2017 3/4-Ton Work Truck Challenge: How They Hauled

Ram Load Work Truck 1 II

By Bruce W. Smith

Heavy-duty, regular-cab, long-bed pickup trucks aren't big sellers among the general pickup populace. It's rare to find someone who even gives these plain-Jane work trucks a second glance when walking among the dozens of decked-out crew cabs on dealers' lots — that's if there's even a no-frill's regular-cab truck on the premises.

It's contractors and others in the building and construction trades who need a work mule — a cheap, efficient, bare-bones, heavy-duty, regular-cab V-8-powered truck that can go into the field every day to do the grunt work. Tasks such as hauling barrels of diesel, delivering a pallet of track chains and rollers, or hauling a bed full of mulch or sod require stout suspensions and lots of muscle under the hood while providing a modicum of comfort and convenience to the driver and passengers.

That was our mindset as we planned our 2017 3/4-Ton Work Truck Challenge, during which we put the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 WT, Ford Super Duty F-250 XL, Nissan Titan XD S and Ram 2500 Tradesman through a battery of tests in Phoenix. All were model-year 2017 pickups.

We drove the contenders on a 111-mile fuel-economy loop that took us through the greater Phoenix area via city streets and interstates during the middle of the week, just as a contractor or business owner would on a typical workday. We drove the first loop with the beds empty so we could get a good feel for them as commuter/delivery trucks. Then we rolled into a home improvement store and loaded each pickup's 8-foot bed with two 1,100-pound bags of sand to give us a good idea of how they handled the same driving conditions in work mode.

A 2,200-pound payload is rather light duty for a three-quarter-ton pickup. But to be fair across the board, that kept the pickup with the lightest cargo capacity — the four-wheel-drive Nissan — within 400 pounds of its maximum calculated payload of 2,620 pounds. The two-wheel-drive Chevy could have handled another 1,080 pounds before reaching its 3,280-pound capacity. The ton-plus of sand wasn't much of a strain on either the 2WD Ford's 3,970-pound capacity or that of the 2WD Ram's 4,200-pound payload capacity, the highest of the group.

Driving Empty

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Ride quality may not have much bearing on the purchase of a work truck for many business owners. But it should. According to SAE International studies, the cabin environment has a direct effect on driver performance and fatigue levels. Basically, the worse the ride and comfort, the more tired the driver is going to be at the end of the shift.

Our four contenders proved that there's a direct relationship between payload capacity and ride quality: A higher payload means a stiffer ride. So, it was no surprise the Ram was by far the least favorite when it came to driving empty, with the Nissan being the one the judges would happily spend the most time in as a commuter vehicle.

All four of the work trucks kept the occupants fully aware of road surface conditions at all times. Broken pavement, railroad crossings, potholes, cracks and expansion joints were experienced with varying degrees of thuds, thumps and tremors welling up through the seat and radiating through the body as the stiff rear suspensions telegraphed every tire movement.

The Comfort of Weight

All that changed when we dropped those two industrial-size bags of sand on the floor of each bed. Nothing mellows out a three-quarter-ton work truck like loading up the rear suspension. The load also revealed how much (or little) was left in payload capacity, and how well the engines/transmissions were suited to such tasks.

For example, the Ram ($36,795 as tested) handled the 2,200 pounds with the grace of a power lifter. The rear suspension barely squatted when the bags were set down between the cab and rear axle. The ride, still on the firm side compared with the Nissan and Chevy, smoothed out; the interior noise levels dropped and all felt right behind the wheel. The engine and transmission — all trucks were slipped into Tow/Haul mode for this portion of the test — worked smoothly, with no gear hunting or feeling like there wasn't enough power to do whatever was needed. It was easy to see that the Ram could easily haul another 1,000 pounds of cargo with ease. The brakes and throttle feel were heavy. As for ergonomics, the Tradesman we tested was spartan, but it was definitely a strong work truck.

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The Ford, with the second highest payload capacity at 3,970 pounds, felt similar to the Ram on some levels and far better on others. Although its suspension moved down a little more than that of the Ram, the load settled down the Ford's jittery unladen ride more so than the Ram. The load also brought to light the strength of the new, lightning-quick, fuel-friendly 6.2-liter V-8 and the smoothness of the six-speed automatic behind the new power plant. This was by far the sportiest of the work trucks, with the muscle to carry or tow whatever load needs to be moved quickly and efficiently. Visibility was excellent, from the nice towing mirrors to the view forward and over the shoulders. The XL also had a few more creature comforts than the Ram Tradesman and carried a $1,400 higher price tag at $38,220. Day in, day out, this package would be sweet in a fleet.

