Ultimate One-Ton HD Challenge: And the Winner Is …

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Determining how to calculate our winner is never easy with a gigantic test like this. Combining all of our test data with the diverse opinions we gather from our judges makes putting it together almost a no-win situation. If we bias toward the empirical tests, then real-world characteristics like livability, comfort and interior design get shortchanged, and if we let subjective opinions rule the day, we miss the value of engine and chassis performance, and leave ourselves open to criticism.

That's why we've tried to offer both in this Challenge, in as transparent a format as possible, so that you can see how we collected the data, scored the events and weighted the head-to-head competitions. It was our hope that, by doing so, no matter which truck we crowned the winner, you got a chance to look at all the categories, see which ones are important to you and recalculate your own weighting of the events so that you can crown your own winner (if need be). We hope it's understood that the reason we do this type of testing is to equip you with as much information as possible so you can make the best choice when purchasing your next pickup truck. And if we have to suffer long days, coordinate truck and trailer schedules, and tow several thousand miles through some of the most beautiful country in the U.S. to bring you the results of these Challenges, so be it.

How We Did It

Of the 19 empirical tests that we conducted — which included everything from quarter-mile times at a drag strip to how much each one-ton squatted with its gooseneck weight — eight of them were won by the 2015 GMC Sierra 3500 HD and seven were won by the 2015 Ford F-350. In fact, when looking at the point totals for the quantitative section, the Ford and GMC were virtually tied, with a statistical difference between them of 0.3 percent. The 2014 Ram 3500 HD won just four events because we did several tests that rewarded off-the-line speed and quickness, something the Ram Cummins has always struggled with.

In the qualitative scoring section from our judges, the Ram had the most points, finishing in first or second place with each expert and winning the section by 40 points over the GMC. However, in the end, the GMC is our winner with the highest combined point total in one of our most comprehensive competitions to date, beating both of its competitors by a solid margin.

 

First Place: 2015 GMC Sierra 3500 HD Duramax

IMG_2846a IIEmpirical score, 1,792 points; judges' score, 1,500 points; total, 3,292 points

The 2015 GMC Sierra 3500 HD pickup equipped with the turbo-diesel engine won our 2014 Ultimate One-Ton HD Challenge.

The GMC, although the least expensive truck in our test, offered the smoothest and most comfortable ride over many uncomfortable road surfaces. The Duramax turbo-diesel and Allison 1000 transmission deliver power fast off the line, providing monster amounts of torque to the rear wheels quickly and forcefully.

Although much of our time was spent towing, one of the Sierra 3500's greatest strengths is how well it performs when empty; in fact, it won both empty tests we ran at the Milan Dragway (the zero-to-60-mph and quarter-mile tests), as well as stopping the fastest when empty during our brake test at GM's Milford Proving Ground. Interestingly, the GMC was the our mileage champ when towing our heavy loads, winning the fuel economy test (with a 16,000-pound trailer in tow) in Michigan; we should also note that during our unofficial mpg calculation running from Las Vegas to Denver, the GMC (towing a 20,000-pound trailer) averaged about 10 mpg while the Ford and Ram hovered around 7 and 8 mpg, respectively.

Our judges hugely appreciated the all-new interior and multimedia interface and 8-inch navigation screen, as well as the all-new (identical to the light duty) scrolling information screen. Although it took some getting used to, the trailer brake controller (mounted high on the dash on the left side of the steering wheel) works quite well. We also appreciated how well the upgraded exhaust brake performs, making it easier for those who might have little towing experience to tow heavier loads. The new, smarter and more sophisticated system will make towing near the limits a much easier chore for customers. There will be plenty of fifth-wheel and gooseneck haulers who will tow safer with the "set-it-and-forget-it" feature.

In the end, the GMC was the best all-around player of our competitors, scoring well in just about every category, racking up the points by the competition's finish.

