2004 Diesel Hauler Shootout

We Put America's Best Big Trucks to the Test

Mar 8, 2005
Photographers: Truckin' Staff
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Nowhere in the world are people as fascinated with fullsize pickup trucks as we, Americans. Over the past few decades, fullsize trucks have gone from beyond moving equipment on the farm and hauling materials at work sites to replacing the family sedan as the people hauler of choice, as well as being looked to as a platform for heavy customization. Today's fullsize rigs are as comfortable and luxurious as some of the finest automobiles on the market, and in many cases, more powerful.
Photo 2/33   |   2004 Ford F250 Harley Davidson Crew Cab Three Trucks Aerial View
With recent powerplant upgrades by Dodge and GMC, we felt it was time to round up the big boys and put them through the paces. We placed calls to each respective manufacturer and were able to procure three identical heavy-duty trucks. Dodge, Ford, and GMC each sent us a 3/4-ton, diesel-powered, automatic-equipped, single-rear-wheel, top-of-the-line, crew cab, 4x4 tester. GMC gave us the keys to an executive-looking all-black Sierra 2500 Crew Cab in SLT trim, while Dodge sent us a Ram 600 Laramie in 2500 Quad Cab trim. Ford's F-250 crew cab arrived dressed in eye-arresting black-over-orange Harley-Davidson duds.
Photo 3/33   |   2004 GMC Sierra 2500 HD Crew Cab Front Passengers Side View With Trailer
While each of these trucks is a great vehicle in its own right, we put them through the scrutiny of the Truckin' staff to find out which truck was the most worthy of being named Best Diesel Hauler. We took each truck out for two weeks of daily driving, attached our 32-foot, 5,000-pound Truckin' work trailer, and ran numbers at our usual testing facility. With the trailer in tow, we pulled the infamous Cajon grade on Interstate 15 in each truck, gathering important real-world driving impressions along the way. Once we were done testing, we wrote down our impressions, tallied up the points, and awarded a winner. Read on to find out which heavy-duty we were hard-pressed to give back after our time was up.
Click through the next pages to see who won the Heavy Duty Truck Shootout.
'04 GMC Sierra
A Cruiser for the Long Haul
GMC was known for its big-block grunt for many years, and people stayed away from the company's anemic diesels in droves. This all changed in 2001 with the introduction of the 6.6L Duramax turbodiesel, which was co-developed with Isuzu. With power wars between the HO Cummins and venerable Power Stroke heating up, the Duramax helped put GMC back in the race. After Dodge announced the Cummins 600, GMC quickly responded by upping the Duramax output.
GMC sent us its newest version of the Duramax, which now pumps out 310 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, wrapped in an Onyx-Black 2500 HD Crew Cab SLT 4x4 backed by the coveted Allison five-speed automatic transmission. These options brought the GMC to an eye-popping $47,583 of hard-earned cash, or the equivalent of 1-1/2 years of an entry-level staff editor's salary. Fortunately, we had the benefit of XM radio and comfortable seats. Unfortunately, every tester bemoaned the GMC's bipolar ride. With an ultra-cushy front A-arm and torsion bar suspension and an overly harsh rear leaf suspension, the GMC bucked and pogo'd along the freeway, leaving some editors clamoring for the worker's comp form.
With or without the trailer, the GMC was always half a step behind the category leader. At the track, the Sierra pulled a competitive 8.99 0-60 run and a 16.93 quarter-mile at 81.34 mph. With substantial turbo lag, the Duramax felt somewhat lethargic down low, but once the turbo was spooled up, the Duramax pulled as hard as a freight train. Passing power on two-lane roads was exceptional. The brake feel was generally good but faded quickly, falling behind the Dodge and Ford in 60-0 unladed braking distances, scoring 154.37 feet.
Out on the highway, with trailer in tow, the GMC became a completely different machine. The suspension smoothed out and the ride became downright luxurious, exhibiting none of the harshness so apparent when it was unloaded. The GMC's chassis always felt stable and unflappable, and the comfortable, if not a little dated, cockpit was good for long distances. We commended the Sierra's steering, and the brakes felt confident and solid with the trailer attached.
Like the Dodge, the Duramax was also able to hit a top speed of 75 mph while running the grade, and the Allison transmission did a good job of holding the Sierra's speed to 55 mph while running downhill. The GMC's trailer mirrors extend at the touch of a button but create a fair amount of wind noise and don't have convex glass, so using them takes some getting used to.
If you plan on buying a truck for around town use, keep in mind that the competition has a leg up on the GMC in unladed comfort. The new power is a welcome addition to the Duramax, and with a large bed and comfortable interior, the Sierra was our pick for long distance hauls while loaded up. For those cross-country road trips, we would strongly suggest the XM option and the quality Bose system that is available.
