We always stress that Motor Trend's "of the Year" programs are never straight-up comparison tests, but rather evaluations against our six key criteria (see below). But this year's battle for the Truck of the Year calipers came as close to a direct comparison as it gets.
In stark contrast to last year's free-for-all, which included a Baja racer; a unibody, front-drive mini-vanette; and two contractor-grade work trucks, this year's program was all about the heavy-duty haulers.
Three trucks qualified for 2011, all heavy-duty variants of established players in the full-size segment: the Chevrolet Silverado Heavy Duty, Ford F-Series Super Duty, and GMC Sierra Heavy Duty. All we needed to make this one of our standard comparison tests was the Ram Heavy Duty, but it won Truck of the Year 12 months ago.
As we did last year, we elected to bring two variants from each of the qualifying brands. Along with three gas-powered single rear-wheel trucks, we selected a turbodiesel, double cabin, and a dual rear wheel ("dualie") variant of each, for a total of six trucks.
Heavy-duty trucks demand heavy-duty testing, so we headed to a world-class vehicle-evaluation facility just outside Phoenix, Arizona, with a professional, knowledgable and helpful staff. Nissan's Arizona Test Center is a top-notch testing facility utilized not only by Nissan and its related companies, but also a number of well-known automobile and motorcycle manufacturers and suppliers on a contract basis.
In addition to our standard complement of acceleration, braking, and handling tests, we also performed acceleration tests with giant sandbag payloads ranging from 2000 to 4000 pounds, depending on the truck. We also evaluated the towing ability of each truck with 7000-pound trailers for the gasoline trucks and 12,000-pound trailers for the diesels. After the empty and laden test regimen, we ran all the trucks back-to-back through a driving loop that incorporated many of ATC's varied driving surfaces. You can see a more detailed description of the test surfaces and our handling loop in the graphic at right.
Along with the testing performed at ATC, the trucks were evaluated in the real world, on a rotating schedule, during the roughly 350-mile drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix.
After all the timing and testing, sandbag loading and note taking, we sat down to discuss the test results, review our driving impressions, and debate our individual selections. Then we put it to a vote. Read on to see which truck we chose, and why.
Each TOTY contender is evaluated against six criteria.
Quality execution of exterior and interior styling, innovation in vehicle packaging, good selection and use of materials.
Integrity of total vehicle concept and execution, clever solutions to packaging, manufacturing, and dynamics issues; use of cost-effective technologies that benefit the consumer.
How well the vehicle does the job its designers and product planners intended.
Low fuel consumption and carbon footprint, relative to the vehicle's competitive set.
Primary safety -- the vehicle's ability to help the driver avoid a crash -- as well as secondary safety measure that protect occupants from harm during a crash.
Price and equipment levels measured against those of vehicles in the same market segment.
|Allyson Harwood||Executive Editor,
|Carlos Lago||Assistant Web Producer|
|Edward Loh||Executive Editor|
|Nate Martinez||Associate Web Producer|
|Scott Mortara||Road Test Editor|
|Kim Reynolds||Testing Director|
Nissan ATC, located just outside Phoenix, serves as test site to many in the auto industry.
1. HIGH-SPEED OVAL
Nissan ATC's high-speed oval is 5.7 miles around with three 13-foot-wide lanes. The end of each straightaway includes brake test lanes and brake coolers. We used the straightaways for acceleration and braking tests and the corners for cool-down. We also incorporated an oval section into our handling loop (below).
2. RIDE COMFORT COURSE
This area consists of various test sections used for measuring road noise and for evaluating riding comfort. There are more than 20 different test surfaces with such interesting names as Tokyo Joints, Bottoming Dips, Freeway Hop, Drumming Road, Wagon Track, and Wheel Fight section. We used the Coarse Aggregate, Curved Undulating, Sine Wave, and New York Rough Road surfaces.
3. MARKETABILITY-EVALUATION COURSE
This facility utilizes various surface events to evaluate vehicle dynamic performance in natural conditions. These road events include bridge expansion joints, high- and low-frequency bumps, typical mountain country roads, constant- and decreasing-radius corners, broken concrete sections, and a variety of rough surfaces.
This test area consists of a brake water trough, a 350-foot-diameter skidpad, maneuverability test course (used for slalom, lane change, and other limit-handling moves), and a drop-off curb. We were interested only in the skidpad, upon which we measured each truck's lateral acceleration.
5. HANDLING LOOP
For back-to-back-to-back testing of all the trucks, we stitched together a 10-mile handling loop that incorporated portions of the high-speed oval, ride-comfort course, and marketability-evaluation course. Each judge drove every truck through the loop to assess its performance relative to the others in its field, diesel versus diesel, gas versus gas.