 

Second Place: 2014 Ram 3500 HD Cummins

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Empirical score, 1,681 points; judges' score, 1,540 points; total, 3,221 points

The Ram 3500 was the most expensive of our test vehicles, tipping the scales at just less than $70,000, coming to us in full Laramie Limited dress with rich leather and stunning dash, gauge and console accents. The Ram won four of our competitive events, but those did not include any best acceleration times. A surprise to us, the Ram won the empty fuel economy testing we conducted in Michigan with a winning around-town average of 16.31 mpg. The other three events it won were all brake tests; two with the trailer, stopping from 60 mph (one with trailer brakes, one without) and the downhill exhaust brake testing we did at Davis Dam.

At the end of our empirical tests, the Ram HD was within 100 points of the GMC; however, after our experts weighed in with their favorite features and pickup characteristics, the Ram was even closer. One of the most polarizing aspects of the Ram is its Cummins engine and all-new Aisin transmission in that it shifts, sounds and distributes power like its big-rig cousins. In fact, it seems as though Ram engineers have made sure the software programs don't allow too much of the B-motor's torque to get to the rear axle too fast. But once it got moving, it was never far behind the Ford or GMC, as evidenced by the Davis Dam and Eisenhower wide-open-throttle grade runs.

As to features that our judges liked, the interior ranks right at the top as one of the best-looking cabs we've ever seen. Also, the dual-setting Smart Brake and dedicated diesel exhaust fluid gauge were hugely appreciated throughout our run through the Rockies. However, we noted during a summer downpour that the windshield wipers were not fast enough to give us clear vision and as near as we could tell, the Ram's DEF usage was about two or three times worse than the others (counting our fill-ups, the GMC used 2 gallons, the Ford 3 gallons and the Ram 6.5 gallons.). Our final quibble with the Ram HD had to do with how much noise the engine, electric fans and even the exhaust brake make. We appreciate a solid big-rig sound as much as anyone, but over our long haul we eventually got tired of it.

 

Third Place: 2015 Ford F-350 Power Stroke

IMG_3801a IIEmpirical score, 1,786 points; judges' score, 1,410 points; total, 3,196 points

It's difficult not to be impressed with the changes Ford has made to the 2015 Ford Power Stroke engine. The new turbo adds cooling, a bigger torque converter, software remapping and unique injectors, which combine to give this truck impressive off-the-line and midrange towing power without sacrificing overall fuel economy. Having the biggest torque and horsepower numbers clearly is important in this category, and Ford made the investment to get the king-of-the-hill 440 horsepower and 860 pounds-feet of torque. And it paid off in several of our tests. The Power Stroke dominated our acceleration and hill-climb tests, winning just about every zero-to-60-mph and quarter-mile run we set up. It even did incredibly well in our biggest exhaust brake tests, scoring light-years ahead of where they were the last time we tested a one-ton Ford Super Duty turbo-diesel.

Most of the issues we had with this 2015 Super Duty had to do with ride quality and interior design. Sure, you can discount the latter to individual taste, but our test vehicle struggled in places the other two did not, suffering from "the jitters" over expansion joints or small potholes in uncomfortable ways (particularly on the bad highways north of Flagstaff, Ariz.). We'd also like to see the F-350 do less squatting and less "butt-dragging" when loaded or towing. It's a characteristic that exists across the entire lineup. Additionally, the interior is not aging well, especially when compared to the levels both GM and Ram HD are playing at nowadays.

Finally, we should note, that even though the F-350 came in third (and we're not apologizing for Ford here), the difference between first and third place, out of more than 3,000 points, was less than 100 points. Not matter what their final finishing order, we'd like to say congratulations to all the one-ton competitors in our 2014 Ultimate Heavy-Duty Challenge.

How We Scored

To find our winner, we broke down our heavy-duty torture test into two separate weeks, creating 19 different scored events that made up our numbers-heavy quantitative section. That amounted to almost 2,000 available points, with the winner of each event being awarded 100 points. The second- and third-place finishers received whatever percentage their finishing time, distance or speed justified (i.e., if the winner stopped in 125 feet, it got 100 points; a second place of 150 feet would generate 83 points and a last place of 175 feet would get 71 points).