Chevrolet's Work Truck can carry about 1,000 pounds less than the Ram and 700 pounds less than the Ford, and its handling — loaded and unloaded — felt the nimblest of the four. What set the $37,040 WT apart from the others was that it was equipped with a backup camera and had an adjustable driver's seatback along with power mirrors, locks and windows. Such niceties help reduce driver fatigue and improve safety around job sites and in city traffic. The rear suspension could use better shocks, but it still handled the ton-plus payload easily. The 6.0-liter GM engine was noisier than the other V-8s under hard throttle, and the brakes with a load were a bit touchy. All in all, it was a well-equipped work truck that was more than up to the hauling task we devised.

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Nissan wanted to build a pickup that fit in between half tons and three-quarter tons, and it hit that goal with the precision of a world-class archer in the XD. If you need a light-duty three-quarter ton or a heavy-duty half ton, the XD fits the bill. Unfortunately, when competing in a work truck comparison, being on the low end of the work specs isn't a good thing. The Nissan's 2,620-pound payload capacity was anemic compared with the others, and it was the heaviest of the group with a scale weight of 6,180 pounds. The 2,200 pounds of sand made the suspension feel like it was getting close to its limit with more body lean than the others, while the transmission made the engine feel sluggish to respond. Additionally, the transmission hunted more than the others with the load, too, so driving in morning traffic almost necessitated using the manual-shift mode, especially in the 30-to-40-mph range. On the positive side, the 4x4 XD would make a good daily driver/commuter work truck because the unladen ride was the best of the four we tested, and the Nissan V-8 delivered better fuel economy than either the Ram or Chevy. The brakes felt excellent, the steering was light and precise, and interior noise levels on city streets seemed the quietest of the lot.

Judges' Choice

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When the test drives were over and final numbers were tallied, our judges looked at each pickup in the same light as a business owner would when choosing a work truck for his or her fleet. Load-carrying ability, along with fuel economy and ride quality, figured heavily in our scoring. Some work truck buyers might shift emphasis depending on the type of work they do, which showed up in how our expert judges voted.

In judges' scoring that evaluated the pickups across 10 subjective categories — bed features/access, interior layout, interior quality, interior comfort, how they hauled payload, how they rode empty, visibility, acceleration with payload, braking with payload and value — the Ford was the clear winner with 736 points, followed by the Nissan (695), the Chevy (694) and the Ram (634).

Cars.com photos by Angela Conners

Overview | Track Testing | Payload | Daily Driving | Dynamometer Testing | Results

Comments

Chevy is garbage.

The 6.2-liter GM engine was noisier than the other V-8s under hard throttle

@PUTC

It's confusing to see this truck described in the Dyno report as having a 6.0 engine and then described in this report with a 6.2 engine.

Clarification please?

@papajim -- You are correct. Our mistake and fixed now. GM's 6.2 V-8 is only available in the half-ton pickups; it's the older 6.0 V-8 in the HD pickups. Good catch.

@PUTC: was the Ram when loaded down running in tow haul mode?

Two 1100 pound bags of sand?

It will be interesting to see how the new Super Duty F-150 compares to the Nissan XD. Better still, I'd like to see how regular F-150 compares to the XD--you can get one that carries 3,300 lbs.

@papajim -- You are correct. Our mistake and fixed now. GM's 6.2 V-8 is only available in the half-ton pickups; it's the older 6.0 V-8 in the HD pickups. Good catch.

Posted by: Mark Williams | Mar 20, 2017 10:28:04 AM

No worries Mark. I understand, once you've driven the GM 6.2 it hard to get it out of your head.

"The Chevy"....felt the nimblest of the four. What set the $37,040 WT apart from the others was that it was equipped with a backup camera and had an adjustable driver's seatback along with power mirrors, locks and windows.

Translation: the truck that everyone wants to drive.

NO wonder, the 6.0 in this truck is a huge fail for Chevy. Good catch Papa. That engine is absolutely horible

Interesting results. Not that they're the same level of truck, but TFLTruck just tested the Big 3's 3500 duallies on I-70 in Colorado. The results were quite a bit different - GM then Ram then Ford. Though, those were fully otioned trucks and these are obviously work-oriented standard cab strippers.

