickup market with an entry that destroys the long-held myth that the company can’t build a full-size half-ton.

Sporting a new 381-horse 5.7 L V8 (with 401 lb.-ft. of torque), the Tundra bolts its engine to a frame with a wheelbase of 3,700 mm and an overall length of 5,810 mm. This combination has a curb weight of 2,535 kg.

But big isn’t just about size – it’s also about capacity.

Tundra offers a standard cab, four-door Double Cab with front-hinged rear doors and an extended four-door cab called CrewMax.

With its oversize rear doors and stretched cabin, this last one mimics the MegaCab introduced by Dodge last year.

The Toyota can be had with three bed lengths, including an eight-foot (2.4 m) box. Towing capacity is rated at 4,670 kg.

Interior features are aimed squarely at buyers from the world of working trucks.

Among them: oversized controls that can be used while wearing gloves, plenty of storage space and a new tailgate-assist mechanism for one-handed use.

Price as tested: $42,325

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