November 23, 2011
2011 Truck King Challenge. Click image to enlarge
By Jil McIntosh
2011 Truck King Challenge
Once viewed almost exclusively as commercial vehicles, trucks are now Canadian favourites. A great many of us love our heavier haulers: in 2010, the country’s best-selling vehicle was the Ford F-150, which outsold the top-selling car, the Honda Civic, by more than 40,000 copies.
Determining the “best” truck isn’t always easy, though, because of the wide variety of uses people have for them. Unlike car buyers, truck buyers are immensely diverse. Some need to tow trailers, some need to haul heavy cargo, and some want to explore tough off-road paths. And then there are those who just like trucks and use them as “big cars,” often loading them up with options that turn them into luxury liners.
That diversity was something Howard J. Elmer noticed. An auto writer and former truck driver, he felt there was a fatal flaw in the various international “truck-of-the-year” awards that simply had the judges drive the contenders empty for a few laps. In 2006, he ran the inaugural Canadian Truck King Challenge, gathering trucks and truck-savvy journalists to a central location where they worked the trucks in real-world conditions as buyers would. It was an immediate success, and Elmer believes it remains the only truck award determined by back-to-back testing under real working conditions.
Howard Elmer (top); GMC Sierra and Dodge Ram, bottom. Click image to enlarge
The 2012 edition took place last October and involved five half-ton trucks: Dodge Ram, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra (the Chevrolet Silverado is mechanically identical), Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. This time around, Elmer and I were the only journalist judges. The panel was rounded out with a professional waste truck operator and two drivers with extensive RV towing experience, along with several passengers who also provided insight.
The competitors, 2012 models supplied by the manufacturers, were all four-wheel drive: Dodge Ram Crew Cab Laramie with 5.7-litre V8 ($54,825 as-tested), Ford F-150 Crew Cab Platinum with 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 ($64,449), GMC Sierra Crew Cab SLE with 5.3-litre V8 ($52,915), Nissan Titan Crew Cab SL with 5.6-litre V8 ($52,228) and Toyota Tundra Double Cab with TRD Off-Road Package and 5.7-litre V8 ($43,975). The Honda Ridgeline was not included, as its maximum towing capacity wasn’t sufficient for the trailers used for the towing portion of the program.
Except for the Titan, which comes only with the 5.7-litre V8, most of the other trucks were outfitted with the most popular engines available in the manufacturer’s lineup for the jobs we were asking them to do. Horsepower among the eight-cylinders ranged from 315 horses in the GMC to a high of 390 in the Ram. Of course, torque – the low-speed twisting power that gets loads moving – is the important figure in trucks, and the V8s ran from 335 lb.-ft. in the GMC to 407 lb.-ft. in the Ram. The surprising engine was the new Ford V6 EcoBoost. The company is adding turbocharging to several of its models, not strictly for high performance but to provide larger-engine power with smaller-engine fuel economy. As a result, the F-150 punched out 365 horsepower, while its maximum 420 lb.-ft. of torque was the highest of the group. All of the trucks used a six-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode. All had also been professionally outfitted with brand-new equalizing hitches for the towing portion.