2010 HD Truck Specs and Testing Approach
It’s been only three years since our last Heavy-Duty Shootout, but in that time there has been tremendous change in the pickup truck segment. First, the bottom fell out of the truck market when the economy tanked. Second, diesel emissions regulations have gotten tougher yet again. And third, all three HD truck manufacturers have made significant improvements to their pickups, all of which were last updated in 2007.
All of this adds up to the perfect time for a new HD Shootout. Ford and GM have introduced potent, new diesel engines, and Ford has also introduced a new gas V-8. Ford and Chrysler have made major exterior and interior changes, and GM has given its trucks all-new chassis and suspensions.
This year’s Heavy-Duty Shootout is our biggest comparison test ever. We gathered nine heavy-duty rigs — three from each manufacturer.
The first group comprises single-rear-wheel three-quarter-ton crew-cab 4x4s with gas engines. The second group represents the heart of the HD market, where the most sales are made: SRW three-quarter-ton crew-cab 4x4s with diesel engines. The third group is dual-rear-wheel one-ton crew-cab long-bed 4x4s with diesel engines.
We asked each manufacturer to supply us with 2010 or 2011 four-wheel-drive crew-cab trucks equipped with gas and diesel engines, and we stayed in constant contact with the manufacturers for six weeks, so each automaker was aware of what others were bringing to the challenge. The exact equipment package to include was up to each manufacturer, but as the specs for each truck came in (including trim and rear axle ratio), we shared the configurations.
Three-Quarter-Ton Gas Single-Rear-Wheel Specs
Three-Quarter-Ton Diesel Single-Rear-Wheel Specs
One-Ton Diesel Dual-Rear-Wheel Specs
For the most part, the trucks are identical except for the three-quarter-ton Ford gas and diesel pickups, whose rear axle ratios were different from their GM and Chrysler competitors.
All the trucks are automatics, since neither Ford nor GM offers heavy-duty (or light-duty) pickups with a manual shifter. Only the Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks can still be bought with a six-speed handshaker.
For each of our various competitions, each pickup was matched with an appropriately laden trailer. The three-quarter-ton trucks were hooked up to 10,000-pound trailers, and the one-tons pulled 12,000-pound trailers.
Ford’s New Diesel Power Ratings
As you’re probably already aware, on Aug. 3 Ford announced that it raised the power ratings for its all-new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8, from 390 horsepower and 735 pounds-feet of torque to 400 hp and 800 pounds-feet, regaining best-in-class bragging rights. The stronger tune requires only an update to the engine control unit’s fuel injection and shift-mapping software calibrations, and it will be available for free to existing Super Duty owners starting Aug. 31.
The Ford diesels that we tested were rated at the initial 390/735 power levels, though we asked Ford for trucks with the updated horsepower and torque based on word from our sources. They were not provided for the Shootout.
All of our testing took place in Michigan, in the metro area just west of Detroit.
Our first venue was Milan Dragway, about 20 miles south of Ann Arbor, to run our quarter-mile level-ground tests down the International Hot Rod Association-sanctioned asphalt. We spent a full day racing the trucks with and without heavy trailers.
But a heavy-duty pickup truly earns its keep in how well it performs climbing hills, hauling, and towing. There were two ways we could have performed our grade testing. The first was to find a challenging “real world” incline out West, like the Cajon and Grapevine passes near Los Angeles or the infamous 12-mile, 7 percent ascent to the Eisenhower tunnel in Colorado. The alternative was to run our tests on the much shorter, torturous hill climbs at GM’s Proving Grounds in Milford, Mich.
Why test at one of the automaker’s proving grounds? First, we wanted controlled conditions under which we could run standardized tests to compare the results of each truck. Second, comparative testing on public highways is a crapshoot. You’ll likely get stuck behind slower-moving traffic, and finding an exit to turn around and repeat a test can require scores of extra miles and lots of extra time, which we didn’t have. We tested the three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks on 7-percent and 16-percent inclines at Milford.
Our fuel economy and ride and handling evaluations took place over a double loop that ran between Ann Arbor and East Lansing. We also evaluated ride and handling characteristics as we drove the trucks between testing locations.
We’d like to thank GM for loaning us five trailers that totaled 54,000 pounds – about the same weight as a Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter. The three-quarter-ton trucks pulled three 10,000-pound conventional trailers, and the one-tons towed two 12,000-pound trailers.
We partnered again with Ricardo Inc. to measure each truck’s performance. Not only were the vehicles tested independently by PickupTrucks.com as a neutral third party, but we went the extra step to hire this globally recognized automotive engineering and consulting company to collect metrics. (We’re not sure you can ever “absolutely” eliminate seen and unseen biases, but you can minimize them.)
In pictures and on video, you’ll see the vehicles running side-by-side in drag contests for subjective comparison, but Ricardo collected data only one truck at a time with the same driver behind the wheel throughout each test.
Ricardo’s instruments are first-class. Its engineers brought an RT3102 computer from Oxford Technical Solutions to capture and process data. It contains three accelerometers and three angular rate sensors, as well as GPS and a Pentium processor. From this, Ricardo engineers collected three types of acceleration (lateral, longitudinal and vertical), three body movement rates (roll, yaw and pitch) as well as position, velocity, orientation and slip. Time was obviously recorded, too. The RT3102 outputs a host of other data, including pitch and roll angles, the three acceleration figures in either body or frame orientation.
During our testing at Milan and at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds, engineering representatives from all of the manufacturers were on hand to watch and answer any questions about the trucks and their performance.
Testing at GM’s proving grounds should not be interpreted as a home-court advantage. The 2007 Heavy-Duty Shootout took place at Ford’s proving grounds, where we picked the Silverado 3500 as our favorite diesel. The 2008 Light-Duty Shootout was held at GM’s proving grounds, where we chose the Ford F-150 as the best all-around half-ton.
2010 HD Three-Quarter-Ton Gasoline Trucks (SRW)
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.
2010 HD Three-Quarter-Ton Diesel Trucks (SRW)
Three-quarter-ton diesel rigs make up the majority of heavy-duty pickup sales. We’re testing these trucks together for the first time to compare their performance against themselves and the similarly configured gassers.
A welcome new feature on all three of these trucks that we didn’t have last time is a rearview camera to help with hooking up trailers. We changed trailers more than 40 times during the Shootout, so the time saved during each swap quickly added up. Using the camera, one person could quickly line up the truck and trailer hitches to make it through all of our tests on time. It’s technology like this that reduces stress, and all-day towing sessions become a bit less exhausting.
2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD LTZ with 6.6-liter Duramax V-8
It’s not just the stronger frame and running gear that support the increased towing and hauling numbers in the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD. There’s also a revised 6.6-liter Duramax clean diesel that’s the most powerful engine in the segment to date.
The 397-hp, 765-pounds-feet of torque eight-cylinder oil burner is the fourth generation of GM’s HD diesel since it was introduced in 2001. Sixty-percent of its hardware is new, and it’s 97 hp and 245 pounds-feet stronger than the original Duramax. It’s also the first time GM has owned all of the design and engineering work for the Duramax, which is produced in a joint venture with Isuzu at a factory in Ohio. On paper, GM says the new diesel engine is 11 percent more fuel efficient than the previous Duramax.
