By Mike Levine and Kent Sundling
We take truck-testing very seriously at PickupTrucks.com because most people, when they’re looking to buy, can’t try out a truck in exactly the way they intend to use it.
Good luck finding a dealer who will let you drive a new pickup with a trailer behind it, let you take it off-road, or provide similarly configured competitive trucks to drive back-to-back with it. An empty 10-minute surface-street and mile-long highway drive are the best you’re likely to do before making this expensive purchase.
That’s where we come in. In our shootouts, we select the trucks and truck segment with the most change, then test those trucks head-to-head in exercises that reflect how they’ll be used.
Last year we examined the latest crop of heavy-duty diesel pickups, all with new engines and emissions systems built to meet tough new federal emissions standards. We tested those plus Ford’s new Super Duty pickups.
This year, we focused on the latest batch of half-ton trucks. The field is a big one: there are two new entries from Ford and Dodge that could make or break those companies; Toyota’s recently revised Tundra; GM’s updated trucks with new six-speed transmissions and the most powerful V-8s in the segment; and Nissan’s five-year-old Titan — the oldest truck in the group.
How We Test
Here’s how we tested this year’s trucks: We asked each manufacturer to supply us with 2009-model-year four-wheel-drive crew cab trucks equipped with the largest V-8 engine available. Which trim level to send was their decision, but as the specs for each truck came in (including trim and rear axle ratio), we shared the configurations we were receiving with the other manufacturers so each knew what the others were bringing to the test.
Toyota sent a 2008 Tundra, making it the only 2008 truck in the group. We debated whether or not to keep it in the Shootout, given all the other trucks were 2009s, but because 2009 production hadn’t started at the time of our test — and there are no significant powertrain or mechanical changes for the 2009 Tundra — we kept it in the comparison.
We know how important rear axle ratio is to full-size-truck performance testing, but it wasn’t possible to get trucks equipped with identical final drive ratios. Different manufacturers don’t build the same numerical ring and pinion gears in the crew cab, four-wheel-drive, V-8 configurations we tested. The Toyota Tundra only comes with a 4.30, the Dodge Ram 1500 only gets a 3.92 or 3.55 rear axle, the Titan only comes with a 3.36, and GM trucks only come with a 3.42 rear axle. The F-150 had a 3.73 rear axle, the numerically highest F-150 gearset offered.
We tested the trucks in three locations: Quarter-mile level-ground testing happened at Milan Dragway in Michigan; our fuel economy tests and general driving impressions came on public roads and highways; and we used GM’s Milford Proving Grounds for hard-core trailer-towing grade tests, as well as offroad, auto-cross, traction control and brake tests.
Using proving grounds is important because they provide a location where we can repeat each test under identical, controlled conditions. Special thanks to GM for the use of its proving grounds — as well as three identically loaded 6,500-pound trailers for testing — and to all the OEMs for coming through with the trucks you’ll read about here.
Some may question why we didn’t set each trailer up to a uniform proportion of each truck’s towing capacity. That’s because whether you’re towing horses, a boat or a camper, when you buy your next truck it’s got to tow the same load your old truck pulled.
Testing was split up into two components: empirical data collection (How fast did each truck go?) and subjective analysis (How did the trucks feel?).
To eliminate the possibility of bias or error in our empirical data collection, we again hired Ricardo Inc. to instrument each of the vehicles and ensure each test was standardized and executed identically. Ricardo is a globally recognized automotive engineering and consulting company. In the pictures accompanying this Shootout, you’ll see the vehicles running side-by-side in drag contests for subjective comparison, but Ricardo collected data one truck at a time. Ricardo was responsible for measuring the results of the trailer-towing grade test, auto-cross, 60 to zero braking distance and wheel-travel measurement. Each test was repeated by the same driver at least three times.
To share our experience testing these trucks, we invited other media to participate with us. MrTruck.com, Truck Trend, MotorWeek Television, the Detroit News and Jalopnik all had journalists on hand. Kent Sundling, from MrTruck.com, co-wrote this story with PickupTrucks.com.
We don’t call it the 2008 PickupTrucks.com Half-Ton Shootout for nothing. At the end of this, only one truck will be left standing as the Best Overall Half-Ton.