Having been a professional truck driver and trainer for more than 30 years, I find that you never, ever know it all. There are always new things to learn. My primary goal with this blog is to help other drivers (especially newer ones) with pertinent information and tips to enable them to work happier and more safely. Guest posts, contributors and feed-back are always welcome and wanted!
Oct, 2014 Automakers love to play the numbers game, especially when it comes to big trucks. A recent spat between Ram and Ford saw both companies claiming the “best-in-class” towing title for their respective heavy duty pickups like kids in a sandbox arguing over who has the better castle.
Sure, specifications are important, but they only tell a part of the story. And in the case of heavy-duty trucks, they only tell a fraction of the story. The common thought is higher numbers equal better performance, but the key and really the most important consideration to any heavy hauler is what it actually feels like when you’re towing. There is nothing worse than 20,000 pounds – or more – of steel rolling down the road feeling like it’s out of control.
In partnership with the Canadian Truck King Challenge, we tested each of the big three HD pickup trucks for 2015. To be clear, it wasn’t an empty parking lot test that consisted of deciding which truck has the best cup holders. We loaded roughly 4,000 lbs of shingles into the bed of each truck the first day, while the second day consisted of pulling 15,000-pound fifth wheels and a full day of driving. We also had fuel economy loggers hooked into the ODB II port for the entirety of the testing to see exactly how much diesel it takes to get the job done.
But the real fun took place at the drag strip. Yes, you read that right: drag strip! We sent each of these trucks down the drag strip, trailers in tow, to get the real story on acceleration. And the results may surprise you, so read on to see how each truck fared.
Third Place: Ram 3500
The Ram 3500 takes the bottom spot in our comparison, though it does some things exceptionally well. We’ll start with the good and get to the bad.
FAST FACTS: 2015 Ram 3500
Engine: 6.7-liter turbo diesel with 370 hp and 850 lb-ft of torque.
Max as tested fifth-wheel towing: 23,250 lbs.
As tested price: $69,870.
Rear-end axle ratio: 3.73.
There is no one else in world of pickup trucks right now doing interiors better than Ram, especially when you add the Laramie Long Horn package and all the cowboy-themed niceties that come with it. Our tester was a Platinum-trimmed truck, which means it is top-of-the-line luxury without that southwest flair. Attention to detail sets it apart from the rest of the luxury crowd with fantastic feeling (and smelling) leather, a gorgeous gauge cluster with artistic flair and even fake barbed wire in the floor mats that I feel falls on the cool side of the thin line between cheesy and awesome.
It’s not just looks. There are also plenty of storage compartments easily within reach and an industry-leading infotainment system. It is sitting inside the Ram when its greatest attributes are apparent.
Where the cracks begin to show in this elegant beast is once weight is applied. Loading the four-grand worth of shingles into bed revealed the first problem area for this truck: the rear suspension. The Ram swayed side-to-side significantly more than the Ford and GMC while cornering, offering a marshmallow-inspired ride. Body roll was very prominent and the truck felt like it was at its limit even though the shingle payload was only heavy enough to represent 60-percent of its officially rated maximum.
Hooking up the fifth-wheel negated some of the marshmallow soft suspension feeling, but the truck still felt the least confident, not helped by the Cummins diesel under the hood. Here is where the numbers game begins to unravel. Despite being rated at 850 lb-ft of torque, the Ram feels lethargic. With and without weight, it will refuse to hurry despite what your right foot is doing. Throttle response is lackluster and even the brakes feel the squishiest of the three. Add on top of that a transmission that doesn’t seem to respond with any haste when asked to do anything and the Ram 3500 easily falls behind.
The data we collected doesn’t help either.
At the end of the second day, the Ram had the worst fuel economy average of the three, sitting at 10.5 MPG. Keep in mind that number consists of towing, hauling and runs on the drag strip, but all three trucks went through the same scenarios, so it is fair to compare the numbers. Running on our first empty highway leg, the Ram achieved an average of 15.9 MPG.
And how did it fare on the strip? The truck’s fastest quarter-mile run was clocked at 16.927 seconds when running empty and 23.581 with the 15,000-lb trailer attached. This was consistently the slowest of the three and it felt like it.
Second Place - Ford F-350
Each of the three trucks in our comparison were supposed to be duallies but unfortunately Ford sent a single-wheel and said, “take it or leave it.” With that in mind, let’s dive into this F-350.
FAST FACTS: 2015 Ford F-350
Engine: 6.7-liter turbo diesel with 440 hp and 860 lb-ft of torque.
Max as tested fifth-wheel towing: 15,899 lbs.
As tested price: $64,565.
Rear-end axle ratio: 3.55.
First, the insides are clearly the oldest of the three competitors and it shows. The recent rush to “soft touch” everything hasn’t been applied to this truck and it comes off feeling the most utilitarian with its mostly black plastic innards because of that. It’s also especially noisy, which adds to the lack of refinement. It easily has the noisiest cabin of the three. Overall comfort is acceptable, although the seat is a little harder than the other two. A dashboard-mounted storage compartment and a monstrous center console with six cupholders improves the functionality of this interior, but overall it still feels lacking compared to the competition.
