King of Beasts: Results

1 Cool Pair II

Photography by Evan Sears

By the end of our 1,600-mile King of Beasts test drive, our drivers had a clear idea of how these two behemoths performed towing the most extreme amounts of weight. There's no question that the manufacturers have a done a stellar job of making the 2013 Ford F-450 and the 2013 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty the most powerful, strongest and even the smoothest-riding heavy haulers we've ever seen in this segment.

We needed to see how these two creatures performed in the wild, stressed to their limits, each yanking its own huge trailer back and forth across and over the Rockies. Unlike some other comparison tests we've done, this contest was about watching the two combatants as they moved from one extreme venue to another and from one extreme situation to another.

Rather than score each category or each test as if these were two equally matched competitors, which they weren't, we decided to just toss them into the ring, lock the cage behind them and find out which was the last one standing: bull elephant versus lion, whale versus giant squid, Godzilla versus King Kong. We know a 3500 doesn't match up directly with an F-450. In fact, we're not really sure any truck buyer would ever comparison shop those two trucks, but that wasn't what this test was about. We wanted the biggest hauling pickups out there (certainly with the biggest gross vehicle weight rating and gross combined vehicle weight rating numbers), and we wanted to test them together. So we did.

Here's what we found as these two heavy-duty fifth-wheel tugboats took on some of the most serious hill climbs and descents this country has to offer. We can comfortably say that both trucks handled them with incredible skill. But to say there weren't significant differences wouldn't be honest either, so here are our findings.

1 Ford Eisenhower grade II

2013 Ford F-450 Lariat Crew Cab 4x4

There's no question that with 400 horsepower and 800 pounds-feet of torque, the Power Stroke engine delivers gobs of smooth power and low-end grunt. For all-around big-truck comfort and capability, this used to be the ruler of the land, but it's now showing its age. There's always been something regal and majestic about the F-450 because it's been the bar everyone else has been trying to clear since it was introduced in 2008.

It's got plenty of strengths:

  • Visibility: We like the tremendous visibility from the driver's seat with its rounded hood corners, gigantic elephant-like movable ears for mirrors, and large side and rear windows. Even the funny-looking rear dualie fenders make visibility easier for a driver who is pulling narrow or long trailers.
  • Mobility: While you wouldn't expect it, for the most part we like how well it moves around town and on the highway when empty. With only a small bit of bothersome rear-end stiffness, it is impressive to see a truck of this size (and with 4.30:1 axle gears) regularly hit the 14-mpg mark driving around town.
  • Smart Trans: We were very impressed how often the transmission stayed in 6th gear, even while driving on high-altitude grades. It was a challenge to get it to downshift sometimes. 

During our time in the Super Duty we did find a few quibbles:

  • The jitters: When fully loaded, we found the ride a bit stiffer and bucky at times, especially when the roads were bad.
  • Interior: Our Platinum edition had a very nice sound system, but it didn't seem much different or offer the upgraded materials we believe truck buyers deserve in a nearly $70,000 pickup.
  • DEF gauge: Not having an easy-to-find diesel exhaust fluid gauge that lets you know exactly how much you've used and how much you have left is something customers should not settle for, especially those who are going to tow. The Super Duty only offers a "Level OK" readout.

Unfortunately, the biggest areas where the F-450 let us down was in controlling the heavy loads on the steepest hill descents, something we've known from past heavy-duty comparisons as well. The strategy to integrate the turbocharger along with the grade braking of the transmission is perfectly fine about 80 percent of the time, but when we needed it most, it wasn't there. We found ourselves having to combat the engine bumping into the rev limiter several times with only the brake pedal between us and a runaway rig. Maybe it needs bigger, stronger brakes and a stronger transmission, or maybe a more aggressive turbocharger is the simple fix, but something has to be done if Ford wants its crown back. Interestingly, from what we saw at the 2013 State Fair of Texas, Ford could do it with the upgrades it has planned for its Super Duty chassis and upgraded Power Stroke for 2015.


1 Ram Beauty II

2013 Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn Crew Cab 4x4

Although it may not look like it on the outside, there were quite a few significant changes to the 2013 Ram 3500 HD, not the least of which was employing a higher tensile-strength frame and moving from a five-link front-end suspension design to a heavier-duty three-link setup.

All it takes is a quick look under the front end at the massive lower control arms (more similar now to the Super Duty strategy now) to understand why the new one-tons are so well-behaved and much less prone to the jitters when road bumps or choppy surfaces hit. Likewise, the steering feel is vastly improved as we navigated (at good speeds too) our way through mountain canyons and picked through tight city streets and Wal-Mart parking lots (not easily done with a 32-foot trailer).

Another standout feature was the new-for-2013 Smart Brake, which allows the driver to select one of three settings — off, auto and fully on. We liked letting the computer control the amount of engine braking in "auto" mode for most of our real-world driving, but we appreciated being able to set the exhaust brake into a more aggressive mode when headed toward a big downhill grade. It gave us more control (and a stronger sense of safety) and clearly helped the Ram HD manage its downhill speed.

