It would be great to have a variety of choices when considering a tow vehicle. But the reality is that whatever you are towing and wherever your passions lie largely determine the vehicle you buy. If you have a fifth-wheel camper or a gooseneck trailer, for example, you can forget about buying an SUV or a short-bed pickup. You will need a longbed pickup, and depending on the weight of your trailer, maybe one with a diesel engine. Likewise, if you own a 7,500-pound travel trailer, you can forget about a midsize anything, pickup, or SUV. You need something fullsize.

Unless you own a commuter car and a capable tow vehicle, the trick is to find a vehicle that fulfills your towing needs and daily driving requirements. Therein lies the rub. That's where research-and hopefully this story-can help.

If you are pulling a trailer of horses, odds are you don't live in the confines of zero-lot-line suburbs and you have enough room for a big dualie pickup. But if you do live like many Americans-in the suburbs-you need to be sure that whatever you buy will not pose parking problems while you're out grabbing groceries, hitting the drive-thru, and picking the kids up from school.

To find our 5 Best in Class, we composed a list of what's available for 2010 and made the final selections in much the same way real buyers do. We test-drove each of them and then asked questions like, "Could I live with this vehicle every day? Will I have enough capacity to pull my trailer or haul the family and our gear?"

For safety, we believe you should always buy a little more tow vehicle than you need. However, if you are pulling a popup camper, you really don't need a 1-ton dualie. A midsize SUV will do, and it will be infinitely more economical and convenient for everyday use. By purchasing a bit more capacity than you need immediately, you have the flexibility of considering a larger camper later-without having to pony up again for a new tow vehicle.

The final decision is obviously yours to make. We encourage you to look at the pros and cons of each vehicle before you get emotionally attached to it. Do the research, and it will pay dividends in the long run.

1-Ton
For really heavy loads, it's difficult to beat Ford's Super Duty series, which is why we picked the F-350 Diesel Crew Cab (longbed, 2WD dualie). Since its introduction as a separate model line in 1999, it has been popular among people who need a serious truck 90 percent of the time, and we admit it also is one of our favorites.

Say you have you have a 40-foot gooseneck trailer full of race cars and equipment and you need to get to the track in time for practice day. You could opt for a medium-duty truck from International or Freightliner, but then you would be stuck with a truck you cannot use during the week. Instead, you could opt for Ford's F-350 Super Duty, a truck that is capable of pulling up to 18,800 pounds of gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailer and is marginally usable as daily transportation-if you had to.

More than a plow horse, the F-350 now has more creature comforts than ever. Inside, the Super Duty is fresh from an interior redesign in 2008, and it's warmer and more inviting than prior models, which were a bit sparse. The truck comes in six trim levels, from XL and XLT to Cabela's, King Ranch, Harley Davidson, and Lariat.

For towing, the F-350 offers a few must-have features. Consider its factory-installed integrated trailer brake controller. An industry first, it comes standard on XLT, Cabela's, Harley Davidson, and Lariat trim levels. It is integrated with the truck's antilock braking system to synchronize the vehicle and trailer brakes for optimum stopping power and control. The brake controller also comes with Ford's Power Scope mirrors, which are really trick. They fold in for maneuvering in close quarters and telescope to enhance rearward vision.

A rearview camera is available on the XLT, Cabela's, and Lariat levels, and it's pretty nifty. The camera is built into the tailgate handle, and its lens provides a nice, wide-angle view behind the truck. The display is located either in the rearview mirror or on the in-dash nav screen if there is one. The nav system is standard on King Ranch and Harley Davidson models.

Because a complete redesign is due in 2011-which will include the new Ford-designed 6.7L diesel V-8-changes are minimal for 2010, but a few of them are pretty significant, if not downright handy. The Work Solutions Package features an in-dash computer with full high-speed Internet and a wireless mouse and printer. Tool Link, which was devised for worksite inventory management, is a radio frequency tracking system that lets crews keep track of tools and equipment stored in the vehicle. The Cable Lock security system lets users lock down tools and equipment in the cargo bed, which also is available with Tough Bed, a military-grade, spray-in bedliner. Because it is factory installed, it is applied by automated sprayers, which ensure uniform thickness and no runs on the bedsides.

So when the racetrack or the workweek beckon, it's nice to know that the F-350 Super Duty Crew Cab dualie can answer the calls.

