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Best Diesel Truck Editorial - Diesel Strokes

"What's the best diesel truck to buy?" I get asked that all the time. The truth is if you're in the market for a new truck, I don't think you can go wrong with any one of the Big Three. The biggest factor in your choice of trucks comes down to how you are going to use your diesel, and who's going to offer you the best deal. In stock form the Cummins, Duramax, and Power Stroke engines make similar power and torque-well, pretty close anyway. All three trucks have impressive towing capacity. And they all drive and handle well considering they weigh 6,000-8,000 pounds.

But what if you could buy a new truck to exploit the strengths and kick all the weaknesses out? What if you could combine the best of all three diesel trucks to build The Perfect Diesel Pickup?

The EngineI'm a big fan of all three diesels on the market. Oddly enough, the most popular engine with performance guys, the Cummins 5.9L, is also the lowest volume 31/44-and 1-ton truck engine. The classic inline 5.9L benefits from the longest working history, the best reputation, and continues to be the one engine that can take the most abuse. I think the Duramax engine could catch the ISB for all-out performance, but for our perfect pickup, the 5.9L Cummins gets the nod.

Automatic TransmissionFord and Dodge guys would love it if they could have an Allison 1000 five- or six-speed transmission behind their precision Power Stroke or blessed B. The Allison is a physically much larger transmission than the Ford TorqShift or the Dodge 48RE. Like the Cummins, the Allison 1000 leverages decades of extreme-duty durability testing. The heavy-duty internals do add rotational weight, so the Allison may not be the best drag racing transmission, but for our all-purpose diesel pickup, the Allison is the way to go.

Transfer CaseEvery diesel pickup sold in the U.S. uses a transfer case from Magna Drivetrain. The proven gear-driven transfer case over the last 37 years is the NP205, but it's been out of production for 13 years. Today, your choices are the NVG261 or 263 in the Duramax trucks, and the NVG271 or 273 in the Ford and Dodge trucks. The Ford NV271 uses fixed yoke output shafts, has a GVW of 17,950 pounds, and uses a 2.72:1 low range. This is as strong as it gets, and the NV271 is my choice over the Dodge version simply because it does not use the slip yoke rear output shaft.

Front AxleThis was the easiest part to pick on the perfect truck. I'd go with a Dana 60 front axle for its 931/44-inch ring gear, its 35-spline 111/42-inch axle shafts, and its 4,500-7,000 gross axle weight rating. The Dana 60 frontend has been used in every American-made 1-ton truck. The best version is arguably the newest version. It's found in every '05-and-later Super Duty and is designed to be coupled with a simple radius arm and coil-spring suspension. The ride won't be as smooth as the Duramax truck's independent front suspension, but it's a lot stronger with far fewer moving parts.

Rear AxleI'm partial to the American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM) 1011/42-inch ring gear 14-bolt axle used in GM trucks. It was never used behind the Duramax, but with its three-pinion bearing design I think it's just as strong as the new 1111/42-inch ring gear AAM 14-bolt. It uses the same 30-spline 111/42-inch axles that the new GM and Dodge AAM axles use (the Ford Dana 80 shafts are bigger), but probably costs more to make and assemble.

InteriorI'd spec a mixture of current Dodge, Ford and GM pieces. I don't think you can beat the GM leather seats for comfort. On road trips the Dodge GPS-equipped radio and six-disc CD changer with satellite radio is unequaled. If I had to sit in the back seat I'd want the comfort of the Dodge Mega Cab's legroom. If I was using the truck for work I'd need the molded-in storage trays on top of the dash (like the Super Duty offers) to keep my clipboard from sliding around.

Now I've just got to figure out what kind of badge would go on the grille...- David Kennedydavid.kennedy@primedia.com

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