The overall quality and level of detail offered in the Laramie Longhorn interior package impressed us. This was a cabin that we had to live in for seven straight days, sometimes for 16 hours at a time. The material choices, seams and switch layout seem to be the standard for the industry right now, something that others should be shooting for.

Finally, an important detail that could easily go overlooked is how well this package is integrated. From the engine and transmission working through the midlevel gearing, to the grade braking in the transmission software working in concert with the exhaust brake, to the level of seating comfort and support to make long hauls feel like an easy day's drive, it all works and fits seamlessly together.

This new Ram 3500 HD controls huge amounts of weight as if it were carrying a much smaller load, and you get out of the truck at the end of a long day of towing feeling like you haven't been. What more could you want from your beast of burden?

1 Ford Gauge II

1 Ram Guage II

However, as much as we like this Ram 3500 HD, it is not a perfect truck. There are still characteristics of the Cummins B-motor that take some getting used to, like the trainlike torque at takeoffs that often had us sluggishly tugging away from stops rather than smoothly taking off. Also, visibility over the large front hood and all around the truck could be much better. And we would have liked an option for a larger fuel tank because long-haul towing with just a 220-mile range got old real fast.

Other things we liked:

  • Powertrain: The new Ram and Aisin transmission surprised us with how well it carried the big loads with minimal effort, and it gave us respectable fuel economy.
  • DEF gauge: We appreciated the dedicated DEF gauge that allowed us to see how quickly that eight-gallon tank can run dry when pulling the grade out of Vail, Colo., or over the 11,000-foot passes to get to Denver. Between our two trucks, we burned through 12 gallons of DEF fluid.

Our testing showed that Ram engineers have done a pretty good job of liberating the Cummins power and giving it a lot of midrange "umph" to move strongly up steep grades. Likewise, the brake-touch testing and the brake temperatures we measured really drive the point home that controlling the weight through engine management (auto grade braking) and turbocharger tuning (multimode exhaust brake) can help keep you away from the safety limits of your truck, offering a wider margin for error.

The Ram also had higher top speeds up the steepest grades, handled the heavy loads with more control, and kept the drivers more comfortable and less stressed. With all that said, we finally say congratulations to the 2013 Ram 3500 HD, our winner and last beast standing in this bloody two-truck battle.

1 Ram Cool Road II


1 Ford Highway II


Overview | Acceleration | Braking | Fuel Economy | Comfort and Squats | Results


Why is everyone arguing about these pick up trucks. To me, FORD, DODGE, and CHEVY are all equal. some of you guys are right, ford has been on top and in my mind it always will be. both trucks look good and tough. Both are also drive comfortably. I have always been a ford and chevy guy. I grew up with fords and my entire family has fords. Enough said. I am sick of all these truck wars. To some guys, what looks good and appealing to his eyes won't look as good to another. Anyway, nice win for RAM (KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK FORD CHEVY AND DODGE)

They forgot to mention that the 850 lbs-ft ram does not come standard. They had to factory tune the 6.7L Cummins keep up with Powerstroke and Duramax. Powerstroke and Duramax will have the rediculous power with one engine version. This shows how depsperate Ram is to beat the Ford Powerstroke. The sad part is that as horrible as the 6.0L and 6.4L reputations were; Ford Powerstroke still has doubled the amount of diesel trucks on the road.

Ford doesn't own Cummins & never has, educate yourself! You could obviously use an education if you actually hauled 16k with a F150. That's got to be about one of the dumbest things I have ever heard anyone admit to if it was actually done & I have a hard time even believing.


Just a brief comment: The GMC Duramax engine is built in Moraine Ohio, and has been since it's inception. GMC purchased the rights to build this engine which was formerly a well tested and use 464 hp marine diesel. GM then built their own completely new facility in Moraine Ohio to produce their Duramax version with a preinjection cycle and common rail configuration to create a quieter and more efficient unit. It was set up initially to run at 300 hp and 500 ft/lb of torque. Before the changes made to diesel fuel through refining and removing the explosive power of the sulfur my 2001 Duramax was getting 21 to 27 mpg. The Alison 1000 transmission is still the best on the market. That is 1000 ft/lb continnious rating, not 850 like Ram or Ford. Recent inspection of the engine shows no wear or scratched in the cylinders and no micro-fractures or warping of the heads. GMC put a new warranty on the 13 year old engine after this inspection and free but unnecessary injector replacement covered by GM. Apparently some injector installations had a fuel leakage problem and GM has a free replacement policy with no time limit expiration for those model years involved. The is used for construction, logging and farm use. There have never been any problems with it. My only complaint is that with our new refined and corn fed diesel my mpg is down to 17 to 20 mpg. I see the tow rating on the new 2014 ford diesels is only 1000 lbs more than my 2001 GMC.

why is the ram a sponsor? tells me it is not a true test.

