Buying a diesel-powered HD pickup used to be a no-brainer, but that attitude has started to change over the past few years. Diesel fuel prices have increased at the pump from less than regular gasoline to almost as expensive as premium octane, and initial costs for diesel engines have risen to cover new emissions technology and – in the case of GM and Ford – include standard automatic transmissions instead of lower-cost manuals.
Although we’re testing new diesel engines from Ford and GM this year, Ford has also introduced an all-new 6.2-liter V-8, and Chrysler and GM have continued to improve their gassers.
All of the gas trucks we tested were priced within $1,500 of each other.
2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD LT with 6.0-liter Vortec V-8
The 2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD might not look all that different from the 2007-10 model on the outside, but underneath, almost everything has changed. Both three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks have all-new front and rear suspensions, brakes, axles and fully boxed ladder frames. The only carryover mechanical part from the 2007-10 trucks that we last tested is the front stabilizer bar link.
GM updated its 6.0-liter small-block V-8 for 2011 with improvements that include a stronger 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission hanging off the back and a new camshaft that helps produce more torque lower in the rpm band. That gives it a total of 360 hp and 380 pounds-feet of torque versus 353 hp and 373 pounds-feet in our last Shootout.
What hasn’t changed on the Silverado (and GMC Sierra) is its exterior and interior styling. While we think the exterior, which was all-new for 2007, still looks modern and is aging well, the Silverado’s interior has been passed by in style, fit and finish and materials grades by both the Ford and Ram pickups, particularly in the so-called “pure pickup” trim. The interior door handles in this trim are also too low for easy reach.
We’re pleased that GM added a 36-gallon fuel tank to the truck – 10 gallons more than what a similar GMC Sierra had in our last Shootout and, now, the largest in the segment. The extended range offered by the larger tank is welcome, especially when you’re cruising on the interstate and don’t want to worry about your next pit stop.
We pointed it out three years ago, and we’re going to point it out again here. There’s a handy low-tech assist from GM on the Silverado (and Sierra) to help frequent towers. Like the Fords, the Silverado has a 2.5-inch Class V trailer hitch receiver. If you only need a 2-inch Class IV hitch, the Silverado comes with a reducer sleeve to shrink the receiver’s diameter, as the Ford trucks do.
What’s cool about the Silverado’s reducer, though, is that it has a “lip” around the edges, so when you’re holding a hitch pin in one hand and a hitch-shank/reducer combo in the other, you won’t have to worry about aligning the holes in the receiver and shank to thread the pin through. The lip physically aligns the pin holes for you as you slide the shank into the receiver. The Fords don’t have lips on their reducers, so you have to hold and slide heavy shanks back and forth to manually align the holes in the receiver, reducer and shank. That can be aggravating. Yes, it’s a little thing to pick on, but it hugely simplifies the task.
Also worth mentioning is that the GM three-quarter-ton trucks can tow conventionally up to 13,000 pounds on their bumper hitch without requiring weight-distributing equalizer bars. We saved lots of time hooking and unhooking the GM trucks to their trailers compared with the Ford and Chrysler pickups, which require equalizers for trailers weighing more than 6,000 pounds.
Weight-distributing equalizer bars connect the truck and trailer redundantly and redistribute the leverage caused by tongue weight on the ball to more of the trailer and truck frame.
2011 Ford F-250 XLT with 6.2-liter V-8
The 2011 Super Duty is the third version of Ford’s heavy-duty pickup in the past four years and the second since Ford reworked the truck for the 2008 model year.
This year, Ford replaced two old gas engines with one new one. The entry-level 300-hp, 5.4-liter V-8 that makes 365 pounds-feet of torque and the diesel-like 362-hp, 6.8-liter Triton V-10 that makes 457 pounds-feet – our favorite gas engine in 2007– are replaced by the all-new 6.2-liter V-8.
The two-valve single-overhead-cam 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 is rated at 385 hp and 405 pounds-feet of torque, so it has more horsepower than either of the old engines and just misses splitting the difference in torque between the 5.4-liter and 6.8-liter, with two fewer cylinders than the massive 6.8-liter.
