We rented the asphalt at Milan Dragway just outside Detroit to find out how fast and powerful the latest half-ton trucks are. The track features an IHRA-sanctioned quarter-mile dragstrip. It's perfect for determining performance over a fixed distance, unloaded and loaded.
The tests we performed represent a reasonable scenario for drivers interested in learning how quickly they can accelerate up to 60 mph or more. These tests determine how well a pickup can join the flow of traffic on the freeway without holding up drivers behind them or causing an unsafe situation in a slow-moving vehicle towing a trailer.
All the tests were conducted in two-wheel drive at wide-open throttle, with traction and stability control both turned on. Tow-haul mode was engaged when towing and disabled when not towing. A minimum of three runs were carried out in each configuration tested. The average and fastest runs are presented in the results.
In the pictures that accompany this story, you'll see the trucks racing each other. However, Ricardo Inc. only collected metrics and data from one truck at a time, using a $50,000 Oxford Technical Solutions RT3102 inertial and GPS recorder. How the trucks performed head-to-head isn't necessarily indicative of the final results you'll read about.
We’re not sure who was more anxious, our team of journalists, starting the first set of tests for our biggest comparison yet, or the manufacturers in attendance, seeing all the 2009-model-year half-tons together for the first time.
Quarter-Mile Unloaded Assessment
Last year, the Toyota Tundra was the powerhouse half-ton. Its six-speed transmission and 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 made it extremely difficult to beat in zero to 60 acceleration, challenged only by the low-volume, all-wheel-drive GMC Sierra Denali. If there’s one thing Toyota got right with the Tundra, it’s the truck’s excellent powertrain.
This year, the Tundra’s power ratings were pushed to third place (ranked by automaker; fourth if we rate by brand) behind GM’s 403-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 and Chrysler’s 390-hp, 5.7-liter V-8. Would the six-speed Silverado and Sierra be able to lay down all that power to the rear wheels through the 3.42 ring and pinion to beat the 4.30-equipped Tundra? Could the nine extra horses in the Dodge and its five-speed transmission outperform the Toyota’s six-speed shifting finesse using brute force?
Unloaded, the Silverado was the fastest truck, beating the second-place Tundra by a scant .16 seconds and 1.5 mph. Two features gave the Chevy the edge: higher power ratings and shift points set to deliver peak torque at 4,300 rpm, which is 700 rpm higher than the Tundra. This proved critical in this test because all the trucks revved high into the 5,000 to 5,500 rpm range before upshifting and falling back to 4,400 to 4,700 rpm, which is near the sweet spot for the 6.2-liter V-8. One factor that reinforced our opinion of the Tundra’s unfriendly ride unloaded was a lot of noticeable vibration felt through the steering column and noticed in the interior plastic bits shaking as the Tundra raced down the track. The Tundra was the highest-mileage truck of the rigs we tested, with 8,000 miles on its odometer, versus approximately 1,000 miles for the rest of the test fleet, so perhaps it was showing a bit of wear and tear? The Silverado was very smooth the entire takeoff.
The Sierra took third place, a razor-thin .04 seconds behind the Tundra, though 1.7 mph faster. The Sierra had the extra power and strength at the end, but its stiff offroad suspension likely contributed to its slower start versus the Chevy and Toyota.
The Ram and Titan took fourth and fifth, respectively. They were the only trucks with five-speed transmissions. The Ram was quick off the line — part of its new coil-spring rear suspension’s inherent ability to transmit power to the ground — but the shift from first and second felt sluggish and played a role in making the Ram slower than the Titan through the first two-thirds of the quarter-mile. At the top of 2nd gear, entering 3rd, the Ram found its track legs and hammered home the final portion of the quarter-mile to beat the Titan by .16 seconds and 2.8 mph.
We noticed some unusual behavior in the last-place F-150. Launching the truck cleanly proved difficult because we repeatedly encountered rear axle hop at wide-open throttle. We encountered this condition in only two places: on the sticky surface at Milan and again on an asphalt hill climb at GM’s proving grounds. We were unable to re-create the condition on public roads and highways. We believe it was due to axle wrap, possibly because the 6-inch-longer leaf springs on the 2009 F-150 allowed too much rebound. Once it was racing down the track, though, the F-150’s updated 5.4-liter engine and all-new transmission worked very well together. It felt really good — until we started racing against someone else, at which point we quickly discovered how slow the truck was. Zero to 60 took almost 9 seconds, and it finished the quarter-mile a second later than the fifth-place Titan and 9 mph slower than the first-place Silverado.