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2017 Diesel Truck Lineup Detailed Look: Compact, 1/2-Ton, Or Heavy Duty

Posted in Features on December 7, 2016
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Photographers: ManufacturersHeather Clarke Photography

It’s been three decades since Americans have had a diesel option to choose from in each pickup truck category. For 2017, we’re happy to report that compression ignition is making a comeback and that times have changed. These aren’t the sputtering, smelly rattleboxes of yesteryear; rather they’re some of the most technologically advanced oil burners the world has ever known. High-pressure common-rail injection, variable geometry turbocharging, and cutting-edge emissions control systems have made modern diesel mills both clean as a whistle and powerful as all get-out.

While diesel options are still few in the compact and 1/2-ton markets, progress is progress, and three choices now exist: the fuel-sipping Chevy Colorado, the versatile 1/2-ton Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, and Nissan’s Titan XD (a heavy 1/2-ton with a 3/4-ton attitude). Beyond these newbies you’ll find the usual 3/4-ton and 1-ton suspects from the Big Three, which are currently in the midst of the longest ongoing battle for the highest horsepower, torque, towing, and payload ratings we’ve ever seen. Whether you’re interested in gleaning 30 mpg or moving 30,000 pounds, the 2017 diesel truck lineup has a little bit of everything.

Ford Super Duty

With the freshest overall package in the diesel truck segment, we kick things off with the ’17 Ford Super Duty. First things first, you either like the redesign or you hate it. There is no middle ground here. Fortunately for Blue Oval loyalists, each time a new look graces the Super Duty it quickly grows on the naysayers, who eventually come to adore it. The grille, headlights, and horizontally oriented door handles all take queues from the F-150.

Speaking of F-150, did we mention that all Super Dutys now feature high-strength, aluminum cabs and beds? That’s right, aluminum. In fact, the Super Duty shares the same cab as its 1/2-ton brother (albeit a longer version). The weight savings gained from going with aluminum allowed Ford to reinvest that bulk in the form of a fully boxed frame (versus C-channel) and beefier suspension, which lends itself as to how they were able to achieve best-in-class tow ratings on ’17 models.

Building on the 6.7L Power Stroke’s previous 860 lb-ft of torque output, a class-leading 925 lb-ft is now on tap at 1,800 rpm. The proven 6R140 TorqueShift six-speed automatic transmission applies as much of that twist to the ground as possible. Horsepower checks in at the same 440 hp rating that ’15 and ’16 models saw. Once torque management controls slowly allow the power to be poured on, the Power Stroke builds steam quickly and—as has been the case since its arrival in 2011—quietly.

With the most torque of any current engine offering and the highest tow ratings, the ’17 Ford Super Duty has once again set the tone in the diesel truck segment. The biggest question now is how long will it be before another manufacturer answers the call?

At A Glance
Pricing: $41,130 (F-250 XL regular cab 4x2) to $87,145 (fully loaded F-450 Platinum crew cab 4x4)
Engine: 6.7L Power Stroke, direct injected, turbocharged 32-valve V-8
Injection system: Bosch common-rail
Emissions system: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC), diesel particulate filter (DPF), and selective catalytic reduction (SCR)
Transmission(s): TorqShift 6R140 six-spd automatic
Horsepower @ rpm: 440 @ 2,800
Torque @ rpm (lb-ft): 925 @ 1,800
Max payload (lb): 6,460
Conventional towing capacity (lb): 21,000
Gooseneck towing capacity (lb): 32,800
Max GCWR (lb): 41,800

GM 2500/3500 HD

It would be hard to look at the ’17 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra HDs and not notice the new cowl hood. While this may be the only blatantly apparent cosmetic difference between the ’16 and ’17 model trucks, it lends itself to the bigger story: the revamped Duramax diesel under the hood. The fully functional hoodscoop helps the Duramax ingest more outside (cooler) air than heat-soaked oxygen under the hood, but it also incorporates a unique water separator to ensure that the incoming air is free of moisture before it makes its way into the cylinders.

Of course, seeing the cowl hood forces us to beg the question as to whether or not GM increased its horsepower and torque figures. How does a best-in-class 445hp rating sound? On top of that, peak torque has risen to 910 lb-ft—just a smidgeon behind Ford’s 6.7L Power Stroke. So how were GM engineers able to extract 48 more ponies and an extra 145 lb-ft of torque from the Duramax?

