How We Test Them
We spend a few days on the road for our Pickup Truck of the Year test. On the first day we hit the dragstrip to find out which truck is the quickest and which one can stop the fastest. Then from there we head out into the desert and run all of the vehicles over our rock-infested test loop. The next two days find us in Borrego Springs putting the trucks through their paces. On the last day we head out to Gorman for more off-roading. In between, we spend plenty of time on the highway to get a good feel for how the trucks do on the pavement.
Along the way we are constantly evaluating the vehicles and making notes on their performance. Finally it comes time to score the vehicles in five separate categories. The Mechanical category is where the judges evaluate all the mechanical components such as the engine, transmission, suspension, etc. It accounts for 25 percent of the total score.
Plenty of trail time makes it easy to score the Trail section of scoring which accounts for 30 percent of the total score. The Highway section makes up 20 percent of the final score and it is here that the ride and handling of each truck while on pavement is evaluated. Next is the Interior section (15 percent) where the execution of each vehicle's interior is judged.
Finally comes the Exterior section, which accounts for 10 percent, where the fit and finish of each vehicle, along with the quality of its tow hooks and skidplates, is evaluated. Once the scoring is finished, we add up the points and a winner is declared.
Crawl Test: Slow is Good!
One of the things we're most curious about with respect to 4x4 trucks is this: Which of them will crawl the most slowly? Sure, we could get our slide rules (remember them?) out and figure out crawl ratios, but that's not real-world, in that it doesn't take engine management computer settings for things like low-speed ignition retard, idle speed and such into account.
So what we do is this: We line our contestants up together at the top of a hill in low gear, low range, engines running. Then we step off the brakes. First truck down the hill loses, last truck down wins.
This year, the Ford F-150 was the slowest crawler, the Tundra Double Cab was the next slowest, and the Titan was the quickest. But in developing the slow time, the Ford's fuel-injected engine was loading up, running ever more slowly. If we left it alone, in fact, it would die soon after we brought the truck to a halt. We're not sure what this means, except that perhaps the F-150's engine management software might not yet be fully sorted.