Of all the tests that we perform in a Challenge, the autocross could be the one that truck shoppers might like to do most on their own.
Our small autocross course was set up at GM's Black Lake Vehicle Dynamics Area on the Milford Proving Grounds. The closed-loop course was less than a minute in length when driven aggressively and included several good cornering opportunities, a slalom section, a good-sized decreasing radius corner and several chicane obstacles.
Our "hot shoe" for the drive was Ben Wojdyla, associate automotive editor for Popular Mechanics. Wojdyla is not a professional racer, but he knows how to push and exercise a vehicle. Even more important, he knows how to let a vehicle's capabilities determine how fast and controlled it can navigate sections of a course without pummeling the test truck to a pulp.
All the trucks were run with air conditioning off, in two-wheel drive (although the Ford and GM trucks had all-wheel-drive capabilities), traction control on and with two adult males in the truck (one driver and one data recorder, as in all the other performance tests). Once all the trucks were tested empty, we tested them all again on the same course but with 1,000 pounds of sandbags strapped safely in the bed.
The winner of the empty autocross was the Ram 1500, with a time of 46.0 seconds. Our test driver made note of how well the suspension was able to dive and hold the corners and keep the rear end controlled better than any other in the test, especially in tight hard-right, hard-left transitions.
Right behind the Ram was the GMC Sierra with a time of 46.3 seconds. It felt very controlled through the course, the driver noted, doing a great job of delivering a flat road feel while keeping tire grip through the tightest corners. The Ford, Nissan and Toyota all had times in the 49-second range; each seemed to do more lumbering than nimble darting, which makes sense since those trucks were three of the four heaviest trucks of our test (F-150 5,820 pounds, Titan 5,520 pounds and Tundra 5,800 pounds).
With the 1,000 pounds of strapped-down sandbags in the bed, we ran the trucks through the course again. This time around, each of the competitors was typically around 1.5 seconds slower, with the exception of the Nissan Titan, which was actually faster by 0.3 seconds. The only way our tester could explain it was by describing how frustrating each of his Titan runs were with its aggressive traction control. The faster time during the loaded run is probably explained by the greater traction capability of the rear tires coming out of corners.
In first place after the loaded runs, the Ram posted a loaded best time of 47.1 seconds. This time, it was Ford in second place with a time of 48.5, and the Chevy came in third again with a time of 48.8.Overview | Judges' Impressions | 0-60 Acceleration | 60-0 Braking | Mileage Drive | Hill Climb | Autocross | Payload and Towing | Results