What's the most important attribute of a heavy duty pickup truck these days? That it can tow a lot, or perhaps haul serious volume and tonnage, or is it the ability transport a work crew (or full-sized family) in comfort and, dare we say, even a bit of style? They're all important considerations to judge a proper four-wheeled workhorse for sure, but it turns out that in today's uncertain economy, they're taking a back seat to gas mileage. With fuel prices hiccuping regularly along their way to the upper stratosphere, efficiency has become a real factor for the rough and tumble world of pickup trucks, which is why Ram (formerly known as Dodge) has completely reengineered its 1500 Series to be the category's de facto fuel miser. And amazingly, no luxuries or capabilities were sacrificed on the way to achieving impressive EPA ratings in a category not known for sipping fuel: 18 mpg city, 25 highway.

Not much has changed here style-wise. The new 1500 is almost the same vehicle as the outgoing model, which is to say, it's ruggedly handsome (emphasis on rugged). Under the skin, however, virtually every aspect of this truck has been tweaked in the effort to squeeze out better gas mileage.

The new entry-level 3.6-liter V-6 offers 42 percent more horsepower, 13 percent more torque, and approximately 20 percent better fuel economy than last year's 3.7-liter. This all-aluminum, 60-degree, 3.6-liter with double overhead cams and four-valves per cylinder makes a mighty 307 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque. And it's mated to a first-in-category, highly-efficient 8-speed automatic transmission.

Other fuel saving tricks include reduced weight throughout the truck, electric power-steering assist, grille shutters, and a so-called Thermal Management system that sends engine coolant to rapidly warm the engine and transmission oils to reduce drag. And despite all the tweaks and upgrades, the ride, handling, and steering haven't changed – they are all excellent, making the 1500 a pleasure to drive on and off road. The only difference is that you'll be able to enjoy it a whole lot longer than the competition. [From $23,585; ramtrucks.com]