By Mike Levine, (PickupTrucks.com) and H. Kent Sundling (MrTruck.com)
We take truck-testing
very seriously at PickupTrucks.com because most people, when theyíre
looking to buy, canít try out a truck in exactly the way they intend to
luck finding a dealer who will let you drive a new pickup with a trailer
behind it, let you take it off-road, or provide similarly configured
competitive trucks to drive back-to-back with it. An empty 10-minute
surface-street and mile-long highway drive are the best youíre likely to
do before making this expensive purchase.
Thatís where we come
in. In our shootouts, we select the trucks and truck segment with the
most change, then test those trucks head-to-head in exercises that
reflect how theyíll be used.
Last year we examined
the latest crop of heavy-duty diesel pickups, all with new engines and
emissions systems built to meet tough new federal emissions standards.
We tested those plus Fordís new Super Duty pickups.
This year, we focused
on the latest batch of half-ton trucks. The field is a big one: there
are two new entries from Ford and Dodge that could make or break those
companies; Toyotaís recently revised Tundra; GMís updated trucks with
new six-speed transmissions and the most powerful V-8s in the segment;
and Nissanís five-year-old Titan Ė the oldest truck in the group.
How We Test
how we tested this yearís trucks: We asked each manufacturer to supply
us with 2009 model year four-wheel-drive crew cab trucks equipped with
the largest V-8 engine available. Which trim level to send was their
decision, but as the specs for each truck came in (including trim and
rear axle ratio), we shared the configurations we were receiving with
the other manufacturers so each knew what the others were bringing to
The Toyota Tundra was
the only 2008 model year truck in the group. We debated whether or not
to keep it in the Shootout, since all the other trucks were 2009s. Since
production hadnít started at the time of our test and there are no
significant powertrain or mechanical changes for the 2009 Tundra,
compared to the 2008 pickup, we it in the comparison.
We know how important
rear axle size is to full-size-truck performance testing, but it wasnít
possible to get trucks equipped with identical final drive ratios.
Different manufacturers donít build the same numerical ring and pinion
gears in the crew cab, four-wheel-drive, V-8 configurations we tested.
The Toyota Tundra only comes with a 4.30, the Dodge Ram 1500 only gets a
3.92 or 3.55 rear axle, the Titan only comes with a 3.36, and GM trucks
only come with a 3.42 rear axle. The F-150 had a 3.73 rear axle, the
numerically highest F-150 gearset offered.
We tested the trucks in
three locations: Quarter-mile level-ground testing happened at Milan
Dragway in Michigan; our fuel economy tests and general driving
impressions came on public roads and highways; and we used GMís Milford
Proving Grounds for hard-core trailer-towing grade tests, as well as
offroad, auto-cross, traction control and brake tests.
Using proving grounds
is important because they provide a location where we can repeat each
test under identical, controlled conditions. Special thanks to GM for
the use of its proving grounds -- as well as three identically loaded
6,500-pound trailers for testing -- and to all the OEMs for coming
through with the trucks youíll read about here.
Some may question why
we didnít set each trailer up to a uniform proportion of each truckís
towing capacity. Thatís because whether youíre towing horses, a boat or
a camper, when you buy your next truck itís got to tow the same load
your old truck pulled.
Testing was split up
into two components: empirical data collection (How fast did each truck
go?) and subjective analysis (How did the trucks feel?).
eliminate the possibility of bias or error in our empirical data
collection, we again hired Ricardo Inc. to instrument each of the
vehicles and ensure each test was standardized and executed identically.
Ricardo is a globally recognized automotive engineering and consulting
company. In the pictures accompanying this Shootout, youíll see the
vehicles running side-by-side in drag contests for subjective
comparison, but Ricardo collected data one truck at a time. Ricardo was
responsible for measuring the results of the trailer-towing grade test,
auto-cross, 60 to zero braking distance and wheel-travel measurement.
Each test was repeated by the same driver at least three times.
To share our experience
testing these trucks, we invited other media to participate with us.
MrTruck.com, Truck Trend, MotorWeek Television, the Detroit News and
Jalopnik all had journalists on hand. Kent Sundling, from MrTruck.com
cowrote this story with us.
We donít call it the
2008 PickupTrucks.com Half-Ton Shootout for nothing. At the end of this,
only one truck will be left standing as the Best Overall Half-Ton.
Silverado 1500 Crew Cab Z71 4x4
Chevrolet Silverado and its twin, the GMC Sierra, debuted as all-new
trucks just two years ago to rave reviews about their updated
engineering, capability and refinement. One important change, however,
was postponed at launch: The addition of a six-speed automatic
transmission. The 2007 and 2008 Silverado could only be purchased with
GMís legacy four-speed automatic. As youíll see in our testing, no
mechanical change has been more important to these trucks than the
introduction of a six-speed gearbox. It helps improve fuel economy by
offering an extra overdrive gear, and it helps towing by adding an
extra-low 1st gear to help get big loads moving fast.