Catching up with Ram’s Cummins I-6, the Duramax also features a brand-new push-button activated engine exhaust brake. It saves on wheel brake and transmission wear by clamping down the engine’s turbo vanes, creating back pressure to engine-brake the truck. It reduces the potential for brake fade during long descents, increasing downhill safety while helping with towing and extending overall wheel brake life.
Overall, the new Duramax is quieter than its predecessor. There are lower levels of clatter than before, but in our test truck we noticed an occasionally intrusive turbo moan, especially when we were in the truck for long periods on the highway.
The Duramax is B20 biodiesel compatible.
The 2011 model is the first time GM is using urea selective catalytic reduction to reduce nitrogen oxide emission. Both GM and Ford diesel pickups use this type of system.
In contrast to the job site-trimmed gas truck, the LTZ diesel had GM’s upscale “low and forward” interior that’s shared with its full-size utility vehicles. Though higher in quality, we definitely miss the rich information displays and access buttons used to check vital truck stats that are found in the Ram and Ford trucks.
2011 Ford F-250 Lariat with 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8
Ford’s all-new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 diesel is Ford’s first-ever designed-in-house pickup truck diesel engine since the first compression ignition engine (International’s 6.9-liter V-8) was offered under the hood of a Ford pickup in 1982.
One of the engine’s design breakthroughs is that the intake and exhaust flow through the cylinder heads is reversed when compared to a conventional diesel engine, with the exhaust exiting directly into the engine’s turbo that sits in the engine’s valley, mounted between V-style cylinder banks. Like GM’s Duramax, the Power Stroke also uses urea SCR for NOx control and is B20 biodiesel compatible.
We’re impressed with the quietness of the new Power Stroke diesel, though some may nostalgically miss the clatter levels still found with the Ram’s Cummins engine.
The Super Duty’s backup camera is tops in the segment. Unlike its competitors, the Ford’s reverse view includes helpful hash marks to help line up the truck with a trailer and judge distance.
During one trailer hookup, we somehow managed to leave the Super Duty’s reverse camera engaged after we put the truck in Drive. That’s because Ford is the only manufacturer that offers control over camera settings that allow for a delay in the backup camera view shutting off as long as the vehicle is moving forward or reverse at speeds under 25 mph. It’s a cool feature that’s helpful when working under tight speeds and areas.
The Super Duty’s 4.2-inch LCD driver information system centered in the gauge cluster is hands-down the best trip computer in the industry across all pickup truck segments, and it’s the benchmark by which all others that follow will be measured. It includes features like a fuel-efficiency monitor, pitch and yaw angles while off-roading and a robust set of towing apps that can store names and notes for up to 20 trailers plus provides a hitch checklist to help ensure you’ve hooked up the trailer properly before you tap the accelerator.
But fanciness aside, we also liked the Super Duty’s four smaller analog gauges arranged in a row near the top of the instrument binnacle that display turbo boost pressure (on the gas truck, it’s oil temp), coolant temperature, transmission temperature and the fuel gauge. They’re in full view through the steering wheel. If we could though, we’d swap the turbo boost pressure gauge for an oil pressure gauge, which we think is more important.
2010 Ram 2500 Laramie with 6.7-liter Cummins I-6
The 2010 Ram 2500 diesel, in our opinion, is the best three-quarter-ton diesel that Chrysler has ever built. We fell for its beautiful two-tone blue and gray paint job that stood out among the field. Even though it doesn’t have the power levels of the other diesels, it’s certainly not lacking grunt when it comes to work. It just doesn’t do it as quickly.
Though it is Cummins-sourced and has two fewer cylinders than the eight-cylinder compression ignition mills found in the Ford and GM trucks, the Ram hits peak torque early in the power band and has fewer parts. The Cummins also runs urea-free, using a special catalyst that converts NOx into CO2 and water.
Another notable difference between the Cummins and its competitors is its variable geometry turbo that uses a sliding compressor nozzle that moves back and forth axially along the turbo shaft to change air volume and psi boost to the engine. The same sliding yoke also engages the engine exhaust brake. It’s an elegant solution that tackles two different tasks.
The Ram’s Laramie interior is high class, competing near the Ford King Ranch for levels of refinement and detail. Though the truck had an infotainment screen in the center stack, it lacked navigation, which was a bit confusing as we moved between this truck and the one-ton Ram Laramie.
We didn’t like the way the Ram’s rearview camera immediately shut off when the truck shifted from Reverse into Drive. The Ford (in default camera mode) and GM trucks left their cameras on for several seconds when we pulled forward, which was handy when we were doing quick forward and backward maneuvers to fine-tune hitch alignment between truck and trailer.
One unique feature found on the Ram’s center stack is a “Tire Light Load” button that allows the driver to change the sensitivity of the truck’s tire pressure monitoring system, depending on whether you’re towing and need to maintain higher tire pressures or unloaded and want to air down to a more reasonable level for improved ride comfort.
For such a nicely appointed rig, the $52,170 Ram was priced the lowest of the three pickups we tested in its group – at least $8,000 less than the Silverado and Super Duty.
Shopping on price alone, we’d gladly park the Ram in our driveway and take the hit on power.
2010 HD One-Ton Diesel Trucks (DRW)
One-ton diesels with dual rear wheels are the circus strongmen of heavy-duty pickups. With massive wheel flares covering their dual rear wheels, these trucks proudly show off that they can tow and haul more than any other pickup on the road.
2011 GMC Sierra Denali 3500HD
Making its world debut at the Heavy-Duty Shootout is the GMC Sierra Denali 3500HD. It’s a sharp-looking truck aimed directly at the high luxury segment — and high profit margins — that Ford has been lucky enough to keep to itself until now in the King Ranch version of the Super Duty.
Its leather interior is the best in the GM HD fleet.
The Denali came up a bit short in a few areas compared with the Lariat-trimmed F-350 Super Duty that we tested. The F-350 was the only truck with standard 17-inch forged aluminum wheels, while the Denali had steel wheels with beauty covers. Yuck. A truck like the Denali deserves no less than forged aluminum wheels. The F-350 also had black paint with metallic flakes, while the Denali was only high-gloss black.
At first glance, the Denali appears to lack the rich navigation and infotainment options that Ford’s Sync offers, but GM’s OnStar satellite-based nav service came through for us. We accidentally locked the keys in the truck, and it took only a quick phone call to have the doors unlocked remotely, saving us at least two hours if we’d been forced to retrieve a second set of keys or call a locksmith. That’s winning service in our book.
Unloaded ride quality was excellent. We chalk that up to the new hydraulic body mounts that sit under the C-pillar of the crew cab. They act like small shock absorbers to dampen beaming and shock forces sent from poor roads into the cab. We never felt like we were being beat up by the truck when it was empty.
The Denali, along with the other GM trucks we tested, had the best steering feel in its group. Its new steering box has a 16:1 turning ratio and larger front linkages to manage increased front-end loads resulting from the improved front gross axle weight rating, which has jumped from 4,800 pounds to 6,000 pounds.
2011 Ford F-350 Lariat
If you want proof that HD pickups are no longer simple beasts of burden, look no further than the one-ton Ford F-350 dually. It was armed with just about every state-of-the-art infotech option in Ford’s truck portfolio.
From a rich navigation screen that had the most user-friendly interface, plus real-time traffic, fuel prices and weather, to the all-new 4.2-inch productivity screen that’s now an irreplaceable part of the instrument cluster, all the information we needed or wanted was just a few button clicks away.