Contender: Ford Super Duty
Was it worth the weight?
By Mark Williams
The 2011 Super Duty was an easy qualifier for this year's contest. In some minds, the Super Duty was the one to beat, as Ford recently had huge successes with the F-150 (and several of its variations), and the last-generation Super Duty set new benchmarks for interior quality and pulling power. This time around, the new Ford Super Duty is impressive on many fronts, but is not without flaws.
The all-new, in-house-designed 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 is the centerpiece of Ford's new work trucks. To its credit, the new engine is full of powerful technology, and offers the most horses and torque of any truck in the segment. Highlights include reverse-mounted aluminum heads (inboard exhaust outlets); a single turbocharger incorporating small and large turbines to mimic sequential twin-turbos; and eight-holed high-pressure piezo injectors.
That said, the new engine in our topline F-350 dualie King Ranch 4x4 was a bit of a letdown. In around-town driving and on the test track, the tremendous class-leading power numbers didn't prove out. In just about every formal and informal drag scenario -- empty, full of payload, and with our 12,000-pound test trailer -- the Duramax turbodiesel in the Chevy Silverado 3500 HD and GMC Sierra Denali 3500 HD outperformed the Power Stroke. To wit, the 0-60 times for the F-350 were 8.3/10.5 seconds (empty/loaded) compared with 7.6/10.0 seconds for the GMC Sierra 3500 HD Denali. No big deal because no one brags about racing HD trucks? Well,Ford is currently bragging about class-leading engine output.
In external styling, our big F-350 dualie had the new, larger dual-bar front grille held in place with vise-like parentheses, as well as larger headlights, a taller hood, and possibly the largest Ford badge emblem ever put on a vehicle. (It takes two hands to measure its width.) In back, the F-350 had an uncomfortable retro look, with a set of simple half-circle fenders over the rear tires. Some said the fenders looked like an afterthought, especially compared with the more aerodynamic rear fenders of the GM HDs or the Ram HD dual-rear-wheel beds.
Inside, the F-350 is a sea of saddle stitching and brown (leather, wood, plastic trim, and dash), subtly accented with black, tan, and chrome. Overall, our testers appreciated the high-zoot interior and gave high marks to the new center-gauge LCD screen. This full-color addition provides the driver with access to such previously unreachable information as instant and long-term fuel economy, towing advice, wheel position, and much, much more. Also, the new 6R140 transmission is integrated into the information screen so drivers can track and control transmission shifts and visually track selected gears. The new TorqShift with the Range Select feature (a software program that allows the driver to select when and how the transmission shifts) is standout technology, especially when hauling and towing. It was particularly useful while driving the smaller F-250, equipped with the base (and also new) 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 engine.
The new V-8 that debuted in the Ford's F-150 SVT Raptor evolved from the previous generation of large-bore/shorter-stroke Ford V-8s. In our F-250 Lariat 4x4 CrewCab the engine's quick throttle response and deep, throaty exhaust note were impressive. Several testers noted it sounded and felt more powerful than its 385 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque, especially when flogged through the marketability course at Nissan's ATC proving grounds. This quick and choppy road course allowed us to dive into hard corners, then accelerate onto long straightaways with relative ease.
As nice as the power is in the new F-250, we weren't as impressed with the chassis and suspension, especially compared with the Chevy and GMC trucks. Sure, we know these suspensions are designed and built to carry and haul heavy loads, not slice and dice a road course. Still, the Super Duty's live front axles (our test units were both 4x4s) with coil springs and massive stabilizer bars didn't do the truck any favors over the various uneven road surfaces at the proving grounds.
The new Super Duty brings a lot of improvements to the table, but not enough to stand out in the two key areas that define a work truck: pulling power and engine strength. While this is a great truck, our jury couldn't give the Super Duty the calipers this time around.
What they did right
Clean diesel's 400 horses and 800 pound-feet are awesome and best in class. Easy-to-use driver info center offers great specs and information.
King Ranch redefines luxury in the segment, with posh interior and standout style.
Room for improvement
New engines are excellent, but high curb weights stunt what could be truly awesome power. As it is, though, the Silverado HD proved faster at the track, despite its horsepower and torque deficits. Oversize grille may be too gaudy for some truck buyers.
