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Truck stop – A look at 2018 and 2019 heavy-duty pickups

What’s new in half-ton pickups.


September 11, 2019
By Howard Elmer and Mario Cywinski

Topics
The mountain track in Oregon gave drivers a chance to really test the Silverado’s towing capabilities.

Howard Elmer and Mario Cywinski – Automobile Journalists Association of Canada-accredited writers – took at look at some of the recent offerings from top pickup manufacturers. Here’s what they found.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD
by Howard J Elmer

The HD pickup truck market segment is growing. Recreational vehicles keep growing and the needs of for-business owner/operators demand increased HD capacity. Rest assured, Detroit is listening. The builders are all responding to these new needs and among them is Chevrolet with its newest next-generation Silverado HD that today speaks to all these customer wants.

Here are the high-notes. Capacity-wise the 2020 Silverado HD will offer best-in-class towing of up to 35,500 pounds. Its traditional 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel will now make 445 horsepower and 910 foot-pounds of torque. This year it’s matched to a segment-first 10-speed automatic transmission, built by Allison. Completely new for 2020 is a gas engine option: a 6.6L V8 that makes 401 horsepower and 464 foot-pounds of torque and is much cheaper to buy than the diesel. These are the highlights of the new HD truck, but I recently had a chance to examine the deeper story found in the engineering details that lets this truck achieve these new limits.

The new Silverado HD has beefed-up its axles, its locking rear differential, the prop shaft, the U-joints and also added a 12-inch ring gear. Hauling big weight also means generating big heat. So to cool the turbo-diesel a new functional hood vent has been added along with a 28-inch cooling fan and a run-after-engine-off function.

The test drive of the new HD took place in the high desert region of central Oregon. This area combines flat altitudes in excess of 5,000 feet with long grades on the eastern side of the Cascades Mountains. This area was ideal to feel the strength and control of these trucks, particularly while towing up to 20,000 pounds.

Starting with the Duramax-equipped HD 3500, I felt the power of the diesel under load, even accelerating uphill. This Duramax pushes its power through the new Allison 10-speed transmission. The tranny is smooth; it finds the right gear as needed, working silently, without any tug, clunk or lurch.

As the road test progressed I also had a chance to concentrate on the sub-systems that are part of the new tow packages. These are crucial to road-manage this kind of weight. Among these is an automatic park brake that holds the truck in place while hooking up. There is also hill start assist and hill descent control. Controlling speed on hills is also a function of the automatic grade brake and the diesel exhaust brake. Enhanced digital variable steering assists the driver at highway speeds as well as during low-speed parking lot manoeuvers.

Speaking of parking lots, that’s where any trip towing a trailer starts and ends. It’s also where problems occur and driver anxiety can be at its highest, especially while reversing. Chevy has an answer for these stresses. The new Silverado HD comes with an advanced camera system that offers 15 different views, all seen on the centre stack console screen. The various camera angles cover all sides of the truck and offer views that traditional mirrors simply cannot. Some come up automatically, others can be chosen by the driver as needed. These include off the nose of truck, a hitch-view, an in-bed view and a camera mounted at the rear of the trailer that creates a view called “Transparent Trailer” – yes, you can see exactly what’s behind your trailer, on screen, in what otherwise has always been a blind-spot.

Other new electronic driver-assist features address trailers specifically. The computer can store information on up to five different trailers, including length and optimal trailer brake gain settings. Once programmed, the driver can call up any trailer profile and start it with a single push of a button. There is also a one-person trailer light test and trailer light diagnostic setting. Everything is aimed at making one-man operations easy. Another electronic feature extends coverage to the trailer and includes trailer tire pressure and temperature monitoring right in the truck cab.

I also noted a new mirror design. The new glass area is larger, the arm moves further out and it incorporates a great new convex mirror that eliminates a lot more of the traditional blind spots. Consider all these features together and you’ll experience what I did: a much safer, more relaxed and precise hooking, backing and towing experience.

The cargo bed on this Silverado has also been updated (much of these improvements have been carried over from the refresh of the 1500 series last year). Each HD cargo bed now comes with 12 fixed tie-down points and nine moveable points. Also, by recessing the box into the sidewalls the new HD offers segment-leading cargo volume. The bed has also upgraded its lighting options and now offers a 120-volt outlet.

For access, Silverado has increased the size of its corner bumper step cutouts which will now fit size 13 boots and are (in my opinion) still the simplest and most elegant solution to tall beds. But they’ve gone one step further. They have added a cut-out to each side of the truck-body that gives the customer a leg up at the front of the box as well. Also, for the first time, this HD can be ordered with a power up-and-down tailgate.

As the majority of HD trucks are ordered with the diesel engine option it’s a big deal that the necessary DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) system has received three significant updates. First, the DEF tank itself has been relocated to inside the frame rails. Its prior position left it vulnerable to rough road impact. Second, the under-hood filler port has been relocated to beside the fuel port inside the filler door. This is much easier to use. Third, a DEF gauge has been added to the instrument cluster. The previous low-DEF fluid warning lights often came on as a surprise and never at a convenient time. Now, being able to glance at a gauge any time means never being surprised again.