NO wonder, the 6.0 in this truck is a huge fail for Chevy. Good catch Papa. That engine is absolutely horible.

@Nitro, let's be fair.

The four-inch 6.0 Gen 3 and Gen 4 motors were very competitive 15 years ago.

Back then RAM didn't have the HEMI and Ford only had the 5.4 two valve SOHC motor. Toyota's V8 was the now-discontinued 4.7 and Nissan only had a V8 in some Infiniti models IIRC.

A lot has changed since then and I guess gasser 3/4 Ton trucks aren't high on GM's priority list for development dollars. They are the fleet model trucks and the top dollar buyers in this market are plunking down the big bucks for the awesome DuraMax diesel.

A 1977 Chevrolet C20 with over 3000 pounds payload (8200 gvwr) had a pleasant ride to me with aftermarket shocks.

@Mark Williams , So we only get additional points for the best payload when Ford had it on past testing? lol Tell Mike I said hi.

@PISTON1246

The old Chevy C20s!

I learned to drive big trucks in an old 1600 International Harvester w/ four speed stick and 1-ton chassis, duals in the rear, dump body.

The 1600 was not a soft riding truck and you can be sure it had crank windows. Also had a PTO and a 2 speed rear.

My memory is sh*t these days but I think those trucks had 305 Chevy v8s. Leaded regular. No radio. No A/C

It was very easy to change the spark plugs or the oil filter because there was nothing else under the hood. It was even possible to stand up between the radiator and the engine block but I only weighed 160 pounds in those days.

Ram wins again. More truck for less money. And with the tow haul mode off the engine goes down to four cylinders. So no test for that? lol No testing auto cross ever since Ram won that one with the rear coils. Ford is SAGGING. Definitely affects handling when loaded or pulling a trailer. Half @$$ed test with no towing because again Ram gives you more for less.

So tell me Ford boys whats new with the 6.2L? No cast iron block? No cylinder deactivation? No EGR? We already know what happens when you load brick, stone, concrete in the bed of the all aluminum beer can F 150 so now you get the same garbage with the F 250. lol

What in the world are you talking about hemi? The Ford 6.2L walked all over that 6.4L. No EGR valve? Really? What kind of dumb comment is that?

Did you even look up what the block is made of? Cast iron!

That ram got out done in performance, mpg, and ride.

Just for you hemi

When driving the Ram without payload, the ride was punishing and sometimes unnerving if it hit a pothole or other road irregularity when navigating a turn

OK, I had time to read it better, my mistake, I answer my own question.

I don't know why they're using tow haul when they put 2200 pounds in the Ram, it's not really needed, but I guess they thought that they needed to do that for a little bit of weight. Sometimes the manuals tell you that you need to do that, I think it's overkill.

Anyway, the reason I asked is this: the Rams gas mileage loaded drop because it was running in 5th gear. The other trucks when in tow haul will let it go to top gear.

Not only does this higher the cruise RPM of the Ram, it also locks out the Multi Displacement System that shuts off 4 cylinders.

Couple that with the fact the Ford needs a Michelin green X Tire that is smaller, (less weight to turn, less rolling resistance) and there is fuel mileage.

Run the same test with the Ram in drive with both trucks using a similar tire, and they would be about the same. The base Ram comes with a 245/70 17 that will be more stable than the Fords 245/75 17.

That is if you opt not to get the chrome package, which I'm not too sure very many work oriented people would just get the chrome package? Just for the sake of chrome bumpers, grill, and taller tires?

The taller tire shouldn't even be on the chrome package, because it is a separate issue by itself!

But anyway, someday Ram will program the truck to where it can run in tow haul in drive, top gear, not 5th, and the people will understand that the gas mileage can be there.

When I had my 2010 Ram 1500 4x4 quad cab in 2011 and I was bringing back an additional 7,500 pounds or so, maybe 8,000, to Arkansas from Colorado, seen as hell most of the time I was on a flat stretch of road, until I made it to Springfield Missouri, I did not need the tow haul to keep it in a lower gear, at speeds of 65 to 70. And it was good for more than 10 miles to the gallon.

But I guess it's the interpretation of the testers?