From the Logbook:
The turning radius is as wide as a whole city block.
- Senior Tech Editor, Bob Ryder
How can GM install such a small wheel and tire package on this truck? It looks like the HD is riding on spares.
- Associate Editor, Dan Ward
Wow, this thing actually rides great with the trailer attached -- really comfortable.
- Associate Editor Sean P. Holman
'04 Dodge Ram 2500
When You Need to Pull Some Stumps
Dodge has been hot on the heels of Ford and Chevy ever since its redesigned Ram hit the market with the much-hyped Hemi V-8. Dodge is showing just how determined it is to take over the truck world by introducing desirable niche products, such as the Ram SRT-10 and Power Wagon, and strongly competitive mainstream products, such as the class-leading 5.9L Cummins 600 I-6 diesel engine.
Our flame-red Ram 2500 tester was dropped off at the office, complete with the $5,460 Cummins 600 checked off on the order box, along with the luxurious Laramie package that included comfortable, heated leather seats and upgraded everything. Similarly equipped as the competition, the Ram came in at $44,245 -- the lowest of the test. The Ram was a pleasant place to do business, and all of the testers commented on how maneuverable the Ram was around town. While the Ram had a firm ride, it was also one of the smoothest, no doubt helped by the front coil springs on top of the solid axle. The quick steering made the Ram feel relatively nimble and lightweight, and unlike the GMC, the best thing about the Ram is when you step up into it, it feels like a proper truck.
At the track, the Ram's lighter weight and 325 hp enabled it to show its tailgate to the other trucks with a blazing 0-60 time of 8.85 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 16.8 at 80.58 mph. The Dodge's brakes, which were by far class-leading around town in feel and stopping power, also turned in the best 60-0 braking distance of 138.6 feet -- only 6 feet longer than the recently tested '04 Dodge Ram SRT-10, and a whopping 16 feet shorter than the GMC Sierra HD. The 30-0 braking distance with the trailer was also tops.
With the trailer in tow, the quicker steering that the testers liked around town promptly became a disadvantage, causing busy steering and making over-corrections all too easy. The Dodge Ram was also the only truck of the test to come without the optional trailer-towing mirrors, which are only a $100 check box on the order form. Pulling the grade, the Cummins felt strong but had a dead spot in the powerband, which limited the Dodge to the same top speed as the GMC's 75 mph. The Cummins also doesn't feel as free-revving as the Duramax or Power Stroke, but the transmission uses what it has to pull off exceptional shifts and held the Dodge to 60 mph on a four-mile stretch of a 60 percent grade. The Dodge's chassis also felt more susceptible to trailer sway, and while it can easily tow the load, when driven back-to-back between the other trucks, it doesn't feel the most stable. In this test, the lack of big mirrors and trailering dynamics contributed to the Ram being the less desirable tow vehicle of the bunch.
Overall, the Dodge is a strong performer; only its shallow bed and quick steering keep it from being the best hauler in the group. We noted the awesome brakes, clean ergonomics, and quality fit and finish. We would recommend the Dodge to anyone who has the need for heavy-duty truck, but might see more commuting in it than towing. But if you are going to tow, enjoy the Cummins and plunk down the extra hundred bucks for the mirrors.
From the Logbook:
The Dodge impressed us with good power and shift points, complemented by great brakes.
- Bob Ryder, Senior Tech Editor
What other six-cylinder sounds so tough?
- Dan Ward, Associate Editor
There isn't much to complain about on the Dodge, but why don't the steering wheel controls light up?
- Sean P. Holman, Associate Editor
'04 Ford F-250 Super Duty: Winner
A Truck of All Trades
All those Super Duty owners must know something because the F-series has been the best-selling truck in America for 27 years and the best selling vehicle for 22 years. When the Power Stroke 6.0L turbodiesel was introduced in 2003, it wowed the truck market with 325 hp and 560 lb-ft of twist, but it didn't take long for the competition to upgrade their own diesels, giving the Ford a run for its money. We were anxious to see how the Ford would hold up to the tougher competition, so we ordered one up.
We couldn't get the more appropriate F-250 Super Duty Lariat crew cab from Ford for this test, so we took the mechanically identical Harley-Davidson edition. Depending on how you look at it, the Ford was either the most expensive vehicle in the test, or the second lowest by a lot. When equipped with the H-D package, our F-250 rung up the tab at a staggering $48,825, but an identical Lariat, sans the H-D package, would be more palatable at $45,730. However, if you want looks like we got looks, pay the extra for the Harley edition. Our truck was filled with features, including the reverse vehicle aid sensor, a power sliding rear window, and power pedals. The cavernous interior was comfortable, and the rear seat looked as if it had been pulled from a stretched Lincoln Town Car, offering enough room for three adults to sit with their legs crossed without touching. Our Super Duty sat tall and proud, and the captain chairs and seating position were more akin to piloting than driving. We were also surprised by how smooth the ride was, especially since it is suspended above the solid axles by archaic, yet rugged, leaves at all four corners.
