One-ton diesels with dual rear wheels are the circus strongmen of heavy-duty pickups. With massive wheel flares covering their dual rear wheels, these trucks proudly show off that they can tow and haul more than any other pickup on the road.
2011 GMC Sierra Denali 3500HD
Making its world debut at the Heavy-Duty Shootout is the GMC Sierra Denali 3500HD. It’s a sharp-looking truck aimed directly at the high luxury segment -- and high profit margins -- that Ford has been lucky enough to keep to itself until now in the King Ranch version of the Super Duty.
Its leather interior is the best in the GM HD fleet.
The Denali came up a bit short in a few areas compared with the Lariat-trimmed F-350 Super Duty that we tested. The F-350 was the only truck with standard 17-inch forged aluminum wheels, while the Denali had steel wheels with beauty covers. Yuck. A truck like the Denali deserves no less than forged aluminum wheels. The F-350 also had black paint with metallic flakes, while the Denali was only high-gloss black.
At first glance, the Denali appears to lack the rich navigation and infotainment options that Ford’s Sync offers, but GM’s OnStar satellite-based nav service came through for us. We accidentally locked the keys in the truck, and it took only a quick phone call to have the doors unlocked remotely, saving us at least two hours if we’d been forced to retrieve a second set of keys or call a locksmith. That’s winning service in our book.
Unloaded ride quality was excellent. We chalk that up to the new hydraulic body mounts that sit under the C-pillar of the crew cab. They act like small shock absorbers to dampen beaming and shock forces sent from poor roads into the cab. We never felt like we were being beat up by the truck when it was empty.
The Denali, along with the other GM trucks we tested, had the best steering feel in its group. Its new steering box has a 16:1 turning ratio and larger front linkages to manage increased front-end loads resulting from the improved front gross axle weight rating, which has jumped from 4,800 pounds to 6,000 pounds.
2011 Ford F-350 Lariat
If you want proof that HD pickups are no longer simple beasts of burden, look no further than the one-ton Ford F-350 dually. It was armed with just about every state-of-the-art infotech option in Ford’s truck portfolio.
From a rich navigation screen that had the most user-friendly interface, plus real-time traffic, fuel prices and weather, to the all-new 4.2-inch productivity screen that’s now an irreplaceable part of the instrument cluster, all the information we needed or wanted was just a few button clicks away.
The Ford also included a USB MP3/iPod port/charger for plugging in our music players and recharging our cell phones. The Ram and GM trucks had these, too. We consider them mandatory in a modern pickup. We’d like to see more of these USB inputs spread through the cabin like cupholders, just to recharge our handheld devices.
We liked the Super Duty’s telescoping steering wheel, which made finding the ideal driving position easy and improved our driving comfort over long distances. It also gave us greater confidence in the truck during the hill climb testing because we felt like we had the optimal seating position to control the truck and trailer.
Ford offers “traction control” for the F-350. We’re not sure we agree with the terminology here because the F-350’s traction control reduces throttle only when it senses wheel slip. There’s no assistance from the ABS, like most other traction control systems. Our gripe is that Ford’s traction control system has difficulty smoothly blending torque back in for a takeoff as it recovers traction, so that when it senses slip, it cuts fuel, cutting all the torque, stopping the slip, but then dumping it all back in, starting it off again.
The Super Duty has a revised steering system for 2011 that gives it a lighter feel than it previously had in the 2008-10 trucks. While we liked it better than the old Super Duty, it felt too light in windy conditions when the truck was unloaded or towing.
The 2011 F-Series Super Duty is the only truck we tested that can be equipped with an optional fifth wheel prep package from the factory that's been designed and engineered by Reese Hitches. The truck will come with the bed floor cut, the frame mount, and the wiring — but the customer will still have to buy the hitch that sits in the bed from either a Ford dealer or the aftermarket. Fifth wheel towing was not a part of this test.
2010 Ram 3500 Mega Cab
There are two four-door cab configurations to choose from if you’re going to purchase a Ram Heavy Duty. New for 2010 is a crew-cab model that’s the same size as other crew cabs in the segment – it replaces the old, smaller Quad Cab model – and the extra-large Mega Cab truck.
The truck we tested was a Ram 3500 Mega Cab that has 3 extra inches of legroom behind the front seats and 7 inches behind the second row for additional storage. It’s the largest cab in the HD segment.
We liked the strong style of the Ram’s rear shoulders over the dually back end. Like the GMC Sierra Denali 3500, the Ram 3500’s fenders are stamped steel instead of plastic clip-on covers.
Like Ford, as of 2010 Ram HD pickups can be ordered with a factory spray-in bedliner. Our tester was equipped with the sturdy cargo box protection. It’s not offered by GM.
Over long-distance driving, we were very impressed with the Ram’s ride quality, which has been greatly improved in its latest trucks by fitting new hydraulic body mounts directly under the C-pillar corners at the rear of the cab, between the cab and frame. This area is the truck’s natural pivot point as it rolls down the road. The hydraulic body mounts noticeably dampen the pivoting motion compared with the old rubber hockey-puck-style isolators that they replace. It’s amazing that such a small component change can make such a big difference in ride comfort. It’s not perfect, but it’s very welcome. GM’s 2011 HD trucks use similar technology.
For trailer towing, the Ram features nifty two-position mirrors that can be set horizontally or vertically.