our squat test, we took one of the 6,500-pound trailers and hooked each
of the trucks up to it in turn to measure how much the rear suspension
would compress under load. To ensure we only loaded the rear suspension,
we didn't use any weight-distributing equipment.
The trailer had a 10
percent (650-pound) tongue weight, which refers to the downward force
applied by a trailer's own weight and cargo on the hitch ball.
Measurements were taken before and after the tongue weight was applied
to the truck. We measured the distance from the top of the trailer hitch
ball mount “stinger” (that slid into the hitch receiver) down to the
This test is important
because the amount of perceived squat can impact the level of confidence
drivers feel about their truck. Too much squat can make a truck look
overburdened even if it’s still within its maximum towing or hauling
These measurements were
recorded without Ricardo Engineering’s participation.
We were most interested
in how the new Dodge Ram would perform, because of its innovative
coil-spring multilink rear suspension. Chrysler says the setup saves up
to 40 pounds of weight over a comparable leaf-spring setup, eliminates
spring friction that can contribute to poor ride quality, and provides
lateral as well as vertical control. Not surprisingly, the Ram had the
most suspension travel, which allowed it to squat a full 3.6 inches from
its static position.
Similar to our
hill-climb testing, we had a choice with our offroad test: run it in on
a real-world trail or in a controlled setting. We opted for the offroad
obstacle course at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds. The obstacle course had
a quicksand-like gravel trap, a steep 75-foot-long, 46.6 percent dirt
mound (a gain of 46.6 feet in elevation for every 100 feet traveled),
and two telephone poles buried horizontally at progressive heights.
truck was driven over the course at least three times. The trucks
entered the gravel pit first, in high-range four-wheel drive, where they
came to a complete stop to settle down into the loose rocks. Next, the
driver accelerated out of the gravel to observe how well the trucks
escaped the sticky pit. After the gravel, the trucks used 4-High to
climb up the back side of the steep hill to assess power and traction.
Then, it was over the pointed apex of the hill to gauge the breakover
angle, then down the front side in 4-Low to assess the crawl ratio and
hill-descent capabilities without brakes. Last, the trucks climbed over
the two buried logs to assess obstacle clearance and fine control.
All the observations in
this test were subjective.
The GMC Sierra All
Terrain was the first truck driven through the course. It drove through
the gravel pit with minimal hop and fuss, then up the steep grade with
plenty of power from its 6.2-liter V-8. We had difficulty, though,
getting low-range four-wheel drive to engage. It took a few minutes of
fussing in neutral and driving the truck a few feet backward and forward
before 4-Low locked. The crawl down the hill allowed for adequate
control. The Sierra was able to clear both buried poles without striking
the frame, rocker panels or front air dam.
The Chevrolet Silverado
performed similarly to the Sierra, but with a few key differences. It
was quieter through all the obstacles, and it scraped a bit at the top
of the hill and some times over the second log.
to the GM pickups, the Tundra bounced more coming out of the gravel pit
– not a negative if you have to rock the truck out of a sticky spot.
Power was excellent climbing the hill, but the Tundra’s shallow
breakover angle caused it to scrape going over the top. The crawl down
the other side didn’t require brakes. We cleared the first log but
scraped up the running boards and frame going over the second pole.
The Dodge Ram started
the trail by climbing smoothly out of the gravel pit, but when we
started to tackle the 46.6 percent grade the engine stalled
mysteriously. We weren’t able to repeat the stall with the Ram, nor did
it happen with any of the other trucks. The Ram climbed the hill with
good power and cleared the top without scraping. It had the lowest
numerical crawl ratio of the tested trucks, and it whined the loudest as
it descended the front part of the grade. The Ram climbed over both
poles without scraping.
The Titan was the best
all-around truck through the offroad course. It required the least
amount of orientation for the driver to operate the switchgear, which
was placed intuitively next to the shifter. It was the easiest truck to
get out of the gravel trap, and it made short work of both sides of the
hill. It’s high ground clearance also made walking the truck over both
buried poles an easy effort.
The F-150 performed
similarly to the Silverado. It had little difficulty getting out of the
gravel pit, and climbing the hill only required a bit of extra throttle.
There was scraping at the top of the mound that was repeated again over
the second buried pole. The truck touched both points with the low third
cross-member of its frame that hangs just below the bottom of the frame
rails. The F-150 had the lowest and best-managed crawl down the steep
side of the hill.
complement our offroad test, we also measured rear-wheel travel. Wheel
travel contributes to offroad traction by allowing a truck’s wheels and
suspension to articulate over an obstacle while helping keep all four
tires in contact with a surface.
