2014 Ultimate HD Challenge: One-Ton Overview

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It's been three years since our last heavy duty one-ton dualie pickup truck competition, and in that time it seems like the world has changed. Not only has the pickup segment shifted, becoming more efficient and proving to be a huge boon to the recovering auto industry, but the heavy-hauler competitors have significantly raised their games, loading both barrels in the ongoing truck wars.

We knew that if we were going to conduct a comparison like this again, we had to do it right. That's why we've made a few changes this time.

Test Parameters

As part of our 2014 Ultimate Heavy-Duty Challenge, which tests both three-quarter-ton gasoline engine crew-cab short-bed pickups and one-ton turbo-diesel crew-cab long-bed players, we asked the manufacturers to give us their biggest and strongest competitors. Although value was a scored category (for our judges to decide), we put no price ceiling on the one-ton entrants. However, we did require the trucks to be 4x4 one-ton diesels with 3.73:1 gears equipped with all the towing options. We were clear: These trucks were going to tow, and tow a lot of weight.

HD Challenge Route Map II

Week 2 of our Ultimate One-Ton HD Challenge started in Las Vegas (A) where we took delivery of the exact same trucks we tested during Week 1 in Michigan. After the last truck was delivered, we headed to our hotel in Kingman, Ariz. (C); unfortunately, our F-350 Super Duty grabbed a nail off the freeway (B) and we had to call Ford's customer service center to get it repaired (at 12:30 a.m.). Our Davis Dam grade testing (D) started the next day and went smoothly; the next day we headed east on Interstate 40 to Flagstaff, Ariz. (E), and took the cutoff to Tuba City, Ariz. (F), to our hotel. Our highest mileage day had us driving through Moab, Utah (G), in order to jump onto Interstate 70 (H) through Colorado. After conquering Vail Pass (I), we made it to our next base camp in Dillon, Colo. (J), where we conducted our Eisenhower Pass hill climb testing at night. Once finished, all that was left was taking the vehicles and trailers to Denver (K).

Based on reader feedback from previous Challenges, we broke this Ultimate HD Challenge into two separate sets of tests, each taking a full week to execute. The first focused on closed-course track and fuel economy data, and the second centered on real-world towing up some of the toughest grades in the country. In order to participate in this Challenge, each manufacturer had to agree to provide the exact same trucks for each portion of the test. So the six trucks we tested in Michigan during Week 1 would have to be shipped two weeks later to Las Vegas for the towing portion of the Challenge. All agreed. Week 1 consisted of testing at Milan Dragway, GM's Milford Proving Grounds and fuel-economy loops near Detroit. Week 2 had us hitting the road for towing tests at Davis Dam in Arizona and the Eisenhower Pass in Colorado.

GM decided to split its competitors and offered us a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD with a 6.0-liter V-8 for our three-quarter-ton test and a 2015 GMC Sierra 3500 HD with the 6.6-liter Duramax/Allison setup for our one-ton competition. Additionally, for our first week of testing, we had three identically constructed and weighted gooseneck engineering testing trailers, each weighing just a hair less than 16,000 pounds. Since most of our driving and many of our tests were done on public roads, we thought we'd try to keep the total weight of each truck and trailer at just less than 24,000 pounds, the legal limit in many states for noncommercial towing. In the end, the one-ton pickups weighed within 300 pounds of each other and each truck and trailer combination weighed within 200 pounds of each other.

Second Round of Tests

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When we moved our testing from Michigan to Nevada to start our towing drive, we employed the expert trailer services of Load Trail, which set us up with three identically equipped 30-foot double-axle gooseneck trailers for our one-ton max-hauling runs. These Load Max trailers allowed us to carry our Three-Quarter-Ton HD Challenge counterparts along with a 2,400-pound water tank in each pickup bed as well as one of those tanks strapped down at the front of each Load Max trailer. All trailers totaled just a nose more than 20,000 pounds — more than enough for the types of extreme hot and high-altitude hill climbs we wanted to do.