Bet you didn't know
The new 6.7L Power Stroke V-8 was code-named "Scorpion" during development because of the lead engineer's love of Michael Schenker's hard rock guitar riffs.
|2011 Ford Super Duty |
| Model Tested|| F-250 SRW Lariat|| F-350 DRW King Ranch|
|Base price ||$29,310 (F-250)|| $30,030 (F-350)|
|Price as tested ||$48,330|| $64,225|
|Vehicle layout ||Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass,
4-door pickup|| Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass,
SOHC 16-valve V-8 ||6.7L/400-hp/800-lb-ft
twin-turbodiesel OHV 32-valve V-8|
|Transmission|| 6-speed automatic ||6-speed automatic|
|Curb weight (f/r dist)|| 7118 lb (58/42%)|| 8470 lb (57/43%)|
|Wheelbase ||156.2 in ||172.4 in|
|Length x width x height ||246.8 x 79.9 x 79.7 in ||263.0 x 96.0 x 79.9 in|
|Actual payload capacity ||2482 lb|| 4830 lb|
|Max towing capacity|| 12,000 lb ||20,300 lb|
|0-60 mph ||8.3, 9.5*, 15.4* sec|| 8.3, 10.5*, 18.9** sec|
|Quarter mile|| 16.4 sec @ 83.8 mph
17.2 sec @ 82.3 mph*
20.8 sec @ 69.1 mph**
|16.4 sec @ 85.3 mph
17.8 sec @ 78.0 mph*
21.8 sec @ 64.0 mph**
|30-70 mph|| 9.5, 12.1*, 17.7** sec ||9.2, 11.6*, 21.3** sec|
|Braking, 60-0 mph|| 140 ft ||143 ft|
|Lateral acceleration|| 0.74 g (avg)|| 0.70 g (avg)|
|MT observed fuel econ|| 11.1 mpg|| 12.4 mpg|
|CO2 emissions ||1.75 lb/mile ||1.79 lb/mile|
|Towing key|| * With 1674-lb payload
**With 7000-lb trailer
|* With 3406-lb payload
**With 12,000-lb trailer
|HAULING || *** |
|DESIGN || **** |
|SAFETY || ****|
|INTERIOR || **** |
|VALUE || **|
|PERFORMANCE ||** |
|SUM UP||Has all the right Big-Truck ratings and stats, but forgot to bring the hauling power to the championship game.|
Contender: GMC Sierra
Attack of the Clones, in HD
By Carlos Lago
The Sierra presents a quandary. Here is the Chevy Silverado's doppelganger -- subtle differences mark the exterior, but you'd have to park the two next to each other to spot the changes -- yet it's supposed to be a different truck, just because the badges say so. Can it stand on its own? With this question in mind, we invited the new Sierra HD to our contest, along with the Silverado HD.
The copy-and-paste job is for better and for worse. Better, because the GMC is essentially the same vehicle we've dubbed the 2011 Truck of the Year (if you couldn't tell by now). The powertrain options come over unchanged: Shoppers can opt for either an OHV 6.0-liter V-8 with 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque or a 6.6-liter diesel with 765 pound-feet of twist and an exhaust brake that manages downhill speed without using the brakes. The diesel mill also boasts a six-speed Allison automatic that's so smooth, it's difficult to detect shifts under light throttle.
Also from the Chevy's deck comes the redesigned suspension, a control-arm front with forged steel upper control arms, and in the rear an asymmetrical leaf-spring setup. Where previous iterations used a single torsion bar, the GMC allows for five different rates for various applications. With one bolt, the owner can adjust the trim height to ready the truck for a snowplow, for example.
Predictably, the GMCs are just as pleasant to drive as the Chevys. The 2500 and 3500 feel much smaller than they appear, which allows for easy cruising around town, and both trucks offer a surprisingly comfortable ride, even with an empty bed.
"The GMCs are just so easy to drive," said Ed Loh. "You forget they're HDs. They feel much smaller on the inside, more like a regular full-size truck." The GMC does lack the Ford's intimidating semi-trailer trucklike road presence, but we find absence of glam better suited to daily driving duties.
While the Fords are making a scene with their styling and attention-grabbing power figures, the GMC quietly does the work faster. With a payload in the bed or a trailer, the 2500 is slightly slower than the F-250 from a standing start, but wins the real-world 30-70-mph acceleration test every time.
The diesel Denali wipes the floor with the King Ranch, beating it in every performance metric we could measure, save for lateral acceleration. Nowhere was the powertrain beatdown more telling than in an impromptu roll-on drag race, where the Denali ran away from the F-350. Engineering excellence, indeed.
But about that second half of "for better and for worse?" Yes, the GMC matches the Chevy, but besides the exterior, the only real difference is negligible trim-for-trim cost increases. And yet you'll find no special bonuses to justify the GMC camp over the Chevrolet.
