2018 Pickup Truck of the Year – How We Test
The Method Behind the Madness
From the outside, our Pickup Truck of the Year testing may look like a bunch of ruffians doing burnouts and donuts for a week. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, some juvenile shenanigans take place for the sake of photography, but what isn’t seen are the many hundreds of hours of work that go on behind the scenes. We’ll save you the details of the thousands of pages of paperwork and hours on the phone with various state, federal, and private organizations and get right to the nitty-gritty.
Before any of the pickups ever hit the highway under our control, they are first logged in, stickered up, photographed, and fully refueled. First thing on day 1, prior to the start of testing, our staff weighs each vehicle with a full tank of fuel and nothing else. We utilize a set of precision vehicle scales from ProForm that are capable of accurately weighing pickups in excess of 7,000 pounds. We do this for several reasons, the first being that manufacturer-published curb weights typically don’t account for trim-level variants. For the most accurate testing possible, we calculate available payload based on the published Gross Vehicle Weight Rating and our determined actual curb weight. We find that most of the pickups tested actually have less available payload than published. This is due in part to the manufacturers using a blanket curb weight and not accounting for those trim-level variations mentioned earlier.
With the full judging staff assembled for a week of intense testing, the team headed to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, for a day of instrumented testing. The field of six was subjected to 0-60–mph and quarter-mile acceleration testing, as well as 60-0–mph braking while unladen. Each truck was then loaded up with its maximum payload and retested from 0-60, for quarter-mile elapsed time and speed, and 60-0 braking. The final instrumented test involved each truck accelerating from 0-60 mph and through a quarter-mile while towing a weighted trailer. This year’s test saw a change in how we assign trailer weights, moving from our old method of testing with 75 percent of the vehicle’s rated maximum, to a tiered system. Midsize pickups tow a trailer weighing 5,000 pounds, ½-tons 7,500 pounds, ¾-tons 10,000 pounds, and 1-tons 12,500 pounds. We test with a conventional bumper-pull trailer. This change came from years of learning and simplifying our testing procedure while still remaining near that 75-percent mark for each pickup. It also allows for more accurate comparisons within a size class.
For our instrumented testing, we utilize asphalt pavement that most closely simulates what you would find in the real world, not a competition-prepped dragstrip. Payload is replicated using rubber mats that weigh 100 pounds apiece, loaded and secured in the bed of each pickup. We load the trucks 200 pounds short of our calculated maximum payload to account for the driver’s weight. The trailer is weighted in the same fashion with our rubber ballast mats, set with approximately 10 percent of weight on the tongue. Rated towing maximums are also checked using our determined curb weight and the manufacturer’s stated Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating. Unlike payload ratings, however, these are very rarely found to be out of spec. To ensure consistency, a single driver was conducting instrumented testing, but each of the other judges had the opportunity to drive each pickup with its full payload on a closed course. This allowed for testing vehicle handling with maneuvers that would otherwise be dangerous on public roads, such as panic braking and emergency lane changes.
Day 2 was spent with trailer in tow. Using the same parameters as the instrumented testing, the trucks were again hitched up to our test trailer and driven on a 12-mile loop up and down the infamous Cajon Pass of Interstate 15 in Southern California. The Cajon Pass features an impressive 6-percent grade, which tested each pickup to the max. Beginning with the lightest load and ending with the heaviest, our expert judges spent the day rotating through the driver seat of each of the pickups involved. This allowed our judges to evaluate every vehicle with a loaded trailer driving both up and down the grade. Our chosen grade allowed us to test merging and passing power, vehicle stability, downhill control, and available features such as towing mirrors, integrated trailer brake controllers, and integrated exhaust brakes. Transmission function, both up and down the grade, along with the vehicle’s service brakes and cruise-control systems were also put to the test. Testers also got well acquainted with how easy, or difficult, each truck was to hitch a trailer to and how each truck’s backup camera and sensor systems either helped or hindered the process.
With load and instrumented testing complete, on day 3, the vehicles were pointed north from the Truck Trend world headquarters toward the sleepy Central California coastal town of Pismo Beach for a 400-mile highway slog designed to test maximum real-world fuel efficiency. Our convoy drove at the stated speed limit in a lead-follow formation, rotating both drivers and vehicle positions at designated intervals. This method produces the most accurate representation of real-world highway fuel economy possible. While all fuel used during the test is logged to get an overall average, this allows us to see what each vehicle is capable of producing under nearly ideal real-world circumstances.
Finally, the vehicles headed to California’s Johnson Valley, where the field completed extensive off-highway testing over miles of diverse desert and mountain terrain over the course of two days. Through rough, graded roads, rocky climbs, tight trails, and sandy washes, judges were able to evaluate tires, gearing, traction aids, electronic traction controls, ground clearance, suspension tuning, four-wheel-drive systems, thermal management, and overall vehicle dynamics. While it’s true that most truck owners won’t use their pickup as strictly an off-road toy, the fact still remains that most are marketed toward those who lead an active outdoor lifestyle. And while some may not consider themselves and off-roader, they still use their four-wheel-drive pickup to get to their favorite hunting, fishing, camping, biking, surfing, skiing, or boarding spot. And if it’s not for recreation, then it’s used on the farm, in muddy fields, rural construction sites, or mines.
Over the course of the five-day, 1,200-mile test, our experts had ample time with each vehicle to form qualified opinions regarding important factors such as interior ergonomics, seat comfort, technology usability, build quality, and features and benefits of each truck. Each judge then took this knowledge and applied it while ranking each pickup on a sliding scale in each of 60 different criteria in 6 different categories.
In the end, there can be only one winner. Continue on to see how the story unfolds…