The Ford also included a USB MP3/iPod port/charger for plugging in our music players and recharging our cell phones. The Ram and GM trucks had these, too. We consider them mandatory in a modern pickup. We’d like to see more of these USB inputs spread through the cabin like cupholders, just to recharge our handheld devices.
We liked the Super Duty’s telescoping steering wheel, which made finding the ideal driving position easy and improved our driving comfort over long distances. It also gave us greater confidence in the truck during the hill climb testing because we felt like we had the optimal seating position to control the truck and trailer.
Ford offers “traction control” for the F-350. We’re not sure we agree with the terminology here because the F-350’s traction control reduces throttle only when it senses wheel slip. There’s no assistance from the ABS, like most other traction control systems. Our gripe is that Ford’s traction control system has difficulty smoothly blending torque back in for a takeoff as it recovers traction, so that when it senses slip, it cuts fuel, cutting all the torque, stopping the slip, but then dumping it all back in, starting it off again.
The Super Duty has a revised steering system for 2011 that gives it a lighter feel than it previously had in the 2008-10 trucks. While we liked it better than the old Super Duty, it felt too light in windy conditions when the truck was unloaded or towing.
2010 Ram 3500 Mega Cab
There are two four-door cab configurations to choose from if you’re going to purchase a Ram Heavy Duty. New for 2010 is a crew-cab model that’s the same size as other crew cabs in the segment – it replaces the old, smaller Quad Cab model – and the extra-large Mega Cab truck.
The truck we tested was a Ram 3500 Mega Cab that has 3 extra inches of legroom behind the front seats and 7 inches behind the second row for additional storage. It’s the largest cab in the HD segment.
We liked the strong style of the Ram’s rear shoulders over the dually back end. Like the GMC Sierra Denali 3500, the Ram 3500’s fenders are stamped steel instead of plastic clip-on covers.
Like Ford, as of 2010 Ram HD pickups can be ordered with a factory spray-in bedliner. Our tester was equipped with the sturdy cargo box protection. It’s not offered by GM.
Over long-distance driving, we were very impressed with the Ram’s ride quality, which has been greatly improved in its latest trucks by fitting new hydraulic body mounts directly under the C-pillar corners at the rear of the cab, between the cab and frame. This area is the truck’s natural pivot point as it rolls down the road. The hydraulic body mounts noticeably dampen the pivoting motion compared with the old rubber hockey-puck-style isolators that they replace. It’s amazing that such a small component change can make such a big difference in ride comfort. It’s not perfect, but it’s very welcome. GM’s 2011 HD trucks use similar technology.
For trailer towing, the Ram features nifty two-position mirrors that can be set horizontally or vertically.
2010 HD Fuel Economy Test
The only rivalry in Michigan as intense as the one between the HD manufacturers is the spirited competition between the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Michigan State University in East Lansing. That’s why it made sense to drive the trucks between the two cities for our fuel economy challenge.
The trucks ran the approximately 150-mile circuit twice, for a total of around 300 miles, once unloaded and once towing a trailer. Tow/haul mode was used when the trucks were towing.
We started our test at the Pilot Truck Stop in Dexter, Mich. The same diesel and gasoline pumps were used for both loop fill-ups, with the same designated “filler” at the diesel and gasoline nozzles, using the same procedures and techniques.
Each truck’s fuel tank was filled to visual sight of liquid at or very near the top of the filler tube. Amounts of fuel were recorded, as well as odometer, tripometer and vehicle mpg computer information. All vehicles were reset at the beginning of the fuel economy test at the pump, and also reset at the end of the first loop at the same pump.
Completed information is presented in two ways below. First, information from each truck is recorded in two charts from both loop 1 and loop 2. Second, vehicles are grouped by class (gas, SRW diesels, DRW diesels) and charted in head-to-head comparison format, both with and without trailers.
How rigorous were we with measuring our diesel fuel economy? We had techs from each of the manufacturers trigger manual service regenerations to clean out the trucks’ diesel particulate filters.
DPFs trap soot, a byproduct of diesel’s lean combustion process because not all of the fuel is burned. After a while, depending on workload and driving distance, the DPF becomes full and needs to be cleaned out, much like a self-cleaning oven. Extra diesel fuel is injected into the exhaust stream to boost temperatures in the DPF to more than 1,000 degrees, incinerating the trapped soot. That process can require up to six-tenths of a gallon of diesel – an amount large enough to impact our fuel economy measurements on a 300-mile drive. That’s why we started each truck with a clean DPF.
We attempted to measure consumption of urea, or diesel exhaust fluid, for the first time. The harder a truck works, the more DEF that is consumed. At the Pilot station, it cost $2.99 a gallon at the pump and $5.99 a gallon by the bottle. Before we started our driving loop, we topped off the Ford and GM trucks – again, the Ram HD trucks are DEF-free – and measured their consumption at the end of both loops. For those interested in calculating their cost per mile, this new fluid addition must be included.
Total DEF measurements were conducted for the test, which included topping off at the beginning of the day, refilling at the end of the day and calculating usage.
Fuel economy and DEF consumption (where applicable) data is displayed below.
For the three-quarter-ton gassers, it might not surprise many that the Ram 2500 with the 5.7-liter Hemi was the most fuel efficient, achieving a 12.32 mpg average during the 300-mile drive. Unloaded, it returned a remarkable 15.04 mpg, likely due to its five-speed transmission and first overdrive that’s available in fourth gear, compared with fifth gear in the six-speed trucks. City and rural road driving with speed limits below 50 mph made up about two-thirds of our drive.
The Chevy Silverado 2500HD was the most fuel-efficient three-quarter-ton diesel. It was the truck that came closest to breaking the 20 mpg mark during unloaded driving, at 19.66 mpg. In combined driving, it achieved 16.47 mpg.
The Ford F-350 one-ton scored the best combined fuel economy number among the one-tons at 15 mpg.
Given how poorly the GMC Sierra 3500 Denali did relative to the three-quarter-ton Silverado under load and the F-350, we suspect it might have gone through regeneration when we were towing, even though we’d done a manual regen before the trip started. GM diesels can go a maximum of 750 miles before they have to regenerate their DPFs.
2010 HD Quarter-Mile Acceleration Test (Unloaded)
A significant part of our testing involved comparing all nine trucks head-to-head at wide open throttle, with and without heavy trailers. Why? HD pickups aren’t muscle cars, after all. At wide open throttle, we can measure the trucks at 100 percent of their maximum power ratings, something we can’t usually do for more than short periods when we’re on extended drive routes over public roads to grade ride and handling and fuel economy. It’s also one of the only ways to empirically separate the trucks’ performances from each other – which, in some cases as you’ll see, is only measured in the tenths of seconds.
Quarter-Mile Level Ground at Milan Dragway
We rented the asphalt at Milan Dragway, just outside Detroit. The track features an IHRA-sanctioned quarter-mile dragstrip. It’s perfect for determining time and speed performance over a fixed distance, unloaded and loaded.
What’s the point of running heavy-duty pickups through the quarter-mile? Isn’t the job of a three-quarter or one-ton rig simply to deliver a heavy load or haul a trailer from Point A to Point B? You’d be correct, except for the one circumstance where the quarter-mile test almost always comes in as a handy measurement: merging into highway traffic from an on-ramp.
All the tests were conducted in two-wheel drive at wide open throttle, with the air conditioning turned off and with traction and stability control turned on when available. Stability and traction control is not available for Ram HD pickups and one-ton GMC Sierra Denali. The same driver was used for all the runs.
