Ram, Silverado and F-350
Ram, Silverado and F-350. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Truck King Challenge
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Article and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Canadian Truck King Challenge

Head Lake, Ontario – In the last few years, especially with the sharp rise in Internet publishing, car and truck awards seem to be handed out by the dozens. Not all are equal, though. Only a few use the gold standard of back-to-back testing, in all nominated vehicles, on the same day and along the same route (as does AJAC, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, during a week of testing in October).

Beyond that, it’s believed that only one award determines the ability of trucks by actually doing pretty much everything a truck owner could ever need to do, and that’s the Canadian Truck King Challenge. Even the highly-coveted Truck of Texas awards don’t get anywhere near this down and dirty. At Truck King events, the judges tow, haul, go off-road, go on-road, fill the cabs and the boxes, and know to bring rubber boots because it always rains.

2011 Ford F-350
2011 Ford F-350. Click image to enlarge

The event is the brainchild of Howard J. Elmer, an Ontario-based automotive journalist who specializes in trucks, SUVs and off-road equipment. He found that most truck awards were determined after the judges had simply driven the vehicles on the road, or at most, with a load in the box. Instead, he assembled an event that tested all aspects of the vehicles, judged only by auto journalists familiar with trucks. The first event was held in 2006.

This year, the Challenge was a little more low-key, but definitely full-size: all three domestic manufacturers had brought out all-new heavy-duty models, and so these were the trucks waiting in the parking lot on a soggy September morning. Due to a couple of technical difficulties – and the fact that two were three-quarter-ton trucks, the other a half-ton – this year’s event didn’t crown an overall champion, but instead, gave judges the opportunity to compare the trucks and discuss their findings.

2011 Dodge Ram
2011 Dodge Ram. Click image to enlarge

All of the trucks were diesels: a Ford Super Duty F350 with 6.7-litre V8; Chevrolet Silverado 2500 Heavy Duty with 6.6-litre V8; and Dodge Ram 2500 Heavy Duty with 6.7-litre Cummins inline six-cylinder. There was a lot of power under those hoods. The Ram is rated at 350 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque; the Chevrolet at 397 horsepower and 765 lb-ft; and the Ford, at 400 horsepower and 735 lb-ft of torque. There’s new engine software that raises the Ford to 800 lb-ft of torque, done to all new trucks and available for those already purchased – the company announced it after GM released its Heavy Duty and topped Ford’s previous numbers – but our test truck hadn’t yet been upgraded.

2011 Dodge Ram
2011 Dodge Ram. Click image to enlarge

The importance of back-to-back testing can’t be overstated, whether it’s journalists deciding on vehicles for awards, or consumers test-driving them for purchase. Each vehicle has its own steering feel, acceleration, handling, seat comfort and interior ergonomics, and it can be difficult to remember how each one behaved if too much time passes between test-drives. It’s pretty much impossible to test-drive a truck at a dealership when it’s loaded or towing something, but there are still things that can be checked beforehand, such as how easy it is to access the trailer connector, if the truck has an integrated brake controller, and if the mirrors give good visibility. If you really work your truck, look for reviews and awards where the truck has done what you’ll need it to do.

2011 Ford F-350
2011 Chevrolet Silverado
2011 Chevrolet Silverado
2011 Dodge Ram (top), Chevrolet Silverado (middle) and Ford F-350. Click image to enlarge

All of the trucks in our day’s assessment did what was asked of them, but there were differences between them that could affect how happy a potential owner would be with them. The Ford Super Duty had an extremely quiet diesel, quiet cabin, very smooth ride, and good interior ergonomics, including a combined door latch and handle that let you open the door smoothly with one hand – which may seem petty, until you’re in and out of the vehicle numerous times throughout the workday. The Dodge Ram had tighter steering, power-adjustable pedals and a heated steering wheel – again, don’t knock it until you’re out there on an icy day – as well as a manly grunt to its diesel. The Chevrolet Silverado also had a nice, growly diesel sound, a ride that was only slightly less smooth than the Ford, and what I felt was the best steering feel, but with a dated look to its cabin.

Since we weren’t picking a winner, it instead came down to what consumers would consider when buying a truck, and personal preference plays a huge part. Some buyers might prefer the Ford’s quieter diesel, especially if they’re on the road for long periods of time; others might like the powerful sound of the Chevrolet or Dodge better. Steering feel is objective: I liked the Chevrolet’s weighted steering, while another judge preferred the lighter touch on the Ford. Three of us felt the Dodge was the best-looking of the three, but another held out solidly for the Chevrolet. This is why it’s important to research a vehicle, including opinions by reviewers, but ultimately, you have to put your butt in the seat and test-drive the vehicle extensively to get a feel for it, and to assess what you’ll be doing with it and how well it can perform that task.

The vehicles at the Truck King Challenge aren’t abused, but they’re worked as they’re intended to be. They must be able to start, stop and handle with a load, their brakes must inspire confidence when towing, their four-wheel systems have to be able to handle muddy terrain, they should have plenty of tie-downs for cargo, and they should be comfortable for long days on the road. If you’re going to work your truck, make sure it worked for any award it receives.

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