It's only been a few years since our last heavy-duty Challenge, but in the time since we've seen the truck wars intensify and expand. Of all the pickup truck segments (or maybe all automotive segments), the three-quarter-ton and one-ton segments have made perhaps the largest technology and quality leaps.
The last time we tested all three — Ford, GM and Ram HD turbo-diesel competitors — was three years ago with the one-ton trucks in our comprehensive 2011 Heavy-Duty Hurt Locker. We last tested three-quarter-ton and one-ton pickups together at our 2010 Heavy-Duty Shootout, which included both gasoline and diesel engines and was presented as a single, gigantic story, which likely took you days to devour. This time we've decided to do things a little differently.
Although we decided to, once again, include both gasoline and turbo-diesel engine options, we have broken the stories into two separate packages, competing the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD, 2015 Ford F-250 Super Duty and 2014 Ram 2500 HD 4x4s in one here, each with their gas engine powertrains — the 6.0-liter, 6.2-liter and 6.4-liter V-8s, respectively. For this test, each manufacturer was given a $50,000 price limit, which included destination charges. Beyond that, all of them needed to be 4x4 crew-cab pickups.
To allow us to be as comprehensive as possible with our testing procedures, we broke the test into two separate weeks. We spent one week conducting some tests in Michigan (meaning the truckmakers' backyard); later we spent another week taking the big trucks out on the road to see how they handled a max-payload sprint up the infamous Davis Dam grade that straddles the Arizona/Nevada border and a maximum gross-combined-weight-rating run up the brutal Eisenhower Pass grade in Colorado.
Two Weeks of Testing
Our first week included a day at a quarter-mile American Hot Rod Association drag strip, where we were able to collect zero-to-60 mph and quarter-mile time slips with each truck, loaded and unloaded.
Although we know these types of HD gas trucks aren't typically purchased with high fuel economy in mind, we did loaded and unloaded fuel economy runs in and around the Detroit area. Those results might surprise you.
We finished our Michigan testing at GM's Milford Proving Grounds to allow us to standardize and control as much of the extraneous variables as possible. In the past we've rotated to different manufacturer test facilities; this turned out to be the only facility that could accommodate our availability. We used Milford's 7.2 percent hill climb and extensive asphalt "Black Lake" areas for acceleration and brake tests. Additionally, we invited an expert from RaceLogic Inc. to run our VBOX testing equipment as a neutral third party to gather data.
We started Week 2 of our 2014 Ultimate Heavy-Duty Challenge in Las Vegas (A) by taking delivery of the trucks we tested in Michigan for Week 1. From there, we headed to Bullhead City, Ariz. (B), for payload runs up the steepest section of the infamous Davis Dam grade. We then headed to Tuba City, Ariz. (C), for a quick overnight, and then we worked our way through Monument Valley and Moab, Utah (D), to Dillon, Colo. (E). We set up base camp in Dillon for our runs up the Eisenhower Pass grade with a loaded trailer. Once we finished our testing, we drove the trucks back to Denver (F), where the truckmakers took possession.
Week 2 had us using, at times, the 7,000-pound three-quarter-ton HD pickups as trailer weight for much of our Ultimate One-Ton HD Challenge run from Las Vegas to Denver. That way we could have our six trucks with us at all times, but only have to test-drive three of them on the road when moving from Davis Dam to the Eisenhower Pass. To make things interesting (meaning closer to max GCWR), we purchased several 275-gallon food-quality containers that we filled with water, effectively giving us another 2,400 pounds of dead weight. We strapped one tank in the bed of each three-quarter-ton pickup and one to the front of each of our three gooseneck trailers.
With the same six trucks tested in Week 1 delivered to us in Las Vegas two weeks later, we drove them (with the three-quarter-tons piggy-backed on our Load Max trailers, pulled by our three one-ton competitors) to the infamous state Route 68 near Davis Dam in Bullhead City, Ariz., then onto Colorado's Eisenhower grade that summits at more than 11,000 feet above sea level. We are presenting all the collected data and bloody details here for you.
As noted, each truck had to hit a price target less than $50,000; each weighed within 400 pounds of each other and had a max GCWR within 3,000 pounds of each other. As to gearing, the Chevy and Ram had 4.10:1 axle gears, while the F-250 opted for the lower 3.73:1 gears rather than its only other option, the 4.30:1 gears.
Here now, the competitors for the Ultimate Three-Quarter-Ton HD Challenge, in alphabetical order.
