By Howard J Elmer
My private Iron Wood site in Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, is home to the annual Canadian Truck King Challenge, but most of the testing takes place on Canadian regional roads. We use a public 12-mile test loop that consists of a hilly gravel road, broken twisting asphalt and a smooth highway section. All the vehicles were 2014s except the Fords, which were 2013s. We take trucks out in groups of five and drive them round and round, switching drivers on each circuit until all five judges have driven all five vehicles. The trucks are always driven in the same condition: all empty, all towing or all with payload. We believe there is no better way to compare vehicles.
How They Pull
Payload this year was 1,000 pounds of patio stones on pallets. The trailers we used were twin-axle dumps and car carriers. Most of our trailers weighed in at 6,000 pounds, with one at 6,100 and another at 6,900. The smallest truck, the 2014 Toyota Tacoma, hauled 3,500 pounds. All the trucks hauled well, but the torque of the 2014 Ram 3.0-liter V-6 diesel with an eight-speed transmission stood out from the rest; also, its air suspension held the load level and firm on the road. The 2014 Toyota Tundra, while new this year and still powerful, feels like it suffers from a lack of chassis rigidity. The 2013 Ford F-150 generally felt good, with the biggest surprise to our judges being how well the base 3.7-liter V-6 handled payload and towing. The new GMs are clearly strong and their transmissions smooth, but we found the ride slightly twitchy under load, and several judges had steering complaints. On the fuel side, though, we thought it impressive how close the results were between the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado's 5.3-liter V-8 and the newer, bigger 6.2-liter V-8 — much more power but very little extra fuel consumption.
The off-road portion of our test has the shortest course. It's done on a half-mile-long trail I built myself. It offers muddy hills, rock-strewn fields, a water-filled trench and an off-camber test, which gets a few wheels in the air. It's about as tough as any real-world situation in which truck owners might find themselves, probably worse than 99 percent of most.
Three things stood out to us this year. First, as truck makers look for more aerodynamic advantages they keep adding length to the front air dams; we had several trucks scraping repeatedly throughout the course. Second, we really liked the mechanical locking rear differentials on the GM trucks; they worked quite well. During the off-camber portion of the course, the GM rear differentials were the only ones that locked up to prevent the airborne tire from freely spinning. Third, and this is a gripe that we've had for several years, the Fords still have the electrical trailer hookups below the bumper where they collect a lot mud, dirt and grime.
One technical addition we made this year was to install a data reader to each truck that allowed us to record actual, directly comparable fuel mileage during testing. We made a point of recording each truck in each of the different testing conditions — empty, loaded and towing. The resulting figures are as real world as they get.
The Heavy Duties
The HD trucks were tested outside London, Ontario. We towed 14,000-pound fifth-wheel recreational vehicle trailers over a 200-mile route and then stripped the fifth wheels off and loaded up 3,000 pounds of shingles, then set off on a 120-mile route. Each judge drove the three trucks back-to-back, rotating regularly. Last year's winner, the Silverado HD, did just as well this year; however, it suffers from an aging interior, small info screens and clunky software. (Mind you, we've already seen the 2015s, and they look to be a huge improvement — but we can only grade what we get.) Ram was in the same boat last year; we knew a new 2013 HD was coming but we had to test the 2012 truck that we had. This year, the 2014 Ram 2500 squeaked past the 2013 Ford F-350 Super Duty, which always has been a strong hauler.
Strangely three of the four Fords in our test had electrical gremlins when hooked to trailers. In fact, one had no power at the plug and then halfway through our towing loop, it simply came on. Another worked only on the emergency light circuit. A third kept telling judges the trailer was unhooked, though it wasn't, yet the lights and brakes worked fine. Weird.
In the end, we tested all the trucks in three different categories as thoroughly as we could. And the 2014 Rams did well, with the Ram 1500 4x4 Outdoorsman Quad Cab Pentastar V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission winning the Under $45,000 category; the Ram 1500 4x4 Laramie Crew Cab EcoDiesel V-6 with an eight-speed winning the Over $45,000 category; and the Ram 2500 4x4 Laramie Limited Crew Cab Cummins inline six-cylinder winning the Heavy Duty award.