The fullsize-pickup portion of this year’s Best Engines competition promised to be tough, but in the end it was no contest.

We were fortunate to have the new Ford F-150, Nissan Titan and Dodge Ram pickups for testing at the same time. Some judges took keys to two or three at a time to test-drive them back-to-back.

When the scoring was complete, no debate was necessary: The Ram’s 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8 was the clear favorite.

The F-150 is all-new for ’04, and its 3-valve 5.4L SOHC Triton V-8 is as quiet as a luxury car – no foolin’. The powertrain gurus at Ford Motor Co. tell us refinement is what their truck customers want.

Judge Tom Murphy

Problem is, we think it’s too refined. “Too much unrequited accelerator pedal travel,” I scribbled on my F-150 score sheet. “Not as responsive as Hemi.” Another judge was more blunt: “This engine was dogged when pushed,” he wrote.

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. has nothing to be ashamed of with its 5.6L DOHC V-8 – its first-ever V-8 for a fullsize pickup. “Like it better than Ford Triton,” wrote one judge. “More powerful than F-150 off the line!” wrote another. But judges also noted it wasn’t as refined as the F-150 V-8.

The Hemi earned a Best Engines award in 2003 in its first model year. That it stared down two worthy competitors this year is evidence the Chrysler Group is serious about its pickup truck powerplants.

Judges gush about the Hemi. “Love the vocals,” wrote one. “Torque is exceptional, especially at low end,” wrote another.

In the medium-duty diesel portion of our competition, the Ram earned another Best Engines award – with nary a word of debate.

Its 5.9L I-6 Cummins turbodiesel now is the benchmark in the segment, offering superb refinement, an outstanding automatic transmission and enough power to make a Teamster giddy.

General Motors Corp.’s Duramax turbodiesel was the first to win a Best Engines award in this segment a few years back, followed last year by Ford’s Power Stroke. This year, the Cummins-powered Ram Heavy Duty slays all comers – until a more worthy challenger comes along.

The only other diesel we tested this year was Volkswagen AG’s 1.9L I-4 TDI in the Jetta. It was great on the highway but sounded too much like a clattery old diesel at idle, unlike the Cummins.