Tow/haul mode was engaged when towing and disabled when not. A minimum of three runs were carried out in each configuration tested. The fastest runs are presented in the results below.
It’s worth noting that in the pictures that accompany this story, you’ll see the trucks racing each other; however, Ricardo collected metrics and data one truck at a time.
We’re not sure who was more anxious: our team of journalists, starting the first set of tests for our biggest comparison yet, or the manufacturers in attendance, seeing all nine trucks together.
Three-Quarter-Ton Gas Trucks
As we’ve mentioned, it’s not just diesel-powered HD pickups that have seen big changes for 2010. The Chevy, Ford and Ram HD gassers have also been improved or are all-new since our last HD Shootout. Anytime there’s change like this, we wonder if it still makes sense to spend up to approximately $8,000 more for a diesel engine plus a premium at the fuel pump for diesel over regular gasoline.
Mechanically, all of the gas trucks we tested were as equivalent as we could make them except for the rear axle ratio. The rear axle ratio can make a big difference in towing performance. The higher the ratio, the faster the driveshaft turns and the sooner the driveshaft can transfer peak horsepower and torque from the engine to the rear wheels. The result, generally, is faster acceleration and higher towing capacity than a rear axle with a lower ratio. Over longer distances, the truck can also wind itself out because it will be undergeared at high speeds. You can also picture the same concept if you ride a multispeed bicycle. It’s easy to get moving in a low gear but you’ll quickly spin out of the optimal leverage range that gear provides unless you shift to a higher gear that’s better able to convert your torque to forward motion.
The Chevy and Ram HD pickups had 4.10 rear axles while the Ford had a 4.30, which would seem to give the Ford a bit of an advantage starting out the quarter-mile, especially towing.
Ford only offers a choice of a 3.73 or 4.30 rear axle. We wonder why Ford doesn’t offer a 4.10.
Three-Quarter-Ton Gassers, Unloaded Testing
Even though the Ram HD didn’t have any electronic help for keeping the rear wheels from breaking loose, the combination of strong Hemi power, a tallish first gear and the best power-to-weight ratio of the group made it the easy seat-of-the-pants winner.
Additionally, because of the noted taller gearing, the Ram HD made it through the traps at the end of the quarter-mile in second gear. The GM and Ford challengers were in third, if not quickly looking for fourth.
It’s worth noting that even with a new traction control system, the Super Duty 6.2-liter V-8 was having all sorts of troubles keeping the rear wheels from spinning and hopping at the line. Modulating the starts off the line was quite difficult, as the TCS shuts everything down after sensing slip — like a light switch — then turns it fully back on when all is quiet. This means if your foot is still giving it too much gas, it’ll go right back into the bad axle hop to start the whole process over.
The Chevys were much less temperamental and much easier to modulate at or near full throttle. We rank the software program for the GM competitor as smarter and quicker to react than its Ford counterpart. GM should be recognized for the fine-grained intelligence of its TCS.
The Ram 2500, with its 383-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi-powered V-8 that makes 400 pounds-feet of torque, was the dominant contender in the unloaded quarter-mile. From the moment we saw the Ram run against the Ford and Chevrolet trucks, we knew we wouldn’t need to look at hard data to determine the fastest truck at Milan. It consistently pulled ahead of the Blue Oval and Bowtie pickups each time it rumbled down the track.
In the zero-to-60 mph test, the Ram HD was more than a second faster than the 6.2-liter F-250, which has a scant 2 extra ponies and 5 more pounds-feet than the Ram, and 1.7 seconds faster than the 360-hp, 380-pounds-feet Silverado 2500.
At the end of the quarter-mile, the Ram was still more than a half-second faster than the Super Duty and a second faster than the Silverado.
We’re not fans of Chrysler’s five-speed automatic transmission — which has large steps between cogs and started to show some weakness in the last half of the quarter-mile in the higher gears — but the Hemi’s increased power ratings and 3.73 rear axle found the sweet spot for this gas powertrain and worked very well with the gearbox. The Ram HD was also the only gas truck we tested that didn’t have traction control, which likely helped it reach full power sooner without the worry of a computer defueling the engine at the wrong moment. The Ram 2500 was the lightest gas truck we tested, almost 200 pounds less than the Chevy and 620 pounds less than the Ford.
In contrast to our last Shootout, when a 6.0-liter GMC Sierra 2500 with a six-speed V-8 was the fastest gas truck we tested, this time around the 6.0-liter Silverado clearly lagged in performance. With substantially less power than the Ford and Ram and gear parity with the Ford, the Chevy was simply outmatched by the two other trucks. GM needs to replace this engine or give it a major overhaul to stay competitive.
We’re a little underwhelmed with the two-valve Ford 6.2-liter’s performance, too. Development on this engine took nearly a decade because of fits and starts, so what’s been delivered seems a bit behind by modern standards. Any all-new engine in the HD segment should come with direct injection and four valves for improved fuel economy and power.
At the end of the quarter-mile, all of the trucks were within 3 mph of each other.
Three-Quarter-Ton Diesel Trucks
Like the gas trucks we tested, the single-rear-wheel three-quarter-ton diesel pickups were as equivalent as we could make them except for the rear axle ratio.
Given their more powerful engines, it’s not surprising that all the manufacturers provided trucks with taller (numerically lower) final drive ratios for improved fuel economy while still maintaining high ceilings for towing and hauling.
The Chevy and Ram pickups had 3.73 rear axles while the Ford had a 3.55, which would seem to put the Ford at a bit of a disadvantage at launch.
Three-Quarter-Ton Diesels, Unloaded Testing
We had a feeling this group would be the hot rods of this year’s Shootout, and we were right. Everything came down to how well they could handle getting and keeping power to rear wheels without too much slip.
Again, the Super Duty offered too much torque to the rear wheels and not enough computer control to keep it in line. The system still worked like a light switch, turning wheelspin on and off, unable to finesse. It should be noted that once the Power Stroke found its grip, usually somewhere around 60 feet after launch, most of the push you feel is in the seatback. When the turbo kicks in, you feel it, and it pulled through the finish line. Like the 6.0-liter Silverado, the Duramax Chevy was smooth off the line, without any perceived axle hop and shot down the track. The new rear suspension geometry and wider asymmetrical leaf spring design was able handle everything the new Duramax threw at the rear axle.
The only place the GM diesel seemed to fall down was in the upper gears, shifting up to fourth gear, effectively stopping its pulling, through the 1,320-foot marker.
The Ram HD, although clearly a torque monster off the line, seemed to run out of breath once it was up and running down the track. It just seemed to stop breathing, as one might expect for a Cummins-B oil burner, to stop pushing at upshifting too early. Still, there was a steady and strong feel down the track. Maybe more than any other group on our test, each of these trucks had very different ways of getting to the finish: Ford’s was slow at start with a strong push through the middle and end; Chevy always had great launches but tapers off near the end; and the Ram HD pulled strong and steady but runs out of breath rather early. Maybe it’s not too surprising their finish times were relatively close.
We suspected that the performance of the new 397-hp, 765-pounds-feet Duramax V-8 and 390-hp, 735-pounds-feet Power Stroke V-8 were going to be tight, but we were surprised at how close all the unloaded three-quarter-ton diesel pickups were — especially considering the diesels’ radically different engine architectures. They were so close that it’s almost impossible to say one truck was materially better than the other two. The Ram 2500 with the 350-hp, 650-pounds-feet engine was the fastest truck we tested in the same scenario in 2007, and it performed spectacularly again this time, even though power levels haven’t changed.