Silverado tester came equipped with GMís 6.2-liter V-8 and the newly
available six-speed transmission. Before, the only GM half-ton with this
powerful combo was the luxurious GMC Sierra Denali. The 6.2-liter V-8 is
rated at 403 horsepower and 417 pounds-feet of torque, making it the
most powerful powertrain in the trucks we tested. However, it also
required premium, 93-octane unleaded gasoline to hit those numbers.
Silverado offers two distinct interior treatments: traditional
work-truck style ĎPure Pickupí or a luxury-inspired premium layout. Our
truck came with the premium cabin, highlighted by rich amber wood
accents and cream-colored leather seats. The instruments were laid out
intuitively, but the buttons were a bit small. We also found the climate
controls confusing. Both the driver and passenger can control the
temperature in their seating zone, but the controls for fan speed and
airflow are both placed next to the passenger temperature controls,
leaving the driver to reach over to redirect airflow from the floor to
the dash vents.
and Ford are the only manufacturers that offer integrated trailer brake
controllers, which are used to link a truckís antilock braking system
with a trailerís electric brakes for improved safety. The feature was
quietly introduced on the 2008 Silverado half-ton after debuting in GMís
heavy-duty pickups. We think this option is extremely valuable in
todayís half-ton pickups. What we didnít like about the Silveradoís
brake controller was its location. Itís situated on the lower left-hand
side of the driver, which isnít an intuitive location; most aftermarket
brake controllers tend to be installed on the bottom right of the dash
for easy access to manually increase gain when necessary for extra
braking or to brake the trailer manually, independent of the truckís
The Silveradoís ride
quality was very good. On good, bad and very bad roads around Detroit,
the truck always rode cleanly. It didnít bounce or side-step unless
cracks or potholes were very prominent. We attribute part of the
Silveradoís rough-road dampening capabilities to its new-for-2009
standard hydraulic body mounts. Theyíre available on every model.
Power from the
6.2-liter V-8 was always more than needed on public roads, even with the
truckís fuel-efficient 3.42 final drive ratio. We did notice a
difference in ride quality between the Chevy and GMC Sierra; the softer
shocks on the Silverado created a more compliant ride. Steering-wheel
input from road surfaces was minimal and turning effort was low.
Ride quality improved
with the 6,500-pound trailer behind the truck, but the margin of
improvement wasnít as noticeable as the high level of power the V-8
continued to provide. Towing acceleration was superb on public roads.
2009 Dodge Ram 1500 Crew Cab Laramie 4x4
really like the all-new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup and the innovations
it brings to the half-ton segment. Dodge clearly delineated the latest
Ram 1500ís capabilities from those of its heavy-duty big brothers,
keeping towing and payload ratings at the same levels as the truck it
replaced rather than pushing into three-quarter-ton territory, and
focusing on smart features like a coil spring rear suspension and lots
of built-in storage.
Ram we tested came with Dodgeís renewed 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, rated at 390
hp and 407 pounds-feet of torque. While new engine technology -- like
variable cam timing, more-efficient active cylinder shutoff and an
active intake manifold -- help improve the Hemiís power, emissions and
fuel economy, the Ram was still paired with Chryslerís legacy 545RFE
five-speed transmission. The transmission ratios are identical to the
old Ramís gearbox.
Laramie Ramís near-luxury interior was well-executed, with materials
that felt and looked good, and above-average ergonomics. Its interior
layout, along with the Ford-150ís, was better than every other truck in
the competition. Material quality was almost as good as the GM and Ford
pickups, and it was ahead of the Nissan and Toyota trucks. The Ramís
bucket seats were also excellent. They were supportive and comfortable
for long and short trips. The seats were also appreciated during towing,
as the Ram was challenged by the weight we had on the truck and we
didnít have to worry about the distraction of an uncomfortable seat.
Every truck should have a dash-mounted trip computer as easy to read as
the Ramís, but the separate 6.5-inch navigation and infotainment display
in the center stack was too small for a vehicle this large. We liked the
Ramís gated shifter in the center console, but not as much as we liked
Dodge doesnít offer an
integrated trailer brake controller option on the Ram, so we purchased
and installed an aftermarket controller to ensure we had maximum control
over our 6,500-pound trailer, whose weight was 90 percent of the maximum
towing rating for our truckís configuration.
a case of function following form, the Ramís dual exhaust pipes that are
attractively scalloped into each side of the rear bumper were annoyingly
warm during our frequent trailer swaps. In two-person teams of a driver
(to back the truck up) and a trailer attacher, the person who hooked the
trailer up worked in hot air and had to breathe fumes unless we let the
truck sit for a few minutes. Hot exhaust aside, the Ramís electrical
trailer connections were well-placed in the top of the rear bumper,
separated by the license plate holder and integrated step from road
grime and mud, in a similar manner as the GM trucksí bumpers.