Well, there is the Denali, but this trim level was our major disappointment. It gets the looks right, with body-color bumpers, special wheels, and the signature chrome four-bar grille, but it doesn't have the quality of amenities one would expect from a luxury-oriented truck, offering instead standard-grade plastics and an infotainment system that gets the job done, but might as well be an Atari 2600 when compared with the Ford's array of high-resolution displays. After jumping out of the F-350 King Ranch's cabin, ripe with plush leather, handy controls, and the always-excellent Sync, we found the Denali's features underwhelming.
"As a King Ranch competitor, the 3500 Denali falls woefully short of the Ford fabulousness," said Loh. "I love the Denali mesh grille (always have), but that isn't enough separate it from the Chevys or make it comparable to the Ford." Nate Martinez agreed, adding, "Everything the Denali designation entails is nice, but it doesn't convey the true sense of quality and upscale character the product planners are shooting for."
While the Denali trim failed to sway the judges from the King Ranch, it was $4000 cheaper. The performance data is hard to ignore, too: The GMC out-towed and returned better fuel economy than the much heavier Fords.
In the end, we simply couldn't find a reason for buyers to choose the GMC over the Chevrolet unless they're trying to be different, in which case Ford's calamity of styling is right up their alley. As for the GMs, the Sierra HD is just as good as the Chevy, but no better.
What they did right
Used limited resources to build on the Sierra HD's most important traits -- capability and power -- and improve weaknesses, namely ride and handling. Both engines are excellent, and both are backed by a phenomenal
Room for improvement
The Sierra needs more differentiation from the Silverado, especially if the GMC is supposed to be the upscale version of the Silverado. The Denali trim level would have been a great place to start, but it isn't different enough from the rest of the Sierra line or the topline Silverado.
Bet you didn't know
Two new capabilities for 2011: The diesel engine can run on B20 biodiesel, and all four-wheel-drive models are snowplow compatible.
|2011 GMC Sierra HD |
| Model Tested||2500 HD SLT SRW ||Denali 3500 HD DRW|
|Base price ||$28,960 (2500)|| $29,800 (3500)|
|Price as tested|| $48,819 || $60,134 |
|Vehicle layout|| Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass,
2+2-door pickup Front engine, ||4WD, 5-pass,
OHV 16-valve V-8 ||6.6L/397-hp/765-lb-ft
turbodiesel OHV 32-valve V-8|
|Transmission|| 6-speed automatic|| 6-speed automatic|
|Curb weight (f/r dist)|| 6488 lb (57/43%) ||8050 lb (58/42%)|
|Wheelbase ||144.1 in ||167.7 in|
|Length x width x height|| 230.6 x 80.0 x 77.8 in ||259.0 x 95.9 x 77.8 in|
|Actual payload capacity ||3012 lb|| 4950 lb|
|Max towing capacity|| 14,000 lb|| 21,000 lb|
|0-60 mph|| 8.1, 9.8*, 16.2** sec|| 7.6, 10.0*, 18.2** sec|
|Quarter mile ||16.2 sec @ 85.9 mph |
17.4 sec @ 81.1 mph*
21.0 sec @ 67.6 mph**
| 15.9 sec @ 86.4 mph
17.4 sec @ 80.0 mph*
21.5 sec @ 64.8 mph**
|30-70 mph|| 9.0, 10.9*, 17.4** sec ||8.7, 11.3*, 19.3** sec|
|Braking, 60-0 mph|| 138 ft ||140 ft|
|Lateral acceleration ||0.74 g (avg)|| 0.69 g (avg)|
|MT observed fuel econ ||11.7 mpg ||13.2 mpg|
|CO2 emissions|| 1.66 lb/mile ||1.68 lb/mile|
|Towing key ||* With 1570-lb payload
**With 7000-lb trailer
| * With 3388-lb payload
**With 12,000-lb trailer
|DESIGN || ***|
|SAFETY || ***|
|INTERIOR || ** |
|VALUE || **|
|PERFORMANCE ||**** |
|SUM UP||A Chevy by any other name may drive as sweet, but we gave the calipers to the real deal.|
Technical Knock-Out: 2011 Truck of the Year Datalog
The Contenders: Their go and their grunt
Graphic by Kim Reynolds
Truck buyers are practical and want to review the numbers carefully before they write a check. Here are numbers -- and lots of 'em. From a performance standpoint, we've broken out 0-60, quarter mile, and roll-on 30-70-mph times while unloaded, towing one of two specified weights of trailers, and hauling either of a pair of payloads (giant sandbags that varied slightly in weight, as we show). In addition, we've broken each truck's value into dollar/pound (or pound-foot) parameters. And to better illuminate all this, each truck's column of numerical results is supplemented with bar graphs displaying each result's "goodness" or "badness" relative to that row's average.
Click Image to enlarge