The General Takes Charge

Listen to the news, and you'd think General Motors is in retreat. Then take a look at their truck lineup, and it becomes instantly obvious that GM is charging full speed ahead in its work-vehicle production. There isn't another manufacturer on the planet with a deeper bench.

GM's Chevrolet and GMC divisions produce a variety of work-qualified vehicles. These include the compact new HHR Panel, Avalanche, and Cadillac Escalade EXT crossover pickups; midsize Colorado and Canyon pickups; full-size and heavy-duty Silverado and Sierra pickups; Chevy Express and GMC Savana work vans; W- and T-series cab-over utility trucks; and commercial-duty C4500 and C5500 Kodiak and Topkick trucks.

The Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500-series full-size pickups got numerous power and equipment upgrades last year in a move to the new GMT-900 platform. In addition to the 4.3 V6 (195 hp with 260 pound-feet of torque) and 4.8 liter V8 (295 hp with 305 pound-feet of torque), seven engine options are available in this category, including four versions of GM's durable 5.3-liter workhorse (all rated at 315 hp and 338 pound-feet of torque). The top engine choice in the GM 1500s this year is a 6.0-liter mill that puts out 367 hp and 375 pound-feet of torque.

The heavy-duty Silverado and Sierras offer the 6.0 liter gas engine as standard equipment, or a 6.6 liter turbo diesel with 365 hp and 660 pound-feet of torque. For both heavy-duty trucks, payload capacity is 2,407 pounds, and towing weight has increased to 18,500 pounds. In the 1500 pickups, Regular, Extended, and Crew Cabs are offered with maximum towing capacity peaking at 10,500 pounds and payload at 2,160 pounds. Two bed lengths, 6.6-foot and 8-foot, are available in both pickups.

The midsize GM pickups, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, got engine upgrades for 2007, so little has changed since then. The base 2.9-liter, 4-cylinder engine delivers 185 hp and 190 pound-feet of torque, while the 3.7-liter, inline 5-cylinder now offers 242 hp with 242 pound-feet of torque.

Regular, Extended, and Crew Cabs are available with beds 6.1 or 5.1 feet long. Maximum payload is 1,733 pounds with a 4,000-pound max tow weight.

Toyota on a Roll

When Toyota rolled out its massive CrewMax pickup in 2007, the manufacturer predicted its full-size truck sales would reach 200,000 in 2008–an audacious goal, considering it would require moving some 25% more vehicles off the lot. As of this writing, however, that target was in sight and closing fast. The CrewMax, a heavy-duty version of the Tundra introduced in 1999, has a lot to do with reaching that goal, as did last year's introduction of a second big V8 engine. Toyota has shown that not only can it run with the big dogs, it can eat their lunch as well. Its share of the full-size truck market is now 17% and still growing.

After last year's big launch, in which all Tundras got a supersize upgrade, not much has changed in the trucks for 2008. Three full-size models are available: the four-door CrewMax and Double Cab, along a two-door Regular Cab. Both the CrewMax and Double Cab models have full-size, front-hinged rear doors. The cavernous CrewMax interior offers sliding, reclining rear seats.

Three engines are available: a 4.0 liter V6 (236 hp with 266 pound-feet of torque), 4.7 liter V8 (271 hp with 313 pound-feet of torque), and the new, all-aluminum 5.7 liter V8 (381 hp with 401 pound-feet of torque). A new, 97.6-inch long-bed option was added in '07 to go with the standard 78.7-inch bed length. The CrewMax is available only with a 66.7-inch short bed.

Maximum towing weight for the Tundras is 10,800 pounds and a 2,060-pound payload rating. A tow/haul selector on the 6-speed gearbox optimizes shifts for hills and heavy loads.

Anyone who works in a truck should check out the new Tundra interiors, which have a center console large enough for a laptop computer and hanging files, and a wide sliding armrest that doubles as a portable desk. Cabs have two 12-volt DC outlets (three in the CrewMax models), and two separate glove boxes, including a large-capacity lower compartment.

The Tacoma, Toyota's other pickup, is also little changed for 2008. Its base engine is a 2.7-liter, 16-valve 4-cylinder that provides 159 hp and 180 pound-feet of torque. Also available is the same aluminum, 4.0-liter, 24-valve V6 as in the Tundra. Maximum tow rating is an impressive 11,100 pounds with a special tow-prep package. Payload limit is 1,685 pounds. A supercharger is now available for TRD off-road and sports models equipped with the 4.0-liter engine.

Nissan Keeps Pace

Introduced just three years ago, the impressive Nissan Titan gets even bigger for 2008 with longer wheel-base models and a full 8-foot bed option on the King Cab. Altogether, four bed sizes are available, including the short-bed 5.5-foot and 6.5-foot boxes. A new Pro-4X off-road version expands the lineup to four full-size pickup iterations, all in Crew or King Cab only, not counting the midsize Frontier, a sportier version that shares some of the Titan's hard-working features.

Standard power for the Titan is the 5.6 liter V8 (315 hp with 385 pound-feet of torque), which Nissan designed and introduced with this vehicle in 2005. A flex fuel (E-85) option, added in 2007, continues at no extra charge. Max payload for the Titan is 2,063 pounds with a tow rating up to 9,500 pounds.

The Titan has lots of builder friendly options, such as a lockable exterior-sidewall storage compartment, double-hinged 168-degree-opening rear doors, a factory bed tie-down system, spray-on bed liner, a 37-gallon fuel tank (long-wheel-base models), and a 12-volt exterior bed-mounted power outlet. The Titan also gets a refreshed front-end look for '08, along with interior refinements, like new seats for more big-guy comfort and a redesigned instrument panel and console.

The Frontier, Nissan's midsize pickup, also offers a spray-on bed liner and bed tie-down system. There's not much else new to report for 2008, other than the base engine is now the V6 introduced last year–a 4.0 liter V6 (the same engine used in Nissan's 350Z) that puts out 261 hp and 281 pound-feet of torque. A 2.5 liter inline four-cylinder (available only in 4x2 models) gives 152 hp and 171 pound-feet of torque. The V6 boosts payloads to 1,552 pounds and tow capacity to 6,500 pounds.

Honda Hangs In

The Honda Ridgeline advertises itself as "a unique entry in the half-ton pickup truck segment," but this midsize SUV/pickup really belongs in a class with other crossovers like the Chevy Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT. It has a 4x5-foot pickup bed, can haul an 1,100-pound payload, and offers 5,000-pound towing capacity, but it drives so much like an SUV that it easily makes you forget you're in a truck.

On the other hand, in the three years since its introduction (in 2005 as a 2006 model) the Ridgeline has proved it can work and play. And it has some unique features: an on-demand 4-wheel-drive system automatically kicks in when needed, it has a tailgate that swings out or drops down, and below the bed floor is a lockable, waterproof, 8.5 cubic-foot storage compartment (which can't be accessed with a load in the bed).

The only power option is a transverse-mounted, 3.5-liter V6 that provides 247 hp and 252 pound-feet of torque. Manufacturer's suggested price for the '08 Ridgeline starts at $28,000.

–Veteran auto industry writer Mike Morris is a contributing editor and truck columnist for Tools of the Trade.