When we were planning our 2011 4x4 of the Year competition last year, we realized that Ford, GM, and Dodge Ram all qualified for the test with new or revised diesel powerplants. But we felt those trucks really deserved their own comparison test, an evaluation tailored to their strengths: hauling stuff to the dirt and playing around in the dirt. We decided to aim our sights at 34-ton models with midlevel trim grades and optionsthe core of the truck marketfiguring they would make better dual-purpose on/off-road machines than the full-dress, high-end, 1-ton dualies.
The manufacturers filled our request with the three trucks you see here: a Ford F-250 Super Duty Lariat equipped with a 6.7L Power Stroke V-8, a GMC Sierra 2500HD SLT with a 6.6L Duramax V-8, and a Ram 2500 SLT powered by a 6.7L Cummins I-6. All three trucks wear a crew-cab/shortbed body, are equipped with their company’s tow package, and weigh within about 600 pounds (or less than 10 percent of total vehicle weight) of one another . Plus, we were able to source three identical toy hauler trailers from Carson Trailer to test the trucks’ towing capabilities (see the sidebar Hauling the Fun, page 62, for more trailer info). The trailers all weighed within about 100 pounds of one another, so this test is about as apples-to-apples as you’re going to get.
Apples-to-apples, and brutal too: During three days we logged more than 1,000 miles, from early morning until well after dark, in weather that hit us with 60- to 70-mph wind gusts and nighttime temps below freezing. We didn’t choose just any mountain pass to drive; we headed to the Borrego Badlands to haul our rigs up and down the Montezuma Grade, 10 twisting, winding miles at a 10-percent grade that has claimed more than one hapless RV trying to leave the Anza Borrego State Park. (A 10-percent grade is illegal in this state, so the road is marked at just 8 percent.)
One fuel economy run started at the Salton Sea, 228 feet below sea level, and peaked at nearly 6,000 feet in the Laguna Mountains. That route also took us through the Mountain Springs Grade on Interstate 8, the grueling, steep bane of every long-haul trucker traveling along the CaliforniaMexico border.
Likewise, not just any OHV area would do for our off-road testing. We were granted access to a portion of the secret proving grounds where Ford developed the Raptor, thanks to the help of Pacific Contract Services (PCS), master logisticians who have assisted Ford and many other automakers and OE vendors with their testing programs. The PCS crew kept us on course during our stay and well provisioned too.
We concluded our testing with no clear victor in mind. Each of the trucks was more than up to the task we put it through and was capable on and off the pavement, with or without a trailer. It took our pouring over the judging sheets later and carefully awarding points in 47 categories to tease out a winner. Read on to see who’s king of this hill.