As you can see in the graph, a scant 0.2 seconds separated the fastest from the slowest over the full 1,320 feet. The Chevy clocked in at only 16.9 seconds while the Ram and Ford tied each other at 17.1 seconds.
The Silverado 2500 showed off its rear axle and power advantage over the Ford F-250 in zero-to-60 times. It took only 8.7 seconds for the Silverado to hit 60 mph. It took the F-250 9 seconds and the Ram 9.3 seconds.
While GM’s HD pickup didn’t have as big a weight advantage over the Ford as it did during out last Shootout – GM added about 300 pounds to the frame for 2011 when it changed from C-channel to fully boxed – it’s still lighter than the Ford by almost 300 pounds. Ford has dropped some weight from its diesel pickups since 2007, including 160 pounds in engine weight by shifting from the 6.4-liter V-8 to the new 6.7-liter V-8.
By the time we finished this test, we knew it would only be with heavy trailers that we’d be able to truly separate those trucks with the best combination of engine power and shift finesse.
One-Ton Diesel Trucks
The one-ton dual-rear-wheel trucks we tested at Milan were as equivalent as could be, down to the rear axle ratios, which were all set at 3.73. To make the towing test more challenging for the brawniest haulers, we used a 12,000-pound trailer. Each vehicle is equipped with the same engine and transmission as its three-quarter-ton diesel counterpart, but each gets unique rear axle setup, as well as weight distribution and tire options. Overall, each is carrying 600 to 700 more pounds of curb weight.
One-Ton Diesels, Unloaded Testing
On the track, these trucks got all the looks. What probably surprised us most was the fact that even with a little extra weight, some wider flares and an extra set of rear tires, these trucks still ran hard and strong. Sure, this type of test was completely outside of their intended design envelope, but the info and data were telling. Even with DRWs, extra weight and a modified version of traction control, rear axle hop remained a problem, while the extra weight and more tires to help grip the track surface seemed to help the GMC Denali get better launches.
Torque braking the vehicles seemed to work best, but each one-ton had to be disciplined in different ways. The Ford couldn’t handle a full throttle takeoff any better than the Ram HD; the difference was that the Ford would go into a good hop, then get shut down by the traction control system, while the Cummins could just sit at the start line spinning the four rears all day long, sending plumes of smoke into the sky. All the GMC needed was the slightest modulating of the accelerator at the start to keep the wheels from spinning too quick, then the grip would kick in, and then it was just point-and-shoot at wide open throttle.
We also noticed Ford has built in a slightly longer throttle hesitation than the other brands, we’re guessing to allow the other inputs in the computer system to have their say as well. When all is clear, it seems to eventually allow for its slingshot takeoff.
As one might expect, the results of the one-ton empty runs were a touch longer than their three-quarter-ton brothers, but only for the Ram HD and Ford Super Duty. To our surprise, the GMC Denali dually actually ran faster in both zero-to-60 times and quarter-mile than its lighter three-quarter-ton partner. In fact, the Denali ran 0.4 seconds faster to 60 mph at 8.3 seconds, and 0.3 seconds faster in the quarter-mile at 16.6 seconds. At 9.4 seconds, the Ford ran about a second faster than the Ram HD to 60 mph, while the Super Duty timed through the 1,320-foot mark at 17.4 seconds and the Ram HD at 18.0 seconds flat.
As mentioned earlier, each of the unloaded vehicles was tested without tow/haul mode enabled, so the engines, especially in the Cummins, seemed to run out of breath shortly after any shift. Our guess is that we could have squeaked out a few tenths in each of the competitors by running the empty trucks in tow/haul mode and maybe even playing with their respective four-wheel-drive systems for better launches. But we’ll leave that for another test.
2010 HD Quarter-Mile Acceleration Test (Loaded)
Three-Quarter-Ton Gassers Loaded Testing
Just about every issue we felt in this category unloaded was magnified with our 10,000-pound trailers in tow. The Ford was a beast to control in two-wheel drive with our trailer, while the GM truck felt smoother still.
All three did well when in tow/haul mode, making a noticeable difference in shift points and how long each gear is held. Again, the Ram HD felt to be the strong puller but was not the most stable-feeling down the track. The Silverado felt the most confident when accelerating, meaning the most stable tow vehicle and most comfortable with the load.
Both Ford and GM transmissions were quite aggressive when downshifting after the finish marker with trailers, but it’s worth calling out the cool real-time gearing display on the Ford that tells you the exact gear the truck is in at any moment. This was a huge help when trying to slow down 17,000 pounds at the end of a racetrack.
With a 10,000-pound trailer hitched to the back of the gas trucks, the track numbers immediately changed, though the results were almost identical to when the gas haulers were unladen. All of the trucks were about 20 mph slower at the 1,320-foot mark and required about 7 more seconds to run the distance.
The Ram 2500 remained the dominant truck. Again, it was surprising because we expected its transmission to be a handicap, but on level ground the Chrysler rig was “in the zone.”
The Ram was 0.6 seconds faster than the Ford and 1.4 seconds faster than the Chevy from zero to 60 mph. It was still the fastest truck at the quarter-mile mark, charging to the finish line at 64.01 mph versus 63.61 for the Ford and 62.24 for the Chevy.
The same characteristics about the Ram’s weight and powertrain that we cited above applied when there was 10,000 pounds to lug.
We noticed that the Ram exhibited some wheel slip at the start of each wide open throttle run, but it wasn’t enough to dampen performance. The Ford F-250, which had traction control, showed some axle tramp coming off the line. The GM truck, though slower, managed all of its loaded launches gracefully.
Three-Quarter-Ton Diesels, Loaded Testing
Like the gas trucks, we tow-tested at Milan with precisely weighted 10,000-pound conventional trailers. We’re not sure we’ve ever towed trailers so evenly weighted over the wheels or balanced front to back. They offered a good test for each of our turbo-diesels.
As before, we had some trouble modulating the traction of the Ford (we suspect turning off the system may have given us the extra control we needed, but that makes us wonder why it’s there in the first place). And again, once the Ford found its grip, the Power Stroke felt to be a strong puller. The Silverado 2500 needed just a touch of finesse off the line to get it moving at wide open throttle, where it clearly separated itself from the group. Likewise, when slowing down the 17,000 pounds of metal shooting through the end line, the Duramax exhaust brake and tow/haul mode did a superior job of slowing with back pressure and aggressive downshifts to make our end-of-the-track turn a non-event.
Of the group, the Ford seemed to rely on the transmission to do most of the slowing work, while the Ram HD had the strongest-sounding exhaust brake of the group (very Mack-like). The Ram 2500 was the player of the challenge that was left behind, doing a great job getting up to 60 mph, but having very little left after that.
This time, we started to see the separation we were looking for between the trucks. The Silverado improved its performance over the other two trucks, thanks to its best-in-class power settings and rear axle gearing. It was also the smoothest truck off the line again, having little difficulty managing power out from the engine to the tires without an intrusive traction control system.
The Silverado hit 60 mph in 17 seconds, more than a second ahead of the F-250 and 3 seconds faster than the Ram 2500. The Silverado was also fastest at the quarter-mile marker, and it carried the highest speed.