To the scores from those 19 events we added our judges' qualitative scores. The judges were Aaron Bragman, Cars.com Detroit bureau chief; Kent Sundling, operator of MrTruck.com; and Mark Williams, PickupTrucks.com editor. These three drivers, because of their experience and certification, were the only drivers of the one-ton truck-and-trailer combinations. Each judge rated these pickups in six categories: performance, comfort and ergonomics, tech and entertainment, ride quality, overall visibility and value. Each judge determined how many points to award each truck on a 100-point scale. In the end, the empirical tests (19) accounted for about two-thirds of the total, with our experts' qualitative scoring accounting for the remaining one-third (for a total of 25 separate test categories).

Editor's note: We'd like to thank RaceLogic for collecting much of our test data, to GM for the use of its proving grounds, to Roush and Load Trail for the use of its heavy-duty trailers and to the editors at Cars.com who helped and supported PickupTrucks.com in putting together this monster comparison test.

To download an image with all the results of each event, their corresponding scores and our judges' totals, click here

Cars.com image by Evan Sears

 

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Parade of HDs 3a II

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Overview | Milan Dragway | Fuel Economy | Milford Hill Climb | Milford Braking | Davis Dam | Davis Braking | Eisenhower Pass | Eisenhower Braking | Results

Comments

Congratulations to RAM. Betfer one ton truck than Ford.

Shocking!

This test says it all.If you want to do a serious and safe towing, use RAM or even Chevy. Never use Ford. Only if you like Fleet Queen.

I'll stick with my Ford F350 DRW, thank you very much.

Great results from all involved. Although I'm a Ford guy, I'd be inclined to wait a year to pick up one of their '16 models, those are supposed to be all-new right? Although that could also be a great opportunity to get an awesome discount on a '15.

Good Job GM!

WOW! Deep inside I had a feeling Duramax/Allison combo would make a statement but didn't think it would pull itself to the top. Nice job GM.

Whats that you hear???? All the wailing and gnashing of teeth of Ford owners, dead last on empirical and subjective ratings... no excuses this time boys!!!!!

GMC pulls the upset like I and several others called it over a month ago.... booyahhhh! Bring on Hurt Locker 2.0, Allison/Duramax 11 years young and still bringing the hurt to the competition!

Really @zviera? What it says to me is that you can't go wrong with any of the three - there's not a clear winner overall here at all. Like they said, less than 3% of the total score separated 1st from 3rd.

Nice test PUTC guys, as always.

What this test tells me is that if you want a quality 1-ton tow truck, you can't go wrong with any of these 3...

I agree with Kyle R. And Zviera sounds like an idiot. Great tests, 3 great trucks.

@KyleR
Look at this test result and buddylam and my comment.
Ford didn't meet PUTC criteria to not to go over 60 Mph. This test is rigged again. They kept only RAM under 60 Mph.
Ford would lose even more if executed by the PUTC rules.

http://special-reports.pickuptrucks.com/2014/08/ultimate-one-ton-hd-challenge-davis-dam-exhaust-brake-test.html

Not to mention brakes. RAM has best brakes on pair with GM.
Congrats to GM to step up this game. RAM is safe bet like always has been. Ford lost again.

I seriously wonder how old some of yall are that comment on here. What's sad is, we are all most likely grown adults and yet you talk trash like a 5th grader...and for what?? Is there REALLY a loser here?? Absolutely not. Us, the consumers, win, no matter which brand we decide to go with. Just because PUTC decided which brand won, do you honestly believe it will change someones mind??? Will GM suddenly out sell Ford in the HD market b/c of the test PUTC just did???? no.... Now, with that said, I would be lying if I told you that it didn't make me a little to happy to see GM win..CONGRATS GM...but, Ford will be releasing an all new truck VERY soon and, if we go by this test, im positive it will be the best truck on the market, especially where it lacked on this particular test. The Ford, as we know, is always heavier, and yet it was still the fastest and did great in the breaking, just imagine how much better it will pull and stop a load with the aluminum body. Which, again, in the end will just have to make Ram and GM adjust...... making us, the consumers, the real winners in all of this. PUTC, great test, I'm glad GM won..

taylor, the Ford was 40lbs lighter than the Ram. Look at Fords gearing. It clearly gives Ford an advantage. But mpg numbers and braking favor the Ram. Way more important numbers than acceleration up a hill.

