The story was called “Turbo Trucks,” and it published in the June ’90 issue of Four Wheeler. It was a shootout between a pair of turbodiesel-powered pickups: a ’90 GMC K2500 with a 6.2L engine and a ’90 Dodge Power Ram W350 with a 5.9L engine.
A new 6.2L with a turbo in 1990? Yep, and here’s the explanation from the story: “Currently available only as a normally aspirated engine in Chevrolet trucks, a Banks turbocharger is a factory option for GMC buyers,” we wrote. We went on to note that “through the intricacies of a drop-ship program” the $2,595 price of the turbocharger could be selected as an option and be included in the new truck financing.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, diesel engines were beginning to come on strong in the pickup truck market. They had been available in certain brands of pickup trucks for a while, but buyers’ interest level was increasing. “Ford sold 20 percent more diesel-powered light trucks in 1989 than in 1988, and Dodge sold out 15,000 Cummins-powered trucks in the first model year,” we noted in the story.
From a performance standpoint, the diesel engines of that era were improving. “Although durable and, in general, economical to operate, normally aspirated diesels have been sluggish performers—a diesel-powered pickup is not quick off the line. Manufacturers, however, have been steadily improving their diesel engines. The current crop of light-truck diesel engines makes for surprisingly quick trucks,” we wrote. We noted that a few weeks earlier we had tested a Dodge W350 pickup with the 5.9L gasoline engine and “we weren’t that impressed.” However, we had this to say after driving the W350 powered by the Cummins engine: “The engine’s astonishing power and sharp throttle response are so entertaining that it takes a while to notice the basic shortcomings of the truck.”
As we read these statements, we thumbed a few pages forward in the story to get a look at acceleration numbers of the GMC and Dodge. The 4,988-pound GMC’s 0-60 mph time was 13.59 seconds, while the 5,569-pound Dodge stopped the clock at 13.15 seconds. Compare this to our Four Wheeler 2017 Pickup Truck of the Year testing, which clocked the 7,264-pound Power Stroke-powered Ford Super Duty F-250 from 0-60 mph in a blazing 7.2 seconds and the 6,890-pound Cummins-powered Ram 2500 in 8.5 seconds. Performance has certainly improved, hasn’t it?
Interestingly, the story also included a piece on a two-wheel-drive ’90 Ford F-250 HD fit with a non-turbo 7.3L diesel engine. One has to assume that Ford didn’t have a 4x4 version of the truck available for the test. On our chassis dyno the F-250 produced the same horsepower (135) as the GMC, but was far behind the torque output of the GMC and Dodge.
In the end, we gave the nod to the Dodge. Even though it rode rough and was noisy both inside and out. “If you want a gentle and refined pickup with a plush interior, smooth ride, and the manners of a salad bar, stay the hell away from the Dodge Cummins turbo diesel,” we wrote. “If you want what may be the toughest light truck money can buy, go line up at your local Dodge dealer.”