The full-size pickup truck has been America's workhorse for decades. It still is. But in recent years, big trucks have become something else: sporty, comfortable, user-friendly vehicles that more and more Americans are using as cars.
Trucks are not just hot these days, they're sizzling. The two best-selling vehicles in the world are the Ford F150 and the GMC/Chevrolet C1500Silverado. Dodge also builds a popular big truck, the Ram D150. In effort to find out who makes
the best full-size pickup truck, we asked the Big Three to lend us trucks for a couple of weeks. We asked for each company's best-selling models. All three trucks were equipped with an entry-level V-8, automatic transmission, two-wheel drive and a
regular bed and cab. We requested the trucks be equipped the way most truck buyers prefer: with air conditioning, an AM/FM radio, a trailer hitch and a few power accessories. We didn't just drive the test trucks around town. We loaded them with heavy
cargo and tested their metal, er, mettle. We drove the trucks in the rain and the dirt. We drove them over bad roads, and we listened for wind and road noise. We looked closely at the way the trucks were built and tried out every accessory several times.
You may be wondering which truck came out on top. Well, I'm not going to tell you just now. But I will say this: If you are looking for a big truck, you'll be able to make your choice a bit easier if you define your priorities. Each of the trucks
has its unique strong points. For instance, the F150 XLT is most like a car. The Dodge has the most power and versatility. The Chevy does everything well, but comes up a bit short on the inside. But one thing is certain: In these rotten economic
times, buyers are looking for value above all else. I think all three trucks are excellent vehicles that give you your money's worth - and more. Here's how they compare: PERFORMANCE The numbers tell the story here. Dodge's 5.2-liter V-8 pumps
out 230 horsepower. Compare that to the 185 horsepower on tap from 5.0-liter Ford V-8 and the 175 horsepower from Chevy's 5.0-liter. Not only was the Ram D150 faster from a start, but when it came to passing slower traffic, the big Dodge moved away
easily and aggressively. When loaded with 1,070 pounds of shingles, courtesy of Builders Square in Apopka, the Dodge's engine got a bit louder, and its performance dropped slightly, but it still was the quickest and beefiest. The Ram's 50-horsepower
advantage was easily felt at the gas pedal. Don't get the impression, however, that the Ford and Chevy were slow or unresponsive. Both offered pleasing and very adequate performance, much like a midsize V-6-powered sedan. Each truck sported a
four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The Ford and Chevy transmissions shifted exceptionally smoothly. The Dodge transmission worked well but did not offer the same level
of refinement. Although the Dodge engine had the most power, the 5.0-liter engine in the Chevy Silverado performed more consistently. Chevy's V-8 may have ranked last in horsepower, but it was the only engine that could haul the 1,070 pounds without
compromising its smoothness and performance. Ford's V-8 is great, but when loaded with the shingles, the edge came off its performance. HANDLING If someone blindfolded you and gave you a ride in the Ford and the Chevy trucks, it would be hard
to tell which you were in. Both offered a smooth and quiet ride. TheFordand Chevy had a firm but soft suspension. Both suspension systems filtered out much of the jarring, bouncy motion that you may associate with pickup trucks. When a large bump or
pothole was hit, the suspension systems absorbed the shock and both trucks dipped gently. The Dodge had a more rugged feel to it, one that will likely appeal to those who like a tough, macho-riding truck. Wh
nloaded with cargo, the Ford and Chevy remained level but the front end of the Dodge rose several inches. The cargo was put in the same place in each truck - between the wheel wells. We were surprised to find the Ford and Chevy rode smoother with the
added weight. The same can't be said for the Ram, which bounced and dipped considerably over big bumps. But Dodge won hands down in the braking department. The front disc/rear drum brakes in the Ram felt strong enough to stop a runaway jetliner.
