5 Best Trucks Of The Year 2008




2008 Mercedes-Benz GL Class

Last year, the Mercedes GL450 emerged as the most desirable luxo ute in a very desirable field. Facing an equally strong challenge for 2008, Mercedes responded by expanding the GL-class from a class of one to a family of three. For those who seek thrift and torque, there’s the GL320 CDI turbo-diesel, an impressive powerplant that’s currently creating compression-ignition converts in service with our long-term test fleet. And for those who find the GL450’s 335 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque a bit too tame, there’s the GL550, with a 5.5-liter V-8 generating 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet.

Power is always welcome in vehicles weighing upwards of 2.5 tons, but in this class there are other important factors. Packaging, for example. The GL-class provides useful three-row seating and comfortable accommodations for seven in a wrapper that’s shorter, lower, and not quite as wide as most of the luxo leviathans. Those accommodations are posh, as you’d expect in this realm, and that wrapper is also stylish.

Another GL strong suit is refinement. The GL is exceptionally quiet, the seven-speed automatic is at the top of the charts for seamless operation, and ride quality is creamy, surprisingly so for a vehicle that’s extraordinarily responsive by large-SUV standards. None of the foregoing comes cheap, of course. But luxury is as luxury does, and the GL does it best.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 5-door wagon

BASE PRICE: $53,775–$77,750

ENGINES:
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve 3.0-liter V-6 diesel, 215 hp, 398 lb-ft; DOHC 32-valve 4.7-liter V-8, 335 hp, 339 lb-ft; DOHC 32-valve 5.5-liter V-8, 382 hp, 391 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION:
7-speed auto with manumatic shifting

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 121.1 in Length: 200.3 in Width: 76.0–76.9 in Height: 73.4–75.6 in
Curb weight: 5450–5550 lb

FUEL ECONOMY:
EPA city driving 13–18 mpg

2008 Chevrolet Silverado

High fuel prices have softened the market for pickup trucks, especially full-size pickups, but even so, there are more contenders in this formerly all-American arena than ever before. Which makes the Silverado’s preeminence all the more impressive.

So what gives the Silverado its edge? In a word, structure. The GMT900 truck platform, shared with the General’s full-size SUVs, set a new standard—make that the standard—for chassis rigidity, the essential starting point for ride, handling, big payloads, and hefty towing capabilities. And don’t forget durability.
There’s more to the Silverado story than railroad-trestle rigidity, of course. GM took a page out of the Ford F-150 playbook and gave its new full-size pickups a major interior upgrade—better materials, more room, more comfort, better ergonomics, improved stowage, more features, more options. Like its domestic competition, the Silverado (as well as its all-but-identical cousin, the GMC Sierra) offers a comprehensive range of choices—three cab configurations, long and short cargo beds, in two- or four-wheel-drive editions. And its powertrain lineup trumps the field: a 4.3-liter V-6, plus three gasoline V-8s.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine; rear- or rear/4-wheel-drive; 3–6-passenger; 2-, 2+2, or 4-door pickup

BASE PRICE: $18,100–$39,125

ENGINES: pushrod 12-valve 4.3-liter V-6, 195 hp, 260 lb-ft; pushrod 16-valve 4.8-liter V-8, 295 hp, 305 lb-ft; pushrod 16-valve 5.3-liter V-8, 315 hp, 338 lb-ft; pushrod 16-valve 6.0-liter V-8, 367 hp, 375 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION: 4-speed auto

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 119.0–157.5 in Length: 205.6–249.0 in Width: 79.9–80.0 in Height: 73.6–73.9 in
Curb weight: 4450–5600 lb

FUEL ECONOMY:
EPA city driving 13–15 mpg



2008 Honda Odyssey

When the goal is transporting lots of people and/or stuff, no vehicle type is more efficient than a van, and the Odyssey once again ranks as the best. It has ruled this 5Best category seven times since we started these awards in 2001.

What’s the secret? In part, it’s invention. Minivans had a long history by the time the second-generation Odyssey made its appearance in 1999, but Honda brought something new to the game with its third-row Magic Seat, which disappears into the floor, leaving a flat load surface.

Ergonomics is another strong suit—perfect control locations, instantly understandable function. Materials are first-rate, fit and finish ditto, and the safety credentials are as good as they get: five-star front- and side-impact ratings, a multiplicity of airbags, standard ABS, standard stability control. Safety is obviously a key priority for minivan buyers. But there’s an element of safety that is too often overlooked: agile handling, to give drivers a chance to avoid a crash.

This also happens to be a trait—agility—that’s central to a vehicle’s fun-to-drive index, a trait that helps to set the Odyssey above the rest of the minivan herd.

Some say minivans are the automotive equivalent of sensible shoes. Perhaps. But the Odyssey proves that sensible and fun are not mutually exclusive propositions.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 7–8-passenger, 5-door van

BASE PRICE: $26,495–$40,645

ENGINE:
SOHC 24-valve 3.5-liter V-6, 241–244 hp, 240–242 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed auto

DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase: 118.1 in Length: 202.1 in Width: 77.1 in Height: 68.8–70.0 in
Curb weight: 4400–4700 lb

FUEL ECONOMY:

EPA city driving 16–17 mpg


Trucks are still mighty popular in America, although the herd is getting complicated by hybrids and crossovers and tall wagons.