With Ford’s 6.7-liter V-8 now rated (as of Aug. 31) at 400 hp and 800 pounds-feet of torque, it would be very interesting to run this test again. It might not make much difference because like the first run, the Ford showed difficultly keeping its rear axle planted at wide open throttle.
The Ram suffered from loose tires at launch, and its Cummins engine started to show signs that it was having difficulty not getting bogged down after each gear shift.
One-Ton Diesels, Loaded Testing
Testing the strongest trucks with the biggest trailers was probably our premiere event of the day (unless you count the regular cab Duramax “prototype” the GM guys brought to the track).
The F-350 dually gave us our best launch of the day here and felt the strongest off the line. From the seat of our pants, it felt like the Denali and F-350 were the more powerful trucks down the track. However, the Ram HD Cummins was the loudest, working hard in the higher gears to make it to the end of the quarter-mile before its zero-to-60 time. In fact, the Ram HD Mega Cab dually hit 60 mph at the exact moment it hit the quarter-mile marker at 24 seconds flat.
The Sierra Denali 3500 pulled strong after a small slip at the start line but was able to get its six-ton trailer up to 60 mph in 18.8 seconds, a full half-second faster than the Super Duty. The Super Duty’s transmission seemed well-suited to bring the fight to the Denali after 60 mph. In fact, by the time the F-350 got to the quarter-mile marker, it had closed the gap with the GMC to almost nothing. The best time for the Denali was 22.3 seconds, while the best time for the Ford was 22.4, and we’re guessing if this were a half-mile flat-tow head-to-head test, the Power Stroke would have likely overtaken the Duramax in the next 200 feet.
Be that as it may, it’s hard not to like the strength and muscle of the GM and Ford duallies, and it’s clear the Cummins needs to bring a bigger gun to the next track fight.
2010 HD 7 Percent Hill Climb Test
The 7.2 percent grade test was a 1,600-foot steady grade. That’s 280 feet longer than the quarter-mile test we performed on the flat ground at Milan Dragway.
The trucks were only tested pulling trailers – 10,000 pounds for the three-quarter-ton gas and diesels, and 12,000 pounds for the one-ton diesels.
All trucks and trailers were completely on the grade and stationary before each run. All the tests were performed “brake-to-accelerator,” meaning the foot brake was fully depressed with the right foot, which then lifted and fully depressed the accelerator pedal in one movement. Sufficient distance was provided at the end (after the 1,600-foot mark) to slow the rigs down to a safe speed before reaching the top of the hill.
At least three runs were carried out in each truck, with the same driver behind the wheel running at wide open throttle in two-wheel drive. Stability and traction control were turned on in the Ford and GM trucks; Ram pickups don’t offer stability control. Tow/haul mode was enabled in all trucks.
The fastest run for each truck is included in the results below.
Three-Quarter-Ton Gas Trucks Towing 10,000-Pound Trailer
A new feature that’s available for both the Ford and GM HD trucks is hill-hold assist. Originally conceived to help vehicles with manual transmissions start out on steep hills without needing to use the parking brake or put extra wear on the clutch, hill-hold assist automatically applies the vehicle’s brakes for 1.5 seconds to 2.5 seconds (depending on manufacturer) once you lift your foot off the brake when you’re on an incline that’s at least 5 percent. It’s also part of the trucks’ integrated trailer brake controllers, so it will apply the trailer’s brakes, too, if it has electric brakes.
While Ford and GM no longer offer manual transmissions for their HD pickups, we still found the feature useful starting the hill climb from a full stop with both truck and trailer on the grade – when it worked. It didn’t on the GM pickups, which was traced back to a glitch in the hill-hold assist calibrations on the 7.2 percent grade only. That issue has already been fixed in production.
Adding gravity made the contest much more interesting for the gas trucks. When you look at the performance numbers and truck specs, there’s some high drama happening among these haulers.
The Ford F-250 and Ram 2500 were neck and neck through the first quarter of the hill climb. At the 400-foot mark, they were within 1 mph of each other. As the Ram upshifted into second gear, its awesome Hemi V-8 wasn’t enough to make up for the large step between cogs. It seemed to flat-line in performance. That gave the Silverado the opening it needed to finish close in performance to the F-250, pushing the Ram to third.
Whether by design or by nature, we really liked the way the Ford 6.2-liter seemed to come to life on the hill. It sounded great in the Super Duty, as if we were driving a high-horsepower Mustang at the dragstrip.
Three-Quarter-Ton Diesel Trucks Towing 10,000-Pound Trailer
The Ford and GM diesels dominated on the 7 percent climb. It was an awesome display of greater firepower and six-speed flexibility that put the Power Stroke and Duramax rigs onto a different playing field altogether. Not even the Cummins’ earlier peak torque – at 100 rpm lower than the Ford and GM trucks – gave it an advantage.
By the end of the grade, the Silverado 2500 was 5.8 mph and 3.4 seconds faster than the Ram, and it was 1.9 mph and 1.8 seconds quicker than the Ford.
The Ram may have the advantage of not requiring urea for its diesel engine, but we think many diesel owners would gladly trade that maintenance item for the huge advantage in performance.
However, we can’t forget to point out that the well-equipped Ram is almost $8,000 cheaper than the Ford and Chevy trucks. Certainly for that bargain price, and with its handsome interior and exterior styling, we could be persuaded to opt for the Ram. So what if you don’t get to the top of the hill the quickest?
One-Ton Diesel Trucks Towing 12,000-Pound Trailer
The fastest one-ton truck up the hill was the Ford F-350, just a tenth of a second faster than the GMC Sierra Denali 3500HD and 3.7 seconds faster than the Ram.
While the Ford F-350 consistently shifted all the way up to fourth gear at least 100 feet before the end of the run, the Sierra Denali and Ram only made it to third gear. The Ford shifted into fourth at 3,200 rpm while the Denali hung onto third, just over 3,000 rpm. The Ram, which ended the run at 46 mph, was at around 2,700 rpm.
We think the F-350’s shifting into fourth gear so quickly on the grade is one part of Ford’s fuel economy strategy, to return up to 20 percent better fuel economy than the Super Duty used to get with the 2008-10 6.4-liter Power Stroke diesel.
Torque-converter lockup strategies were also interesting to observe. A torque-converter lockup clutch is an automatic mechanism that helps match engine and transmission speeds during acceleration for improved shifting efficiency and fuel economy. As we ran up the hill, engine rpm in all the trucks would steadily climb and then fall back slightly as their torque converters slipped. The Ford locked up in third gear, just before fourth and the Denali locked up in second gear, just before third. We couldn’t tell when the torque converter locked up in the Ram.
While the Sierra Denali’s launches were always clean, the upshift from second to third was consistently a bit harsh. The Ford exhibited some rear-wheel hop, even though it was a dually with 12,000 pounds hanging off its bumper.
We noticed interesting transmission temperature variations among the three trucks. The GM trucks typically had the lowest temps, from 174 to 196 degrees; the Ford Super Dutys consistently stayed within a remarkably tight band, from 196 to 198 degrees; and the Ram pickups ran the hottest and climbed in temperature the fastest, from 178 to 208 degrees.
2010 HD 16 Percent Hill Climb Test
The 16 percent grade was where we separated the men from the boys. Inclinations this steep expose even the slightest powertrain and platform weaknesses. And there was almost no time for a truck to recover and mask any shortcomings in its powertrain or driveline during the brief 800-foot run. Most of the gas trucks couldn’t make it out of first gear. The diesels only made it to second gear, except the Sierra Denali 3500HD, which made it to third.