On the road, the Super Duty impressed us with limited turbo lag, offering instantaneous response when we instigated the right pedal. The overall power of the Power Stroke, while no longer the strongest on the market, seemed to be more linear than either the Cummins or the Duramax. This was proven when we hitched up the trailer and the Ford was able to smoke the other two trucks at the top of the grade, maxing out at 82 mph, 7 mph faster than either of the competition. The TorqShift transmission was also tops, firing off firm quick shifts and holding the Ford to 55 mph without brakes during our downgrade testing. The Ford felt like it could tow all day at 70 mph, and felt the most stable, seeming to shrug off the fact that the trailer was even back there. The Ford's steering, which seemed slow around town, was perfectly weighted when the trailer was attached, and the giant extendable towing mirrors gave excellent visibility to the sides, creating almost no wind noise.
With or without the trailer, the Power Stroke was strong. The Ford was able to charge to 60 mph in 8.95 seconds, only 0.10 seconds behind the Dodge, and put the quarter-mile behind it at 16.83 seconds at 82.81, versus 16.80 at 80.58 mph in the Dodge. With the trailer attached, the Ford shamed the Dodge and GMC. At 15.05 seconds, for 0-60, it was 1.93 seconds faster than the Dodge and an astonishing 3.37 seconds faster than the GMC. Although both trucks caught up as the turbos spooled, neither could catch the Ford's quarter-mile time of 19.83 at 66.71 mph with the trailer attached. Braking was good, but not quite on the same level as the Dodge.
Even as the oldest body style in the segment, the Super Duty proves that it has what it takes to remain at the top of the class as the best heavy-duty truck. Its awesome powertrain, good road manners, quiet ride, huge interior, deep bed, and rugged truck styling all work together to keep Ford on top of the sales chart. We just can't wait to get our hands on the '05 Ford Super Duty, which will have an even quieter cabin, coil spring front suspension on 4x4s, styling updates, and additional power in both gas and diesel engines. The competition is fierce, but Dodge and GMC have a little more homework to do if they want to top our diesel hauler winner, the '04 Ford Super Duty.
From the Logbook:
My overall impression is very good. The Super Duty gets an A-plus.
- Bob Ryder, Senior Tech Editor
The 6.0L pulls hard and with instant boost. It provides the seat-of-the-pants excitement the others lack.
- Dan Ward, Associate Editor
The Ford just feels solid, and the Power Stroke pulls hard all the time.
- Sean P. Holman, Associate Editor
Diesel Hauler Performance Statistics
Make/Model{{{Dodge}}} Ram Heavy-Duty 2500{{{Ford F-250}}} Harley-Davidson{{{GMC Sierra}}} 2500 HD
Price (as tested)$44,445$48,{{{825}}}$47,583
Engine5.9L Cummins Turbodiesel6.0L Power Stroke Turbodiesel6.6L Duramax Turbodiesel
Horsepower325 at 2,{{{900}}} rpm325 at 3,{{{300}}} rpm310 at 3,000 rpm
Torque{{{600}}} at 1,600 rpm560 at 2,000 rpm590 at 1,600 rpm
TransmissionFive-speed autoFive-speed autoFive-speed Allison
SuspensionLive axle, Quadra-Link leading arms, coil springs (front), live axle, leaf spring (rear)Monobeam, leaf spring solid axle (front), solid axle leaf spring (rear)Independent torsion bar (front), semi-elliptic two-stage leaves (rear)
BrakesPower-assisted four-wheel disc, ABSPower-assisted four-wheel disc, ABSPower-assisted four-wheel disc, ABS
Wheelbase140.5 in156.2 in153 in
Length227.2 in245.8 in237.2 in
Width79.9 in79.8 in79.7 in
Height78.4 in79.9 in76.2 in
Curb Weight 5,979 lb6,270 lb5,858 lb
Towing Capacity (as tested) 13,150 lb12,500 lb12,000 lb
Without Trailer
Acceleration (0-60 mph)8.85 sec8.95 sec8.99 sec
Quarter-Mile Time16.{{{80}}} sec at 80.58 mph16.83 sec at 82.81 mph16.93 sec at 81.34 mph
Braking (60-0 mph)138.6 ft150.{{{90}}} ft154.37 ft
With 5,000-Pound 30-Foot Trailer
Acceleration (0-60 mph)16.98 sec15.05 sec18.42 sec
Quarter-Mile Time20.38 sec at 64.92 mph19.83 sec at 66.71 mph21.56 sec at 66.53 mph
Braking (30-0 mph)56.37 ft{{{57}}}.68 ft56.80 ft

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