2012 Midsize Shootout: Track Day


By Mark Williams; photos by Joe Bruzek

For all of our track testing, we spent the day at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Weather conditions were ideal with temperatures hovering around 75 degrees all day with very little wind to interfere with our multiple passes down the quarter-mile straight.

Our RaceLogic VBOX recorded all the data. To make sure all our testing was standardized, we invited a representative from RaceLogic to participate with our setup and data-recording procedures. We know this isn’t what normally happens with other comparison tests, but we believe having a neutral third party involved takes one more piece of doubt out of your mind.

It’s important to note that we were not so concerned with getting the fastest zero-to-60-mph or quarter-mile time ever recorded with a midsize pickup as much as we were concerned about being as identical and consistent with each and every run.

We calculated how many 40-pound bags of rock salt needed to be in each pickup bed in order to have our trucks tested at maximum GVWR. 

Each truck had two normal-sized adult men in the truck on every run (driver and data recorder), totaling almost 325 pounds. All runs were made with the transmission in Drive with the windows up and the air conditioning off. Each automatic was power-braked up to 2,000 rpm and then released to start the run. The Chevy Colorado and Nissan Frontier required an extra run or two to get the tires to hook up properly during empty runs, which could explain why their times are somewhat similar even though they have very different engines and power-to-weight ratios.


All of our acceleration runs were done empty (two passengers) and in fully loaded conditions (two passengers). Maximum payload was determined by weighing each truck soon after delivery with a full tank of gas at the same nearby truck stop. We then subtracted that scale weight from the factory-provided gross vehicle weight rating to get each truck’s specific, actual payload rating.

Once real-world payload was calculated, we headed to our local Home Depot and bought 35 40-pound bags of rock salt. As a result, each vehicle had a predetermined number of bags to distribute in the bed for our loaded runs. From our calculations, the bed payload plus our two adult bodies in each truck put us at or a touch above each truck’s exact maximum gross vehicle weight rating.


After the empty runs, it was a surprise how close the top three finished (Chevy, Nissan and Toyota), separated by just 0.05 second. In contrast, the loaded runs provided more insight to each truck’s true capabilities and each engine’s (and transmission’s) power and strength. As you might imagine, with maximum payload in each bed, getting the tires to grab in the launch zone was not a problem. Here, the Chevy’s V-8 separated itself pretty well from the group, with the Toyota and Suzuki and Nissan (all V-6s) less than a second behind.

It’s worth noting the Ridgeline was less than 2.5 seconds behind the loaded V-8, offering the highest calculated payload capability (with 31 bags and two passengers, totaling 1,565 pounds) and the smallest engine of the bunch. It’s also worth a note that at this stage, although there is no place for this observation to be factored into our test results, the way the Ridgeline carried its maximum payload on the track was the least confidence-inspiring of the group.



We conducted our brake testing at the same quarter-mile track as we did our acceleration tests, making sure to use the same stretch of consistent blacktop for each of our brake stops.

We conducted at least three separate braking events for each truck, each stopping from 60 mph (as determined by the digital readout from our VBOX computer) and made all stops within 0.5 mph of an exact 60.0 mph readout. We then took the top three distances, added them together and divided by three to come up with an average stopping distance. (Note: This was not a “best run” event like our zero-to-60-mph acceleration run.)

We averaged three stopping distances from 60 mph for each pickup empty and loaded. Regardless of what it says at the top of the chart, all these measurements are in feet. 

All braking tests, empty and loaded, were conducted with identical procedures during relatively identical conditions: transmission in Drive, highest gear, coasting down, panic stop. Each test unit got several minutes between stopping events and to allow for a cool-down run.

During empty testing, the Tacoma was the far-and-away winner, with stopping distances from 60 all hovering around 133 feet. The Ridgeline finished 15 feet longer in second place, with another good-sized jump for the rest of the group, all in the 150s. During loaded stops, Toyota, once again was the standout winner with 142 feet, with the rest of the group bunching up over 10 and 17 feet longer.

It’s worth noting here that all the vehicles in our test (save the Toyota) did a pretty good job of keeping their empty and loaded numbers pretty close to one another. Even the Ranger (with the worst “combined” distances — adding empty and loaded numbers together) was separated by only one foot from empty to loaded. Other “combined” standouts include the Chevy for seeing no distance differences between empty and loaded runs, and the Suzuki, which actually stopped on average sooner (by three feet) when fully loaded.