You guys are too funny. hahaha... All these brand lovers just kill me. We have all owner and operated our own vehicles and put more money into some than others. I will never buy another GM, but that is due to corporate BS, not the trucks I had owned. I have owned very many trucks and used them all for many things including plowing. You want to see trucks break? Do some commercial plowing! I own an 02' F-250 now that I have owned since 03'. It's got over 100K on the clock and I have put a few electronic switches in the drivers door. (Probably due to me leaving the window down once in a heavy rain). (FLORIDA.) Only brakes and tires and oil otherwise. It's gets crappy mileage with the V-10, but I have hauled through those same mountain ranges as in this article more than a few times and never a hiccup. My F-250 Super Crew Lariat is very comfortable and I have gone 24 hours straight towing one way with only about 10 hours before the return trip and never been overtired due to the comfort level.

I only bring all of this up as we all have our own comfort levels and things we like and dislike about all vehicles. These tests are great and very well done. But they are for guys that will USE the truck for it's intent. 90% of us never use our trucks to their potential.. Great to know it is there, but other than a few who have answered here, most of us do not. So why all the pissing in each others wheaties???

What I want to see is excellent handling in bad weather and great MPH. Comfort is very big for me as I am now fused from my mid back on down. So for me to tow anything big again I need the truck to do ALL of the work and massage my back and legs.

My Grandfather was an engineer. He always told me to go a bit bigger than you expect to need. Then you will never be caught short. With that always in mind I have never really pushed any of my trucks beyond their normal capabilities.

I did have a brand new Avalanche that I helped a buddy tow his boat home and then to the Gulf of Mexico. I have never been so unimpressed, actually disgusted in my life by a truck. I had towed the same boat on the same trailer many times with a 1/4 ton base model Chevy with a small 8 and also with GMC Dually with 6.5L Diesel on a fan. Both hardly knew the boat was behind us. The Avalanche felt like I was dragging the boat without a trailer under it. Even at very low speeds the Avalanche pushed hard in cornering. It had plenty to pull it, but handling the trailer was the worst I have EVER felt. It was like see that accident coming ahead of time and not being able to do a damned thing about it... I wouldn't pull a jet ski behind it after that. Sold that truck with 1,414 miles on it...

By the way, I am a mopar guy from way back. I still own today a 1965 Coronet 500. Big block/Auto/4:10. Also I know many with mid 2000's Dodge Dually w/Cummins that absolutely love them. And they get pretty good milage even when towing their enclosed race car trailers loaded down and climbing the mountains on the East Coast.
Give me comfort and control and great mileage.. I can reach my destination 5 minutes later than everyone else. That doesn't bother me in the least!! ;)

Ford is the more reliable.Dodge and chev spend all their time in the shop.Go FORD.

I'am a ford guy! I have a 99 f350 7.3 no major problems bought it brand new,fixed some oil leaks! Other than that it's awesome I'am about the big 3!!! I wrench for a living at a independent shop, and have friends working at dealerships such as ford,Chevy and dodge! It doesn't matter now a days. Every make or model has its good or bad! Hats off for dodge! Just a note. As much as we like our favorites! They work or invest with one anther

after seeing the temps on the Fords brakes, I would have to say all the Fords of the past years even as little as one year ago has NEW BRAKES!!!!1,105 degrees is enough to ruin any brakes out there! unless they are carbon, but then again the temps would not get that high! I would HOPE FORD has put better brakes on their trucks!

Sorry, the layout and presentation screams "dodge ram is paying us"

For the comment for the last post
Ford does not own
Ford own 9% stock
They sold in the mid 2000's
Even the 15 For and Free will no longer offer Cummins 6.7 liter USB
Only the Power stroke
Know your facts please

I had the 2005 F-350 PS with 57,000 on it .Broke down four times going to Va. from Maine. Cost me $4000.00 in repairs and $1000.00 in towing.The truck was 4 months out of warranty and Ford would do nothing to offset this cost.
Very disappointed in Ford

I'm interested who thinks ford owns Cummins? They sold their small percentage that they owned in Cummins stock almost 20 years ago. If you don't believe it go look at Cummins large stock holders and you'll see that ford doesn't have a hand in the Cummins engine they never did. If I was to go buy a share from Cummins then go around telling people I owned Cummins would be total bs so let's just go ahead and clear that up right now. I personally have been turning wrench on every one of these trucks for years and I've used a lot of the different brands the last heavy hauling I did was with an 06 ram 3500 I had a gross weight of over 56000 lbs that I pulled through the mountains of northern Idaho to Tennessee and back. That truck was by far one of the best trucks I've ever owned. It never gave me issues it just worked month after month year after year. When I joined the service I went to a couple of older Cummins mainly because of the ease of working on them and the cheap availability of parts if needed and I put over 350000 miles on a 95 12 valve Cummins making just shy of 800hp and over 1500 ft lbs of torque at 82 psi of boost with the compound turbo setup. I pulled the motor on that truck at 350k to do the first head gasket and found very good clear cross hatching on the cylinder walls. I finally upgraded to a 2014 Laramie 2500 and I gotta say the new interior doesn't stop blowing me away. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to try a different brand for once but the Ram just had the best of everything I could find and the rest of the truck just seemed much more solid to me. It was a close toss up between GM and Ram but obviously Ram is on top of their game. Who knows maybe in 10 years when this one is getting old for me I may go with a different brand just depends who's on top then! Happy trucking y'all

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