During testing at previous Canadian Truck King Challenges we found and called out Chevrolet on each of these problem areas. It is satisfying to see that the engineers are listening to us and to many others, I’m sure. Frankly, these changes solve some long-standing irritations. Well done, Chevy!

I have to highlight the vehicle-identification-number-specific trailer weight label that GM (GMC and Chevrolet) puts on the doorjamb of every truck. This is something only they do and it is wonderful. The numbers on the label are for your truck specifically – no generalizations. The limits listed there are determined by the unique build of your truck. You will never have to guess what you can tow again.

After two days driving this HD I came away happy with its abilities, but probably even happier with the driver-assist systems that GM is investing in. The camera system in particular reduces stress and will surely eliminate many of the low-speed minor bangs and scraps that we’ve all had. These new systems are going a long way to creating an informed and calmer driver – which is the greatest safety feature of all.


Being at the top hasn’t prevented Ford from continuing to upgrade the F150 year after year.

2019 Ford F-150 diesel
by Mario Cywinski

You know you are doing something right when you are the top selling anything for over 50 years. For Ford of Canada, they have had the top selling pickup truck in Canada for 53 years, with the F-Series. If that isn’t enough, the F-Series has been the top selling vehicle overall in Canada for the past nine years.

Having been at the top for so long, one would think that Ford wouldn’t make a lot of investment in the F-150, however, the opposite is true. Over the past few vehicle generations, Ford has put turbocharged engines (EcoBoost) in the vehicle, when the norm was to have powerful V-8s; it began using military grade aluminum for the body, when steel was the norm; it began to offer a plethora of safety and convenience features usually seen on luxury vehicles; and it continues to add new innovations to the F-150 on a yearly basis.

Being a big fan of diesel engines, I always wondered why only the Super Duty was offered with a diesel, while its light duty cousin didn’t offer one. Well, for the 2018 model year, the 3.0-liter Power Stroke V-6 diesel engine was added to the lineup. It comes with 250 horsepower and 440 foot-pounds of torque mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. It offers towing of 11,400 pounds and payload of 1,940 pounds for retail, when properly equipped.

It is important to point out that today’s diesel engines are not the same as in generations past. They are a lot more advanced and still offer the main advantages of a diesel engine: torque and fuel economy.

“We know that competing diesels with electric cooling fans have to dial back on power under extreme heat and altitude, so we decided on a viscous-controlled mechanical fan that has the capacity to move much more air across the radiator and intercooler in extreme conditions,” said David Ives, Ford diesel engine technical specialist. “This gives F-150 Power Stroke owners more power and more passing capability in harsh conditions.”

The 2019 F-150 is also a very safe vehicle, as shown by it achieving “good” ratings in all tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The diesel engine is available on a wide variety of trim levels and package options. The F-150 is available in XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum and Limited. It offers three cab sizes (regular, supercab and supercrew), and three truck bed lengths (5 ½, 6 ½, and 8 feet).


The new pickup offering from Jeep attracted a lot of curiosity at a spring FCA event.

Jeep Gladiator and Ram HD
by Mario Cywinski

FCA Canada Fleet Operations held its 2019 Spring Launch Event at Pearson Convention Centre. With a lot of hype surrounding its release, the Jeep Gladiator mid-size pickup was introduced and was definitely the truck most fleet professionals were on hand to see and drive. Almost lost in the background was the front-and-centre Ram HD, which has been re-designed for 2019, and now boasts an available 1,000 foot pounds of torque.

FCA decided to demonstrate the Ram HD’s capability by having it pull an 18-wheeler in the parking lot of the convention centre, while those in attendance looked on. The HD along with the Gladiator were available to be driven on a closed course. When not driving, attendees heard about what FCA Canada Fleet it up to, details about the vehicles, and what FCA can offer fleets.

Diving a little deeper into what the Gladiator offers, we find a 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 engine with 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque mated to a standard six-speed manual or an optional eight-speed automatic transmission. It is four-wheel drive, built on a ladder-frame with an open steel and aluminum body. While the vehicle may look like a Wrangler with a truck bed, it is a new vehicle, but does come with all the capability of a Wrangler with a five-foot bed and a dampening tailgate, for extra practicality.

Looking at the Ram HD, it’s all about capability, with the upgraded Cummins 6.7L high-output turbo-diesel engine offering 400 horsepower and 1,000 foot pounds of torque. A second variant offers 37 horsepower and 850 foot-pounds of torque. Both diesel engines are equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. The standard engine is a 6.4L Hemi V-8 with 410 horsepower and 429 foot-pounds of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Ram HD trucks have maximum towing of 15,921 kilograms and a maximum payload of 3,484 kilograms. A 360-degree camera has been added with view of the trailer on both sides.