Since we were at the track and had all the test vehicles set up, we went ahead and did quarter-mile runs with each vehicle at the same time we were collecting zero-to-60 data. We don’t have any of our scoring categories set up to factor in the resulting times and speeds, but we wanted to give you the information.

Also, we’ve graphed the best run each vehicle made over the 1,320-foot run and overlaid that with the other vehicles, allowing you to see exactly which engines and midsize trucks are making power off the line and which do a better job at higher speeds.

We’ve created both empty and loaded graphs, as well as speed and time, so you have all the data points for each little pickup.



Quarter-Mile Time/Speed, Empty: We collected data every 200 feet as each empty pickup ran the quarter-mile at wide-open throttle. Exact times/speeds through the traps are as follows: Chevy 16.28 @ 87.05, Ford 17.34 @ 81.13, GMC 17.28 @ 82.97, Honda 16.88 @ 83.52, Nissan 16.47 @ 86.45, Suzuki 16.61 @ 85.35, Toyota 16.43 @ 85.10. 



Quarter-Mile Time/Speed, Loaded: We collected the same data every 200 feet that we did empty with the same trucks fully loaded. Exact time/speeds are: Chevy 16.59 @ 84.17, Ford 18.43 @ 76.53, GMC 18.22 @ 78.32, Honda 18.24 @ 77.28, Nissan 17.47 @ 80.63, Suzuki 17.31 @ 81.50, Toyota 17.18 @ 80.94. 

2012 Midsize Shootout

Dyno Day
Fuel Economy
Off-Road Day
Judgment Day


Kinda sums up what I thought of the Ridgeline all along: people say theres nothing wrong with it's power, however they never loaded it down to notice how slow it is when it needs torque. Not in these hills would I consider one. The Colorado showed about as good of brakes as the Silverado did in the 30,000$ shootout: both are poor. My full size quad cab Ram loaded will prob outbrake the Tacoma loaded, lol.

The Ranger, Frontier, and Ridgeline stood out as the only ones that could haul much more than their own weight and a tank of gas!

Testing each truck at a certain percentage of is gvwr IS NOT a fair comparison!!!!! You MUST add equal amount of weight to each vehicle or you results mean absolutely nothing to the consumer! Let me explain! If I own an ATV that weighs 600 lbs, I want to know how each of those trucks would handle that 600 lbs!! Then, as a consumer, I could decide which one I think would work best for me! If I went by your standards, for one truck I would have to remove one tire from the atv to lower its weight to a certain percentage for that truck, but for another truck I may have to add a sand bag to the bed, just to make it a certain percentage for that truck. No consumer does that, because it is stupid!!!!

Mike Levine, if you still check this website, I hope you know that it is going to @#$& without you!!!

Tacoma wins again.

@DJD - The trucks were not loaded to a percentage of GVW. They were empty (with 2 passengers and full tank of gas) or loaded to GVW.
Exerpt "From our calculations, the bed payload plus our two adult bodies in each truck put us at or a touch above each truck’s exact maximum gross vehicle weight rating."

In actual fact each truck was slightly over GVW.

@DJD, If they did it your way, everybody would want a differant weight in the back, cause Joe Bob might think he needs 1200, then somebody else says 900, somebody else 1050..... Test them at GVWR I say, if they want to rate them high, lets see what how they REALLY perform, or if it's just hype. The Ridgeline has the highest payload, but it also gained the most distance empty in braking at GVWR.

My German American neighbor inquired how come no domestic or European pick up truck won anything? in his view something is wrong here! I second his thoughts.

I stand corrected! They did run each truck close to its max GVWR and NOT at a certain percentage of that. But I still say it doesn't make sense to put a different amount of weight in each truck and call it an apples to apples comparo!

They used identical trailers and weight for the Heavy Duty Hurt Locker, Why can't they do the same here???

I'm sorry but the Manufacture's recommended weight ratings are not exactly a standard we should trust. I read way too much about "Magic Spring Dust!"

All in all though, the Tacoma took a deserving win as it has been the best midsize truck for a long time now.

Were the launches done in 4x2 or 4x4?

@ Ken -- All launches were done in 4x2. No question we would have had better 200 ft. times and speeds in 4x4 but not sure there's a single owner's manual for any part-time four wheel drive vehicle that would ever make that recommendation on high-traction surfaces.

The problem with loading the trucks to full capacity for drag racing is that it punishes the trucks that can haul the most payload. Basically, points are deducted for being better at work. An equal load accross the board would have made much more sense.

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