By Mike Levine, Kent Sundling and Mark Williams
It’s been only three years since our last Heavy-Duty Shootout, but in that time there has been tremendous change in the pickup truck segment. First, the bottom fell out of the truck market when the economy tanked. Second, diesel emissions regulations have gotten tougher yet again. And third, all three HD truck manufacturers have made significant improvements to their pickups, all of which were last updated in 2007.
All of this adds up to the perfect time for a new HD Shootout. Ford and GM have introduced potent, new diesel engines, and Ford has also introduced a new gas V-8. Ford and Chrysler have made major exterior and interior changes, and GM has given its trucks all-new chassis and suspensions.
This year’s Heavy-Duty Shootout is our biggest comparison test ever. We gathered nine heavy-duty rigs — three from each manufacturer.
The first group comprises single-rear-wheel three-quarter-ton crew-cab 4x4s with gas engines. The second group represents the heart of the HD market, where the most sales are made: SRW three-quarter-ton crew-cab 4x4s with diesel engines. The third group is dual-rear-wheel one-ton crew-cab long-bed 4x4s with diesel engines.
We asked each manufacturer to supply us with 2010 or 2011 four-wheel-drive crew-cab trucks equipped with gas and diesel engines, and we stayed in constant contact with the manufacturers for six weeks, so each automaker was aware of what others were bringing to the challenge. The exact equipment package to include was up to each manufacturer, but as the specs for each truck came in (including trim and rear axle ratio), we shared the configurations.
Three-Quarter-Ton Gas Single-Rear-Wheel Specs
Three-Quarter-Ton Diesel Single-Rear-Wheel Specs
One-Ton Diesel Dual-Rear-Wheel Specs
For the most part, the trucks are identical except for the three-quarter-ton Ford gas and diesel pickups, whose rear axle ratios were different from their GM and Chrysler competitors.
All the trucks are automatics, since neither Ford nor GM offers heavy-duty (or light-duty) pickups with a manual shifter. Only the Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks can still be bought with a six-speed handshaker.
For each of our various competitions, each pickup was matched with an appropriately laden trailer. The three-quarter-ton trucks were hooked up to 10,000-pound trailers, and the one-tons pulled 12,000-pound trailers.
Ford’s New Diesel Power Ratings
As you’re probably already aware, on Aug. 3 Ford announced that it raised the power ratings for its all-new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8, from 390 horsepower and 735 pounds-feet of torque to 400 hp and 800 pounds-feet, regaining best-in-class bragging rights. The stronger tune requires only an update to the engine control unit’s fuel injection and shift-mapping software calibrations, and it will be available for free to existing Super Duty owners starting Aug. 31.
The Ford diesels that we tested were rated at the initial 390/735 power levels, though we asked Ford for trucks with the updated horsepower and torque based on word from our sources. They were not provided for the Shootout.
All of our testing took place in Michigan, in the metro area just west of Detroit.
Our first venue was Milan Dragway, about 20 miles south of Ann Arbor, to run our quarter-mile level-ground tests down the International Hot Rod Association-sanctioned asphalt. We spent a full day racing the trucks with and without heavy trailers.
But a heavy-duty pickup truly earns its keep in how well it performs climbing hills, hauling, and towing. There were two ways we could have performed our grade testing. The first was to find a challenging “real world” incline out West, like the Cajon and Grapevine passes near Los Angeles or the infamous 12-mile, 7 percent ascent to the Eisenhower tunnel in Colorado. The alternative was to run our tests on the much shorter, torturous hill climbs at GM’s Proving Grounds in Milford, Mich.
Why test at one of the automaker’s proving grounds? First, we wanted controlled conditions under which we could run standardized tests to compare the results of each truck. Second, comparative testing on public highways is a crapshoot. You'll likely get stuck behind slower-moving traffic, and finding an exit to turn around and repeat a test can require scores of extra miles and lots of extra time, which we didn't have. We tested the three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks on 7-percent and 16-percent inclines at Milford.
Our fuel economy and ride and handling evaluations took place over a double loop that ran between Ann Arbor and East Lansing. We also evaluated ride and handling characteristics as we drove the trucks between testing locations.
We’d like to thank GM for loaning us five trailers that totaled 54,000 pounds – about the same weight as a Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter. The three-quarter-ton trucks pulled three 10,000-pound conventional trailers, and the one-tons towed two 12,000-pound trailers.
We partnered again with Ricardo Inc. to measure each truck’s performance. Not only were the vehicles tested independently by PickupTrucks.com as a neutral third party, but we went the extra step to hire this globally recognized automotive engineering and consulting company to collect metrics. (We’re not sure you can ever “absolutely” eliminate seen and unseen biases, but you can minimize them.)
In pictures and on video, you’ll see the vehicles running side-by-side in drag contests for subjective comparison, but Ricardo collected data only one truck at a time with the same driver behind the wheel throughout each test.
Ricardo’s instruments are first-class. Its engineers brought an RT3102 computer from Oxford Technical Solutions to capture and process data. It contains three accelerometers and three angular rate sensors, as well as GPS and a Pentium processor. From this, Ricardo engineers collected three types of acceleration (lateral, longitudinal and vertical), three body movement rates (roll, yaw and pitch) as well as position, velocity, orientation and slip. Time was obviously recorded, too. The RT3102 outputs a host of other data, including pitch and roll angles, the three acceleration figures in either body or frame orientation.
During our testing at Milan and at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds, engineering representatives from all of the manufacturers were on hand to watch and answer any questions about the trucks and their performance.
Testing at GM’s proving grounds should not be interpreted as a home-court advantage. The 2007 Heavy-Duty Shootout took place at Ford’s proving grounds, where we picked the Silverado 3500 as our favorite diesel. The 2008 Light-Duty Shootout was held at GM’s proving grounds, where we chose the Ford F-150 as the best all-around half-ton.