Each year, since 2006, the Canadian Truck King Challenge evaluates pickup trucks and chooses a winner. This year we evaluated the one-ton pickup trucks — despite this being a small slice of an automotive segment within another segment. As such you’d think it’s a small enough division to escape much scrutiny; certainly the lack of marketing publicity in Canada suggests that. Yet, we know the sales numbers are not as small as most would think.
According to DesRosiers Automotive Reports, the Honda Civic is the best selling car in Canada at 42,412 units year-to-date (YTD). However, the best selling truck is the Ford F-series with 74,362 sales (YTD). Now that includes all Ford pickups (and I’m not even adding Chevy, or Ram), but around 30 per cent of full-size pickup sales fall into the Heavy Duty segment. One-ton duallys are then an even smaller slice again, but on a percentage basis they outsell high-end luxury and performance cars across the country; and that’s a group that gets no end of attention in the media.
Now, for readers of Canadian Cowboy Country this segment is even larger because real-world testing of the one-ton segment is very important to you. After all, these vehicles work for a living — and how well they work is what your buying decisions are based on, not what colour the truck is. And, that’s why this year the Canadian Truck King Challenge decided to concentrate on this segment; for the folks that work with their trucks.
We tested the Ford F350 head to head with the Chevy Silverado 3500 and the Ram 3500.
Each truck was a crew cab, long box, 4WD, diesel-powered version equipped with a removable fifth-wheel hitch. Our tester vehicle’s were two 2012’s — the Ram and Ford — along with a 2013 Chevy. While we prefer to always have same year models we conceded that the Ford is virtually unchanged for 2013.
The Ram though is the exception as it will be substantially changed next year — but it’s also unavailable till 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, new air suspension and the like. Having the 2012 to test demonstrated not only the area’s that were lacking in the current truck, but also how it compared to both the Ford and Chevy that were both new in 2011. In essence, they offered us a truck doomed to lose — yet already knowing that they are going to change almost everything we could be critical of speaks to its competitiveness.
Testing this year was conducted in and around London in southwestern Ontario. The first day we ran the trucks empty from Toronto (200km) to London — then we hitched them to three similar fifth-wheel RV trailers. These weighed in at around 14,500 lbs each. We then spent the day doing a 400km tour with the five judges switching up every 80km. Each judge was able to spend at least an hour hauling with each truck — plus they rode as a passenger for two legs of the journey, as they were also asked to evaluate the interior design, comfort and conveniences in each truck from a crew perspective.
Interestingly the HD truck segment is really heating up — competition-wise. Of the trucks we had, the Ford and Chevy were all-new in 2011 and the Ram was new in 2010. Curiously though, as mentioned earlier, the Ram will be coming to us as an almost-new 2013 in the early spring. In the past, a short three-year run like this was almost unheard of. Trucks typically had a generational life-span of between five and seven years. Now, this market is changing. Competition is fierce; in part because you — the buyers — are demanding more and more capability. Payload and towing limits keep rising, engine power is growing while interior comforts and electronic conveniences are also expanding.
What all this means from a testing point of view is that we, as judges, work to put ourselves in your boots while doing evaluations.
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.
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 lbs. Roof Mart, an IKO company, in London loaded us up with pallets of shingles which weighed in at 4,480 lbs. The dimensions of each pallet were 4′ W x 4′ H x 5′ L. Watching the trucks drop under that weight was fascinating. We then set off on a 300km loop, down to Lake Erie and back, where we once again cycled through the trucks as judges.
So, what were the conclusions? Well, in short, we collectively came up with the following insights:
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 visually better, meaning that it sat more level under load, it squatted less, and in general felt better while driving. Ford also 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, smooth and the transmission flawless in its operation. Ford and Ram both registered minor concerns with their transmissions. Nothing serious, (during our testing) however some noticeable roughness in operation was felt.
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. The Cummins engine while very strong (torque-wise) was slow under acceleration.
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 was old, dated, and dash controls small and awkward — this is Chevy’s shortfall right now. So, while the Ford interior is superior, it’s 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.
To see the results of previous years pickup truck testing, visit www.canadiantruckkingchallenge.ca
Howard J. Elmer is a freelance automotive journalist, based in Brampton, Ont. His experience includes operating heavy trucks, recreational vehicles, snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, and even military assets. His education includes business studies at York University, a graduate diploma in Journalism from Humber College and a CTM (Certified Trucking Manager) designation. He is a past director of the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors, member of the Truck Writers of North America and current vice president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. He is also owner and founder of the Canadian Truck King Challenge. www.canadiantruckkingchallenge.ca