Three-Quarter-Ton Gas Trucks Towing 10,000-Pound Trailer
If any test turned our opinion around about Ford’s 6.2-liter V-8, it was the 16 percent grade. We haven’t embraced it like Ford’s old 6.8-liter V-10 because we didn’t think it lived up to that engine’s legacy — until we put it on this hill.
The 6.2-liter V-8 ran up the hill a full 5 seconds and almost 5 mph faster than its next closest competitor, the Silverado. Its rpm seemed to pick up faster than the Hemi’s or the Vortec’s, and it was so fast that it shifted into second gear during one run, though it lost about 1,000 rpm and immediately downshifted. During the other sprints, the F-250 remained exclusively in first gear to top of the hill approaching near redline. The whole run the F-250 howled like a muscle car, not a three-quarter-ton truck with a combined weight of more than 17,000 pounds.
The Chevy 6.0-liter Vortec V-8 edged out the Hemi-powered Ram for second place up the hill by just 0.68 seconds, proving that shifting finesse and a wider range of gears can make up for moderate power deficiencies when a truck is being worked hard. It remained in first gear all the way to the top, crossing the finish marker at over 4,500 rpm and almost 25 mph.
The Ram 2500 always started out faster than the Silverado truck up the hill but couldn’t keep the power coming as steadily to the top. It wanted to, but the transmission seemed to hold it back. We can’t wait for this truck to get a future version of ZF’s eight-speed automatic. Still, after all of the grades, we remained very impressed by the Hemi’s overall performance at Milan Dragway and on the 7-percent and 16-percent climbs.
Three-Quarter-Ton Diesel Trucks Towing 10,000-pound Trailer
Hill-hold assist was one of our favorite features starting out on this grade. The GM and Ford trucks held their ground during the split-second pedal swap, thanks to the hill-hold assist feature. The Ram, which lacked the assist, started to roll back immediately even though we quickly moved from the brake to the accelerator.
Halfway up the hill, the Chevy 2500’s traction control briefly kicked in to squelch some instability caused by the grade’s rough surface and quickly butted out after the skipping was under control.
The Ford F-250 had difficulty with its traction control system, which kicked in to simmer down rear axle tramp at the start of the run.
While the F-250’s rear end hopped, the Ram 2500’s backside squealed, as its tires couldn’t hold traction on the takeoff. We had to feather the accelerator very carefully to avoid losing grip entirely. There was no stability control to cut fuel or apply the ABS for assistance. Because of this, the Ram 2500 finished about 5 seconds behind the Chevy Silverado 2500 and 4.1 seconds behind the Ford F-250.
Compared with the Ford, the Chevy’s traction control system was much less intrusive and seemed to do a better job helping the truck stay planted on the asphalt.
One-Ton Diesel Trucks Towing 12,000-Pound Trailer
Right off the line, the Ford F-350 dually spun its back tires and bounced each start up the grade. When this happened, the traction control system intervened and cut fuel to the engine to try to regain traction — the F-350 SRW manages traction via defueling plus antilock brake application — which caused the truck to lose turbo boost. Time and speed was lost over the first 200 feet as we tried to exit this acceleration-wheel-hop-traction-control loop. For most of the way up the hill, the F-350 also shifted between first and second as it struggled to find the optimal gear ratio for the climb, finally settling into second just before the top.
The Sierra 3500 doesn’t have traction control, so we didn’t lose turbo boost, plus its new rear suspension and wider, asymmetrical leaf springs did a fair job keeping the truck planted. It was a half-second faster than the Ford and 6 seconds quicker than the Ram.
Even though the Ram 3500 wasn’t fast, it had relatively smooth launches despite that fact that it also lacked traction control. They were better than the three-quarter-ton Ram 2500’s starts and suffered less wheel hop than the Ford and GMC. The one-ton Ram rolled back a few inches at the start, but once it found traction it chugged up the hill and made it to second gear by the crest, though it seemed to lose power in the midrange, around 2,500 rpm.
The Ram 3500 did cause some concern for us after our final test run, when its transmission temperature spiked from 212 degrees to 255 degrees, almost 60 degrees higher than the Ford and GMC pickups.
2010 HD Brake Tests
Diesel Exhaust Brake Performance
One of the most significant new features back in 2007 that caught both GM and Ford by surprise was Chrysler’s introduction of a segment-exclusive factory exhaust brake in its 6.7-liter Cummins diesel.
An exhaust brake saves on brake and transmission wear by creating back pressure to engine brake the truck. It also reduces the potential for brake fade during long descents, increasing both downhill safety while towing as well as overall wheel brake life.
GM and Ford have both added exhaust brakes for the 2011 model year, but they operate differently. GM’s Duramax diesel exhaust brake works like the Cummins. It’s activated with the push of a button in the center console. It has four operational modes: tow/haul mode engaged, tow/haul mode disengaged, cruise control on and cruise control off.
Ford’s Power Stroke exhaust brake works automatically when tow/haul mode is enabled. Unlike the Duramax and Cummins, it can’t be turned off by the driver.
We spent time evaluating each truck’s exhaust brake on the backside of the 16 percent grade, following a winding 6 percent half-mile downhill path back to the base.
Each truck started downhill at 40 mph with the exhaust brake and tow/haul mode engaged. We wanted to see which trucks required the least amount of wheel brake application.
In the Ford diesels, we found it difficult to perceive when the exhaust brake was working. It wasn’t noisy like the other trucks’ exhaust brakes, which isn’t necessarily a positive trait, depending on your personal preferences. We also had to pump the foot brakes more in the Super Dutys than the Ram and GM trucks.
GM’s exhaust brake works seamlessly with the transmission. We consider it to be the best integrated; it wasn’t as loud as the Cummins, but we could tell when it was working and when it was turned off.
We thought the exhaust brake in the Ram trucks performed the best, but it required a bit of training. The Cummins’ exhaust brake and six-speed automatic transmission aren’t integrated like they are in the GM pickups. When the engine was above 1,600 rpm, only the exhaust brake worked. Grade shifts only occur below this threshold to prevent the engine from redlining on a descent. When engine speed dropped below that mark, the transmission grade downshifted to slow the rig further.
Gas Engine Grade-Shifting Performance
Though they lack exhaust brakes, the gas trucks benefited from the same sophisticated tow/haul systems that help reduce wheel brake wear by automatically downshifting when it can be safely done without redlining the engine. We grade-braked the trucks on the same descent as we did with the diesels.
Driving the Ford F-250, we toggled the automatic shifter into manual mode, which kept the truck in full automatic as we descended the grade but allowed us to see what numeric gear the truck was in – very useful when dropping down over long grades. The Super Duty consistently grade-shifted (down) twice and seemed to have the strongest engine braking of the three gassers.
The Chevy grade-shifted once, and its engine braking didn’t help as much in slowing the truck as the Ford’s did, requiring additional brake pedal pressure from the driver. The Ram 2500 performed similarly to the Silverado.
60-to-Zero MPH Brake Test
We added a new 60-to-zero mph brake test this year because performance testing isn’t just about how fast trucks can accelerate or how fuel efficient they are. When you’re on public roads, it’s just as important to know how quickly your truck can stop in a panic brake situation.
We tested stopping distances from 60 mph with the trucks empty and with one ton of ballast in their cargo box.
Each truck was tested three times loaded and unloaded with the same driver behind the wheel. Tow/haul mode was on when the trucks were loaded and off when they were empty. The exhaust brakes on both the Ram and GM trucks were also enabled when testing loaded. The Ford’s exhaust brake is automatically enabled when the truck is in tow/haul mode.
All the brake stops were performed on GM’s 65-acre “black lake” asphalt surface, where GM tests the handling attributes of its latest cars and trucks. Two of the trucks we tested have new or improved wheel brakes since our last HD Shootout.
In 2009, the Ram HD’s disc brakes were reengineered for additional stopping power, better wear and improved fuel economy. The front and rear brake rotors grew 2 percent to 14.1 inches, while the front brake calipers increased 7 percent with twin 2.4-inch pistons for grip. The brake pads were made 14 percent thicker, to 0.5 inches, and gained a 77 percent larger surface area of 15.3 inches. Those improvements also reduced passive brake drag, boosting gas mileage by up to 5 percent, according to Chrysler.
The Silverado’s wheel brakes increased from 12.8 inches to 14 inches in diameter and were widened from 1.5 inches to 1.57 inches. They feature a larger swept area for better stopping power, and the operating pressures have been changed to provide a firmer feel during application with less pedal travel required. The bigger disc brakes are a necessary improvement to reach higher gross combined weight ratings across the line.
Ford’s F-250 and F-350 pickups continue to use the same 13.7-inch discs up front and 13.4-inch discs in back as on the 2008-10 Super Duty.
It’s worth mentioning that even though we didn’t do brake testing with trailers, all of the trucks we tested come with integrated trailer brake controllers, something the Dodge Ram didn’t have in 2007.
The GM and Ford trucks also include trailer sway control, to help shut down any unwanted yaw from a squirrelly trailer to prevent loss of control. On the GM trucks, it’s only available for the single-rear-wheel pickups, but it’s available for both single- and dual-rear-wheel Fords. Ford also is the first to offer a full-size pickup truck with a factory-installed trailer brake controller that’s compatible with most aftermarket electric-over-hydraulic trailer brake systems, which use an electric signal to actuate the hydraulic brakes in the trailer.
We noticed that the Rams’ wheels were covered in the most brake dust after testing.
Three-Quarter-Ton Gas Trucks
Unloaded and loaded, all of the gas trucks stopped within two feet of each other, with the Ram having slightly better braking over the Chevy and Ford trucks in both scenarios.
Three-Quarter-Ton Diesel Trucks
The Ram pickups stopped in the shortest distances in both loaded and unloaded testing. Unloaded, the Ram’s stopping distance was six feet shorter than the Silverado and two feet shorter than the Ford.
In loaded testing, the Silverado improved its braking distance relative to the Ram and Super Duty, but the Ram still came to a halt almost a foot sooner. It outperformed the Ford by just over a foot.
One-Ton Diesel Trucks
The big-dog duallys came close to repeating the brake test results of the three-quarter-ton trucks with one significant difference: The GMC Sierra Denali 3500HD stopped sooner than either the Ram or Ford trucks – by nearly eight feet. Not only that, when loaded, the Sierra stopped even sooner than it did when it was empty – in two out of three trials. We don’t have a reason for why it happened, though we suspect the one-ton changed the proportionality of its brakes when it was loaded.
2010 HD Results; How We Scored It
To determine the best overall heavy-duty pickups in the three categories we tested, we created a scoring system that measured the trucks in three areas. Each test was worth a maximum of 100 points.
The first component is subjective evaluations of important characteristics, and it accounts for 20 percent of the total score. It includes unloaded ride and handling, ride and handling with trailers, grade braking ability, fit and finish and overall value based on features and MSRP. The three authors all agreed on the scores.
The second component accounts for 55 percent of a truck’s rating. Points were awarded based on the trucks’ power and pulling capabilities during instrumented testing. For each test — the fastest truck by time or the shortest to stop by distance – first place was awarded 100 points, and the second and third place trucks were assigned scores relative to how close they finished to the leader. For example, if the fastest truck through the quarter-mile finished in 15 seconds, and second place truck finished in 16 seconds, then the second-place truck received 93 points.
The third component is fuel economy, and it makes up 25 percent of the score. It’s based on measured fuel consumption when the trucks were unloaded and trailering. Like the power contests, the best-performing truck in each of the three groups was awarded 100 points and the second and third place trucks were given relative scores based on their efficiency.
We’re immensely thankful to all the manufacturers involved for their support putting this event together, and especially GM for loaning us the trailers and allowing us access to the Milford Proving Grounds. We’d also like to thank our longtime partners from Ricardo Inc. who instrumented all the trucks and certified the data collected from the Milan and GM Proving Ground towing and brake tests.
Thanks also to Kent Sundling from MrTruck.com for once again teaming up with us on the Shootout. Kent is one of the most valuable and knowledgeable trailering and towing resources in the country. Thanks to Mark Williams for joining us as a tester and co-writer for the first time. Mark’s help and input was invaluable putting this story together. The same goes for the staff from Cars.com. We couldn’t have done this without their logistical support, input and creativity.
And, of course, we’re very thankful to you, our readers. We do this for you.
2010 HD Best Overall Three-Quarter-Ton Gas Truck (SRW)
The best overall heavy-duty pickup in the three-quarter-ton gas category is the 2011 Ford F-250 with 6.2-liter V-8. As the tests became more extreme up the hills, the 6.2-liter V-8 was up to the challenges, opening large gaps between the Chevy and Ram trucks. It also proved to have the best unloaded fuel economy. But this race was very close. The Ram 2500 scored just behind the F-250 based on its tremendous pulling performance at Milan raceway and better ride and handling characteristics than the Ford. In fact, we’d suggest the Ram 2500 as our HD choice if most of your towing and hauling will be across level ground, like in the Midwest. If you’re going to pull heavy trailers through the mountains, though – and don’t want to pay a premium for a diesel – the Ford F-250 is a better choice.
Score Category Weights: Subjective 20% / Performance 55% / Fuel Economy 25%
2010 HD Best Overall Three-Quarter-Ton Diesel Truck (SRW)
The best overall HD rig in the three-quarter-ton diesel category is the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD. Though its interior isn’t up to par in quality and materials with the latest from Ford and Chrysler, the Chevy’s combination of the powerful Duramax diesel, all-new frame and suspension and excellent fuel economy put it ahead of the Ford and Ram trucks. It’s possible that if we’d had a Super Duty with the new 400/800 power ratings, it could have beaten the Chevy on performance but that wouldn’t have changed the way we feel about the Silverado’s ride and handling and steering characteristics, which we now think are the benchmarks in the segment, followed closely by the Ram.
Score Category Weights: Subjective 20% / Performance 55% / Fuel Economy 25%
2010 HD Best Overall One-Ton Diesel Truck (DRW)
The best overall one-ton diesel is the 2011 GMC Sierra Denali 3500HD. This amazing truck took the top spot in five of six power contests. Like the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD, its new ride and handling characteristics are excellent and its braking abilities were significantly better than its one-ton competitors. Interior fit and finish in its upscale trim were closer to the Ram and Ford trucks than any other category. We could tow with a Sierra Denali all day long and feel as confident driving it as it looks good on the road.
Score Category Weights: Subjective 20% / Performance 55% / Fuel Economy 25%