By Howard J. Elmer
Your trucks are the arms and legs of your business. Here is our annual review of the latest pickup truck models from major manufacturers by noted automotive journalist, Howard Elmer.
By Howard J. Elmer
This real-world competition includes evaluations of empty vehicles but more importantly testing while loaded and while towing. The judges are members of the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada: men and women who devote their entire year to driving, evaluating and writing about the Canadian automotive marketplace. Collectively they brought over 200 years of trucking experience to this year’s testing while driving a combined total of almost 4,000 kilometres over three long days.
This year, judges travelled from Quebec in the east and British Columbia and Saskatchewan in the west to attend the event that takes place at a private 70-acre site in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario.
What did we test?
Each year the market offers up different trucks, often depending on what’s new. However, there are rarely more than two new trucks in a given year so we also look to fill out each group to offer a decent-sized comparison. This year we had a field of eleven 2017 pickup trucks falling into four classes: mid-size, full-size half-ton, full-size ¾-ton and full-size one-ton trucks.
The Testing Method
Each judge drove each truck empty, then with payload on board and finally towing a trailer over the same route, one after the other, back-to-back. Yes, it got repetitive, but this is the best way to feel the differences between the trucks. Trucks are scored in 20 different categories. These scores are then averaged across the field of judges and converted to a percentage out of 100. Finally the “as tested” price of each vehicle is also weighted against the average price of the group (which adds or subtracts points) for the final outcome.
The route we use is called the Head River test loop. It’s a combination of public roads spread over 17 kilometres. It starts on gravel, moves to a secondary paved road and finally highway. Speed limits vary from 50 to 80 kilometres per hour and the road climbs and drops off an escapement several times giving good elevation changes. At its lowest point, it crosses the Head River twice – hence the name.
Finally, the four-wheel-drive-equipped trucks (which all our entries are) were driven on an internal off-road course built for that purpose at the IronWood test site.
This year the mid-size trucks carried a payload of 500 pounds and towed 4,000 pounds. The full-size half-tons hauled payload of 1,000 pounds and towed 6,000 pounds while the ¾-tons towed 10,000 pounds and also used 1,000 pounds for payload. We choose these loads by taking into consideration the lowest manufacturer set limits among each group of entries. The weights we use never exceed those published limits.
For the one-ton trucks we changed locations to London, Ont. Here we have access to two partners who loan us the weight and trailers necessary to test the big pickups. Patene Building Supply and IKO let us use 4,000 pounds of singles for payload, while CanAm RV Centre let us tow 15,000-pound fifth-wheel travel trailers.
Between the two mid-size trucks the Honda impressed the judges. As with anything new, it had an edge – remember, the Colorado diesel was a big splash when it debuted last year. However, it wasn’t just the new factor that pushed its score past that of the Colorado. The prior generation of Ridgeline was a niche, quirky truck that appealed to a select buyer. This time, Ridgeline has moved closer to the mainstream while retaining some of its unique characteristics. It did most everything (payload, towing, even off-road) well and still offered the most car-like ride. The judges rewarded Honda for a significant generational update. Toyota opted not to give us a Tacoma (which we did test last year) and the Nissan Frontier was also not offered – no doubt because it’s in the last year of its current cycle before a major upgrade.
- Honda Ridgeline – final score of 75.5 per cent
- Chevy Colorado – final score of 72.2 per cent
Full-size half-ton group
The full-size half-ton category is the meat of the market. In Canada, it makes up just under 80 per cent of total pickup sales. As such, it is one of the most competitively fought-over categories among the builders and, for us at the Challenge, it’s a segment that we consider carefully every year – as in, what to test.
We asked each of the manufacturers to give us one half-ton – the one that was its best seller – in the most popular combination of body style, trim and powertrain. This way we’d test the trucks that Canadians buy most often.
Some, like the Nissan Titan, are all-new. Others, like the Chevy and Ram, are midway through their current lifecycle. Toyota chose to give us an off-road version of its Tundra: the TRD Pro. This is the newest truck they had, not really the most often purchased. But that was their choice to enter it. As you’d expect it did really well off-road. The other entries were exactly what we asked for. The Ram emerged as the judges’ choice for best all-round half-ton. However, all the scores were close and the Chevy also did well.
Of course I have to mention what is missing from the list: Ford. The leader in half-ton Canadian truck sales chose not to compete. Despite having entered trucks in every other Truck King Challenge competition since 2006, this year they declined. No specific reason was given and while I certainly have my own theories as to why, I won’t speculate. They were invited, they said no, we continued on without them.
- Ram 1500 – final score of 79.4 per cent
- Chevy Silverado 1500 – final score of 76.7 per cent
- Nisan Titan – final score of 74.3 per cent
- Toyota Tundra – final score of 73.7 per cent
Full-size ¾-ton group
In the ¾-ton category, note that each of the trucks was diesel-powered. As these are the most common big haulers being bought by Canadians we stressed them by towing 10,000 pounds of concrete. The judges made a point of saying that under load was when they really felt how the trucks behaved. The scoring here was close as each truck did well – however, the Ram 2500 with the Cummins 6.7-litre diesel did come out slightly ahead. What was more interesting was the Nissan HD tied with the HD Silverado.
The Titan XD is the lightest of the three trucks and has the lowest tow and payload limits. That is also reflected in its price, which elevated its overall score. These lower limits are not a disadvantage though. If anything, it means that the segment is growing and offering up more choices for consumers.
This was the first time we tested all new five-liter Cummins diesel V8. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that Chevy’s veteran 6.6-litre Duramax diesel will be generationally updated next year.
- Ram 2500 – final score 77.0 per cent
- Nissan Titan XD – final score 74.9 per cent
- Chevy Silverado 2500 – final score 74.9 per cent
Full-size one-ton group
For the one-ton trucks we had a field of two – again, we missed having Ford particularly because its 2017 Super Duty trucks are all-new. However we still performed a full field of tests on the Ram 3500 and Silverado 3500. After a full day of driving, both trucks back-to-back the judges awarded the win to the Chevy Silverado 3500. Both trucks worked well. The key difference judges noted was ride-quality when towing – they preferred the Chevy.
- Chevy Silverado 3500 – final score 75.1 per cent
- Ram 3500 – final score 71.8 per cent
Fuel Economy Data
For the fourth year in a row we have contracted with MyCarma of Kitchener, Ont., to collect and translate fuel economy data during the Challenge. Using data loggers plugged into the OBD readers of each truck these results are as real-world as it gets. The report gives the fuel consumption results for each condition during testing: empty runs, loaded results and even consumption while towing. The averages include each judge’s driving style, acceleration, braking and idling (we don’t shut the engines down during seat changes). Look for the results on the next page.
It’s worth noting that all the trucks performed well and as a group you’ll note how close all the scores are. If anything, this makes it tough for the judges to crown a winner because none of these trucks is bad. It also reflects on how fierce the competition is among the truck builders. Frankly, there are few segments where the profits per unit are higher, which compels them to bring their A-game. This competition is good as it brings sharp, constant innovation. Consider Nissan; this year, it’s a virtually new player in the market while others have brought significant improvements to powertrains. These changes give buyers an ever-widening range of choices. As for electronic conveniences and luxury appointments, the variety and range of content for 2017 continues to expand unabated.
The overall winner of the 10th annual Canadian Truck King Challenge with the highest collective score of 79.4 per cent is the 2017 Hemi-powered Ram 1500.