KAWARTHA LAKES, ON – It’s unlikely these days you’ll find a bad new truck in the marketplace. The automotive industry has raised the bar for all its products, regardless of the brand.
Still, like their people-toting car cousins, some trucks do some things better than others. Sometimes the difference is obvious; other times the edge can be quite subtle.
Automotive journalists review vehicles to help consumers make informed decisions when contemplating a purchase.
With cars, crossovers and sport utility vehicles, it’s a relatively straightforward process – drive the vehicle for about a week, using it as the average person would do, then leaning on their accumulated expertise as reviewers to evaluate and share their opinions with their readers or viewers.
Doing a review of a truck, however, is far more challenging. Trucks are not only used for pleasure, but are also expected to work – and how well the vehicle does both jobs is often difficult to assess.
The manufacturers post their claims regarding a truck’s work capabilities, but rarely do reviewers have access to the "tools" required to properly evaluate whether the vehicle meets those expectations.
Truck King Challenge
Truck guru Howard Elmer recognized this issue and set out to resolve the problem by organizing the Canadian Truck King Challenge.
Next, loaded trailers – this time weighing 2,722 kg – are hooked to the hitch to see how well the truck tows. Both are functions most truck buyers expect in their vehicles, yet these are evaluations that are difficult to complete during most typical review testing.
During the entire testing process, fuel consumption is also monitored. This year, for the first time, each truck was fitted with a device that accumulated data such as speed, idle time and throttle use.
The type of testing conducted during the event is severe, but it truly reveals the strengths – and weaknesses – of each truck. While they all look showroom-shiny when they start the Challenge, they look like they’ve been well worked when it’s over. And that’s the key to this program – it determines how well each truck can work.
Five brands reperesented
Sixteen trucks representing five brands were entered in the 2014 Canadian Truck King Challenge. This year’s list of entries was especially interesting as most of the manufacturers were debuting completely new models and/or significant new features and technologies.
The Under $45K half-ton category was comprised of the 2014 Toyota Tacoma powered by a 4.0-litre V-6 engine (price as tested was $35,973.95); a 2014 Ram 1500 with a 3.6L V-6 ($44,860); the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado with a 5.3L EcoTec3 V-8 ($41,935); its GMC sibling, the 2014 Sierra with the 5.3L V-8 ($43,680); and the 2013 Ford F150 with a 3.7L V-6 ($44,504.)
Entries in the Over $45K half-ton class were the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali powered by a 6.2-litre Ecotec3 V-8 engine ($65,585); the 2014 Chevy Silverado High Country, also with the 6.2L V-8 ($60,745); a 2014 Toyota Tundra Platinum with a 5.7L V-8 ($53,834.45) and a 5.7L V-8-powered Tundra dressed in 1794 trim ($54,134.45);
The three entries in the heavy duty category were a 2014 GMC Sierra 2500 with a 6.6L Duramax V-8 diesel($77,165), a 2014 Ram 2500 6.7L Cummins turbo diesel ($81,390) and a 2013 Ford F350 6.7L Powerstroke diesel ($80,980.)
Two test sites
The testing was conducted at two sites, with the light duty entries evaluated over two days of testing at Elmer’s Ironwood facility near Head Lake, Ontario.
The heavy trucks were put through their paces during a two-day session in the London, Ontario area. In the first segment, all three trucks were hooked up to large, 6,350-kg, fifth-wheel travel trailers provided by London RV dealer Andrew Thomson of Can-Am RV Centre and driven over a day-long loop that included multi-lane highways and secondary country roads.
Day 2 testing focused on performance with a payload, with each truck carrying a 1,360-kg palate of singles, borrowed from Patene Building Supplies in London. Again, the drive loop included a variety of highways and secondary roads – just as each truck would face in the real, working world.
Ram crowned Truck King
After more than 4,000 kilometres of testing on-road and off, the five judges taking part named the 2014 Ram 1500 powered by the brand’s new 3.0-litre EcoDiesel as this year’s overall Truck King.
In the final scoring results, this diesel half-ton with an eight-speed automatic transmission and air suspension earned the top score in the competition with 83.87 points, as well as winning the Over $45,000 class.
The accolades for the Ram brand continued – a 2014 Ram 1500 fitted with a 3.7L V-6 and eight-speed automatic earned the top score in the Under $45,000 category, while another Ram – the 2500 Cummins Turbo Diesel – outscored the competition in the Heavy Duty class, making it a clean sweep for Ram this year.
"The sweep of the 2014 awards by Ram shows just how hard this group has been working," Elmer said. "While many scores were very, very close, Ram did edge out its competition in all three categories with quality, styling and innovative powertrain choices – like the new three-litre EcoDiesel and the eight-speed transmission."
As you’d expect, Chrysler Canada officials were thrilled by honours earned at this year’s Truck King Challenge.
"Besting the competition here only emphasizes the breadth of capability, efficiency and technology the Ram team has worked tirelessly to build into every one of our truck offerings," said Chrysler Canada president Reid Bigland, who is also the president of Ram Trucks.
"A third-party endorsement, whether it be winning Truck King or being named 2013 North American Truck of the Year or a 2013 Consumers Digest ‘Best Buy’ is largely why Ram Truck has been shattering monthly sales records and leads the Canadian pickup truck market in conquest sales in 2013."
The parity among truck brands becomes more obvious when you compare the final scores in the three categories.
As mentioned, the half-ton segment was a tight battle, with GM’s Chevy just a tick behind the Ram duo. Its Sierra sibling was fourth in its class and fourth overall with 79.26 points, while the two Fords and the pair of Toyotas were in a very tight cluster, separated by just 1.99 points.
In the heavy duty group, the one-ton Ford was just .36 of a point behind the winning Ram.
The final scores reflect the fact it’s often only minute differences that separate one brand of truck from another.
In the case of the Truck King Challenge, 24 elements on each truck were evaluated, including subjective points such as interior and exterior styling and quality; occupants features such as driver position and ergonomics, visibility, cabin room, level of comfort, ease of access and egress, noise, vibration and harshness; performance qualities such as throttle response, engine and transmission performance, and the truck’s dynamics, including ride, handling, steering response and braking feel.
Objective considerations included acceleration, braking performance, passenger space safety features and overall cargo capacity. Values were also assigned to each truck’s payload, towing and off-road performance.
Ultimately, the final decision for truck buyers hinges on which vehicle best suits their particular needs, but armed with information gleaned from the Truck King Challenge, buyers will be more aware of the pros and cons of the candidates on their shopping list and be able to make an informed decision.