TRX-tom, it seems to me that fiat knows that transmission and figures it will fail if it is used for work in 6th gear. So they lock it out like you said. Why else would they lock out 6th gear when no one else does it unless it is to keep the transmission from failing.

FYI Tom, all other trucks had the same sized tires except the ram and same load rating. Michellen is a top brand tire so that is actually a bonus for the Ford that no other truck offered. Firestones are a basic cheap tire. Nothing i would want.

FYI Joe, the idea of putting any trans in overdrive lockout (Dodge 4 speeds) Or limiting the overdrive to the 1st one, and not the lower numerical on is to prevent hunting gears.

If you ever hauled 9,000 or 10,000 or so pounds you might understand it better.

Or maybe you lack experience and a hilly area, in which the tow haul is advised.

It would be better suited for that purpose.

Last time I was out around Phoenix I didn't find it to be very hilly.

But you can believe whatever you want, and that Ford in GM transmissions don't fail I know better, lol!

A friend of mine with a Duramax had his truck in the shop not too long ago for the Allison Transmission!

Yes, Michelin are fine tires!

But do we need Green X low rolling resistance tires on a truck? A 4x2 needs all the traction it can get.

Apparently Ford does, at least for the sake of winning gas mileage shootous,, when people take ownership they will probably change them out and put a real tire on there.

Is it a good comparison? I mean a truck with a low rolling resistance tire to a truck without a low rolling resistance tire?

It's a coincidence that Mark Williams said something about the electronic limited-slip in the Ford only good for not getting stuck in gravel. Because with that green X Tire, I could see you getting stuck in gravel! You will need a buddy to come along and pull you out!

I'm not so convinced that their electronic limited slip is so good if they were having trouble launching the truck?

Realistically, they request a truck for testing and that may not always be an equal test. They get three or four trucks, and they just test them how they come.

You can get the same tire but in a 245 70 17 (more stability than the Ford 245 75 17) on a Ram if you chose not to get the chrome package, and it would probably equal the two out, that is my point.

As far as your comment about Firestone, maybe you're a lifelong Ford person? Ford can't deal with their own problems from their Exploders so they blame it all on Firestone.

Really Tom? That's all you tow with an auto transmission. I have towed way more than that with both gas and diesel. I'm sorry but your comment was embarrassing for you.

Well then you would know better to lock out the top gear.

Good for you.

But then, crazy people are out there....

I'm embarrassed that you're standing up for low rolling-resistance tires on a truck.

They're pretty good on a sedan that only sees highway mileage.

@TRX-4 Tom

Agree regarding the tires. As soon as I saw that three of the four trucks had one brand, and the Ford had a distinct brand of its own I was wise. There are a number of issues I have with the metrics and the methodologies we see in these PUTC comparisons.

Like comparing a 4x4 Nissan when everybody else has 2wd. RAM has had its share of reliability issues in recent years but the 2500 is a hell of a fine truck.

You're doing a work truck test and the RAM loses because it has the most cargo capacity? I thought the work truck winner would be the one that can do the most work. Maybe you're perception has been distorted by high end luxury trucks too much.

Well then you would know better to lock out the top gear.

Good for you.

But then, crazy people are out there....

I'm embarrassed that you're standing up for low rolling-resistance tires on a truck.

They're pretty good on a sedan that only sees highway mileage.


Posted by: TRX-4 Tom | Mar 21, 2017 2:42:26 PM

I can tell you are not a very experienced person that tows or even hauls. Maybe you have been conditioned to inferior FCA transmissions. Towing or hauling in final drive is not bad at all. A properly calibrated transmission will detect if it starting downshifting often. For instance, hills. It will then hold a lower gear longer in anticipation for the next hill or downshift. It appears FCA products are not that good. Even though that ability has been out in the market for 10 years now. So I guess if you have an FCA truck you need to continue to worry about the transmission as their history has proven.

For tires, Michellen tires are far superior to firestone tires. They have the same load ratings, they are a much more comfortable tire and just pain kicks firestones butt. Remember firestones are a cheap budget tire that pretty much gives you rubber on your rims. They are cheap junk.

You're doing a work truck test and the RAM loses because it has the most cargo capacity? I thought the work truck winner would be the one that can do the most work. Maybe you're perception has been distorted by high end luxury trucks too much.


Posted by: juanfo | Mar 21, 2017 5:56:18 PM

It lost because it doesn't do anything well. Just has a higher advertised payload. Braking proved it otherwise.



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