Our route took us from Las Vegas to Bullhead City, Ariz., for a full day and night of testing on the infamous Davis Dam grade, from the start line next to the Colorado River to the summit several thousand feet up. From there we headed north and east, to Dillon, Colo., where we set up base camp for several days of testing on the western side of the Eisenhower Pass grade, which also rises several thousand feet to its summit, starting at an elevation of 8,800 feet and finishing above 11,000 feet. We ended our test in Denver.


The Players

As mentioned earlier, quite a bit has changed in this heavy-hauling segment since we last tested them. Each pickup included either significant chassis and/or powertrain improvements for this model year. Both the Ford and GMC entries were 2015 models, while the Ram HD was a 2014. Here is a quick look at each contender.


2015 Ford F-350 King Ranch Crew Cab 4x4 with the 6.7-liter V-8 Power Stroke

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Ford has made several cosmetic and interior design upgrades to the Super Duty during the last few years, but for this year the biggest news (announced at the 2013 State Fair of Texas) was the introduction of a new-and-improved 6.7-liter Power Stroke engine with vastly improved breathing, cooling and turbocharging, capable of giving the engine class-leading power, with ratings of 440 horsepower and 860 pounds-feet of torque.

Ford engineers also took the opportunity to make some structural improvements, beefing up the frame and front suspension on certain models. As a consequence, the maximum conventional and fifth-wheel towing numbers are hugely improved, by several thousand pounds for both the 350/450. Additionally, this is the first time Ford has included a separate, dedicated exhaust brake button for its Power Stroke (something we've noted that it desperately needed), opting to upgrade the integrated setup it had before.

Our Blue Jeans Metallic F-350 came in Lariat trim with the new King Ranch interior option package, and with the exception of the Power Stroke engine option ($8,715) there were relatively few other options. We did get the fifth-wheel hitch, dual alternators and some extra skid plates, but the truck came pretty well equipped at this trim level. All totaled, our F-350 cost $67,885 (including destination).

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2015 Ford F-350 Monroney



2015 GMC Sierra 3500 HD SLT Crew Cab with the 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax

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Our GMC entry benefited from several big changes for 2015, although powertrain improvements are not among them. The Duramax is basically untouched for this midmodel refresh, even though its competitors make significantly more power and offer larger gross vehicle weight and gross combined weight ratings and payload numbers. Still, the 2015 GM pickups get some good exterior styling improvements, giving both the three-quarter-ton Chevrolet and one-ton GMC models a bigger, bolder look.

The biggest news is how much improvement has been made inside the truck, essentially changing the size of all the cab doors and where the front and backseats are positioned. The result is more room for driver and passengers, and much better visibility. Additionally, the entire dash, center console and instrument panel have been reorganized to look more in line with the lighter-duty Sierra 1500. Add to that a new multimedia and navigation setup, and the new Sierra 3500 HD is headed in the right direction.

Even though there was no price limit for this test, GMC sent us a sensible Iridium Metallic SLT trim that was the least expensive truck by more than $2,000. With the turbo-diesel option of the Duramax and heavy-duty Allison 1000 transmission ($7,195 and $1,200, respectively), our test truck included all of GMC's segment-exclusive safety technology (lane departure, Safety Alert Seat, forward collision alert, and front and rear park assist), heated and cooled seats, Bose audio system and more. All totaled, our GMC Sierra 3500 tipped the scales at $65,520 (including destination).

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2015 GMC Sierra 3500 Monroney



2014 Ram 3500 HD Laramie Limited Crew Cab 4x4 with a 6.7-liter inline-six Cummins

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Since our last big HD truck shootout, the Ram HDs have gone through a couple of significant midcycle improvements. In 2013 both the front and rear suspensions were redesigned, and the frames were built with high-strength steel. The results were class-leading maximum GCWR in excess of 37,000 pounds and fifth-wheel towing of 30,000 pounds. But Ram didn't stop there. The next year it had Cummins make a few more improvements to its inline-six B-motor, which gave Ram three new power ratings, the top of which gave the truckmaker (at least for a short time) the most torque in its class. As it sits now, the 6.7-liter Cummins is rated at 385 hp and 850 pounds-feet of torque.