The test was simple.
We used a single 20-degree, 36.5-percent-grade steel ramp at GM’s
Milford Proving Grounds that was designed to measure wheel travel. First
we measured the static distance between the bottom of the right rear
fender and the top of the right rear tire when the truck was on level
ground. Then we backed each truck up the ramp on the driver’s side to
the point where the right rear tire started to lose contact with the
ground. We then measured the now-extended difference between the bottom
of the right rear fender and the top of the right rear tire.
Backing each truck up
the single ramp until the tire still on the ground lost traction was the
best option we had for measuring wheel travel without dismantling each
truck’s suspension and drooping on the bump stops. You’ll see in the
pictures how compressed the rear driver-side tire was on the ramp side
and how far the dropped passenger-side rear tire traveled, giving us a
fair evaluation of wheel travel.
thought the Dodge Ram might win this contest, with its new coil-spring
rear suspension, but the Ford F-150 had the most wheel travel -- an
amazing 7.75 inches -- beating the second-place Chevrolet Silverado by
more than an inch. The GMC Sierra took third. The Ram wound up in
fourth, but it was also the only pickup with a rear anti-sway bar. We
didn’t disconnect the sway bar to see if that would have provided more
play in the rear axle. Some 4x4 trucks, like the heavy-duty Dodge Ram
Power Wagon, come with sway-bar disconnect systems that allow you to
gain extra articulation on demand, then hook the sway bar back up for
the best ride and handling on the road.
observation about the Ram: The sleek, dual-pipe rear bumper exhaust
system just missed touching the steel ramp at the truck’s highest point
up the ramp. If you’re going to go off-road with the Ram, you’re best
off with a Ram SLT or TRX4, which have standard single-pipe exhausts
that exit below the right side of the bed. The Laramie only comes with
the dual, straight rear pipes.
The Toyota Tundra
finished just a sixteenth of an inch behind the Dodge, and the offroad-optimized
Nissan Titan took sixth place with just 5.75 inches of wheel travel. Two
inches separated the first-place F-150 and the sixth-place Titan.
complement the autocross, we also did an extreme traction-control test
that examined how well the trucks could recover from a loss of road
grip. We placed the trucks’ right and left wheels on two surfaces with
different compositions and amounts of friction from one another to
create a ‘split-mu’ (pronounced ‘mew’) condition. This caused the trucks
to slip to one side because the tires couldn’t gain traction equally.
The two surfaces were dry asphalt and wet basalt tile on a steep 20
percent grade. Wet basalt has a coefficient of friction similar to a
snow-covered road. We parked each truck on the asphalt and basalt and
attempted to drive off in two-wheel drive with traction control enabled.
cuts engine power when it senses wheel slip, allowing the slipping wheel
or wheels to slow enough for the rubber to once again grip the driving
surface. It may also use the truck’s antilock braking system to brake
the wheel that’s spinning, allowing the wheel on the other side to grip.
Because most full-size pickups are rear-wheel drive but have the bulk of
their weight positioned in the front half of the vehicle, they can lose
traction more easily than other vehicles, particularly in icy
The Ford F-150 and
Toyota Tundra performed best. They were the only trucks to make it off
the slippery surface without having to stop and engage four-wheel drive.
The F-150’s traction was superior to the Tundra’s. While the F-150’s
wheels did slip, the truck was able to cut throttle smoothly and apply
selective braking until grip was restored and it was able to climb the
basalt. The Tundra cut throttle too, but very aggressively. It took
pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor to keep throttle up
while the Tundra slowly crawled off the pad. Both the Tundra and F-150
had rear limited-slip differentials. They were also the heaviest trucks
we tested, which likely helped.
Silverado and GMC Sierra both had locking mechanical rear differentials
that engaged automatically when wheel slip hit a certain rpm. While both
pickups performed excellently in the autocross, they were challenged by
the wet surface and fishtailed backward as power was applied. We had to
put both trucks into 4-High to get off the basalt.
The Dodge Ram 1500
also required the use of 4-High to escape the split-mu surface, but like
the F-150 and Tundra it has a rear limited-slip differential. To us,
this was proof that extra weight and, particularly, excellent anti-slip
logic can make a big difference getting a truck out of slick conditions.
