2017 3/4-Ton Premium Truck Challenge: How They Towed

Group Sand Bags II

By Bruce W. Smith

Roll on to any work site where there's trailered equipment and odds are great you'll see three-quarter-ton diesel 4x4s, mostly crew cabs, handling the towing tasks. Many of those same pickups can be found hooked to toy haulers or recreational vehicles at camping areas on weekends. Those driving the upper trim levels of these favored trailer toters are likely upper-tier executives in the building and construction trades, owners of farms and ranches, or they run some other substantial business.

For our 2017 3/4-Ton Premium Truck Challenge, we had a diverse mix of trim levels and price tags, but each of the competitors were high-end, crew-cab diesel 4x4s. The 2017 Nissan Titan XD Platinum Reserve held down the low end of the price spectrum at $63,905 (prices include destination) and the 2017 Ford Super Duty F-250 King Ranch topped the range at $76,545. Right in the middle sat the 2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 LTZ Midnight Edition at $67,940 and the 2017 Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn at $71,300.

Group Sand Bags II

The question we had — despite the price differences, trim levels and on-paper capabilities — was how they handle towing a factory gooseneck hitch setup. Each of the four trucks was hooked to identical gooseneck-style, hydraulic-dump Load Trail trailers carrying five 1,100-pound industrial-size bags of sand that brought the trailered load weight to an even 10,000 pounds. That weight is about the same load a contractor would have when towing a small skid-steer loader or mini-excavator on an equipment trailer.

The trailered weight was also a good compromise test of the four trucks; it was just less than 2,000 pounds shy of the Nissan's maximum gooseneck towing capacity of 11,890 pounds and about two-thirds of the capacity for the heaviest hauler in the group, the Chevy with a max rating of 14,800 pounds. The Ford followed closely with 14,700 pounds, and the Ram checked in with a 13,070-pound rating.

Group Sand Bags II

All four trucks handled the trailer without any drama, which is why goosenecks are an excellent choice when towing loads that weigh 10,000 pounds or more; goosenecks spread loads out more evenly across the rear of the chassis with a bed hitch.

The Bad News

Driven by itself, without any back-to-back time in the other three trucks, the Nissan powered by the smallest engine of the group — a 5.0-liter V-8 Cummins — would feel like a nice tow rig. It was relatively stable towing near its maximum capacity; it moved the load along fine on level terrain, had excellent braking, and its all-around visibility and driving comfort were quite conventional for a truck of this size. It's power, however, was most disappointing. Even with the 3.92:1 axle ratio (the steepest of our group), the Cummins was quite slow to spool up, and when the power finally did arrive, the 310 horsepower and 555 pounds-feet of torque left the truck feeling underpowered with the 5-ton load; this was especially noticeable when going up any kind of grade. We also found a few situations (such as pulling into traffic or rolling up inclines) where the six-speed had some harsh upshifts and downshifts, sometimes giving us an unsettling lurch or clunk during shifts. Additionally, although the Nissan achieved the best fuel economy when empty (19.3 mpg), it had the worst fuel consumption when towing, recording just 11.5 mpg. If you do a lot of towing, that difference in fuel economy can add up quickly.

The old racer's adage, "There's no replacement for displacement," holds true when comparing these four HD 4x4 diesels. The Nissan's 5.0-liter just didn't have the muscle compared with the 6.6- and 6.7-liter turbo-diesels of the others; it needed to work a little harder under load to achieve similar results.

PUTCChallenge_ThreeQuart_Prem_davis

The Good News: Davis Dam

Group Sand Bags II

As for the Chevrolet, Ford and Ram — what we called the Big Three — they had enough torque on tap to flatten the steepest grades with a trailer in tow. We took each of our competitors to the Davis Dam grade outside Kingman, Ariz., to see how well they could pull up the steeper parts of the grade. If you can maintain speeds exceeding 75 mph (or more) pulling 10,000 pounds of trailer up a 6 percent-plus grade, you know there's a boatload of power at your disposal — and likely a little more if needed. These three trucks did that during our Davis Dam runs, with the Silverado clipping 83 mph at the end of our 1.25-mile test section.

The Duramax, Power Stroke and Cummins inline-six turbo-diesels also did a commendable job coming down the same grade. Maintaining a constant 50 mph on cruise control, their built-in engine exhaust brake and four-wheel braking systems smoothly adjusted without any driver input to hold. The Nissan required one manual tap of the brakes and a transmission downshift to maintain the selected speed, showing it was being taxed more and was less capable of maintaining a speed than the others.

Handling While Towing

In terms of overall handling while trailering, we found the Ford to feel the most confident and most capable with a heavy load; it's a true long-distance towing machine. It was stable on the twistier bits, it didn't feel the least bit taxed with 10,000 pounds trailing behind it, and everything packed into the King Ranch trim helped the driver relax.

The Chevrolet, although not nearly as well appointed as the others, was a towing brute with quick low-end throttle response and acceleration. Part of its superior performance was no doubt because it had the lowest (numerically highest) axle gear of the Big Three at 3.73:1 when compared to the Ram (3.42:1) and Ford (3.55:1). That same gearing, however, put it at a slight disadvantage in our fuel-economy testing, both towing and empty. The handling of this LTZ Midnight Edition with the Z71 Off-Road Package was an evenly balanced dance between steering, suspension and brakes; each was a lot more responsive and nimble feeling.