The Ram and F-150 were
the only trucks with trailer-sway control for additional towing safety,
though the Ramís variable front-wheel ABS application for sway
mitigation wasnít as sophisticated as the F-150ís strategy, which uses
the truckís ABS system and trailer brakes to halt dangerous trailer yaw.
The Ram had the best
unloaded driving feel and stability of all the trucks we tested. That
wasnít surprising considering that its multi-link coil spring setup
seemed to easily control even the harshest vertical and lateral motion
from rough road input. Some who drove the Ram reported slight porpoising
on the freeway without the trailer, but the truck always continued in a
straight line. Empty acceleration was very good. The steering feel was
remarkably similar to the GM pickups, but road input felt more numb.
The Ram still handled
well when loaded with a trailer, but we all agreed it felt like its
handling was right at the edge of its maximum capability. We wouldnít
have felt comfortable towing more with this configuration Ė especially
if we hadnít installed the aftermarket trailer brake controller to help
stop the burdened Ram.
2009 Ford F-150
Super Crew Lariat 4x4
at the specs, the new Ford F-150 is a bit of a puzzle. Ford rates the
F-150 to tow the most in the segment (up to 11,300 pounds, depending on
configuration), but its 5.4-liter V-8 has the smallest displacement and
lowest power rating of the trucks we tested. The flex-fuel 5.4-liter is
rated at 320 hp and 390 pounds-feet of torque when running on E85, but
we used regular unleaded fuel for our tests, which meant the truck ran
at 310 hp and 365 pounds-feet of torque.
six-speed automatic transmission helped compensate for the V-8 engineís
shortcomings. We found it to be the smoothest, smartest shifter of the
trucks we tested.
F-150 Lariatís interior split the difference between a work truck and a
luxury cruiser. Textures and materials were very well-executed, and we
liked the silver-brushed-looking plastic that broke up the tan surfaces
and framed the driver, center stack and passenger zones. We did not,
however, like the faux-wood appliquť around the instrument panelís 55
climate, radio and information buttons and knobs. That was a lot of
buttons, used to control a lot of features, like heated and cooled
seats, entertainment, and to set up Fordís hands-free entertainment and
communications system, Sync, which was available even though the F-150
lacked a navigation system.
An interior feature we
appreciated was the placement of the F-150ís optional integrated trailer
brake controller. Ford placed it in the optimal position for frequent
towers Ė on the driverís lower right side, beneath the transfer case
ironic Ford could do so well at setting up the trailer brake
controllerís ergonomics, yet make it annoying to hook up a trailer. The
F-150ís factory receiver was positioned the farthest back under the rear
bumper of the trucks we tested, making it an
ďon-one-kneeĒ operation to connect the trailerís safety chains and
wiring harness to the pickup. Adding to the annoyance factor were
electrical hookups mounted 90 degrees off the trailer plugís natural
F-150 was well-mannered on the road without a trailer, though it felt
slightly more jittery than the Silverado and Sierra, and it was a long
way from the Ram. We noticed more skittishness on interstates, but the
F-150ís well-dampened, steady steering kept driver confidence high.
The F-150ís ride
quality found its zone with a trailer attached. It was well-planted at
all times. Again, the heavier steering -- especially compared to the GM
twins and Dodge Ram -- contributed to a high sense of control over and
confidence about the 6,500 pounds pulling behind us.
2009 GMC Sierra Crew
Cab SLT Z71 All-Terrain 4x4
Sierra was a virtual twin to the Silverado we tested, but outfitted with
GMCís All-Terrain package, which upgraded the high-end SLT trim and Z71
base offroad hardware with a handsome two-tone black and gray leather
interior, Rancho shocks, 18-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels and
body-colored body-side moldings. It was also optioned with a navigation
system. We felt GMís navigation system was better than the Ramís or
Tundraís. The Silverado, F-150 and Titan didnít have navigation systems.
thought the Sierraís wheels and tasteful chrome accents made it among
the most attractive trucks in the group, though the big rectangular
All-Terrain badging was a bit much.
Unloaded and loaded
ride and handling were similar to the Silveradoís, though noticeably
stiffer in back thanks to the more aggressive offroad shocks.
