2017 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Pickup Challenge: How They Towed

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By Mark Williams

Any truckmaker worth a hoot understands that most buyers in the heavy-duty pickup truck class have a reason for purchasing a heavy-hauling one-ton diesel. And in some cases, they own several types of trailers used to haul a variety of loads and/or important work or play toys.

2017 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Pickup Challenge

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

If you talk to Ford and GM representatives, they'll tell you their towing strategies are the best, but that's not good enough for us. We needed to see how the 2017 Ford Super Duty F-350 Lariat and 2017 GMC Sierra 3500 Denali work in the real world. So for our 2017 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Pickup Challenge, we took the competitors to the Davis Dam grade in Nevada with a 50-foot 19,500-pound Big Tex car carrier gooseneck trailer attached to the back end to see how they handled the grade in both directions — up and down. Here's what we found.

Davis Dam Hill Climbs

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We did flat-out, wide-open throttle runs near the base of the Davis Dam grade, a 12-mile run on state Route 68 from Bullhead City, Ariz., at an elevation of nearly 500 feet to the Union Pass summit at 3,500 feet. At the end of each run, we found our trucks were separated by mere seconds. The GMC ran the route in 10 minutes, 28 seconds, with a top speed of 66 mph, a minimum speed of 52 mph and a speed at the Union Pass finish line of 62 mph. The Ford did it 6 seconds slower (a separation of less than 6/100ths of 1 percent) with identical — according to the vehicle's readout — top, minimum and finish-line speeds. In this hill-climb trailer test, these two trucks were equal to the task but our hat tip goes to the GMC because how they handled the load and informed the driver with towing-related data was not identical.

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Both trucks had all the right technology and impressive torque ratings to make them strong performers: more than 900 pounds-feet of torque, strong turbos, integrated trailer brake controllers, towing mirrors, etc. But when it came to pulling up the hill, it was the little things that seemed to separate them.

For instance, the Ford offered more readout information than the GMC to help the driver monitor the vehicle and engine. In fact, the GMC did not allow the driver to see what the tire pressures were or the performance level of the turbo, and there wasn't a camera to monitor what was happening in the bed of the truck. However, it did offer the brake-controller switch in an easy-to-reach-and-see location, unlike the Ford, and the GMC's variable-vane turbo was a mighty strong puller off the line and pulling up the steepest parts of the grade. There is a wireless camera option that can tie into the GMC's backup camera system.

Braking

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More importantly, we found GM's new exhaust brake — which offers on or off choices — was exceptionally well-integrated into the Allison 1000 transmission's aggressive grade-braking software, the dramatically effective Tow/Haul mode and even the cruise control. We got the most control from the GMC truck-and-trailer combination by using the cruise control, having the exhaust brake and Tow/Haul mode on, and adjusting speeds up and down from the steering wheel as the terrain or hills changed. It took some practice to dial in this driving strategy, but the new turbo was plenty quick and effective at slowing the weight and speeding up the truck as needed.

On our steeper descents with the Ford, we found the new multisetting exhaust brake (Full, Auto and Off) capable of handling the heavy loads, and we liked being able to always see what gear the transmission was in (not available on GM's HD trucks) when considering when or if we needed to grab a lower or higher gear. We experienced a slightly rougher ride from the Ford's big, heavy live front axle, but it had none of the wander we remember from the previous generation.

Other Towing Features

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We really liked the thought and towing details included in the new Ford to make the experience just a tad simpler, more comfortable and better informed. We know it's a small thing, but being able to fold, extend and adjust the towing mirrors from the driver's seat should be a safety measure that all heavy-duty trucks offer. Also, Ford included different settings to allow drivers to keep track of the mileage on different trailers, which is a nice feature to have. It shows that Ford is thinking about those select heavy towers who have more than one type of trailer.

Likewise, the Ford's 360-degree camera and active steering technology made maneuvering both truck and trailer — both in tight spaces and at high speed (we like that you can monitor the bed while driving) — an infinitely safer and more well-informed experience. We also have to give the Ford the nod when it comes to providing vehicle data and information to the driver, including exact diesel exhaust fluid levels, how hard the turbo is working and even what the exact tire pressures are in each of the six tires. This new system will also invisibly check all the light connections on your trailer and let you know if any of the bulbs are out.