Among the more interesting changes was the addition of a smart exhaust, which offered three separate settings: Off, Full and Auto. In each setting, with the exhaust brake integrated into the diesel turbocharger, it uses a software algorithm to make the interaction of engine backpressure more or less aggressive, depending on several sensors. Essentially, what the Ram HD Cummins has that no one else in the segment has is more choices for different types of towing and hauling.

Our Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl Ram 3500 came to us with the Laramie Limited trim package, which gave us just about everything Ram has to offer, including leather-trimmed bucket seats, the full Uconnect navigation/satellite radio system, and heated-and-cooled 10-way power driver seat and six-way power passenger seat. We did get the Customer Preferred Package 28M ($2,295), which gave us heated rear seats, 20-inch wheels and tires, extra Ram 3500 badging and more. The biggest additions to our test truck pricing were the Cummins engine ($7,995), the Aisin transmission ($2,895) and our dual rear wheels ($1,200). Totaled, our test Ram 3500 rang up the highest at $69,870 (including destination).

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2014 Ram 3500 Monroney

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears



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


Each truck would have crossed the border into California exceeding their 55 mph speed limit for towing a trailer.

You should note that the dual rear wheel option overrides the Ram's option package that adds 20-inch running gear to the single-rear-wheel truck. The DRW has 17-inch aluminum wheels.

Where is the tire size(s) in that chart?

For 350/3500


Holy crap, that steering wheel in the Ford is ugly.

Also interesting, Ford doesn't have a 1:1 transmission ratio.

Good job pickuptruck nice test,,,


Go GM-GMC!!!! KILL Chevrolet!!!!!



lol@ the GovtMoCo truck towing the Chevy.

Who won

Great showing GM!!! Definitely the best truck for the money! I cannot wait until GM comes out with the new Duramax and the 7.0 for the HD trucks. Ford and Ram will more then likely stay home instead of getting their butts kicked again.

Still the best by was,is,will be FORD. Those who have made GM winner of this test don't have glasses nor a calculator.... Cheers truck loverskeep on trucking....

A little confused why all the trailer wieghts weren't the same? I thought maybe to make gcw's all the same but there off too. The Dodge had the heaviest trailer and highest gcw and gmc had the least trailer wieght and lowest gcw. How is that a fair test. Enough with axle ratios too. If gm doesn't offer another ratio then why should Ford and Ram suffer and not use there max tow packages. New test with max tow trucks and equal trailers. GMC might still win but the results for Ram would be different. Its trailer was 540 lbs heavier. I like all three trucks but seems a bit misleading.

Obviously I am talking about week two at davis damn and eisenhower.

Go GM-GMC!!!! KILL Chevrolet!!!!!

- Amen! Chevrolet & Cadillac are such fake BS. Everyone knows GM"C" was founded on Buick. Chevrolet & Cadillac are toilet water to Buick-GMC. Second rate, second class garbage. Even the Corvette should say GM Corvette. Not faux Chevrolet. At least we dumped the Chevrolet Smallblock. Now it's GM Smallblock like it should have been all along.

They pretty much listed 1,2, and turd place above. Sad a truck as old as the SUPER DUTY comes out and whips as$ the way it did. The Best never rest and FORD is the best!! Spam boys better take a look and drool because the spam will never pass gm, much less FORD!!

Fords a joke they tow quick but can't stop
Ride is the worst of the bunch and they are the most unstable

One thing that stuck out to me in these tests is that despite GMC having the lowest 5th wheel tow ratings, it managed to be a valid competitor.

When they first released the 5th wheel towing numbers for the GM twins, I don't think anyone was impressed. It's good to see that in the real world the trucks perform at the same level.

I think that the difference in performance between any of the competitors is a moot point. That is a good thing, because it gives the buyer the power to look at other things to help decide what truck will suite their needs.

