KAWARTHA LAKES, ON – For the first time in the nine years of the Canadian Truck King Challenge's existence, the defending champs were invited to return and face the newest trucks on the market – and both the reigning Truck King and the top van in the 2015 competition scored best again in this year’s trials.
The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, last year’s overall winner, and the Ford Transit 250, which won the large commercial van category, topped the field again, this time outscoring 12 other entries in the 2016 Truck King Challenge.
Nine judges spent two days evaluating this year’s entries, driving each of the trucks and vans back to back over a prescribed route that included highways, and paved and gravel secondary roads with plenty of curves and grades to test each entry’s ride and handling characteristics.
Unlike any other testing programs, the entries were also subjected to evaluations with a heavy load on board, as well as hauling a trailer loaded with a tonne or so of concrete slabs (the total weight varying with the rated towing capacity.)
Then, to make things really interesting, the 4x4 pickups got dirty on a grueling off-road circuit, while the vans did laps in an urban environment – tight turns on streets and dodging though downtown traffic.
Overall, each entry logged about 370 kilometres in the hands of the judges. Throughout the event the vehicles’ fuel consumption – while driven empty, loaded and towing – was continuously monitored by data transponders supplied by Waterloo-based Fleetcarma.
The full-size pickup category had an interesting mix of entries, including two Ford F-150s – one with the 2.7-litre EcoBoost V-6 engine and the other with a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6 – as well as the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.
A last-minute arrival was a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado High Country powered by a 5.3-litre V-8 coupled to GM’s new eight-speed automatic transmission. In fact, it was the first Silverado in Canada with that tranny as well as the premium trim.
While I was assigned to the team evaluating mid-size trucks and full-size vans, I did have an opportunity to drive both the 2.7-litre Ford and the new Silverado. Both were impressive, with the small-displacement F-150 showing surprising muscle and excellent road manners, both on the highway and the unpaved secondary roads.
The Chevy, too, was excellent on all types of road surfaces, while its new transmission shifted smoothly up and down through the ratios. Its top-grade interior trim package, combined with its quiet cabin, make it an ideal choice for long-distance drives.
The diesel-powered Ram, however, continues to dominate in the full-size pickup segment. The 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V-6, churning out 240 horsepower and 420 lb- of torque, combines with a smooth-shifting TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission to deliver all the power a user will ever need, whether cruising or working hard – and it does this while posting best-in-class fuel economy.
In the mid-size pickup category, which is undergoing a revival with the introduction of the GM twins – the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado (plus the rumoured return of the Ford Ranger) – one of the new kids on the block grabbed the crown. The 2016 GMC Canyon was fitted with GM’s new 2.8-litre Duramax diesel engine and this turbocharged four-cylinder truly impressed the judges.
The engine cranks out 181 horsepower and an impressive 369 lb-ft of torque kicking in at just 2,000 revs. Whether it had a pallet of concrete slabs in its cargo bed or 4,000 pounds hitched to its drawbar, it never hesitated doing its job. The Canyon’s diesel four-cylinder is coupled to a six-speed Hydra-Matic 6L50 transmission, which performed flawlessly.
In addition to an integrated trailer brake controller built into the instrument panel, the Canyon diesel also has an engine exhaust brake, which helps reduce brake wear and improves vehicle control on downhill grades. The engine brake is a smart system that varies the amount of braking needed, depending on the load and grade.
The other entries in the mid-size category were the Canyon’s sibling, the Chevrolet Colorado, and the new Toyota Tacoma. The Colorado was powered by a 3.6-litre V-6 gasoline engine that performed well with payload and when towing, even though its towing capacity of 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) is 700 pounds less than the diesel-powered version's.
The 2016 Tacoma was equipped with the TRD off-road package and truly excelled in the rough stuff. It proved to be the most capable of any entry on the challenging off-road circuit at the Ironwood testing facility.
Full-size commercial vans
Seven commercial vans were entered in this year’s competition – four full-size models and a trio of mid-size units. Mercedes-Benz fielded a pair of Sprinter 2500s, one with the traditional two-wheel, rear-drive configuration; the other a new four-wheel drive iteration. Joining the category was a Ram ProMaster, as well as the defending category winner, the Ford Transit 250.
The ProMaster was the lone front-wheel-drive van in its category, which seemed to impact its handling when loaded, while its manual MT40 six-speed automatic coupled to the 3.0-litre EcoDiesel four-cylinder didn’t score well with the judges.
The Sprinters mounted the biggest challenge to the Transit, with the two-wheel-drive version the preferred choice between the pair. The ride in the 4x4 version was harsher and the higher ride height made access to the cab a real stretch.
In the final tally, the Ford Transit, with its 3.2-lire turbocharged Power Stroke five-cylinder, earned the judges’ favour. Its power output of 185 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque channelled through a six-speed automatic provided the grunt needed even when packed with a hefty payload. In town, it was easy to maneuver in tight spaces and congested streets – typical working conditions for a commercial van. On the highway, it cruised effortlessly and the ride was comfortable.
Mid-size commercial vans
The mid-size segment was comprised of the all-new 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris, Ram’s ProMaster City Tradesman, also just introduced to the marketplace, as well as the Nissan NV200, which won the category last year.
While the ProMaster City proved to be a significant challenger, the Metris emerged on top in the category’s final standings.
The Metris is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder with direct gasoline injection that generates 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This output is channelled to the rear wheels through a seven-speed 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission with Eco, Comfort and Manual modes and includes paddle shifters.
2016 Canadian Truck King Challenge winners:
Mid-size Pickup – GMC Canyon diesel
Full-size Pickup – Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
Mid-Size Commercial Van – Mercedes-Benz Metris
Full-Size Commercial Van – Ford Transit 250