SPECIFICATIONS
FORD F-350 DIESEL SUPER DUTY CREW CAB LONG BED 2WD DRW
SEATING CAPACITY 6 (depending on seating choice)
ENGINE 6.4L Power Stroke diesel V-8
HORSEPOWER 350 @ 3,000 rpm
TORQUE 650 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
COMPRESSION RATIO 17.5:1
TRANSMISSION 5-speed automatic
FUEL CAPACITY 40 gal
BRAKES 4-wheel disc with antilock, Hydroboost
TOW RATING 15,000 with conventional WD hitch; 18,800 with gooseneck/5th-wheel
GVWR 13,000 lb
CURB WEIGHT 6,799 lb
BASE MSRP $40,175

3/4-Ton
We love the 2500 HD Mega Cab 2WD for a lot of reasons, and we've always loved the Cummins diesel. That's just part of why we chose it as our class leader in the 3/4-ton category.

For years, Dodge had been something of a fringe player in the truck market. Then Dodge debuted its "big rig" design in 1994 and suddenly began to sell more trucks. Now Dodge has introduced the fourth-generation trucks of the same theme, the 1/2-ton models in 2009 and the HD series in 2010, and these could well position the company to sell even more.

For 2010, the diesel Dodges come with an exhaust brake standard, which helps keep brake temperatures in check on long downhill grades, enhancing safety and driver control. It is the only pickup on the market to offer such a feature.

Diesel models comes standard with a six-speed manual, but for our money we'd opt for the six-speed automatic, which comes with tow/haul mode to optimize engine and transmission performance for towing and for everyday use when it's switched off. Buyers who tow often also will want the optional trailer brake controller, which is available with the towing package. The system displays controller data on the electronic vehicle information center on the dashboard.

In the new models it's easy to see that Dodge is serious about the heavy-duty pickup market, particularly when you look at the steps it has taken to build durability into its products. For example, the Cummins diesel is equipped with common-rail injection for quieter operation and has a 350,000-mile major overhaul service interval, which according to Dodge literature is 100,000 more than the competition.

Of course, that means nothing if the truck falls apart, right? For that reason, Dodge has employed new standards of strength and utility. For instance, the fully boxed frame is now Hydroformed, which reduces the internal stresses in the manufacturing process because the metal is cooled as it is formed. The result, according to Dodge, is improved ride and handling-empty and fully loaded. To isolate noise, vibration, and harshness from the cabin, the heavy-duty Rams employ fluid-filled body-mount cushions beneath the C-pillars.

The good ideas continue inside the truck. The center console features its own power outlet, an upper compartment large enough for a laptop computer, and a lower bin that accommodates hanging files. It's almost as if the overarching theme in designing the Heavy Duty Rams was more, as demonstrated in the list of available features. Mind you, this is just a partial list.

You can get premium front seating with heat and ventilation, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel. Automatic temperature control is available, as are two-tone upholstery, memory seats, radio, and mirrors, a navigation system, and adjustable pedals. Rear passengers can benefit from options such as Sirius backseat TV with three channels of programming and 10-speaker surround sound. Yes, TV with surround sound.

These features and intelligent design make this our favorite 3/4-ton truck. And it's just the kind of product Dodge needed to make a serious run at the competition.

SPECIFICATIONS
DODGE 2500 HEAVY DUTY MEGA CAB 2WD
SEATING CAPACITY 6 (depending on seating choice)
ENGINE 6.7L Cummins inline-6 diesel
HORSEPOWER 350 @ 3,000 rpm
TORQUE 650 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
COMPRESSION RATIO 17.3:1
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
FUEL CAPACITY 26 gal
BRAKES 4-wheel disc with antilock
TOW RATING 12,750 lb
GVWR 9,000 lb
CURB WEIGHT 6,233 lb
BASE MSRP $38,660

1/2-Ton
For something lighter, we gave the nod to the GMC Sierra Crew Cab 2WD. Obviously Ford sells more F-150s than Chevrolet sells Silverados or GMC sells Sierras, but for our money, the GMC Sierra Crew Cab is the undisputed class leader. Why?

Call us suckers for a GM powertrain. The peppy little 5.3L Vortec V-8 and the crisp shifts of the new six-speed transmission from Hydramatic make a great pairing for towing trailers and for everyday use.

