How We Test
Getting Down And Dirty
Our Pickup Truck of the Year competition is an event unlike any other. Looking in from the outside, it's easy to judge and think that we're on nothing more than a company-sponsored weeklong overlanding trip. This couldn't be further from the truth. Our 2021 Pickup Truck of the Year competition came about as the culmination of hundreds of hours of work, dozens of Zoom meetings, hours on the phone, and loads of paperwork. Heading out into the unknown was the fun light at the end of the dark tunnel.
If this were any other year, our team of judges would spend a full week out in the wild, covering hundreds of miles of off-road trails. As we are all fully aware, 2020 was an unusual year. In the interest of the health and safety of our judging staff, and in working with public and private officials for permitting and planning, we were forced to back what should have been five days of off-road driving to just one day of track testing and two days of wheeling.
Our testing began bright and early Monday morning at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Here, the competitors were subjected to 0-60 mph, quarter-mile, and 60-0 mph braking instrumented testing in a controlled environment. For this, we use the non-prepped runout surface of Auto Club Speedway's quarter-mile dragstrip. Using the non-prepped side of the racetrack provides the best real-world results by running the vehicles on a pavement surface that most similarly reflects what would be found in the real world, not a professional racing surface. While one vehicle was on the track, the others were available to our judges to test handling characteristics such as acceleration, braking, and emergency lane change maneuvers in a similarly controlled and safe environment, away from the public.
Next, our staff mounted up and took the five pickups to T&J Performance in Orange, California, where we ran each of the competitors up the company's 22-degree RTI ramp. Using the RTI ramp gave us a consistent and repeatable way to measure and compare suspension articulation. To minimize variables, the same driver took each vehicle up the ramp while a single spotter told the driver where to place the front tire and when to stop. All vehicles were tested with the transfer case in low range.
Once the RTI scoring was complete, it was time to get dirty. Because of the need to stay close to home due to state-imposed restrictions of travel, this year's off-roading was done on a combination of BLM and California State Parks land in Southern California. Thankfully, we had plenty of dirt roads, rutted trails, mild rocks, steep climbs, and deep sand washes to work with. This allowed our judges the opportunity to test all of the off-road functions of the vehicles, from four-wheel-drive engagement and traction devices to tire grip and ground clearance.
Over the course of three days and more than 500 miles, our judges 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. Each judge then took this knowledge and applied it while blind-ranking each vehicle on a sliding scale in 40 criteria in four categories.