For starters, the foundation of the engine was reinforced via a stronger cast-iron block, crankshaft, connecting rods with larger rod bearings, and more durable cast-aluminum pistons with redesigned combustion bowls and taller crown areas. The cast-aluminum cylinder heads were reworked to provide more precise coolant flow, and the airflow passages are said to have been “heavily revised” to enhance airflow. Parting ways with Bosch’s CP4.2 pump and piezoelectric injectors (found on ’11-’16 engines), a Denso common-rail fuel system makes use of advanced, solenoid-style injectors and an HP4 high-pressure pump capable of 29,000 psi.

While the ’17 Silverado and GMC heavy-duties are largely carryover from a cosmetic standpoint, GM fans have a lot to be excited about with the new Duramax. It’s well refined, quieter, and more powerful than ever before. Although no towing or payload capacities for the ’17 HD’s were available as we went to press, the newfound horsepower and torque ratings will certainly complement any chassis improvements that lay ahead.

At A Glance
Pricing: $40,194 (Silverado 2500 HD WT 4x2) to $75,380 (GMC Sierra 3500 HD Denali 4x4)
Engine: 6.6L L5P Duramax, direct injected, turbocharged 32-valve V-8
Injection system: Denso common-rail
Emissions system: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC), diesel particulate filter (DPF), and selective catalytic reduction (SCR)
Transmission(s): Allison 1000 six-spd automatic
Horsepower @ rpm: 445 @ 2,800
Torque @ rpm (lb-ft): 910 @ 1,600
Max payload (lb): 5,587 (*’16 data)
Conventional towing capacity (lb): 20,000
Gooseneck towing capacity (lb): 23,200 (*’16 data)

Ram 2500/3500

Just like Ram’s 1/2-ton line, 2017 won’t mark a year of big changes for its Heavy Duty segment. However, a new off-road package option will exist for all 2500 models. The package includes Bilstein monotube shocks, a limited-slip rear differential, open-loop front towhooks, the same heavy-duty skidplates found on Power Wagon models, an electronic hill-descent control system, bigger fender flares, and depending on wheel size selection, a set of 275/70R18 or 285/60R20 all-terrain tires can be had.

The same impressive 31,210-pound maximum towing capacity and best-in-segment 6,720-pound payload rating (on diesel models) is still available on a properly spec’d 3500 model, while 8 of Ram’s 11 available trim levels in the 2500 category can be had with the 6.7L Cummins option. Speaking of the inline-six diesel, the same high-output power figures of 385 hp and 900 lb-ft are on tap, but we’re sure Ram and Cummins are cooking up some sort of answer to Ford’s best-in-class torque (925 lb-ft) and possibly even targeting GM’s best-in-class horsepower (445). As has been par for the course for more than a decade, a full-on redesign slated for the ’19 model year may just spawn a substantial improvement in horsepower and torque, as well as significantly increased tow ratings. We can already hear the marketing pitch for the first pickup truck to offer 1,000 lb-ft of torque.

With what has grown into seemingly endless configuration and trim options over the years, a Cummins-powered Ram can virtually be spec’d any way you want. From a bare bones, two-wheel-drive, regular cab Tradesman model all the way up to a four-wheel-drive, Mega Cab Limited dualie with every available add-on in its arsenal, you can build the perfect Ram for your needs. The industry-exclusive five-link rear coil suspension option still exists for 2500 models (with optional air suspension), and a factory rear supplemental air spring suspension option can still be added to 3500 models to aid the Hotchkis leaf-spring system. While none of the above options are anything new, they go above and beyond the status quo options you’ll find on the other two brands.

At A Glance
Pricing: $38,470 (2500 Tradesmen 4x2) to $72,575 (3500 Limited Crew Cab 4x4)
Engine: 6.7L Cummins, direct injected, turbocharged 24-valve I-6
Injection system: Bosch common-rail
Emissions system: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC), diesel particulate filter (DPF), and selective catalytic reduction (SCR)
Transmission(s): Aisin AS69RC six-spd automatic, 68RFE six-spd automatic, G56 six-spd manual
Horsepower @ rpm: 385 @ 2,800 (Aisin AS69RC transmission), 370 @ 2,800 rpm (68RFE transmission), 350 @ 2,800 rpm (G56 manual transmission)
Torque @ rpm (lb-ft): 900 @ 1,700 (Aisin AS69RC transmission), 800 @ 1,600 rpm (68RFE transmission), 660 @ 1,500 rpm (G56 manual transmission)
Max payload (lb): 6,720
Conventional towing capacity (lb): 17,870
Gooseneck towing capacity (lb): 31,210
Max GCWR (lb): 39,100

Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

When Ram debuted the EcoDiesel model in 2014, it marked the first time a diesel-powered 1/2-ton had been produced since the ’90s (remember GM’s clunky, indirect injection 6.2L and 6.5L GM V-8s?). It was also the first diesel engine offered in the truck market with a dual overhead cam design. For two years, Ram had the 1/2-ton diesel market all to itself (and still does if you count the “tweener” Titan XD as a 5/8-scale truck, as many do), with subtle cosmetic and interior changes taking place year to year.

The VM Motori-built 3.0L V-6 is a cultivated, quiet, yet capable, engine given its size and was built with utmost durability in mind. The block is made from compacted graphite iron (CGI), which is the strongest block material you’re going to see offered as standard OEM equipment. A one-piece bedplate retains the crankshaft and ties it into the bottom of the crankcase. The connecting rods are forged steel (not powdered metal), the heads are aluminum, feature four valves per cylinder, and 14mm-diameter head bolts to clamp them to the block. Emissions standards are met and diesel clatter is kept at bay thanks to a Bosch-supplied injection system, which entails a CP4.2 pump capable of producing up to 29,000 psi and injectors capable of multiple events per cycle.

Silky smooth operation describes the eight-speed ZF 8HP70 automatic. Whether you’re in Tow/Haul mode or not, the transmission always seems to be in the right gear, keeping the 3.0L engine responsive at all times. From an efficiency standpoint, a typical 4x4 crew cab EcoDiesel can knock down 26 to 29 mpg on the highway, while the two-wheel-drive Tradesmen HFE model (High Fuel Efficiency) is capable of 31 mpg.

We’ll be honest: if you’re into hot-rodding around town and showing the Blue Ovals and Bow Ties who’s boss, the Hemi is probably more your cup of tea. But if you like having the ability to tow just about anything the average weekend warrior needs to, the potential to reap more than 700 miles out of each tank, and understand the exceptional resale value that comes with owning a diesel, the EcoDiesel Ram is for you.

At A Glance
Pricing: $37,685 (Tradesmen HFE 4x2) to $62,525 (Laramie Longhorn 4x4)
Engine: 3.0L VM Motori, direct injected, turbocharged 24-valve V-6
Injection system: Bosch common-rail
Emissions system: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC), diesel particulate filter (DPF), and selective catalytic reduction (SCR)
Transmission(s): ZF 8HP70 eight-speed automatic (TorqueFlite 8)
Horsepower @ rpm: 240 @ 3,600
Torque @ rpm (lb-ft): 420 @ 2,000
Max payload (lb): 1,620
Max towing capacity (lb): 9,200
Max GCWR (lb): 14,750
Fuel capacity (gal): 26

Chevy Colorado

With the discontinuation of the Ford Ranger, the sales dominance of the Toyota Tacoma, and the killing and then renewing of the Chevy Colorado, the compact truck segment has been interesting to watch over the last decade. But perhaps nothing has been as interesting as GM’s decision to offer a diesel option in its second-generation Colorado. First offered for the ’16 model year, it marked the first time in 30 years that a truck in this category could be ordered with a compression ignition engine.

While GM has branded the engine its LWN Duramax, the 2.8L mill is built by VM Motori, with American roots that can be traced back to the Jeep Liberty CRD offered from ’05 to ’06. Granted, the overhead cam, aluminum head, 16-valve I-4 now sports an entirely different injection system, emission components, and turbocharger, but this powerplant retains the same basic architecture of its predecessor. The high-pressure, common-rail fuel injection system is sourced from Denso and boasts a 29,000 psi capability. A water-cooled VVT (variable geometry) turbocharger from Garrett fills the engine’s lungs, ultimately allowing 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque to be generated at the crank.