I apologize and i was wrong, Dale, but come on, 40lbs? lol.... You act like i was sitting here saying Ford got screwed or something and that i was bashing the Ram.... why??

All i said was there are no losers here. These new diesel trucks are simply amazing. 20 years ago, shoot, even less than probably 10 years ago, none of us would have ever imagined it could get to this level.

This test just proved that all the "HP/Torque fairy dust" that Ford applies to their trucks doesn't matter. GM knows how to get the most out of their "inferior powertrain." I think GM winning every one of these tests over the last 8 years or so, proves that the Duramax/Allison combo is the best in the business! How does the Ram use over 6 gallons of that urea fluid compared to 2 gallons with the GMC? That's reason enough to pass on that truck!

At the end of the day, I knew that overall, the GM trucks were the best in the business. Even with the gas version, if GM would up the power/torque numbers just a little, it would have won that challenge as well. It says a lot that with an outdated 6.0 liter engine, it more than held its own against Ram's new and much more powerful 6.4 Hemi. You can't lose either with either engine from GM, they're on top of their game! I'm more than impressed with how well this test went and surprised how well the GMC truck did against Ford's updated engine. I hope more buyers will consider the GM trucks for HD applications! Congrats GM!

And yet wen they do get too this level, Ford fails too keep up!

Except for the braking test this seems to be a well run test.

For the life of me I cannot understand how you could have allowed the trucks to exceed your max allowed speed limit by so much, yet, rated the actual worst offender the best at Eisenhower braking.

If you would have chosen the truck with the closest to max speed limit as the test for braking at Eisenhower. The Ram would have won the test and the overall test.

By allowing the Ford and GMC to grossly exceed your speed limits, of course you'd expect them to have fewer brake touches and cooler brakes.
But the brake temps were all within limits, and the Ram managed to pull the truck down to a speed closer to the limits.

You need to re exam your procedures for your next brake challenge.

As far as the grades being extreme challenges. I disagree. Even the high altitude of Eisenhower is not a challenge for a turbo vehicle.
You can not get out of the San Joaquin valley without going over passes with the same type grades. And temps up to 115 degrees.

So yes they are difficult. But they should not be considered challenges. They are just everyday normal occurrences for drivers on the interstate. They are not even being met with some of the realities of slow traffic, that would require a vehicle to slow and then regain speed at mid grade. Maybe throw some of that into the next test

It does certainly look like the Ram people could adjust the gearing in their Aisin. Especially their 3rd and 4th gear ratios.

In two lane mountain driving those gears are used a lot. I actually enjoy the idea of low range 2 wheel drive for those instances. But no one offers that. although it is available in after market,

The Next Powerstroke is said to be, "On Fire."

@ devilsadvocate Ford finished Second in Empirical score,6 points behind the GMC and the Ford finished Last in judges score

Shows that the transmission is just as important as the engine's "numbers". The Allison and Aisin units clearly do a better job of maximizing their respective engines' strengths. Ford may save expenses and improve profits by building their engine and transmission in-house, but GM and Chrysler aren't afraid to buy the right components for the job... and unlike what Ford did with the Navistar engines, GM and Chrysler allow the component manufacturers to "have their say" in the programming of the various control modules.

This test shows that overall drivability is sometimes better than just brute strength, and that it may be more important to control your speed than accelerate the fastest when towing heavy loads.