Redesigned for the '07 model year, the Sierra has so many luxury features that it compares well with offerings from the likes of Cadillac, Lexus, or Range Rover. But GMC never forgot that it must work like a truck.

Case in point: With the aforementioned drivetrain, the Sierra is rated to tow 9,600 pounds. A few years ago that kind of towing capacity was the domain of diesel-powered trucks. Now you can pull that kind of weight with the towing package and GM's whisper-smooth Vortec gasoline engines. The fully boxed frame certainly helps maintain chassis stiffness and compliance.

The towing package with the six-speed automatic includes a locking rear differential, a 2-inch receiver, a sealed seven-wire trailer connector with independent fused circuits, and a built-in harness to accommodate aftermarket trailer brake controllers.

Another great feature for towing is the new variable valve timing system, which is now standard on the 4.8L and 5.3L V-8 engines. Earlier engines, without variable valve timing, made ample power, but typically it was higher in the rpm range than optimal, particularly for towing. With variable valve timing, engineers can optimize when the valves open and close in relation to the piston stroke and, as a result, broaden the torque curve so power comes in at lower rpm, which is just what you want-for towing and everyday use.

In terms of safety, the new side-curtain airbags and seat-mounted side airbags are standard on all half-ton models. In fact, the Sierra has earned five-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in frontal and side-impact crashes.

The '10 Sierra also has a USB port in the center console, and new interior door trim. GM's stability control system, StabiliTrak, is now standard on all 1/2-ton models. StabiliTrak monitors vehicle dynamics through sensors. When the system detects a skid, oversteer, or understeer, the control module gently applies pressure to individual brakes to help correct the condition.

A rearview camera is available on the Crew Cab. Depending on how the truck is equipped, the view of what is behind the truck is either presented in the rearview mirror or on the navigation system in the dashboard.

There is no disputing that Ford's F-150 is the bestselling 1/2-ton, but that doesn't mean that GMC's outstanding Sierra Crew Cab came up short by any measure. It is capable of towing nearly 10,000 pounds in a package that's easy and convenient enough to drive every day.

SPECIFICATIONS
GMC SIERRA CREW CAB 2WD
SEATING CAPACITY 6 (depending on seating choice)
ENGINE 5.3L gasoline V-8
HORSEPOWER 315 @ 5,200
TORQUE 38 lb-ft @ 4,400
COMPRESSION RATIO 9.9:1
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
FUEL CAPACITY 26 gal
BRAKES 4-wheel antilock, front disc, rear drum
TOW RATING 9,600 lb
GVWR 6,800 lb
CURB WEIGHT 5,176 lb
BASE MSRP $30,245

Fullsize SUV
With regard to the SUVs, we think the '10 Chevrolet Suburban 1500 2WD is undeniably the best for towing. Since its debut in 1936, the Suburban has garnered a following like few SUVs. Early on and through the 1960s, Suburban owners were mostly tradesmen and outdoorsmen, but that began to change in the 1970s, when people discovered how great they were for family transportation-and how well suited for towing.

For years the Suburban has been used for towing. Through the late 1990s the big-block 454-that's 7.4L in today's engine language-got the call for the heaviest loads. However, because of advances in fuel delivery, cooling, and combustion, engines as small as the current 5.3L Vortecs produce 310 hp and can pull the same loads as those early big blocks.

Powered by the 5.3L V-8, the 1/2-ton, two-wheel-drive Suburban is rated to tow 8,100 pounds, and it does so far more efficiently and with lower emissions than earlier models.

Braking systems have also improved dramatically. Today's Suburban features antilock disc brakes standard on front and rear axles, so not only do you have the confidence to tow heavy trailers but also a lot more braking power to stop them.

Even better, if you need more towing capacity and horsepower but don't want to give up the features and interior room for which Suburbans are famous, you can opt for the 2500 series. The 2500 comes standard with a 6.0L V-8, still only 364 ci, which makes 352 hp and can pull up to 9,600 pounds with two-wheel-drive running gear.

For most people an 8,100-pound towing capacity is plenty, but the Suburban does so much more than grunt work, which is what makes it one of our favorite tow vehicles suitable for everyday use. For example, it can accommodate up to nine people when equipped with a front bench seat and will still have room in the cargo area for lots of gear. And because its wheelbase is shorter than that of, say, crew cab pickups, it's also easier to maneuver and park. That might be why it's so popular among soccer moms.

