The track testing portion of our competition took place at Milan Dragway, about 30 miles south of Ann Arbor. The day was cloudy and cool, with only a faint threat of rain.
Each pickup made three passes down the track empty, and then three passes hooked up to a 2,300-pound trailer. Each truck made its first empty run with the air conditioning turned off, a full tank of fuel, two 175-pound occupants (one driver, one data recorder) and tire pressures at factory specs. When the trailers were hooked up, Tow/Haul mode was engaged. As you might expect, the time and speed variations among the three trucks were significant and telling.
On paper, the GMC Sierra seemed to be the one to worry about; it was down on power and gearing. Our fastest speed through the traps at the end of the quarter-mile was 78.2 mph, and our fastest time was 18.1 seconds. Respectable, but not a fair matchup against the Ram or F-150, which offered much better ring-and-pinion gearing (3.92:1 and 3.73:1, respectively), as well as higher horsepower ratings: the Ram with 20 more horsepower than the GMC, and the F-150 with a whopping 107 more. Similarly, the Ram’s smaller V-6 (smaller by about 16 percent) did a stellar job staying just ahead of GM’s aging 4.3-liter V-6 with its fastest quarter-mile clocked at 18.0 seconds at 79.9 mph.
Unlike the two before it, we had to modulate our launches off the line with the F-150’s 302-hp engine, especially during the empty runs. Not surprisingly, the F-150 spanked both old-school V-6 players with a run of 16.2 seconds at 88.5 mph down the quarter-mile. In fact, the F-150 surprised a few of us with how much torque and launch force the little 3.7 had. To be fair, the torque numbers aren’t much different, but when matched with the six speeds and brainpower of the new transmission, the Ford separated itself from the Ram and Sierra by a considerable margin. The zero-to-60 times made the point even louder, with the Ford running more than 25 percent faster than the others; the Sierra at 10.94 seconds, Ram at 10.58 seconds, and the F-150 at 7.86 seconds.
Not surprisingly, when we ran each truck with a 2,300-pound trailer down the same track, the results were largely the same. The Sierra times dropped away from the other trucks by a slightly larger margin with a quarter-mile time of 21.1 seconds at 66.9 mph, and the Ram turned in a touch better, 20.7 seconds at 69.0 mph. The F-150 ran through the traps in 18.6 seconds at 76.5 mph.
The biggest differences showed up in the zero-to-60 times: The F-150 ran close to a 30 percent faster time than either competitor. Loaded runs were 11.3 seconds for the F-150, 16.0 seconds for the Ram and 16.9 seconds for the Sierra. It’s worth noting that the F-150, especially with all that weight behind the rear axle, was prone to a little wheel spin, so we modified our launch sequence just slightly to prevent wasted launches. More tongue weight could have helped.
Ultimately, the Ram and Sierra’s long-in-the-tooth V-6s and four-speed transmissions were no match for the new Ford 3.7-liter all-aluminum engine and super-smart six-speed. A low 1st gear at 4.17:1 and 3.73:1 axle ratio helped the F-150 launch strong and fast through the first and second shifts. In fact, both the 1st-2nd and 2nd-3rd shifts happen just below 7,000 rpm, at the very end of the tachometer’s readout. It was very strange not to see any redline on the tach, and watch the needle make a 270-degree sweep. This engine likes to rev, and the transmission loves to make quick shifts at wide-open throttle, and the numbers show how well the two work together.