By Joe Bruzek
Track testing four work trucks may seem like a vanilla experience considering these seemingly boring "tools with wheels" prioritize getting the job done over creating an individualized experience. But that's not what we found during our 2017 3/4-Ton Work Truck Challenge.
Accelerating While Empty
The 2017 Ford F-250 with the 6.2-liter V-8 gas engine is a workhorse with some serious horses under the hood. It shouldn't be as fast as it is, clocking zero-to-60 mph in 6.49 seconds and the quarter-mile in 14.75 seconds at 96.0 mph. Those are numbers similar to our testing of the half-ton F-150 Raptor with the EcoBoost engine. In this contest, the F-250 outran the 2017 Ram 2500, 2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 2017 Nissan Titan XD we tested at the same time.
Not only did the numbers show the F-250 was the fastest in this test, it felt noticeably quicker. Being fast doesn't make a work truck more desirable, but the amount of heft under the accelerator pedal gives assurance there's always power in reserve when hauling and trailering.
The curious part is that the Ford was considerably faster than the next fastest, the Ram, while putting down comparable power and torque to the wheels, and actually weighing 180 pounds more than the as-tested Ram. The Ford beat the Ram by nearly a full second to 60 mph and a half-second in the quarter-mile. So where did Ford hide the nitrous?
The secret lies in how its power and torque are managed. Ford says the new transmission is lighter and smaller than before and is better matched with this engine, which makes more power and torque at lower engine speeds than the outgoing truck; gear ratios are relatively unchanged. The result is quicker acceleration from low speeds, and it's something you can feel in the seat of your pants.
Ram's 6.4-liter V-8 was no slouch, however, accelerating the 2500 to 60 mph in 7.41 seconds and crossing the quarter-mile in 15.42 seconds at 92.0 mph. Traction was a nonissue with the Ram's limited-slip differential that helped gain traction from a stop and let the Ram pop off the line at wide-open throttle. The Ford required ginger application of the throttle from a stop to keep its open differential from spinning one tire on the pavement, but we were able to apply full power once the truck was out 60 to 100 feet. Ford's electronic locking rear differential on the F-250 is primarily for loose gravel surfaces and not dry pavement, while more traditional limited-slip differentials such as the Ram's and Chevrolet's tend to be more effective on pavement and let those trucks get off the line with less drama.
The Chevrolet was third fastest and pounced from a stop with no wheelspin, but it didn't set the world on fire like the Ford. It's exactly what you'd expect from a work truck in terms of acceleration: consistent performance on which you can rely but without any frills.
The Nissan with the gasser engine was a bit of a hot mess when it came to putting power to the ground in two-wheel drive; our Nissan was the only competitor equipped with four-wheel drive. On the track, it was almost as if the surface suddenly turned to ice while driving the Nissan in rear-wheel drive. With the electronic traction control on, the Nissan slowed considerably combating wheelspin, and with traction control off, it would spin a single tire a quarter-way down the track. Wheelspin was also an issue on the street where a little bit of throttle rounding a corner made the inside tire squeal and the traction control light flicker. Being tender with the accelerator netted times almost identical to the Chevrolet, but with a lot more effort to keep the tires from spinning. In the real world, however, it would be easy to slip the Nissan into 4WD; 2WD versions of the work truck don't include an electronic locking rear differential like the Pro-4X trim does.
Braking While Empty
The Ford also outperformed the others in braking performance, stopping in 144.4 feet from 60 mph. The F-250 brakes similarly to the lighter-duty F-150, with a confident brake pedal and stable composure during aggressive braking. What the Nissan lacked in acceleration, it certainly made up in braking performance, with the most carlike brake pedal of the group. The Nissan stopped in 146.9 feet with a firm, but not overly stiff, brake pedal and smooth, controlled braking.
The Ram's brake pedal traveled uncomfortably far during panic braking, and the truck didn't slow gracefully in the 148.6 feet it took to stop from 60 mph. Despite only stopping a couple of feet longer than the Nissan, the Ram's rear end wandered during aggressive braking. We didn't observe any oddities with the Chevrolet's pedal or poor stopping characteristics. It had a responsive brake pedal and slowed with composure but simply stopped longer than the other trucks at 151.0 feet.
Braking/Accelerating With Payload
Part of our testing included loading 3,300 pounds of payload into each bed and measuring acceleration and braking. Unfortunately, we don't have data for the Chevrolet because an antilock brake wiring harness melted during dynamometer testing and kept us from testing the truck until it was fixed late in the last test day. Then a technical glitch with our data-logging equipment erased the Chevy's data; it just wasn't meant to be. We omitted loaded braking and acceleration results from our scoring and judged the trucks on empty numbers only. Still, we have data for the other three trucks, so let's run through that.
Carrying 3,300 pounds is well within the Ford's and Ram's calculated maximum payload capacity, but the Nissan was overloaded by 680 pounds, and it showed. The first braking run with the Nissan smoked the brakes and filled the cabin with that overheated friction material smell (like a burning clutch). The Nissan stopped 10 feet longer than the others at 161.2 feet. The Ford, once again, stopped in the shortest distance at 150.5 feet and the Ram at 151.3 feet.
Loaded, the Ford was a second faster from zero-to-60 mph than the others, hitting 8.60 seconds versus 9.50 seconds for the Nissan and 9.68 seconds for the Ram. The Ford felt the least affected by carrying three massive sandbags in the bed, remaining responsive and punchy. We were surprised to see the Nissan post similar numbers to the Ram considering the Nissan weighed 380 pounds more than the Ram and this Nissan was seriously overloaded. The Nissan performed well accelerating overloaded. The gap between the Ford and the others lessened in the quarter-mile, with the Ford crossing the finish line first at 16.50 seconds at 86.0 mph, followed by the Titan XD at 16.88 seconds at 82.7 mph and the Ram at 17.03 seconds at 83.7 mph.
How We Conducted the Tests
We used a Racelogic Vbox II GPS data logger to record acceleration and braking performance. Quarter-mile acceleration numbers mirrored how a drag strip calculates quarter-mile times, including the 1-foot rollout method accounting for the distance a front wheel moves in the timing beam before rolling out of the beam and triggering the timing system, which is typically a few tenths of a second faster than not including rollout. Zero-to-60-mph times are raw times from a standstill and do not include a 1-foot rollout. All braking tests were performed on the same asphalt surface by accelerating up to a steady 60 mph and applying full braking power.
Cars.com photos by Angela Conners