Both heavy haulers offered options and features that will benefit owners who tow, but after towing with both it was obvious that the Ford had the advantage of having more of the good stuff inside and underneath. That's not to say the GMC wasn't a comfortable, confident tow rig — it was especially nice on rough and twisty roads with the HD independent front suspension — but when put side by side, our judges favored the heavier and stronger Ford. We'll share what our judges thought in a separate story soon.

Squats at Bumper

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Finally, we wanted to add one last piece to our towing discussion: squats. When it comes to handling a payload, how much suspension sag or deflection there is when the bed of the truck is loaded near its maximum capacity is good to know.

We found that the GMC squatted a touch more than the Ford. This might not be surprising given that the Ford's gross vehicle weight rating is almost 1,000 pounds more than the GMC's and its calculated payload capacity exceeds the GMC's by more than 700 pounds.

With 4,200 pounds of bagged construction gravel in the bed, the Ford's rear end lowered by just more than 2 inches. The GMC, with the same amount of weight, squatted almost 4 inches. We should note that the GMC was at 91 percent of its calculated payload capacity, while the Ford was at 79 percent.

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

Comments

"our hat tip goes to the GMC because how they handled the load and informed the driver with towing-related data was not identical."

Are you sure your tip of the hat doesn't go to Ford here? You say GMC, and then go on to talk about how the exhaust brakes were very capable on both and that Ford tech was much better.

"(a separation of less than 6/100ths of 1 percent)"

Back to math class. We have 628 seconds for GMC and 634 for Ford. 634/628 = 1.00955, so the actual separation is essentially 1%. Not 6/100ths of 1%. If that were true and we use the GMC time of 10:28 as the baseline, the Ford time would have been 10:28.37, a mere difference of .37 seconds.

To summarize, the actual result was still a very close run. One I would consider a virtual tie. But let's not over-exaggerate.

Both heavy haulers offered options and features that will benefit owners who tow, but after towing with both it was obvious that the Ford had the advantage of having more of the good stuff inside and underneath. That's not to say the GMC wasn't a comfortable, confident tow rig — it was especially nice on rough and twisty roads with the HD independent front suspension — but when put side by side, our judges favored the heavier and stronger Ford.

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Exactly.

Ok, I give up. Where's the RAM ??????? Who's running this
test? The Clintons?

The Ram isn't here because it hasn't changed since the last time they did this test, and it lost to GM then.

Looks like the Ford is overrated, or the GM HD trucks are underrated. GM is spanking Ford at close to max capacity where Ford is basically 2/3 max capacity...

No information on how many times brakes were used on the way down?

One very important thing these kinds of tests are unable to tell us about is longevity and repair costs over many miles. Those are very important factors in my purchase decision and is are the reasons I moved far, far away from GM. They are nice trucks and are great when new but that long-term cost above and beyond the other brands is a killer in my opinion. Just based on years of past experience.

I love how the truck rated for 22,700 lbs towed the 19,500 lbs trailer better than the truck rated for 32,000 lbs towing the same 19,500 lbs. Super duty over rates their capacities.

Define better. They said GM was lighter and faster but Ford towed better.

Love the shootout. You guys do great work with this. I'll let the data speak and not the "funny math" of the conclusion. Ford is a great truck and if you want the extra capacity and brochure spec seems like the truck to go with. I am a bit stumped with the FE differences though. Either way "winner" doesn't make a big deal to me I'd opt for the GM and take the FE and power performance advantage.

"One very important thing these kinds of tests are unable to tell us about is longevity and repair costs over many miles. Those are very important factors in my purchase decision and is are the reasons I moved far, far away from GM. They are nice trucks and are great when new but that long-term cost above and beyond the other brands is a killer in my opinion. Just based on years of past experience."

Dale, what were some of the common problems you had with the GM trucks?

Looking at the rear-end squat of (especially) the GM, it begs the question if any of the domestics offer adjustable headlights (like Nissan does)

Anyone else notice in the "Other Towing Features" section the picture of the mirror with a guy in the back ground spotting the truck as it was backing under the trailer is a RAM and you can see the reflection of the white Super Duty is in the blind side mirror & behind the mirror is the GMC. So it appears a RAM was there, did they get a RAM with the new updated Cummins but weren't able to report the numbers on it because it hadn't been formally announce??

One more thought, when I was reading about how much the 2 trucks squat when loaded I was wondering, why don't GM or Ford offer optional airbags for load leveling while towing?? That seems like it would be a very simple option to add?



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