A high-seating position is forced upon you in this truck, as the seat never feels like it can sit quite low enough. However, rear visibility was never a problem thanks to huge mirrors, one area where GM and Ram could stand to improve, not to mention the power fold and telescope feature.
The other big player in the numbers game, Ford’s stats stack up in the real world a little better than Ram’s do. Empty, this truck absolutely flies off the line, jumping to speed faster than most average vehicles. The F-350 also has the most balanced steering setup. Not heavy like the Ram or quite as light as the GMC, this truck finds the nicest compromise between the two. Applying the brake pedal also feels good with predictable performance and a pleasant level of resistance.
Once loaded, just about everything is the way you’d want it be. This truck did seem to wander about the road a little more than the other two, though that may be the result of the single wheel. That aside, dynamically the Ford feels solid under load and continued to deliver some of the best throttle response. There was no unwanted body roll or floaty feeling to speak of.
Loading the shingles into the bed did unearth one particularly annoying issue. The bed step that extends out of the tailgate has an accompanying handle which sits on the inside of the tailgate. Thanks to this handle, there is a large hump on the tailgate, directly in the way of our fork lift pulling the pallet out of the truck. We ended up bending the drop-in bed liner pretty badly because of it.
Fuel numbers clocked from the F-350 put it neck and neck with the Ram. Overall, the truck averaged 10.3 MPG, while our first unloaded highway stint saw us run at 16.5 MPG.
Despite the fact that it felt a little faster off the line than the other two, the F-350’s drag strip times posted in the middle of the pack. The best quarter mile we got out of this truck was a 16.542, while adding a trailer pushed the time up to a 23.303.
Ford’s F-350 is the antithesis of the Ram HD. It offers solid dynamics and a great powertrain coupled with a loud, old, bleakly styled cabin. Go for the Ram and you’ll get the most lavish interior, but the least refined powertrain.
There is one choice however, that offers the best of both worlds.
First Place - GMC Sierra 3500
If you were only looking at specifications, both the Ram and the Ford should be able to outdo the Sierra 3500. But somehow, even with about 95 lb-ft of torque less that its competitors, the GMCmanages to feel the best in the power department. Throttle response and power down low both feel exceptional. And while the engine deserves some of our praise, the real hero in this powertrain is the transmission.
FAST FACTS: 2015 GMC Sierra Denali 3500
Engine: 6.6-liter turbo diesel with 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque.
Max as tested fifth-wheel towing: 22,600 lbs.
As tested price: $67,548.
Rear-end axle ratio: 3.73.
With the way it shifts, you would swear there was telepathy at work inside the Allison transmission. While pulling weight, the downshifts complement the braking beautifully. Upshifts are quick and timed perfectly. Controlling the trailer on the long downhills is especially easy in the Sierra in no small part because of the intelligent cruise control, which does an excellent job of keeping the truck at a set speed through hilly roads. Add on top that there is no unwanted body roll or side-to-side sway to speak of and this GMC comes away feeling like the most confident hauler of the three.
The steering doesn’t quite stack up to the level of balance found in the Ford’s rack, but it still has a feeling of direct control despite being light in your hand. The Sierra’s segment-exclusive independent front suspension also adds to the direct, planted feeling in the front end of this truck.
Chevy’s new truck interiors are nice, and GMC takes it just a bit farther. Soft touch surfaces and easy-to-operate rubber-wrapped toggle switches offer a great tactile feel and the rounded edges of the dashboard and center console give off an inviting aesthetic. The Sierra Denali also has a digital gauge cluster, which is not only attractive, but a wonderful resource. All of the info you need, from navigation to fuel economy, is easily accessible, and the screen is customizable based on your needs. It’s controlled by another set of rubber wrapped buttons located on the steering wheel.
And truly sealing the deal is just how quiet this new interior is. Chevy’s trucks, from the half-tons to the mid-sizers, are some of the quietest in the pickup market, making it easy to for this big Denali to pull off the luxury feel. Multiple USB ports, 12-volt plugs and a proper 120-volt two-prong plug seal the deal when it comes to usability.
Our data collection also pushed the Sierra to the top of the heap. Overall fuel economy was clocked at 11.4 MPG over both days while the initial unloaded highway run managed to push the number up to a very impressive 18.2 MPG.
At the drag strip, the GMC proved once and for all that its lack of torque on paper means absolutely nothing. We clocked a 16.098 quarter-mile with the truck unloaded, while the trailer pushes that time up to 21.932 seconds, just over a second faster than its closest competitor.
General Motors HD’s simply offer the best mix of strong dynamics and interior quality right now. Add on the advantage in fuel economy, and this becomes a bit of a no-brainer. The 2015 GMC Sierra 3500HD is the clear winner of the 2015 Heavy Duty Shootout.