@ Mark Williams - One critical factor missing was an off-road tow test. It's been well documented that while the Chevy may win the on-road handling portion, it's downright miserable on anything but pavement. These ARE 4X4 trucks, they should be capable of towing down unpaved roads and they should be tested under these conditions.

Ford's "loose" handling on the road is what helps it to really shine when the work gets rough and dirty

Again I don't understand why the trailer weights were different. If you want to know exactly what each truck can do with the same load u load them with the same weight. Very simple but I guess its to hard to actually accomplish.

Gotta laugh, the number one truck seller gets two 3rd places!

Must be selling Super cheap Dutys!

Looks like all they care about is how fast they go up a hill, sorta like the Duramax!

Too bad Duramaxs are completely ugly, inside and out!

Ford, go back to the drawing board, the 2015 ain't all that, and you're burning down the 2016s!

Still #1 for a reason though!!!

I would love to see an off road towing test because my experience out in the imperial sand dunes (galamis) is that the GM trucks limited slip diffs and independent front suspension handle the deep sand off road terrain far better than any ford out there. Besides the majority of towing is going to take place on road so ford should be able to engineer a truck that can do both. To the guy that wants to kill Chevrolet. I find it odd that you love one truck so much and call the other garbage when mechanically they are identical and the only difference are the trim options. I agree in that the trim packages look better on the GMC's but the Chevrolets are far from garbage. Save that anger for the ford's that really deserve it.

This is GM/GMc after all. No such thing as real legitimate companies like Chevrolet in their world any longer. Everything is just a "Brand"... It's like the 1990's mindset all over again. Brands brands brands... Nothing genuine nor real. Buicks are fake Opels, Chevrolet can't be genuine because it's tied to GMc. The Chevrolet V8's are even called GM smallblocks now. Cadillac is yet another "Brand" to these idiots.

GM/GMc should have closed. Chevrolet Motor Company, Cadillac Motor Company and Buick Motor Company should have lived on as separate and Genuine real companies.

"I need a truck to hold my pain
I need a truck just to haul around my name
I need a truck to haul all the women from my bed
I need a truck to haul my body when I'm dead

I need a truck to haul all my guns to town
I need a truck to haul my bad thoughts around
I need a truck to haul my Percodan and gin
And I need a truck to haul all my trucks in"

Warren Zevon--"I Need a Truck"

According to the specs above, Ram has a higher conventional tow rating than a 5th wheel rating. farfrumunderstanding.

LOLOLOL!!!! The GovtMoCo truck PULLING the CHEVROLET!!! HA HA HA!!!! CHEVY LOSERS. EVEN GovtMoCo ITSELF is BACKING their GovtMoCo truck. NOT the CHEVY. That says ALOT!

Chevrolet is DONE FOR outside of the Vette and 50's/60's nostalgia. GET OVER IT!

I grew up ranching near Pinon New Mexico. Have owned and driven trucks from all three manufacturers. All of these trucks are amazing. The improvement made in pickup trucks, my first was an 83 F-150, has been staggering. Any of these trucks will far exceed the needs of most users. I do believe the F-350's interior is on par with the Chevy and Dodge. Really, it is subjective. I like the fords positioning of the navigation screen. I also like that ford still has wood (fake i know) mixed in with the dash. To my mind, the mix of leather, wood and metal makes a nicer overall finish. I've driven the RAM and the Ford. I like the Fords visibility and truck like ride better. That being said, I like the GMC Denali I just test drove. I just feel it is the best overall update right now. If I were buying today, I would have to buy Ford because I know its made in Louisville KY. I've read that the GM and RAM trucks are made in Mexico. Final comment, don't think you can go wrong with any one of these trucks. Just wish my income had kept up with the price increases on pickups. The 83 F-150 was $11800 new. I am truly disappointed that the GM and RAM trucks are made in Mexico. I remember the US when our super rich felt they had a responsibility to their own country. Thats no longer the case.

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