And the Winner Is…
By Howard J. Elmer
The great popularity of pickup trucks in Canada can be traced directly to the nature of business we do in this wide, vast country. Primary industries like forestry, mining, farming and construction, and the businesses affiliated with these sectors, are widespread and demand the use of trucks – but we all know it goes deeper than that. For so many people over the decades, pickups have been both work vehicles and a means of personal transportation and Canadians have grown to love them for the flexibility they offer.
This duality of purpose is the key reason the Canadian Truck King Challenge evaluates trucks under loaded, harsh conditions – because that’s the way you use them.
This Year’s Winner
So, first off, let me congratulate the folks at Ram, whose 2012 Ram 1500 was selected as the winner of the Fifth Annual Canadian Truck King Challenge. Now, let me tell you why.
|The Big Three all had trucks in this year’s challenge, along with entries from Toyota and Nissan.|
What we concentrated on first for 2012 was evaluating those half-ton pickups that fill the bulk of the market. We had pickups from the veteran three – Ford, GM and Chrysler, as well as the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan, which are two trucks that very much want to be thought of as North American. Next we set up a full tow test to work the trucks. Now, we always tow, but this year thanks to partnering with Campkins RV Centre, we were able to secure five travel trailers, each with a net weight of right around 8,000 lb., and do all our towing back to back at the same time. To be dead fair to all of the truck competitors, we also borrowed five brand-new equalizing hitches from Equal-i-zer. These spread the load across the chassis of each truck and achieved a level attitude for each entire rig regardless of the various wheelbase lengths.
This aspect of a pickup’s ability has become more and more important in recent years as (according to manufacturer stats) the number of owners who tow regularly has increased right across the country – in fact, most consumers will have noted that manufacturers regularly advertise the weight-bearing abilities of their vehicles; limits that also seem to go higher and higher each year. I chose 8,000 lb. as I knew each truck could handle it (according to its published specifications), yet this weight approached the upper limits set by the truck companies. Four tons is not peanuts and how a truck tows reveals a lot about its overall chassis and powertrain performance.
Our five competitors this year were:
- 2011 Ford F-150, Crew Cab, 4WD, Platinum, 3.5L EcoBoost V6, six-speed automatic – MSRP $64,449
- 2012 Toyota Tundra, Double Cab, 4WD, TRD Off-road Package, 5.7L i-Force V8, six-speed automatic – MSRP $43,975
- 2012 Nissan Titan, 4-door Cab, 4WD, SL CC, 5.6L V8, five-speed automatic – MSRP $52,228
- 2012 Ram 1500, Crew Cab, 4WD, Laramie, 5.7L Hemi V8, six-speed automatic – MSRP $54,825
- 2012 GMC Sierra 1500, Crew Cab, 4WD, SLE, Vortec 5.3L V8 (w/active fuel management), six-speed automatic – MSRP $52,915
These trucks were picked by the manufacturers. They chose engines, transmissions, trim packages and the drivetrain. They also chose how they were equipped and what price range they fell into. They know what tests we run and spec the trucks to their advantage (however they see that advantage).
All of our test trucks were 2012 models, except the Ford, which was a 2011; though a 2012 would have had no substantial changes from the truck we did test.
The judges for this year’s competition were average Canadian truck owners. Men and women just like our readers. Ed C is a serving Royal Canadian Air Force warrant officer with years of pickup and towing experience. Ed D is a 30-year veteran Toronto Transit Commission driver with his own RV towing history. Matt E, a 20-something driver for waste management has driven trucks and towed since he was first licensed.
Of course, there is me (it is my event, after all) and Jil Macintosh, an automotive journalist for the Toronto Star newspaper. Jil has been helping me judge trucks since the first Challenge back in ’06.
We five drivers cycled through the five trucks and trailers over a 300-kilometre route that included a long portion of hilly terrain up through Ontario’s Haliburton Highlands, in torrential rain, no less (we call this the “Truck King Curse” as we have never had dry weather for the Challenge), and with grades of up to 9%.
A full day was spent towing these trailers on main and secondary roads – with a final section of highway where speeds of at least 100 km/h were maintained. After returning the trailers, we re-fuelled and calculated real-world towing fuel consumption. And that was just our first 10-hour day.
Something else new this year was the spreading of the pain during testing. Wives, girlfriends and one husband accompanied the judges and they were more than vocal in adding their opinions and observations to those of the drivers – plus they got stuck making all of the notes.
The second morning, the rain stopped for a while and we headed to RoofMart in Oshawa, Ont., where we picked up pallets of roof shingles, supplied by IKO, and drove a 200-kilometre route with this 1,800-lb. payload on each of the trucks. We kept track of the fuel consumption during this test as well.
Finally, we drove the trucks empty for 150 kilometres and finished with an off-road section that unfortunately was
interrupted by an Act of God this year. The abandoned Colonization Road I use, near Head Lake, Ont., was blocked by downed trees. Too bad, because it’s a very nasty, muddy bit of off-road terrain.
So as darkness closed in on our second long day of testing, the judges agreed that because we weren’t able to cycle everyone through the pickups in the equal time allotments needed, the off-road criteria would not be scored and we dropped the category from this year’s winning calculation.
The following graphs reflect the actual scores awarded by the judges (three categories – 0-10), and their personal overall choices (first through fifth). We have our opinions and you’ll have yours, but we feel that we have come by these honestly, and we share them with our readers here.
Howard Elmer is a truck and ATV writer living in rural Ontario. He produced this report for Canadian Forest Industries.