Photography by Evan Sears
We wanted to find out: How well can these big trucks pull the heavy loads their manufacturers say they can pull, and how comfortable do they feel doing it? We started the acceleration portion of our test with level-ground runs to give us a baseline. Of course, what we really wanted to find out was how well these two big pickups could pull driving up the two toughest, most punishing grades in the country — Davis Dam and the Eisenhower Pass — but for the beginning of this piece to the puzzle, here's how they did in our simple baseline tests.
On a lonely, flat frontage road outside Denver, we used one of our two test trailers from Load Trail (it weighed 8,270 pounds) and strapped a vintage military half-track troop carrier weighing an extra 14,350 pounds onto its back. The total weight of the trailer: 22,620 pounds. We thought that would be a good testing weight for the 2013 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty and the 2013 Ford F-450 to begin our contest, and yeah, it looked pretty cool too. Temperatures rose to around 85 degrees, but they dropped another 10 degrees by the time we finished testing. The elevation of our test site was just below 5,000 feet, and there was no significant wind.
We first ran the two trucks empty, where the Ford was the clear winner, running to 40 mph in just 5.91 seconds. The Ram, as you might expect with the new and more industrial Aisin six-speed transmission mated to the high-output Cummins, lumbered to 40 mph in 7.0 seconds. In the quarter-mile test runs, the differences were not as pronounced; the Ford recorded a best "empty" time of 18.4 seconds at 78.3 mph. The Ram HD ran the quarter mile in 19.1 seconds at a speed of 77.6 mph.
Once we hitched up the gooseneck trailer, our zero-to-40 times started to look a lot like the empty quarter-mile times with the F-450 taking 18.6 seconds to hit 40 mph, while the Ram HD took 18.9 seconds. For each test, we used the fastest recorded number we were able to achieve.
Davis Dam Runs
Our Davis Dam runs, under full load, were conducted later at night with temperatures around 90 degrees when we started (about 9 p.m.) but fell to the mid-70s by the time we finished (after midnight).
We like to use the section of Arizona Highway 68 — which heads East from Bullhead City, Ariz. — because it provides us with a long stretch of two-lane highway that climbs more than 3,000 feet in elevation over a relatively short 10-mile stretch. At certain points, the grade is at least 6 percent.
We started our runs at the bottom of the hill at McCormick Boulevard and Highway 68 in Bullhead City, and raced to the summit at wide-open throttle.
The Ford's two best runs were when temperatures were running slightly higher, timing out at 12:28 and 12:17 minutes. Our recorded top speed was 56.3 mph; the lowest, or slowest, speed once we got up and running we saw during our recorded runs was 45.5 mph.
Truthfully, we thought the F-450 was going to be the clear winner here. In both our previous HD truck tests on the Davis Dam grade, the Power Stroke was a strong player because of its V-8 construction and impressive midrange torque curve. The fact that it had 4.30:1 gearing helped too (our Ram had 4.10:1 gears). But the newly tuned Cummins surprised us.
The Ram posted its best two times at 12:20 and 12:24, with its top speed occurring during the faster first run at 57.8 mph. Our test driver said that although the Ram seemed to take off more slowly, the Cummins' newly found midrange rpm spectrum made it feel a touch faster than the Power Stroke. The lowest speed we saw in the Ram HD during our runs was 43.5 mph.
Eisenhower Pass Runs
Our runs on the Eisenhower grade (on the western side of the tunnels) were done along Interstate 70 eastbound starting at the exit for Dillon, Colo. The distance of our runs was 7.2 miles, climbing in elevation from just below 9,000 feet to just above 11,000 feet at the entrance to the Eisenhower Tunnel. The grade itself averages a 6 percent climb, with some short sections closer to 4 percent and the steepest at 7 percent. All of our runs were done in the evening and were not affected by wind, rain or traffic.
The Ford F-450 and trailer started out strong but seemed to run out of steam farther up the mountain, recording a best time of 11:44, with a top speed of nearly 53 mph and low speed of 31 mph.
The Ram 3500 HD seemed to have an easier time with the heavy trailer (the total weight for the Ford was 33,104 pounds, while the Ram's was calculated to be 33,270 pounds), but maybe that makes sense given that it's promoted as having a maximum gross combined weight rating of more than 4,000 pounds more than the Ford. The Ram did the 7.2-mile run up the Eisenhower grade in 10:31, with a top speed of 57 mph and a low speed of 37 mph.
We should note that we had another chance to run the Ram HD the next day, after loading another 3,800 pounds onto the trailer, taking it up the same Eisenhower grade. Although we did not get an exact time, our unofficial time keeping had the finishing time in the high 13-minute range. Likewise, we noted that it ran a top speed (running right on top of its maximum GCWR number) of 48 mph, with a 28 mph low-speed recording. Our test driver said that even at its maximum rating (something our Ford was also bumping up against), the maxed-out Ram HD was still passing quite a few big rigs crawling up the grade.