Welcome to our 23rd installment of Four Wheeler’s Pickup Truck of the Year, where we take the newest trucks and put them through a week of hard testing to find out which truck will earn the right to call itself our Pickup Truck of the Year.
In order for a vehicle to be eligible for our competition, it has to be all-new or significantly revised from the previous year, have a two-speed transfer case, have a production run of at least 1,500 vehicles available in the U.S., and must be on sale by January 15, 2012. We score each of the vehicles based on an extensive testing criteria of five weighted categories that include Trail Performance (30%), Empirical (25%), On Pavement (20%), Interior (15%), and Exterior (10%).
This year our field included three trucks. First up was Ford’s F-150 FX4 with the impressive EcoBoost 3.5 V-6 twin turbocharged V-6 with 365hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. The Ford was invited last year, but was not available in time so it remained eligible for 2012. Also eligible this year were the ’12 Ram Power Wagon, which benefits from a new six-speed automatic transmission and the ’12 Ram 2500, which now has an enhanced 6.7L Cummins I-6 putting out 350hp and 800 lb-ft of torque. Also eligible this year, but not available in time, were the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor SuperCrew and Toyota Tacoma.
Much like last month’s Four Wheeler of the Year test, we drove our pickups through a 1,000-mile loop that encompassed all things from city gridlock to technical trails. Our seven judges took turns at the wheel of each vehicle over the course of a week and reported their thoughts, findings, and scores in to logbooks, which were collected and added up culminating with our choice for 2012’s Pickup Truck of the Year.
Our first entry in to our PTOTY test was the Ford F-150 FX4, sporting a technologically advanced twin-scroll 3.5L V-6. Our SuperCab truck was an ’11 model that was updated to the ’12 spec. With a base price of $36,625 our F-150 included a rear locker and skidplating, but was optioned out with the EcoBoost V-6 ($750), 4.10 gearing ($50), Sony navigation radio ($2,495), running boards ($455), power moon roof ($995), FX Luxury package ($2,950), Max Trailer Tow package ($565), and 20-inch FX2 cast aluminum wheels ($755) that were swapped out for the FX4’s optional and more aggressive 18-inch rubber. After some package discounts and destination charge, our Ford came to an as-tested price of $44,615, making it the most affordable in our group.
Delivered with a base price of $45,565 was our Ram Power Wagon, which still comes with the 383hp and 400 lb-ft 5.7L Hemi, albeit now backed by a six-speed automatic, further extending the Hemi’s flexibility. To the base price, we added the Technology Group ($495), power sunroof ($850), security alarm ($150), Media Center 430N ($1,200), ParkView rear back up camera ($200), power adjustable pedals ($125), remote start ($185), RamBox Cargo Management system ($1,295), spray-in bedliner ($475) and a destination charge of ($995) to bring our as-tested total to $53,030.
Our most expensive truck was the Ram 2500, which arrived in Mega Cab form, sporting Laramie Longhorn trim. To the base price of $49,875 we added the Protection group ($50), Heavy-duty Snow Plow prep package ($85), 350/800 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel ($7,195), 68RFE six-speed automatic transmission ($1,100), 4.10:1 axle ratio ($50), limited slip differential rear axle ($325), power sunroof ($850), roof-mounted clearance lights ($80), dual transmission oil cooler ($345), LT265/70R17E OWL on/off-road tires ($200), RamBox Cargo Management systems ($1,295), rear seat video system ($1,200), and a destination charge of ($995), making the grand total of our as-tested price $63,645.
By the Numbers
This year our instrument testing venues included Off Road Evolution in Fullerton, California, and the former El Toro Marine Base in Orange County, California. Off Road Evolution provided us with access to a couple of lifts, allowing us to survey the undercarriage of each vehicle. We were also able to take advantage of its 30-degree RTI ramp to gauge flexibility of each truck’s suspension. At El Toro Field, we had full use of an abandoned runway to perform our instrumented testing, including 0-60 and 1⁄4-mile acceleration tests, and 60-0 braking tests.
On the ramp it was the uber-flexy Power Wagon and its electronically disconnecting front sway bar that travelled 68-inches up the ramp for a score of 457. The F-150 followed with a score of 324 after traveling 48 inches, while the mile-long Ram Mega Cab managed 48.5 inches for a score of 295.
With the suspension evaluated, we turned to the track to gauge powertrain performance. It was here that the surprise of the test took place—two six-cylinder trucks outran the V-8. Not only were they faster, they were significantly faster. With a 1,000-pound weight advantage, a twin-turbo engine, and more horsepower, one might assume the F-150 would take acceleration honors with its impressive 0-60 time of 7.36 seconds. However, it was the Ram 2500 and its massive 800 lb-ft of torque that proved quickest off the line, hitting 60 in just 7.2 seconds. The Power Wagon gunned it through 60 in 8.36 seconds, exactly a second after the F-150 and a hair faster than our ’10 five-speed Power Wagon, which did it in 8.68 seconds.
As the quarter mile was reached, the trucks maintained their positioning, as the EcoBoosted F-150 nearly caught the Ram 2500, which was still pulling hard crossing the line in just 15.64 seconds at 89.29 mph. The F-150 was right behind at 15.80 seconds at 89.3 mph. The Power Wagon was the tail gunner with a run of 16.91 at 82.93, almost identical to our ’10 test.
The F-150 pulled out a win in the braking test, coming to a stop in 148.76 feet, while both Rams ended up within a foot of each other. The heftier Mega Cab stopped in 158.44 feet, while the Power Wagon, with its more aggressive BFG All-Terrain tires hauled itself down in 158.5 feet.
Another important area the trucks are scored on is fuel economy. At the end of 1,000 miles of hard testing, it was the Ford, with its 12.59 mpg that lead the pack, followed by the turbodiesel Ram 2500 at 12.27 mpg, and the Hemi Power Wagon at 10.21 mpg. We expected the EcoBoost F-150 to have a substantially higher fuel economy average, but did note an anomaly during one tank, that delivered numbers that were inconsistent with the rest of our testing. Perhaps it was a bad tank of fuel or a computer issue, but the issue cleared up after fresh fuel and a restart, and the Ford continued the test delivering the much higher numbers that we expected, such as a final mixed tank of 17.5 mpg.