The brakes in the Ford and Chevy trucks were excellent, too, but they didn't have the fast, powerful bite of the Dodge's brakes. Rear anti-lock brakes were standard in all three trucks. As for steering, Ford's F150 was the easiest to turn. If
the steering wheel was released after a sharp turn, it would return to center quickly and smoothly. The steering on the Chevy and Dodge was generally good, but not as responsive. FIT AND FINISH The Dodge seemed a bit dated in its styling. And
there's a good reason for that: It has been on the market since 1972. For the most part, the only changes have been minor and cosmetic ones. But the Dodge that was tested had the best paint job of the three - a smooth and glossy red that contrasted
nicely with the chrome bumpers and grille, styled alloy wheels and black body trim. The Ram D150 still is a tough-looking truck that conveys the Dodge's true mission: It was born to work. Of the three, Ram had the least impressive interior. The
cloth-covered bench seat was comfortable, but the dash and the instrument panel - with its round instruments and a push-button, lever-activated air-conditioning system similar to what my parents had in their 1974 Plymouth Duster - seemed old-fashioned.
In contrast, some parts of the Ram's interior seemed out of place. For instance, the tilt steering column, with its steering wheel-mounted cruise control is as modern as anything you'll find. So was the superb AM/FM cassette radio. Of the three
trucks, the Dodge had the most wind noise. The Chevy offers a compromise between style and utility - but it doesn't really work. The thinly-padded four-spoked steering wheel pokes out too far; it's almost in your lap. The instruments are housed in a
huge, square plastic box fastened to the dash. And the air conditioner requires no fewer than seven buttons to operate. Ford gets by with three round easy-to-use knobs. And speaking of air conditioners, Chevy's fan was noisy. And there's not a vent
that blows air directly on your face. Ford's F150 had the best interior. It is more than just stylish - it's classy. The analog gauges - housed in a sweeping one-piece dash - are similar to those used in the Taurus and Thunderbird. The overdrive
switch is at the end of the stylish black column shifter; the lighted button can be operated by your thumb. On the Dodge, the overdrive button is in the dash on a flimsy p
lastic panel. The Chevy Silverado doesn't have an overdrive switch; instead, you have to shift from overdrive to third gear. Ford takes the award for the best seat. The test truck came with a thickly-padded cloth-covered bench that had a big foldaway
center armrest. Chevy's armrest was so small it was almost useless. The Dodge didn't have one. The F150 also came with inflatable lumbar support; the others didn't. Cupholders popped out of the Chevy's dash; on the Ford they were in a plastic
tray that juts out from the center of the seat. This could be uncomfortable for a middle passenger. The Dodge didn't have cupholders. All three trucks featured removable tailgates. The Dodge's was the easiest to remove, but it was the heaviest.
The Dodge and the Chevy offer cargo lights that shine on the pickup bed. The Ford did not. AND THE WINNER IS . . . So here's the final word: If you are in the market for a truck to use only for work, take a look at theDo
ge. The Ram D150 is a truck you can fling bricks and heavy equipment into and no t care about scratching the bed. Heck, you may not even bother to wash it regularly. Go for the Chevy if you need a truck to use for both work and as a second or
third car. The Chevy Silverado is somewhat bland inside, and it has a fussy and confusing dash, but it offers reasonable comfort and a great ride. The Silverado also has just enough style not to cause raised eyebrows in social situations. If you
are interested in the Chevy truck, don't forget to look at the GMC version. (It should be noted that the Chevy and GMC trucks are not equipped with fuel tanks mounted outside the frame rails. Those models, which are the focus of safety concerns
because of the possibility of fires in side-impact collisions, were discontinued in 1987. Like the Ford and Dodge trucks, the current GMC and Chevy trucks have their fuel tanks mounted inside the frame rails - meaning that they are less likely to rupture
in a side-impact collision.) If you want a truck to use as a car, look at the F150 XLT. With a smooth aerodynamic grille and plush interior, it is miles ahead of the competition in class and prestige. You're likely to find that sticker prices for
all three of these trucks are flexible.