The Nissan Titan was
the most challenged by this test. When its electronic-locking rear
differential wasn’t engaged (which only happens in four-wheel drive) the
rear diff operated as an open differential, meaning there was no way to
shift power or lock up the slipping wheel. The engine quickly hit close
to the redline as the Titan slipped backward and struggled to figure out
a way off the hill before we cut power and engaged four-wheel drive to
We also tried
several other traction control tests by driving the trucks straight up a
wet jenite surface without stopping. Wet jenite has a coefficient of
friction similar to an icy road. Almost all of the trucks were able to
make it up the jenite as long as forward momentum was maintained at 10
mph or more. Again, the Nissan Titan was most challenged by this test
and required backing off the jenite and using 4-High.
Fuel Economy Test
fuel prices have fallen considerably from their summertime highs, fuel
economy is likely to remain a top consideration for truck buyers. We
tested all the trucks at the same time over a 90-mile loop. About 50
percent of the driving was highway, 30 percent was on rural roads and 20
percent was in small-town and urban traffic. The trucks ran the circuit
twice, for a total of 180 miles -- once unloaded and once while towing a
We recorded the
average combined mpg for each of the trucks and ranked them. All the
trucks were filled up at the same gas station before we started the
route and filled again at the end to measure how much fuel had been
The Ford F-150 was
the most fuel-efficient truck we drove, averaging 16.8 mpg. Considering
it was also the heaviest truck, this was a remarkable achievement. Its
new six-speed transmission, well-executed tow/haul mode, and fuel-saving
features that cut gas as soon as drivers lift their foot off the pedal
all contributed to this score; we’ve driven unloaded midsize trucks that
can’t touch that number.
The Toyota Tundra
was just over a half mpg behind the F-150, at 16.26 mpg. The Tundra was
the second-heaviest truck, but it has a much larger engine. We think the
Tundra’s six-speed transmission played the biggest role in its fuel
The Dodge Ram and
Nissan Titan were in a near dead heat, at 15.85 and 15.83 mpg,
respectively. Not bad for five-speed transmissions, but still about 1
mpg below the F-150.
Most surprising were
the GM trucks. The Sierra and Silverado pulled up the back in the fifth
and sixth spots, respectively, with their 6.2-liter V-8s. Those are
powerful engines for pulling, but they’re mighty thirsty. The Sierra
averaged 15.19 mpg, while the Silverado got 14.77 mpg. And to rub salt
in the wounds, the GM trucks both required pricier 93 octane premium
fuel to run at optimal power.
When you buy a
truck, you want a tailgate that’s not going to be a hindrance. We
closely examined each of the truck’s tailgates and assessed how
functional and friendly they were to use.
We gave the Ford
F-150 our best review for tailgate functionality. It was the only truck
that came equipped with a retractable step and pop-up handle that
provided easy climb-in access into and out of the cargo box. However, we
gave the F-150 low marks for the tailgate’s weight because that easy
access came with a heavy price. One that required two hands to safely
raise and lower the tail.
The rest of the
trucks had standard tailgates, perfect for sitting on or extending the
box length. The big differentiator was weight and assistance raising and
lowering. The Nissan Titan’s tailgate had superior dampeners that
required using only two fingers to raise or lower. The Tundra’s tailgate
required only a little more effort than the Titan to move up or down and
the Silverado, Sierra and Ram were all about the same, needing one arm
of our test trucks came equipped with optional backup cameras except for
the Nissan Titan, which doesn’t offer this feature. We really liked this
feature. It helped maneuvering in parking lots and especially saving
time during our frequent trailer hitching activity.
The cameras were
mounted in the bezels around the tailgate handle or integrated into the
truck’s rear badge. Rearview video was displayed inside the cabin in
either the rearview mirror or navigation screen, depending whether or
not a navigation screen was in the truck.
Our GM twins, the
Silverado and Sierra, used both display solutions. The Silverado’s
backup video appeared in the rearview mirror and the Sierra’s was shown
in the GPS screen in the center stack. Though we liked looking level at
the backup video in the rearview mirror, the much larger navigation view
was easier to use.
Ford also displayed the picture from its backup camera in the rearview
mirror but it was easier to use than the Silverado’s because it added
helpful reference and distance marks to make up for the loss of accurate
depth perception from the camera’s fisheye lens. This made it as easy to
use as the larger displays that lacked reference lines.
The Dodge Ram and
Toyota Tundra displayed video in their GPS screens like the Sierra. They
were all about equal to each other in quality and driver assistance.