About the time we were posting what must be our most rigorous heavy-duty truck comparison test to date online, by happy accident Team Detroit happened to take simultaneous possession of the latest heavy-duty pickup offerings from Ford and Ram as well (our scheduled BMW took ill and the Ram was its replacement). Ford sent us a King Ranch diesel that's functionally equivalent to the West Coast test vehicle, while our Ram is a less testosteroned rear-drive Hemi. We didn't tax their ultimate capabilities at all, but we put a bunch of miles on both of them and discovered a few surprises and delights.
Dash Graphics & Features.
Maybe a few engineers got transferred from the hybrid department to the Super Duty team, because this truck's dash displays instantaneous, average, and historic average fuel economy in a graphic way that can help the driver eke more miles out of a gallon. The average is shown as a nice big number with a line that points to a vertical graphic of instantaneous economy. Keep the instantaneous bar graph bouncing above the line and your long-term average will increase. Change screens and you see bars showing past averages in varying increments covering five minutes to the last five resets. This color display is among the most engaging in truckdom.
The Ram makes do a smaller with black-and-white display showing a horizontal bar chart of instant fuel economy and a simple numeric average. Both trucks will display engine-on hours like proper big-rigs do, and Ford breaks out the idling hours. Ford's off-roading screen graphic shows the grade the truck is climbing, the side-to-side slope it's traversing, the angle the front wheels are steering at, and indicates when 4WD is engaged. Ram fits an intelligent door-ajar indicator where most put an idiot light. This small red icon indicates WHICH door is open--handy when three kids have climbed out and tried with varying success to shut three different big hefty doors. A button on the Ram's console instructs the tire-pressure monitoring system to monitor pressures for light loads (45 psi front and rear) or maximum loads (55 psi front, 70 psi rear).
What amazing engines both trucks have for their different missions. Ford's Power Stroke is the ultra strong silent type, the Charles Atlas of its class, while the Dodge Hemi feels so athletic by comparison. It sprints from stoplights like a gigantic Carl Lewis, making that magic music that Hemis do.
Of course, the considerably bigger, less aerodynamic, heavier Ford diesel averaged 16.3 mpg with no extended highway trips while the gasoline Dodge ended up in the low 14s with a run to Chicago and back. Both need a half-ton of something onboard to really settle their chassis down (four big guys in the Dodge did the trick pretty nicely).
Style-wise I find the Ford's chromed locomotive look a bit frightening and generally prefer the Dodge, but that said, the Dodge's style really wears better on the hiked-up 4WD version than it does on this minimalist truck. Beyond that, my drive in these two mostly served to confirm the findings by our West Coast colleagues and to whet my appetite for the Ford/GM heavy smack-down that's coming in this Fall's Truck of the Year contest.
The biggest surprise and delight was the Ford Super Duty's digital odometer. Seriously. The digital numbers "tumble" like an old-fashioned mechanical odometer as you put on the miles. Beyond that, it's tough to find that much difference between two trucks so big and heavy, they're not subjected to Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimates.
A couple of years ago, the all-new Ford F-150 beat the all-new, coil-spring rear Dodge Ram for our Truck of the Year award, mostly because the Ford "drove smaller" than it is. As Frank notes, unladen, both trucks are rough around town -- their rear suspensions buck too much. Steering feels too light and numb on both trucks, although the Ram's felt slightly better. The Ram 2500 (it's not a Dodge anymore, remember, despite interior moldings and key fobs that suggest otherwise) returned an impressive (for a gas V-8) 16.8-mpg on the all-freeway drive back from a Metro Chicago photo shoot for Motor Trend Classic.
A photographer, his assistant, their equipment and I tempered the stiff suspension and made the drive back to Metro Detroit on one very large (30-gallon-plus) tankfull. The low-content Ram came with cloth seats, but the driver gets power lumbar support. That's a nice touch, something that should be standard (on the passenger side, too) on everything. The Ram's nav was easy to use and the real-time traffic and construction warnings came in handy. Fit and finish inside the high-zoot King Ranch F-150 would impress an Audi driver, though Ford went far overboard with King Ranch logos and gingerbread. Preference? I'd take the Ram, largely because the interior and equipment level better fits what I think a work truck should have and 40-large is really the upper limit of what I would consider "reasonable" for one of these, but I've never owned a ranch in Montana. In the end, the two trucks are similar enough in fulfilling their purposes that it comes down to this: Ford guys will always buy Fords. Dodge guys will always buy, er, Rams.