I think its funny that Ford placed last n both the diesel and gas versions!! Also onebuiltdmax, that's wut they said bout the 15' power stroke!!!!
And look where it got em!! 3rd Place!! Go RAM and GM.....

All three trucks are great trucks. Thanks to pickuptrucks.com for the best, most thorough, and most unbiased tests.

The Power Stroke dominated our acceleration and hill-climb tests, winning just about every zero-to-60-mph and quarter-mile run we set up. It even did incredibly well in our biggest exhaust brake tests, scoring light-years ahead of where they were the last time we tested a one-ton Ford Super Duty turbo-diesel.

Most of the issues we had with this 2015 Super Duty had to do with ride quality and interior (decorating) design.

-------

I'll also add that Ford came in 2nd in empirical with only 6 pts difference between GM and Ford.

8 tests won by GM and 7 tests won by Ford. A virtual tie with GM getting the edge

Ram came in dead last in empirical scoring with more 100 pts behind GM.

Did anyone read the loaded hill tests, I'm not sure why anyone would bash the Ford powertrain combo, it dominated all of them. The only thing it came a close second to was the empty 0-60. I agree all 3 are great trucks!

Hat off for Taylor to admit , he was wrong about the Ford and RAM weight.

Recap:

3/4 ton
Ford won empirical

1 ton
GM and Ford virtually tied empirical

Not bad for a truck that has not changed since "1999" like people always like to say.

Hmm looks like I might be wrong on the Eisenhower hill climbe the links are screwed up

@Dave Z.
You shouldn't read any tests. You are clearly wasting time with that. Oh wait, you didn't read them.

Three excellent trucks! Hard to beat a Duramax diesel with an Allison transmission.

Zviera- THANKS. Ill admit when im wrong. Weight is something GM has always excelled in. They can put up very impressive numbers with an engine that has less power and i personally believe that plays a lot into the numbers. It helped me decide to go with a GMC diesel over the Ford, it just felt more nimble. That's by no means a knock on Ford, I wouldn't want to get hit by one haha. Im sooooo very interested to see how the aluminum body changes things. Its almost time for a new truck, and I will be deciding between the GMC and the new Ford when it releases.... truck boner.... engage

@Eric,

I share the same sentiment. Great test nonetheless.

"In fact, when looking at the point totals for the quantitative section, the Ford and GMC were virtually tied, with a statistical difference between them of 0.3 percent. The 2014 Ram 3500 HD won just four events because we did several tests that rewarded off-the-line speed and quickness, something the Ram Cummins has always struggled with."


Good job GM and Ford!

I agree with Taylor and Dave Z. I will be in the market for a new HD truck next year and will come down to Chevy and the new Ford Super Duty with the aluminum body.

I don't want Ram. The reasons have been discussed countless times.

@Paul
I applaud to you to have a balls to be a guinea pig to test how fast you can get out of burning aluminum Ford body.

Paul, i love Rams. The way they've made changes to their trucks, FOR THE BETTER, is clearly showing. I mean honestly, i know ive said it more than once, but how can any of us lose with these three trucks?! its just so awesome to me. I just so happen to like GMC (looks better than the chevy IMO) and Ford a little more. Im verrrry anxious to drive the super duty with the aluminum body. These things are rockets currently, less weight will just be even more impressive. Itll be a sad day though if i have to part ways with my GMC. wish i could have both! haha.

ALSO, this has been the best discussion between us, the readers, on PUTC that ive seen in years. We're actually talking to each other rather than trying to make ourselves look like pricks. I very rarely comment on here for that reason alone lol.

Wow ... Great Job to all 3! One cannot go wrong with either of these rigs. I would wait for the upgraded Super Duty just so I got the better frame ... The GM is impressive ... the RAM will always be slower with the inline 6. It makes TQ at lower RPMs and if you look at a dyno graph it does nothing for the motor to be turned to max RPM. The interior of the RAM is superior ... as is the frame and suspension. Great test and by the way it looks - the 2018 HD Hurt-Locker will be interesting .. LOL


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfHtcUZXljw&feature=youtube_gdata_player


This test says it all.If you want to do a serious and safe towing, use RAM or even Chevy. Never use Ford. Only if you like Fleet Queen.

