Three-quarter-ton diesel rigs make up the majority of heavy-duty pickup sales. We’re testing these trucks together for the first time to compare their performance against themselves and the similarly configured gassers.
A welcome new feature on all three of these trucks that we didn’t have last time is a rearview camera to help with hooking up trailers. We changed trailers more than 40 times during the Shootout, so the time saved during each swap quickly added up. Using the camera, one person could quickly line up the truck and trailer hitches to make it through all of our tests on time. It’s technology like this that reduces stress, and all-day towing sessions become a bit less exhausting.
2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD LTZ with 6.6-liter Duramax V-8
It's not just the stronger frame and running gear that support the increased towing and hauling numbers in the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD. There's also a revised 6.6-liter Duramax clean diesel that’s the most powerful engine in the segment to date.
The 397-hp, 765-pounds-feet of torque eight-cylinder oil burner is the fourth generation of GM's HD diesel since it was introduced in 2001. Sixty-percent of its hardware is new, and it’s 97 hp and 245 pounds-feet stronger than the original Duramax. It’s also the first time GM has owned all of the design and engineering work for the Duramax, which is produced in a joint venture with Isuzu at a factory in Ohio. On paper, GM says the new diesel engine is 11 percent more fuel efficient than the previous Duramax.
Catching up with Ram’s Cummins I-6, the Duramax also features a brand-new push-button activated engine exhaust brake. It saves on wheel brake and transmission wear by clamping down the engine’s turbo vanes, creating back pressure to engine-brake the truck. It reduces the potential for brake fade during long descents, increasing downhill safety while helping with towing and extending overall wheel brake life.
Overall, the new Duramax is quieter than its predecessor. There are lower levels of clatter than before, but in our test truck we noticed an occasionally intrusive turbo moan, especially when we were in the truck for long periods on the highway.
The Duramax is B20 biodiesel compatible.
The 2011 model is the first time GM is using urea selective catalytic reduction to reduce nitrogen oxide emission. Both GM and Ford diesel pickups use this type of system.
In contrast to the job site-trimmed gas truck, the LTZ diesel had GM’s upscale “low and forward” interior that’s shared with its full-size utility vehicles. Though higher in quality, we definitely miss the rich information displays and access buttons used to check vital truck stats that are found in the Ram and Ford trucks.
2011 Ford F-250 Lariat with 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8
Ford’s all-new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 diesel is Ford’s first-ever designed-in-house pickup truck diesel engine since the first compression ignition engine (International’s 6.9-liter V-8) was offered under the hood of a Ford pickup in 1982.
One of the engine’s design breakthroughs is that the intake and exhaust flow through the cylinder heads is reversed when compared to a conventional diesel engine, with the exhaust exiting directly into the engine’s turbo that sits in the engine's valley, mounted between V-style cylinder banks. Like GM’s Duramax, the Power Stroke also uses urea SCR for NOx control and is B20 biodiesel compatible.
We’re impressed with the quietness of the new Power Stroke diesel, though some may nostalgically miss the clatter levels still found with the Ram’s Cummins engine.
The Super Duty’s backup camera is tops in the segment. Unlike its competitors, the Ford’s reverse view includes helpful hash marks to help line up the truck with a trailer and judge distance.
During one trailer hookup, we somehow managed to leave the Super Duty’s reverse camera engaged after we put the truck in Drive. That’s because Ford is the only manufacturer that offers control over camera settings that allow for a delay in the backup camera view shutting off as long as the vehicle is moving forward or reverse at speeds under 25 mph. It’s a cool feature that’s helpful when working under tight speeds and areas.
The Super Duty’s 4.2-inch LCD driver information system centered in the gauge cluster is hands-down the best trip computer in the industry across all pickup truck segments, and it's the benchmark by which all others that follow will be measured. It includes features like a fuel-efficiency monitor, pitch and yaw angles while off-roading and a robust set of towing apps that can store names and notes for up to 20 trailers plus provides a hitch checklist to help ensure you've hooked up the trailer properly before you tap the accelerator.
But fanciness aside, we also liked the Super Duty’s four smaller analog gauges arranged in a row near the top of the instrument binnacle that display turbo boost pressure (on the gas truck, it’s oil temp), coolant temperature, transmission temperature and the fuel gauge. They’re in full view through the steering wheel. If we could though, we’d swap the turbo boost pressure gauge for an oil pressure gauge, which we think is more important.
2010 Ram 2500 Laramie with 6.7-liter Cummins I-6
The 2010 Ram 2500 diesel, in our opinion, is the best three-quarter-ton diesel that Chrysler has ever built. We fell for its beautiful two-tone blue and gray paint job that stood out among the field. Even though it doesn’t have the power levels of the other diesels, it’s certainly not lacking grunt when it comes to work. It just doesn’t do it as quickly.
Though it is Cummins-sourced and has two fewer cylinders than the eight-cylinder compression ignition mills found in the Ford and GM trucks, the Ram hits peak torque early in the power band and has fewer parts. The Cummins also runs urea-free, using a special catalyst that traps and converts NOx into nitrogen gas and water.
Another notable difference between the Cummins and its competitors is its variable geometry turbo that uses a sliding compressor nozzle that moves back and forth axially along the turbo shaft to change air volume and psi boost to the engine. The same sliding yoke also engages the engine exhaust brake. It’s an elegant solution that tackles two different tasks.
The Ram’s Laramie interior is high class, competing near the Ford King Ranch for levels of refinement and detail. Though the truck had an infotainment screen in the center stack, it lacked navigation, which was a bit confusing as we moved between this truck and the one-ton Ram Laramie.
We didn’t like the way the Ram’s rearview camera immediately shut off when the truck shifted from Reverse into Drive. The Ford (in default camera mode) and GM trucks left their cameras on for several seconds when we pulled forward, which was handy when we were doing quick forward and backward maneuvers to fine-tune hitch alignment between truck and trailer.
One unique feature found on the Ram’s center stack is a “Tire Light Load” button that allows the driver to change the sensitivity of the truck’s tire pressure monitoring system, depending on whether you’re towing and need to maintain higher tire pressures or unloaded and want to air down to a more reasonable level for improved ride comfort.
For such a nicely appointed rig, the $52,170 Ram was priced the lowest of the three pickups we tested in its group – at least $8,000 less than the Silverado and Super Duty.
Shopping on price alone, we’d gladly park the Ram in our driveway and take the hit on power.