Trailer-towing ride and feel was virtually indistinguishable from the
Chevyís. Interestingly, our GMC tester didnít come with more aggressive
offroad tires, but rather had tires that were identical to the
2009 Nissan Titan
Crew Cab PRO-4X 4x4
Nissan Titan had the most aggressive four-wheel-drive setup of the
trucks we tested. The PRO-4X package was introduced last year, slotted
between the mid-tier SE and the high-level LE. It adds body-colored
front and rear bumpers, white-faced gauges and PRO-4X themed seats to
the Titanís optional offroad package, which includes GKNís
electronic-locking rear differential (thatís the same company that
supplies an e-locker to Ford for the 2009 F-150 FX4 and the 2010 F-150
SVT Raptor), Rancho shocks, 18-inch tires and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail
tires, plus two extra skid plates.
Titan has just one engine option: a 5.6-liter Endurance V-8 rated at 317
hp and 385 pounds-feet of torque. Itís paired with a five-speed
Although Nissan updated
the Titanís interior layout and materials for the 2008 model year, our
Titan was challenged with fit-and-finish issues around the glove box and
somber black and gray colors across the dashboard. The white gauges and
orange needles looked sporty, though. We really appreciated the Titanís
transfer case and gated shifter placement, which we felt allowed the
driver to adjust its offroad switchgear the quickest of any of the
trucks we drove. We also felt the gated shifter had the best layout.
Powertrain feel in the
Titan was excellent during acceleration, always providing lots of power
and early torque both around town and on the freeway.
doesnít offer an integrated trailer brake controller option for the
Titan and, unfortunately for our hands, it was the hardest pickup to
connect an aftermarket trailer brake controller to. It was plagued with
very-sharp plastic near the wire pigtails that the controller plugged
Similar to the F-150,
hooking up trailer safety chains was difficult. At least the trailer
connector sockets were right-side up.
Unloaded, the Titan
allowed high levels of road noise to make their way into the truck. Each
bump the truck hit transmitted sounds right through the wheel wells. As
anticipated due to its offroad-centric hardware setup, the ride was
harsh when the truck was unloaded. This isnít a truck weíd drive empty
across the country.
What we did like was
the feel of the Titanís powertrain. Its five-speed automatic
transmission seemed better matched to its engine than did the Ramís
Towing a trailer
improved the Titanís road manners considerably, but, similar to the Ram,
we felt like we were towing close to the truckís maximum capability.
2008 Toyota Tundra
CrewMax SR5 4x4
Toyota Tundra has had a rough go of it since its introduction in 2007.
The powertrain is awesome, and the Tundra was the first full-size truck
to give owners a six-speed automatic. Some of us felt it was nearly as
good as the F-150 when towing a trailer. But the Tundra lacked in other
areas, like interior friendliness and unloaded and offroad ride quality.
The Tundraís 5.7-liter
V-8 is rated at 380 hp and 401 pounds-feet of torque. Last year, that
was stunning. This year, for our Shootout, it was enough to make it just
the fourth most powerful truck, behind the Chevy, GMC and Dodge. Unlike
the GM trucks, which consume premium unleaded gasoline, the Tundra only
requires regular octane fuel to hit its full power ratings.
Tundraís interior was filled with hard plastic, which greatly cheapened
the perceived value of the $41,000 pickup. Ergonomics were poor, too.
Almost all the drivers said they had a hard time seeing all the dash
gauges at once, as theyíre seated at the bottom of tubes in the
instrument panel. The climate-control buttons in the center stack seemed
to be big just for the sake of being big. The cloth seats were middling
in terms of comfort, not providing enough lumbar support. We also had to
add an aftermarket trailer brake controller to the Tundra.
we all really liked the Tundraís tremendous acceleration feel, the
Tundra had the poorest unloaded ride quality of the group. We felt road
vibrations through the steering wheel on the interstate, and when the
truck hit potholes on surface streets it had a tendency to skip
sideways. It was so rough we thought we might need to seat-belt our
coffee in place. If we owned a Tundra, weíd keep a load in the bed to
calm the truck down.
Loaded ride quality was
the polar opposite of unloaded. The Tundra really seemed to come into
its own in that situation. If its steering feel had been slightly more
solid, with less corrective effort required from the driver, the Tundra
would have tied or beaten the F-150 in driver towing confidence. We felt
like we werenít even close to its towing maximum, and the trailer didnít
sway at all.
Compared to the less
powerful F-150, the Tundra was a screamer, especially in traffic
situations that called for acceleration to change lanes or maneuver. The
Tundraís six-speed transmission, however, wasnít as smooth or as smart
as the F-150ís.
Compared to the F-150,
which felt great towing, the Tundra felt like a rocket ship.