Group Sand Bags II

The Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn also sported an off-road package (as well as a live front axle), which made it one of the best handling on the twisty sections of highway, where dips and off-camber corners could catch a driver by surprise while towing. We found the suspension nicely damped for such encounters, keeping the truck and trailer feeling stable and smooth. A key trait of the 6.7-liter Cummins was how well the two-stage exhaust brake worked to control vehicle speeds. The full-on Manual mode made the Ram sound like a big-rig jake brake system any time our foot was off the throttle; the more flexible Auto mode had a similar, yet less intense effect when removing our foot from the throttle or touching the brake.

In the end, we could probably live with any one of the Big Three tow monsters. The Ford was the most relaxing to drive with the most technology, the Chevy's gearing made it the strongest mover up any grade, and the Ram's low-end torque and exhaust brake made it the most controlled. But for towing, you need big mirrors, a good exhaust brake, the right gears, maybe a surround-view camera and a good deal of "just-in-case" capacity. Although that doesn't make the winner of this Challenge the best choice for towing, it should give you a good idea of what stood out to us.

Cars.com photos by Angela Conners

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

Comments

Was a 3.73 axle not available for all the trucks? I don't understand why you never seem to try to put the same axle ratio in each truck. It totally throws off your comparisons and sort of makes it harder to compare the performance straight across.

Axle ratio doesn't mean much, unless you include transmission ratios & tire overall diameter(s)
Chevrolet: 3.094, 1.809, 1.406, 1, 0.711, 0.614, Reverse 4.48
Ford: 3.97, 2.31, 1.51, 1.14, 0.85, 0.67, Reverse 3.12
Nissan: 3.742, 2.003, 1.343, 1, 0.773, 0.634, Reverse 3.539
Ram: 3.23, 1.84, 1.41, 1, 0.82, 0.63, Reverse 4.44

@Johnny- The trucks are sent from each manufacturers test fleet. The Duramax only comes with the 3.73 ratio, period. The Ford and Ram trucks end up with closely matched GCW/tow rating. Further, the Cummins I6 power band is in a lower range, so the slightly smaller gear ratio is actually favorable.

@johnny, such is why you should only take tests like this as just that, a basis. All in all these trucks all preformed well, as noted by the testers, all three were livable, it most likely comes done to creature comforts, if thats your sort of thing.

I don't understand how you can possibly be "disappointed" with the Nissan's performance. You paired a completely inferior truck in a different class with three trucks that make up the entire "2500" class of HDs. Of course it was going to come in last.

Unless... you actually tested according to the tow RATINGS. Let's explore this:

It's obvious you get what you get from the manufacturers so the argument about axle ratios is moot. But you mention a 2/3rds ratio regarding the max gooseneck rating of the Chevy. Let's use that as an example. A proper test would load each truck with exact weight in RATIO to their respective max ratings. That way, each truck can be compared based on how they respond to the same percentage of weight for which they were designed.

Chevy - 14,800lbs x .67 = 9,916
Ford - 14,700 x .67 = 9,849
Ram - 13,070 x .67 = 8,757
Nissan - 11,890 x .67 = 7,966

Then, and only then, can you accurately measure parameters like acceleration, braking, downshifts, etc. If, for instance, a truck used more brake applications you can scientifically say that it has been under-engineered for its rating.

I don't know why nobody does this kind of testing. Again, you cannot compare these trucks based on power, axles, transmissions, or using a trailer that is the same weight across the board. You will be "disappointed." People need to know how EACH truck performs based on how it is designed. Not in unfair tests where too many variables consistently undermine results.

Goes to show how ignorant the people who test these trucks are. Pointing out rear axle ratio is irrelevant without transmission ratios. Just like how always pointing out the tundra's 4.30 in every test but fail to realize the transmission of other trucks are gear lower resulting in overall lower final gearing. smh

"Roll on to any work site where there's trailered equipment and odds are great you'll see three-quarter-ton diesel 4x4s, mostly crew cabs, handling the towing tasks"

I take it that the author has rarely ever been on a job site. 1 ton trucks are the truck of choice for work especially luxury versions of a truck.
Fleet queen basement dwellers are more likely to be 3/4 ton and gassers.

Thanks George. That makes it easy to do the math...
GM- 1st-11.54 6th-2.39
Ford- 1st-14.09 6th-2.38
Ram- 1st-11.05 6th-2.15
Nissan- 1st-14.67 6th-2.49

So the Ford (with this axle) and GM have the same final drive gearing, and wound up with almost the exact same fuel economy. Despite the bottom end gearing advantage, the Ford isn't faster, at least not at these loads.
The final drive advantage might have given the Ram the edge in fuel economy.

how is the ram with 70hp less faster towing?

Ram surprised me also being faster than the ford towing. That new clutch pak they put in the 68rfe must be putting more power to the ground than the previous version.



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