2015 Chevy Silverado 2500 HD LT Crew Cab 4x4 with a 6.0-liter V-8
Chevrolet's new 2015 model HDs were revealed at the 2013 State Fair of Texas. At first glance there is plenty of new exterior styling, and a completely new cab and interior dash and gauge layout to keep Bow-Tie brand fans happy. The new interior mirrors many of the changes made to the 2014 light-duty Silverado 1500. Cleaner lines and easier-to-read-and-see gauges, as well as a much more sophisticated multimedia/navigation system are just a few of the big improvements.
If there's a quibble to be had with the new GM HD truck, it's that practically nothing has been done to the suspension, chassis or powertrain lineup since the platform and engines were revamped in 2011. GM tells us it didn't think it needed to make the big investment under the truck because the feedback it's been getting from dealers and customers has been favorable. Additionally, GM has upgraded the pickup bed with several new convenience features, as well as a more aggressive exhaust brake on Duramax-equipped trucks.
Our 2500 was a midrange LT in Victory Red with 4.10:1 gears (the only choice available), and it sported the standard 6.0-liter overhead valve V-8 and six-speed transmission. The engine is rated at 360 horsepower and 380 pounds-feet of torque (the lowest of our three competitors), and had the Z71 and LT convenience packages as well as the 18-inch wheels and tires, a spray-in bedliner and several other options. Our Chevy listed at $49,545 (including destination).
2015 Ford F-250 Super Duty XLT Crew Cab 4x4 with a 6.2-liter V-8
Many of the changes for the 2015 Super Duty are relegated to the models that have the newly upgraded Power Stroke engine, which offers class-leading horsepower and torque as well as a new, dedicated, driver-activated exhaust brake switch. Unfortunately, that means the lighter-duty F-250 only gets some of the cosmetic changes and new trim packages for 2015, such as the refurbished King Ranch trim package.
Although some changes have been made to the exterior and interior look of the new Super Dutys, structurally the F-250 truck is still quite similar to what it was almost 10 years ago. Despite that, a huge standout feature for us always has been the powerful 6.2-liter overhead cam Boss V-8 that replaced the 6.8-liter V-10 three years ago. The gas engine is rated at 385 hp and 405 pounds-feet of torque. The 2015 F-250s are available with a choice of 3.73:1 and 4.30:1 axle gears, so we couldn't match the Ford to the Chevy and Ram competitors, which both have 4.10:1 gears. Ford uses the same six-speed transmission in the F-250 that it uses for the more powerful Power Stroke, the 6R140.
Our XLT Value Package gave us adjustable pedals, fog lights, six-way power driver's seat and one of our favorite features, the LCD productivity screen in the center of the gauge cluster. Other features included the max trailer package, electric tow mirrors, spray-in bedliner and more. All totaled, our Magnetic Gray F-250 had a reasonable list price of $47,690 (including destination).
2014 Ram 2500 HD Big Horn Crew Cab 4x4 with a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8
The 2014 Ram 2500 HD is the model in our three-quarter-ton test that has the most upgrades and changes since our last HD comparison. The frame and chassis have been greatly modified, with all standard 2500 Rams using coil springs and a five-link rear suspension (a segment first), replacing the traditional leaf setup. The front suspension has been upgraded as well, moving to a more sophisticated and well-mannered three-link live-axle coil-spring configuration. Ram 2500s also offer an adjustable rear airbag suspension option, but it did not come on our test unit.
Additionally, the Ram 2500 is now available with two Hemi choices: the previously available 5.7-liter V-8 and the all-new 6.4-liter Hemi V-8. The new, larger Hemi is equipped with a subtle, but active, cylinder deactivation mode that works invisibly without the driver knowing or controlling any of its actions. The new engine is rated at a class-leading 410 hp and 429 pounds-feet of torque, and uses the 66RFE six-speed automatic used on the smaller Hemi.
Our Big Horn Ram 2500 came to us with the Customer Preferred Package 22Z, which gave us, among other things, 18-inch wheels and tires, a limited-slip rear differential, split-folding front bench seats, 10-way power driver's seat and more. Additionally, we got the premium Uconnect navigation system, a backup camera, a luxury equipment package and the RamBox (one of our favorite options). Sadly, because the Ram 2500 was the tallest truck in our competition, there was no room for side steps, so getting into the truck was difficult. Our Blue Streak Pearl pickup just squeezed under the wire at $49,755 (including destination).
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears