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The 2013 Truck King Challenge

From a fleet perspective, real-world testing of the one-ton truck segment is very important.


March 28, 2013
By Howard J. Elmer

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From a fleet perspective, real-world testing of the one-ton truck segment is very important. After all, these vehicles work for a living, and how well they work – not what colour they are – is what buying decisions are based on. Here’s how three popular Big Three models stand up to the tests your business will give them.

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To test towing capabilities, the trucks were hooked up to 14,500-lb. fifth-wheel trailers.


 

This year the Canadian Truck King Challenge decided to concentrate on this segment, testing the Ford F350 head to head with the Chevy Silverado 3500 and the Ram 3500. Each of these was the Crew Cab, long box, four-wheel-drive, diesel-powered versio equipped with a removable fifth-wheel hitch. Our testers were two 2012s (the Ram and the Ford) along with a 2013 Chevy. While we prefer to always compare same-year models, we conceded that the Ford is virtually unchanged for 2013. The Ram, though, will be substantially changed next year – but it is unavailable until the end of the first quarter of next year. So, we appreciate Ram being involved because while we were already aware of the planned changes for 2013 – namely, Cummins diesel updates, new chassis and new air suspension – having the 2012 really demonstrated not only the areas that were lacking but also how it compared to both the Ford and Chevy that were both new in 2011. In essence they have offered a truck doomed to lose – yet the fact the company is changing almost everything we could be critical of this year speaks to its competitiveness.

Testing this year was conducted in southwestern Ontario in and around London. The first day we ran the trucks empty from Toronto (200 km) to London, then we hitched them to three similar fifth- wheel RV trailers. These weighed in at around 14,500 lb. each. We then spent the day doing a 400 km tour with the judges (of which there were five) switching up every 80 km. Each judge, therefore, was able to spend at least an hour hauling with each truck – and sit as a passenger on two legs to evaluate the interior design, comfort and conveniences in each truck from a crew perspective. It’s worth mentioning right here that this is the fifth time we have run the Canadian Truck King Challenge in the last six years, skipping only 2008 when the industry was in crisis.

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So with all this in mind, we towed our fifth-wheel trailers through wind and rain (because it always rains during Truck King – just lucky, I guess) on highways and byways. After a full day of towing, we put the trucks to bed. The following day was dedicated to payload. As with any test, we had to go with the lowest published weight, and this year that was the Ram at 4,600 lb. Roof Mart, an IKO company in London, loaded us up with pallets of singles, which weighed in at 4,480 lb. Each pallet was four feet wide, four feet high and five feet long. Watching the trucks drop under that weight was fascinating. We then set off on a 300 km loop, down to Lake Erie and back, where we once again cycled through the trucks as judges.

Judges’ comments
The 2013 Canadian Truck King Challenge took on the task of evaluating the three Detroit-designed one-ton pickup trucks from Ford, Chrysler and GM last month. This is the fifth year the challenge has been held, each year looking at a different segment in the truck market. Last year, for instance, we tested the five most popular half-tons – however, this year the HD segment (which has had the most recent updates) deserved scrutiny.

About the Ford F350, Andy said, “Zero-to-100-kilometre acceleration with a trailer was 21 seconds. Very quick – anything under 30 seconds is considered adequate when towing.”

Jil said, “I liked the flat rear floor and the big, easy-to-use vents. It has confident brakes, but with a payload it squats the most of any truck. It rides fine, just looks bad.”

Matt said, “I liked the heated/cooled seats, and the reverse camera. While towing, the overall ride is smooth: acceleration is great and transmission shifts up and down smoothly. With payload, the truck squats too much. The steering gets lighter.”

Stephen said the F350’s “middle console storage is poor. The seats get hard over time.”

Howard concluded, “Powerful engine; the transmission shifts are sometimes harsh.
 The truck has a good interior with the best info screens providing the greatest amount of electronic info of the three.”

Turning to the Chevy Silverado 3500, Andy said, “The zero-to-100-kilometre acceleration time matches the Ford. The fifth gear is a much taller ratio, yet the truck stays in that gear even on grades.”

Jil liked the three-position heat seat. “It is comfortable. The navigation system is easy to use. Good mirrors, but the climate buttons are too small and fiddly and way too low. It needs a dead man’s pedal.”

Matt said, “Didn’t like the plastic bedliner – it is too slick and covers the tie-downs.”

Stephen added, “While towing, the steering feedback is minimal. Crosswind control good and takeoff is effortless. The hood design helps road positioning. The brakes engage instantly and feel strong.”

Howard said, “The seats are the best part of the cabin. It is quiet inside.
Power is ample and the tranny is strong and very smooth.”

Finally, the judges turned to the Ram 3500. Andy said, “ Zero-to-100-kilometre acceleration was
 28 seconds – slowest of the three. However, tons of low-end torque. Would climb moderate grades in sixth gear while the other two had to downshift. Steering precision was better than the Ford, but not as good as the GM. The Ram had the best interior: best thought out, attractive with very nice seats.

Jil pointed out “The Ram was the only one with a 110-volt outlet.
Steering was heavy when empty, better when loaded.”

Matt liked the interior, too. “Lots of storage, quiet cabin, seating is comfortable, good space and legroom,” he said.

Stephen stayed focused on performance. “The exhaust brake is effective and sounds good,” he said. “The spongy suspension gives no confidence when driving with payload. There is lots of body roll and spring-back from bumps is too aggressive.”

Howard said, “Best interior of the three and best-looking design. The engine has lots of torque, but is slow off the line with load.”

The bottom line
What were the conclusions? The Ford and Chevy were very 
close in all areas while the Ram just wasn’t in the same league this year. The Ford and Chevy both handled the towing weight and payload weight well; however, the suspension on the Chevy was better, meaning it sat more level under load, it squatted less, and in general felt better while driving.  The steering feel was best on the Chevy, under all conditions. As an empty truck, everyone loved the Ram best interior-wise and design-wise. However, that love was lost once weight was added. Its suspension was spongy and it exhibited too much body roll.

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The contenders. The Truck King Challenge puts three Detroit models through their paces under the steely eye of experienced judges. The Ford F350, Chevy Silverado 3500 and Chrysler Ram 3500 were evaluated.


 

The Cummins engine, while very strong in torque, was slow in acceleration. Fuel consumption on the Ford and Chevy was almost identical. The Ram was a distant third. The Ford took hits for a light front end under load and twitchy steering. We had little or no criticism
of the Chevy powertrain: the diesel is strong and smooth and the transmission flawless in its operation. Ford and Ram both registered minor concerns with their transmissions. Nothing serious during our testing; however, there was noticeable roughness in their operation. Where the Chevy excelled was in the work aspect of the Challenge. It towed well, handled payload best and exhibited the most confident driving characteristics. The interior, though, is old and dated and the dash controls small and awkward – this is Chevy’s shortfall right now. While the Ford interior is superior, its higher score in that area wasn’t enough to eclipse the Chevy’s sterling work record.

Once all the numbers, driving opinions and
fuel calculations were added up, the
2013 Chevy Silverado was named this year’s Canadian Truck King Challenge winner.


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