Ford dropped its old five-speed 5R110 TorqShift automatic transmission, replacing it with the all-new six-speed 6R140 TorqShift for both the 6.2 gas and 6.7 diesel engines. The 6R140 heavy-duty TorqShift promises innovative shift strategies (tow/haul mode, range-limited shifting and manual shift functions) and power takeoff features. Ford has discontinued offering a six-speed ZF manual handshaker, leaving Ram trucks as the last HD pickups to offer buyers hand-rowed gearboxes.
The six-speed auto gives Ford gear parity with GM’s 6L90 six-speed 6.0-liter V-8 gas engine and an extra cog over Dodge’s 545RFE five-speed 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 gas engine.
Though we didn’t test the trucks off-road, Ford offers an optional electronic locking rear differential and hill descent control, the latter of which uses the truck’s antilock braking system to control downhill speeds.
Ford gave the Super Duty an all-new front clip that includes a two-bar chrome grille framed by two “C-clamp” style trim pieces that replace the old nostril intakes. The headlights are sleeker, and the bumper follows the sharp bottom curves of the grille. The front fender side vents were replaced with subtler model identifiers that are positioned just below the A-pillar and hood line.
All of the Ford trucks in our test have gone on diets since the 2007 Shootout. This truck weighed in at 7,100 pounds, 320 pounds lighter than the V-10 truck we tested three years ago.
The F-250 also had the lowest rear axle gearing of any truck we tested, 4.30, compared with 4.10 in the Chevy and Ram gas three-quarter-ton trucks.
2010 Ram 2500 TRX with 5.7-liter Hemi V-8
The Ram HD pickups received major updates for the 2010 model year, featuring all-new skin and high-quality interiors with excellent ergonomics that are shared with the light-duty Ram 1500.
The interior is a tremendous leap forward since our last test, and it pushes these trucks ahead of the GM pickups to near parity with the Ford Super Duty. Gone are the acres of hard, shiny plastic that we griped about in the old truck. The seats were very comfortable for driving over long distances. It’s also nice that the Ram’s column-mounted shifter ends in Drive, so we couldn’t accidentally fling it into a lower gear by accident.
We also thought that the Ram HDs we tested had the simplest HVAC controls of all the trucks. The knobs were large and easy to grip and they were intuitive to operate, instead of the push-button controls that the Ford and GM trucks had. We never had to take our attention off the road or the load we were pulling to adjust the temperature inside the Rams.
It’s a welcome improvement that all the Rams we tested also came equipped with integrated trailer brake controllers, a new feature for 2010.
Though we were unable to test the 2011 Ram pickups, there are no significant powertrain or engineering changes planned for next year, Chrysler says. The biggest change from our comparison is that the TRX model we drove in the gas three-quarter-ton segment has been replaced by the new “Outdoorsman” model, which features almost identical trim and content.
The standard engine for the Ram 2500 is the 383-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that makes 400 pounds-feet of torque. That’s up from 345 hp and 375 pounds-feet in our last HD Shootout. Chrysler replaced the HD Ram’s legacy Hemi in 2009 with the updated “Eagle” Hemi V-8. It features variable-valve timing and active intake manifold runners that help improve low-end power and clean up emissions. A six-speed manual transmission was dropped for the Hemi in 2009, so the five-speed 545RFE automatic gearbox is standard equipment.
The Hemi is also a pushrod engine, like GM’s 6.0-liter V-8.
The 545RFE transmission is unique because it uses three planetary gearsets to produce six forward gear ratios, even though we call it a five-speed transmission. That’s because second gear is split into two cogs, depending on whether you’re upshifting or downshifting. On the way up, it’s 1.67, but there’s a 1.50 “kickdown” ratio on the three-two downshift to smooth out what would be a large gap between the gears otherwise. Fourth and fifth gears are overdrives for improved highway performance and fuel economy.
We’re disappointed that Chrysler has yet to add traction control or trailer sway control to its 2500 or 3500 HD models. Both changes are expected for the 2012 model year.