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The 2017 Canadian Truck King Challenge

Pickup trucks are put to the test in various challenges to determine their strengths and weaknesses


February 8, 2017
By Howard J. Elmer

Topics

The Canadian pickup truck market is huge. It caters to the multiple needs of work, institutional and personal trucks–sometimes all of them in one package. In fact, pickups that serve the workplace and family are becoming the norm–this fact alone makes choosing the right one simply that much more complex. Trying to offer buyers an unbiased perspective is one of the reasons that I started the Canadian Truck King Challenge 10 years ago. Since then, each year, my group of journalist judges continues to fulfill that original mandate: testing pickup trucks and vans the same way that owners use them.

This “real world” competition includes empty evaluations but more importantly testing while loaded and while towing. The judges are members of the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada; men and women who devote their entire year to driving, evaluating and writing about the Canadian automotive marketplace. Collectively, they brought more than 200 years of trucking experience to this year’s testing while driving a combined total of almost 4,000 kilometres, over three
long days.

This year judges travelled from Quebec in the east and British Columbia and Saskatchewan in the west to attend the event that takes place at a private 70-acre site in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario.

What did we test?
Each year the market offers up different trucks; often depending on what’s new. However there are rarely more than two new trucks in a given year, so we also look to fill out each group to offer a decent sized comparison. This year we had a field of 11 2017 pickup trucks; falling into four classes: mid-size, full-size half-ton and full-size ¾-ton that were tested in the Kawarthas. The full-size one-ton trucks were tested in London, Ont. a few days later. No commercial vans were tested this year as there was not enough “new” from what we did last year.

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The testing method:
Each judge drives every truck empty, then with payload on board and finally towing a trailer over this same route, one after the other, back to back. Yes, it gets repetitive, but this is the best way to feel the differences between the trucks. Trucks are scored in 20 different categories; these scores are then averaged across the field of judges and converted to a percentage out of 100. Finally the “as tested” price of each vehicle is also weighted against the average price of the group (which adds or subtracts points) for the final outcome.

 The route we use is called The Head River test loop. It’s a combination of public roads spread over 17 kilometres. It starts on gravel, moves to a secondary paved road and finally highway. Speed limits vary from 50 to 80 kilometres per hour, and the road climbs and drops off an escapement several times, giving good elevation changes–at its lowest point it crosses the Head River twice–hence the name.

 Finally four-wheel-drive equipped trucks (which all our entries were) are driven on an internal off-road course built for that purpose at the IronWood test site.  

This year the mid-size trucks carried a payload of 500 pounds and towed 4,000 pounds. The full-size half-tons hauled payload of 1,000 pounds and towed 6,000 pounds; while the ¾-tons towed 10,000 pounds and also used 1,000 pounds for payload. We choose these loads by taking into consideration the owest manufacturer set limits among each group of entries. The weights we use never exceed those published limits.

For the one-ton trucks we changed locations to London, Ont. Here we have access to two partners who loan us the weight and trailers necessary to test the big pickups. Patene building supply and IKO let us use 4,000 pounds of singles for payload, while CanAm RV centre lets us tow 15,000-pound fifth-wheel travel trailers.

Mid-size group:

  • Honda Ridgeline –  3.5L V6 gas, 6-speed auto, AWD, Crew Cab, Touring trim
    Price as tested: $47,090
  • Chevrolet Colorado –  2.8L Duramax turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, Crew Cab,  Z71 trim
    Price as tested: $44, 695

Between the two mid-size trucks, the Honda impressed the judges. As with anything new, it had an edge—while the Colorado diesel was a big splash when it debuted last year.  However, it wasn’t just the new factor that pushed its score past that of the Colorado. The prior generation of Ridgeline was a niche, quirky truck that appealed to a select buyer–this time Ridgeline has moved closer to the mainstream while retaining some of its unique characterises. It did most everything (payload, towing, even off-road) well and still offered the most “car-like” ride. The judges rewarded Honda for a significant generational update. Toyota opted not to give us a Tacoma (which we did test last year), and the Nissan Frontier was also not offered, no doubt because it’s in the last year of its current cycle before a major upgrade.

Honda Ridgeline:
final score of 75.5 per cent
Chevy Colorado:
final score of 72.2 per cent

Full-size – half-ton group:

  • Ram 1500 – 5.7L Hemi V8 gas, 8-speed auto, 4WD, Crew Cab, Sport trim.
    Price as tested: $58,110
  • Chevrolet Silverado – 1500 – 5.3L V8 gas, 6-speed auto, 4WD, Crew Cab, Z71 trim
    Price as tested: $59,890
  • Nissan Titan – 5.6L V8 gas, 7-speed auto, 4WD, Crew Cab PRO-4X trim
    Price as tested: $63,050
  • Toyota Tundra – 5.7L V8 gas, 6-speed auto, 4WD, Crew Cab, TRD Pro trim
    Price as tested: $60,025

The full-size, half-ton category is the meat of the market. In Canada it makes up slightly less than 80 per cent of total pickup sales. As such it is one of the most competitively fought over among the builders, and for us at the challenge it’s a segment that we annually consider carefully, as in, what to test.

