By Tim Spell

Motor Matters

Today’s full-size pickup market is an enormous, colorful palette of vehicles. In terms of luxury and performance, the picture is especially rich.

The luxury market’s image and vehicles have evolved well beyond the days of block-long sedans. Full-size pickup trucks are among today’s most popular luxury rides. These elite breeds lure demanding consumers with eye-popping performance and/or luxuriously appointed cabs.

Ford’s new-generation 2004 F-150 lineup offers models to satisfy anyone’s need for speed and pampering. Its SVT F-150 Lightning delivers impressive power and sporty handling. The Lightning highlights a performance-tuned chassis and supercharged 5.4-liter Triton V8 that launches it with 380 horsepower and 450 lbs.-ft. of torque.

Luxury also is pumped up in the Lightning, which is upholstered with Preferred Suede trim and textured leather inserts. Ford’s top-line Lariat is outfitted with creature comforts rivaling those of a premium luxury sedan. In all models, cab quietness, ride and handling are improved, and the Lariat offers heated dual-power leather captain’s chairs, and a “flow-through” console and floor shifter accented to match its expensive looking dashboard.

Leading General Motors into the luxury pickup segment is the Sierra Denali. This showcase of “industrial precision” comes standard with a dual-zone automatic climate control, premium Bose audio system, 325-horsepower 6.0-liter V8 engine, all-wheel drive, and Quadrasteer four-wheel steering touting compact-coupe-like steering capability.

Chevrolet has claims to the sporty side of GM’s pickup line. It offers a souped-up Silverado pinned with Chevy’s legendary SS emblem. Stuffed under the hood of the short-bed Silverado is a 345 horsepower 6.0-liter V8 engine. A full-time AWD system sends its 20-inch wheels rolling to an estimated 0-60 mph time in the low 7-second range.

Merging attributes of a pickup and sporty roadster is Chevy’s SSR. This spicy two-seat, custom-look roadster’s voluptuous body rides atop a modified midsize Chevy TrailBlazer EXT frame. SSR’s standard 5.3-liter small-block V8 engine propels the rear wheels with 300 horsepower. Chevy’s “Ultimate Boulevard Cruiser” also touts a power-retractable hardtop.

For those wanting a hot-rod pickup with sports-car-inspired power, Dodge offers the Ram SRT-10. Rumbling under the hood of this bad boy is an 8.3-liter Viper V10 engine. It launches the pickup with an earth-quaking 500 horsepower and 500 lbs.-ft. of torque.

Nissan, the full-size pickup arena’s newest player, introduces the “big, bold and better” Titan. This pickup looks formidable, with an elevated hood, square-shouldered front fenders, and blunt nose wearing a massive chrome grille. Its imposing form doesn’t lead one to think it’s anything less than full-size.

Along with real full-size dimensions, serious truckers demand V8 power that can handle heavy-duty work applications. Titan’s 5.6-liter Endurance V8 delivers a go-for-it 300-plus horsepower and produces more than 375 lbs.-ft. of torque. Its trailer-toting capacity is a formidable 9,400 pounds.

Partnered with the Endurance V8 is a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. Power is sent to standard 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels. Bringing Titan to a halt is a standard four-wheel-disc-brake system with ABS.

Titan’s 4-inch-deeper “high-utility” 6-foot-2.3-inch-long bed features the Utili-track “channel” system with adjustable aluminum-alloy tie-down cleats. Also among addressed “unmet needs” is Nissan’s Wide-Open door system. It’s designed to prevent those squeezing between vehicles in a crowded parking lot from being trapped. The key element is a special hinge, which allows the rear door to articulate – in a secondary step -to a near-180-degree opening.

Inside the cabin, the goal is to convey a feel of “big, assertive and organized.” Front seating configurations are a choice of a three-place bench with column shifter, or a pair of buckets flanking a large console with a segment-first gated floor shifter. Another segment first is the option of side-curtain airbags. Nissan announced that a Crew Cab version of the Titan is also set for production.

Toyota gets into the big-doors business with its new-for-2004 Tundra Double-Cab. A giant step forward in rear-compartment comfort, the roomy Double-Cab boasts full-size rear doors, and the same seating and interior room as Toyota’s giant Sequoia SUV. Seating includes a pair of captain’s chairs up front and a folding 60/40-split rear bench. Importantly, this rear bench features a comfortable 24-degree recline.

Rear doors are front hinged and fitted with tinted rear windows that roll all the way down. Clever use of sliding glass is also found at the cab’s rear with a standard, full-width power-operated window. Powering the Double-Cab is an i-Force V8 engine that delivers 240 horsepower and 315 lbs.-ft. of torque.

For 2004, there’s no shortage of full-sizers with punch, practicality and pizzazz.

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