Some of the nicer passenger features include a standard HVAC system with individual temperature controls for the driver, front passenger, and rear seat passengers.

The Suburban also has dual-stage front airbags, side-curtain airbags in the first and second rows, and new-for-2010 seat-mounted airbags for pelvic and thorax protection. In fact, for 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the Suburban a five-star rating in frontal crashes for driver and front-seat passenger.

Also for 2010, Chevrolet is offering two new exterior colors, and all Suburbans now feature a USB port for connecting digital music players or charging the batteries of mobile devices.

The Suburban certainly has come a long way from its humble Depression Era beginnings and its midlife as a work truck. Today it remains one of the best, if not the best, vehicles for towing trailers and hauling a large family with lots of gear.

SPECIFICATIONS
2010 CHEVROLET SUBURBAN 1500 2WD
SEATING CAPACITY 9 (depending on seating choice)
ENGINE 5.3L Vortec V-8
HORSEPOWER 310 @ 5,200 rpm
TORQUE 335 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
COMPRESSION RATIO 9.9:1
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
FUEL CAPACITY 31.5 gal
BRAKES 4-wheel disc with antilock, vacuum boost
TOW RATING 8,100 lb
GVWR 7,200 lb
CURB WEIGHT 5,687 lb
BASE MSRP $41,585

Midsize SUV
For our money, the Toyota 4Runner V-6 two-wheel drive stands head and shoulders above the rest in the midsize category. Despite the economic maelstrom, wildly undulating fuel prices, and shift in consumer focus toward greener transportation, sport/utility vehicles still play a vital role in automakers' portfolios. In 2009, North American consumers bought more than 2.3 million SUVs, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers' Autofacts.com.

Completely redesigned for 2010, the new 4Runner has a lot of great features, which are a big reason why we've chosen it as our top midsize SUV for towing. (As a relevant aside, the 4Runner is one of the few models not included in any of Toyota's massive recalls.)

Let's begin with the engine. Toyota's 4.0L V-6 isn't new, but it doesn't have to be because it is vastly more powerful. For example, the V-6 now has 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. That's 34 more horsepower than the previous V-6 and 10 more horsepower than the optional V-8 offered on '09 models. Towing capacity is listed at a competent 5,000 pounds, ample considering it has a new coil-spring suspension in the rear. There's also an optional backup camera with rearview mirror display. For the best mix of towing capacity, features, and price, we like the V-6-powered 2WD SR5, which starts at less than 30 grand.

In recent years automakers have been adding safety features at breakneck speed, and the new 4Runner has a host of them. The list has more acronyms than the health care bill-but these might actually be good for you. Let's see, there's VSC, TRAC, ABS, EBD, and SOS.

OMG! That can be confusing.

VSC stands for vehicle stability control, which uses the traction control system (TRAC), antilock braking system (ABS), and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) to compensate for any oversteer and understeer it detects. The systems use selective braking and modulated engine output to make course corrections.

As they say on late-night TV infomercials, "But wait. There's more!"

The new 4Runner now offers Safety Connect. Similar to GM's OnStar, Safety Connect is available by subscription with or without the optional navigation system. The system provides automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, roadside assistance, and emergency assistance (SOS).

Inside, the 4Runner is available with a third row of seating to accommodate up to seven passengers, something that was available only in fullsize SUVs just a few years ago. If you want more cargo space, the third row splits 50/50 and folds flat to form the luggage floor. The second row also folds flat, without having to remove the headrests. If you can forgo the third row, you can get an optional pullout cargo deck, which holds up to 440 pounds.

When you read over the long list of features and abilities of the new 4Runner, it's easy to see why so many North American consumers buy them. An SUV, particularly the midsize 4Runner, is in many ways as comfortable and usable as a passenger car. But in terms of capability, passenger cars just don't measure up.

SPECIFICATIONS
TOYOTA 4RUNNER V-6 2WD SR5
SEATING CAPACITY 7 (depending on seating choice)
ENGINE 4.0L V-6
HORSEPOWER 270 @ 5,600 rpm
TORQUE 278 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
COMPRESSION RATIO 10.4:1
TRANSMISSION 5-speed automatic
FUEL CAPACITY 24 gal
BRAKES 4-wheel disc with antilock
TOW RATING 5,000 lb
GVWR 6,100 lb
CURB WEIGHT 4,400 lb
BASE MSRP $29,975

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