Despite a rapidly changing sales environment—escalating fuel prices and concerns about exhaust-gas content previously regarded as innocent—trucks still claim a big chunk of our new-vehicle market. Does this seem strange? If we’re worried about mpg and CO2, why do we love vehicles with carbon footprints reminiscent of the tracks left by stegosauri?

Style figures into the equation, particularly with SUVs, but there are really two key reasons. One, we still want the added utility to be found in this realm. Coupes and sedans don’t cut it when we’re loading mountain bikes, pop-up tents, and other vacation essentials. Two, those big carbon footprints are shrinking. Hybridity has found its way into the truck world, including even traditional body-on-frame big boys, Chevy’s Tahoe hybrid being the first example.

It certainly won’t be the last. More important, though, the nature of the vehicles classifiable as trucks is changing in response to changing times. This is particularly true among SUVs, where crossovers—a handily amorphous term we use for want of anything better—are well on their way to dominance.

To review, vehicles identified as crossovers usually have unit-body structures that trace their engineering heritage to front-drive passenger-car origins. The reasons for this trend are easy to understand. Unit-bodied vehicles are generally lighter than body-on-frame designs, with higher structural rigidity. Higher structural rigidity is a prime prerequisite for ride and handling goals, and nothing beats lower curb weights for achieving higher mpg.

A word on our categories. Vans and pickups are self-defining. Three of our five categories are devoted to SUVs, and beyond the required availability of four-wheel drive, two of the three are defined by size, the third, obviously, by price. The borderline for small is a max overall length of 184 inches. We also have a minimum height requirement—64.4 inches. Below that height, we consider the subject vehicle to be a car.



2008 Toyota RAV4

No matter what anyone may say, when you’re talking about motor vehicles sold in the U.S.A., size matters, regardless of the category under scrutiny. A 5Best repeater for 2008, the third-generation RAV4 is an excellent example of this phenomenon. The RAV4 put the baby-ute concept into the mainstream when it made its debut for the 1996 model year. But increased size enhances usefulness, and like all babies, this one has grown.

Since that ’96 original, the five-door RAV4 has had its wheelbase stretched 9.8 inches, overall length has increased by more than a foot and a half (19.1 inches), width by 4.8 to 6.3 inches, and height by almost an inch. The RAV4 offers a third-row seat option, as well as an exceptionally robust V-6 engine option (269 horsepower, 246 pound-feet of torque) and, of course, a choice of front- or four-wheel drive.


There are a couple minor demerits. That third row is suitable only for miniature humans, and opting for the V-6 without all-wheel drive means a torque-steer wrestling match for those who stab the throttle with too much zeal. Nevertheless, the RAV4 provides a wide range of choices and ample cargo space for this size class, plus good road manners and a higher-than-average fun-to-drive index, attractively wrapped and attractively priced. It’s a blend that’s hard to beat.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front- or 4-wheel-drive, 5–7-passenger, 5-door wagon

BASE PRICE: $21,785–$27,355

ENGINES: DOHC 16-valve 2.4-liter inline-4, 166 hp, 165 lb-ft; DOHC 24-valve 3.5-liter V-6, 269 hp, 246 lb-ft

TRANSMISSIONS: 4- or 5-speed auto

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 104.7 in Length: 181.1 in Width: 71.5–73.0 in Height: 66.3–66.5 in
Curb weight: 3300–3700 lb

FUEL ECONOMY:

EPA city driving 19–21 mpg

2008 Mazda CX-9

Honda didn’t invent the large crossover SUV—part car, part minivan, part ute—but the Pilot came to define this burgeoning segment. So it’s no surprise that several manufacturers, Mazda included, used the Pilot as a template for their own offerings.

Inevitably, some of them succeeded in improving on the formula. Which brings us to the 2008 CX-9, Mazda’s first large SUV. Tracing its exoskeletal origins to the front-drive Mazda 6 sedan, the CX-9 was invited to our 5Best runoff last year but wasn’t quite available in time for the green flag, so it had to wait for this year’s event.

Mazda used the intervening time well, substituting Ford’s new 3.7-liter V-6 for the previous 3.5-liter, gaining 10 horsepower (to 273), 21 pound-feet of torque (to 270), and about a half-second across the board in acceleration: 0-to-60 mph in 7.3, the quarter-mile in 15.7 at 91 mph. There’s also a new lane-change warning that lets drivers know when someone is lurking in their blind spot.

The result: a roomy three-row cargo and people hauler with the option of all-wheel drive, the usual family peacekeeping options, airbags galore, high-quality materials and assembly, slick styling, excellent driver sightlines, high chassis rigidity, and—consistent with Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom ethic—best-in-class agility. Fun-to-drive is hard to perceive in a vehicle weighing more than two tons, but the CX-9 makes it easy.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front- or 4-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 5-door wagon

BASE PRICE: $30,035–$35,290

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 24-valve 3.7-liter V-6
Power (SAE net): 273 bhp @ 6250 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 270 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed auto with manumatic shifting

DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase: 113.2 in Length: 199.8 in Width: 76.2 in Height: 68.0 in
Curb weight: 4400–4650 lb

FUEL ECONOMY:
EPA city driving 15–16 mpg

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