This year we came up with an idea that should appeal to this large group of buyers. We asked each of the manufacturers to give us one half-ton—the one that was its best seller—as in the most popular combination of body style, trim and powertrain. This way we’d test the trucks that Canadians buy most often.

Some, like the Nissan Titan, are all new. Others like the Chevy and Ram are midway through their current lifecycle. Toyota chose to give us an off-road version of its Tundra: the TRD Pro. This is the newest truck they had; not really the most often purchased. But that was their choice to enter it. As you’d expect it did really well off-road. The other entries were exactly what we asked for. The Ram emerged as the judges’ choice for best all-round half-ton. However all the scores were close and the Chevy also did well.

Ford did not supply a test vehicle for the first time since 2006.

Ram 1500: final score of 79.4 per cent
Chevy Silverado 1500:
final score of 76.7 per cent
Nissan Titan: final score of 74.3 per cent
Toyota Tundra: final score of 73.7 per cent

Full-size – ¾-ton group:

  • Ram 2500 – 6.7L Cummins I6 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, Crew Cab, Laramie trim
    Price as tested: $86,830
  • Nissan Titan XD – 5L Cummins V8 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, Crew Cab, PRO-4X trim
    Price as tested: $64,950
  • Chevrolet Silverado 2500 – 6.6L Duramax V8 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, Crew Cab, LTZ trim
    Price as tested: $82,560

In the ¾-ton category, note each of the trucks was diesel-powered. As these are the most common big haulers being bought by Canadians, we stressed them by towing 10,000 pounds of concrete. The judges made a point of saying that under load was when they really felt how the trucks behaved. The scoring here was close as each truck did well, however, the Ram 2500 with the Cummins 6.7L diesel did come out slightly ahead. What was more interesting was the Nissan HD tied with the HD Silverado.  

The Titan XD is the lightest (GVWR) of the three trucks and has the lowest tow and payload limits. That is also reflected in its price, which elevated its overall score. These lower limits are not a disadvantage, though. If anything it means that the segment is growing and offering up more choices for consumers.

This was the first time we tested all new 5L Cummins diesel V8. Meanwhile it’s worth noting that Chevy’s veteran 6.6L Duramax diesel will be generationally updated next year.   

Ram 2500: final score 77.0 per cent
Nissan Titan XD: final score 74.9 per cent
Chevy Silverado 2500: final score
74.9 per cent

Full-size – one-ton group

  • Chevrolet Silverado 3500 – 6.6L Duramax V8 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, DRW, Crew Cab, High Country trim
    Price as tested: $83,390
  • Ram 3500 – Cummins I6 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, DRW, Crew Cab, Laramie trim
    Price as tested: $88,085

For the one-ton trucks we had a field of two. Again, we missed having Ford, particularly because its 2017 Super Duty trucks are all new. However, we still performed a full field of tests on the Ram 3500 and Silverado 3500. After a full day of driving both trucks back to back, the judges awarded the win to the Chevy Silverado 3500. Both trucks worked well. The key difference that judges noted was ride-quality when towing. They preferred the Chevy.

Chevy Silverado 3500: final score
75.1 per cent
Ram 3500: final score 71.8 per cent

Fuel economy data:
For the fourth year in a row, we have contracted with MyCarma of Kitchener, Ont. to collect and translate fuel economy data during the Challenge. Using data loggers plugged into the OBD readers of each truck, these results are as real world as it gets. The report gives the fuel consumption results for each condition during testing: empty runs, loaded results and even consumption while towing. The averages include each judge’s driving style, acceleration, braking and idling (we don’t shut the engines down during seat changes). The results are found here separately.

Conclusions:
It’s worth noting that all the trucks performed well, and as a group you’ll note how close all the scores are. If anything, this makes it tough for the judges to crown a winner because none of these trucks is “bad.” It also reflects on how fierce the competition is among the truck builders. Frankly, there are few segments where the profits per unit are higher, which compels them to bring their A game. This competition is good as it brings sharp, constant innovation. Consider Nissan. This year it’s a virtually new player in the market while others have brought significant improvements to powertrains. These changes give buyers an ever-widening range of choices. As for electronic conveniences and luxury appointments, the variety and range of content for 2017 continues to expand unabated.   

The overall winner of the 10th annual Canadian Truck King Challenge, with the highest collective score of 79.4 per cent, is the 2017 Hemi-powered Ram 1500. –