Posted by: zviera | Aug 18, 2014 10:20:29 AM

Guts
Glory
RAM

That's a big difference in urea usage. There's an article just underneath the shootout about Cummins being tierIII or CARB compliant now. Maybe they're related and the Cummins releases less of whatever emissions they measure? Or is a low revving straight 6 just not a good platform for emissions (remembering what killed the Jeep 4.0).

GMC, best powetrain, frame and interior, most reliable. Best Towing Experience Brakes/Ride/Handling, safest.


Ram, Cummins, Brakes, Interior/Exterior Styling, out the door price, megacab, rambox, powerwagon, 6.4 Hemi

Ford, 2nd redesign of Powerjoke, Prezel frame, ass dragging, terrible ride, crap interior, bragging rights on power.

In the end the two best won, congrats to GMC and Ram and too bad for Ford, back to the drawing board.

you would think the Cummins would be more efficient in emissions, like it kinda is with everything else, lower rpms etc, being that it is an I6 compared to the V8 in the Duramax and Powerstroke.

Congrats to GM

Wow, Ram was really behind the other two in the test portion of the 350/3500 challenge as opposed to only being 7 points behind the leader(Ford) in the 250/2500 test portion of the that challenge.

3500 Test totals

GM: 1,792

Ford: 1,786

Ram: 1,681

Luckily Ram came back in the judges opinion portion of the test. Although that side of the test is subjective. Good job all, thank you PUTC and Mr. Truck for putting on the challenge.

Well the urea injection is new for the Cummins 6.7 I believe, so it probably has some kinks to work out of it.
Speaking of which, did GM ever fix that low hanging urea tank? Doesnt look like it.

Also, are they 4x4s? It sorta look like the Ram and Superduty have the front diff

"The GMC was the our mileage champ when towing our heavy loads, winning the fuel economy test (with a 16,000-pound trailer in tow) in Michigan; we should also note that during our unofficial mpg calculation running from Las Vegas to Denver, the GMC (towing a 20,000-pound trailer) averaged about 10 mpg while the Ford and Ram hovered around 7 and 8 mpg, respectively."

Folks, thats 25 to 40 percent better Fuel Economy near Max Trailering, I say thats a huge difference and a HUGE win for GMC.

Sooooo the ford out performed everyone solidly the majority of the time, though it was not as luxurious inside or soft riding, so it came in last? Hmmmm

Well, you cannot get a bad truck here. Pick you favorite one and you have a competent truck.

"We'd like to thank ... GM for the use of its proving grounds". That about sums up the results.

@: Mr Obvious

Folks, thats 25 to 40 percent better Fuel Economy near Max Trailering, I say thats a huge difference and a HUGE win for GMC.

You are right about that sir.

Someone mentioned that it doesn't matter if the Ford was fastest in acceleration because it didn't brake as well.

Please tell me the last time you saw two trucks lining up to see who could brake the fastest? Exactly; doesn't happen. As you prove with every post truck guys generally have egos to match the size of their trailers and they don't want to get beat off the line.

I'm not saying braking is unimportant because it's very important. But you don't see anyone advertising braking distances or asking what the 60-0 times are. It's all about quarter-mile and 0-60. Which the Ford seemed to do best all-around:
'Having the biggest torque and horsepower numbers clearly is important in this category, and Ford made the investment to get the king-of-the-hill 440 horsepower and 860 pounds-feet of torque. And it paid off in several of our tests. The Power Stroke dominated our acceleration and hill-climb tests, winning just about every zero-to-60-mph and quarter-mile run we set up. It even did incredibly well in our biggest exhaust brake tests, scoring light-years ahead of where they were the last time we tested a one-ton Ford Super Duty turbo-diesel.'

Regardless of your favorite brand, the fact that the results are so close is a great thing for consumers.



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