2017 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Pickup Challenge: Overview

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By Aaron Bragman

Watching the debate between truck fans over which truckmaker makes the biggest, baddest, best pickups is a source of unending entertainment for us. We love to see your comments, your teasing, your trash talk (within reason, of course; keep it civil) about which truckmaker does it better. But the only way to find out is to test them, and test them hard.

2017 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Pickup Challenge

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

In our 2017 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Pickup Challenge, we revisited our 2014 Ultimate HD Challenge in which we tested the top three one-ton pickups in a grueling 1,200-mile slog across Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. This time, the landscape has changed, but only slightly. The 2014 Challenge champion, the GMC Sierra 3500, has a new engine, and there is a newcomer on the scene that changes the game significantly: the all-new, redesigned 2017 Ford Super Duty F-350. The third contender from our 2014 contest, the Ram 3500, is unchanged and was not tested.

The two competitors were both dually diesel 4x4 crew cabs:

This time, we planned less of a cross-country adventure and more of a track-tested, empirical head-to-head, pitting our last turbo-diesel one-ton champion against the reborn newcomer to see if a complete redo of a stalwart sales winner could unseat our favorite HD truck.

How We Tested

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We conducted several tests over a week. The first stop was at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where we put the track's quarter-mile drag strip to use in the 110-degree desert heat to see which truck could turn in the fastest acceleration times and shortest braking distances both unloaded and at maximum payload.

Then we loaded up a nearly 8,000-pound Big Tex 50-foot gooseneck trailer with almost 12,000 pounds of paving sand and headed to Laughlin, Nev., just across the Colorado River from the Davis Dam grade — a 12-mile incline that tests even the toughest towing rigs' ability to haul. With each truck pulling 19,500 pounds, we made several passes to see which one could do it fastest and provide the driver with the most confidence. We also evaluated the trucks in areas such as transmission behavior and braking response to see how they responded when towing such a tremendous load.

Our final day of testing consisted of a fuel-economy loop: a 125-mile jaunt through the desert both unloaded and towing the trailer to see how hard of a hit these diesel engines make on your wallet if you use them for their intended purpose.

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We put all our numbers together and then mixed them with the subjective ratings of our expert judges:

  • Aaron Bragman, Cars.com Detroit bureau chief
  • Mark Williams, PickupTrucks.com editor
  • Brian Wong, Cars.com Los Angeles bureau chief

After a week of testing and daily temps topping 100 degrees (but yes, it's a dry heat — you know, like a pizza oven, or maybe a crematorium), we picked a winner, the champion of the toughest trucks in the land. But first, the details on the competitors:

 

2017 Ford Super Duty F-350 Lariat

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For 2017, the Super Duty finally sports Ford's new truck architecture: a high-strength steel chassis underpinning an all-new, all-aluminum body structure. While the truck itself is new, the engine is not. It's a carryover turbo-diesel 6.7-liter V-8 Power Stroke making 440 horsepower and a mountain-moving 925 pounds-feet of torque. It comes with a six-speed automatic transmission and a 3.55:1 final drive ratio. The Super Duty is a big truck. We tested a crew-cab dual-rear-wheel model with a 176-inch wheelbase and 266.2-inch overall length. It tipped the scales at 8,680 pounds, so any weight savings Ford got from switching to aluminum construction (reportedly several hundred pounds) was immediately put back into beefing up axle and suspension components.

Ford sent a Lariat model — not the fanciest option in the lineup, but still well-equipped. The Super Duty came with standard dual-zone climate control, 10-way power seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power folding heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, a power sliding rear window, a locking tailgate with lift assist, chrome bumpers, a 110-volt/400-watt power outlet in the cab and more.

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Ford loaded it with options, too, including some impressive camera technology (we counted five cameras on the truck), chrome running boards, adaptive cruise control, quad-beam LED headlights, adaptive steering with lane keeping alert, navigation, power moonroof, LED box lighting, remote start, heated and cooled seats, and the FX4 Off-Road Package that includes skid plates and other off-road protection. Add in the 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel engine option and the $54,680 pickup quickly climbed to an as-tested price of $74,670 including destination. That's $19,990 in options, or the equivalent of a loaded new Ford Fiesta. And it's not even the most expensive F-350 you can buy.

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For a larger version of the 2017 Ford Super Duty F-350 Lariat Monroney, click on the picture above.

 

2017 GMC Sierra 3500 Denali

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While Ford sent its middleweight Super Duty trim level, GMC decided to defend the title with the nicest ship in the fleet. The Sierra 3500 Denali is the most luxurious pickup in GMC's truck line, and ours came fully kitted out. It started with the optional and all-new turbo-diesel 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax, now making 445 hp and 910 pounds-feet of torque — basically dead even with the Ford on paper. It matched the Duramax to an updated six-speed automatic, heavy-duty Allison transmission, and sent power to all four wheels with a selectable full-time or part-time four-wheel-drive system. It uses a taller 3.73:1 final drive ratio as part of the Fifth-Wheel/Gooseneck Trailer Hitch Prep Package; otherwise, you'd have a 4.10:1 gear as standard with the aging 6.0-liter V-8 Vortec gas engine. It's a smaller truck than the Ford — the wheelbase is 8.4 inches shorter, while the overall length is 7.9 inches less. It also weighed less by 260 pounds and is rated to tow less. As equipped, our GMC test truck was rated to tow a gooseneck trailer weighing 22,700 pounds, while the Ford could manage 27,900 pounds.

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The Denali trim doesn't offer many options since most of the luxurious appointments and tech goodies are already standard. Full heated and cooled leather seats are part of the package, as is remote start, a power sliding rear window, dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable pedals, a 110-volt outlet, rear camera with front and rear parking sensors, and an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation and Bose premium audio. Options included the Duramax engine, power moonroof and the Fifth Wheel/Gooseneck Trailer Hitch Prep Package for a grand total of $69,585 including a destination fee.

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For a larger version of the 2017 GMC Sierra 3500 Denali Monroney, click on the picture above.

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

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Comments

How can you declare a "best" when you don't test all of the major players in the marketplace? I don't make purchase decisions based on whether a model has changed since last time. I base those decisions on which OF THE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE OPTIONS best meets my needs. Doing these "tests" using only those models which have significant changes makes these test pretty much irrelevant to my needs.

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