Mated to GM’s own Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic transmission, the 2.8L diesel is capable of helping the Colorado achieve an efficient 31 mpg highway. The 6L50’s relatively high 0.67:1 Sixth gear ratio has a lot to do with its lack of fuel consumption at cruising speeds. EPA city fuel economy numbers are said to be 22 mpg, although we’ve heard of some trucks achieving as much as 28 mpg around town. As far as towing is concerned, the Colorado is impressive for its size. Its max tow rating checks in at 7,700 pounds, while also bringing 1,500 pounds worth of payload capacity to the table. The available exhaust brake option is very effective at bringing loads to a halt as well (an option that doesn’t exist on Ram’s 1500 EcoDiesel).

As for noise, we can’t lie. The 2.8L emits a subtle yet audible clatter at idle, which hardly dissipates until you’re up to cruising speed. That said, it isn’t as invasive as you might think (fittingly enough, it reminds us of the way the ’05-’06 Jeep Liberty CRD sounded). As for ride comfort and handling, the Colorado beats both the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. And while it’s obviously no fullsize truck, the Colorado’s interior is much more spacious than first-generation versions (’04-’12 models). The diesel Colorado isn’t overly powerful, but it is more than capable of towing smaller trailers and boats, as well as knocking down 30 mpg on the highway.

At A Glance
Pricing: $35,975 (LT 4x2) to $45,235 (Z71 4x4) *2017 pricing not yet available
Engine: 2.8L LWN Duramax, direct injected, turbocharged I-4
Injection system: Denso common-rail
Emissions system: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC), diesel particulate filter (DPF), and selective catalytic reduction (SCR)
Transmission(s): Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-spd automatic
Horsepower @ rpm: 181 @ 3,400
Torque @ rpm (lb-ft): 369 @ 2,000
Max payload (lb): 1,508
Max towing capacity (lb): 7,700
Fuel capacity (gal): 21

Nissan Titan XD

Six-lug wheels, 10.5-inch AAM rear axle, upsized four-wheel disc brakes, and a 5.0L Cummins under the hood. Heavy 1/2-ton anyone? For better or worse, the Nissan Titan XD occupies the most unique position in the diesel truck market. While this version of the Titan is undeniably beefier and bulkier than its 1/2-ton brother, it’s certainly no full-blown 3/4-ton either. It targets the 1/2-ton user who’s using his or her truck to its maximum capacity, but that has no real need for a dedicated heavy-duty pickup from either of the Big Three.

The Titan’s list of positives begin with the 5.0L Cummins V-8, which sports a Bosch common-rail fuel system, two-stage turbocharger arrangement, 310 hp, and 555 lb-ft of torque. Matched to a six-speed Aisin A466ND automatic transmission, shifts feel smooth and refined, and the Cummins is kept well within its usable power window. In the cab, NVH damping is above average thanks to the Titan XD’s abundance of interior insulation and the modern day (quieter) common-rail injection system that are employed. Towing capacity is 12,300 pounds, which falls short of any 3/4-ton rating but dwarfs the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel’s maximum of 9,200 pounds.

But while the XD’s maximum towing capacity of 12,300 pounds beats the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel’s 9,200-pound maximum towing figure, it isn’t lightyears ahead of what can be had in an F-150 equipped with Ford’s heavy-duty payload package (11,800 pounds, although that comes with a two-wheel drive standard cab version). Speaking of payload, maximum hauling in the bed of the Titan XD comes in at 2,091 pounds, while the aforementioned F-150 heavy-duty payload package boasts 3,280 pounds of bed-toting ability.

As you can imagine, there is no shortage of criticism or praise for such a unique vehicle. To some, the XD is the perfect compromise between their old 1/2-ton and the current crop of heavy-duty trucks. To others, the XD’s highly anticipated but lower-than-expected payload and tow ratings are disappointing. Thus far, sales numbers are yet to take off in any considerable way. Is this proof that Americans still aren’t ready for an outsider to infiltrate the ranks of the Detroit-born heavy-duty truck market? Only time will tell.

At A Glance
Pricing: $41,340 (S 4x2) to $61,960 (Platinum Reserve 4x4)
Engine: 5.0L Cummins, direct injected, turbocharged, 32-valve DOHC V-8
Injection system: Bosch common-rail
Emissions system: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC), diesel particulate filter (DPF), and selective catalytic reduction (SCR)
Transmission(s): Aisin A466ND six-spd automatic
Horsepower @ rpm: 310 @ 3,200
Torque @ rpm (lb-ft): 555 @ 1,600
Max payload (lb): 2,091
Max towing capacity (lb): 12,314
Fuel capacity (gal): 26

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