The battle lines have been redrawn. Ford and Dodge (now Ram) have been duking it out with each other in the heavy-duty (3/4- and one-ton) pickup market for what seems like forever, but in recent times Ford has been winning the biggest percentage of market share while the Ram HD has the highest all-important diesel take rate in the segment, almost 85 percent. These trucks are made for hard work and hard play. And even though sales for full-size pickups have dropped as much as 40 percent in some segments, OEs understand there will always be buyers for work trucks. And here we've decided to pit two of the latest -- the all-new 2011 Ford Super Duty and the Ram 2500 HD -- head to head, equipped with the all-important oil-burner. Diesel connoisseurs have been waiting for this confrontation for ages. The 2010.5 federal emissions regulations essentially forced all three of the 3/4- and one-ton work-truck makers to dig deep and come up with clever ways to provide the most pulling power possible with a much cleaner NOx and particulate emissions rating. The 350-horsepower, 650-pound-foot 6.7-liter Cummins I-6 was updated three years ago and was the first of the HD diesel engines to meet the stricter 2010.5 regulations. Unlike the Cummins, Ford's all-new 6.7-liter, 390-horse, 735-pound-foot V-8 Power Stroke (now built in-house) uses a urea-based aftertreatment emissions system.

Diesel connoisseurs have been waiting for this confrontation for ages. The 2010.5 federal emissions regulations essentially forced all three of the 3/4- and one-ton work-truck makers to dig deep and come up with clever ways to provide the most pulling power possible with a much cleaner NOx and particulate emissions rating. The 350-horsepower, 650-pound-foot 6.7-liter Cummins I-6 was updated three years ago and was the first of the HD diesel engines to meet the stricter 2010.5 regulations. Unlike the Cummins, Ford's all-new 6.7-liter, 390-horse, 735-pound-foot V-8 Power Stroke (now built in-house) uses a urea-based aftertreatment emissions system.

In addition to the new diesel (and 6.2-liter gas) engines, other significant changes to the Ford include a new six-speed automatic, revised exterior styling, towing improvements, slight spring retuning, and interior upgrades. Inside, most of the changes are subtle with the exception of a new, huge reconfigurable center armrest, along with a new optional electronic information center. The 2010 Ram HD sports an entirely new interior and exterior, further separating it from the smaller, lighter-duty Ram 1500. It also boasts reengineered front-end springs that provide more load-carry capacity for all 4x2 and 4x4 configurations. Inside, the Ram HD offers a vastly improved layout with much better materials and touch surfaces, as well as a new center stack and deep center console.

Both our Ford Super Duty F-250 and Dodge Ram HD 2500 testers are four-wheel drive, dressed in topline trim (King Ranch and Laramie), crew cabs, short beds riding on live axles with coil springs in front and leafs in the rear, and each uses a six-speed automatic. They aren't identically equipped, though: the Super Duty has 3.55:1 ring-and-pinion gears (Ram HD has 3.73:1), 20-inch wheels, and 275/65R20 tires (Ram HD has 17-inch rims and 265/70R17 tires), an extra 500 pounds in actual weight in the Ford, and a 10,000-pound GVWR (400 more than the Ram HD).

We took these heavyweight haulers north of Los Angeles, into the Central Coast's wine country, where we found a 60-mile drive loop of two-lane country roads plus freeway driving. Each truck expert drove both trucks over the same loop, running one set of loops empty, another loaded to each truck's maximum payload, and a third set of back-to-back loops towing a 7500-pound double-axle horse trailer .

Running without payload, we learned how well each truck was able to hug the road in the twisties. Clearly, this type of driving is not what these vehicles were designed for, but we found the weight transitioning during cornering to be surprisingly balanced in the Super Duty. Likewise, Ford engineers have done exceptional work to insulate the cabin from both engine and transmission sound. Our Ram HD did not have the same confident feel when carving through the canyon roads, with the springs (front and back) feeling stiffer and less able to adjust to road imperfections.

Both drivers noted a clear powertrain noise-level difference between the two trucks. No doubt hardcore I-6 Cummins enthusiasts love the more clackety sound of the Ram HD and don't mind the harder shifts between gears that so clearly communicate the abundant low-end torque that's on tap. Ford engineers have charted a different course, making the V-8 Power Stroke and TorqShift transmission smoother and quieter in just about every way, from off-the-line starts to passing at higher speeds. During track testing with both trucks empty, a few days later, we also found both engines pulled well, with the Ram HD edging out the Ford by a hair in the quarter mile. But in the real world, along our 60-mile drive loop, taking off from stop signs and merging into oncoming highway traffic, the Ford transmission seemed to more smoothly distribute power through all the gears, without any of the relatively harsh shifting of the Ram HD when empty. For fuel economy, both trucks did well on our loop, averaging within 0.2 mpg of one another, with the Super Duty (16.6 mpg) edging just ahead of the Ram HD (16.4). We're guessing much of that difference is likely explained by the fact that the Ram HD had a slightly shorter final-drive ratio with 3.73:1 gears compared with the Ford's 3.55s.

After weighing each vehicle with a full tank of fuel, we were able to calculate exact payload (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating minus exact weight). We filled each pickup bed to within 100 pounds of its maximum and headed out on our same drive routes. The Ram HD offered a much smoother ride, but gave back more wallow and front-end wander as the back end seemed to dominate the chassis dynamics. However, we found the Super Duty to have a more confident feel on the various road surfaces and through the corners. Of note, the steering provides a strong road feel without the need for constant course corrections. Likewise, we assume the extra overall weight helps the Ford's stability here, even though we found the truck, especially when loaded, felt lighter and easier to control than the Ram HD through the same corners. As for fuel economy, it might seem odd that we got about eight-percent better fuel economy when loaded than when running the same course empty, but it's true. Average speed dropped and both transmissions, when in Tow/Haul settings, were much smarter about when to upshift, downshift, and get into the highest gear possible when cruising. The results, again, were pretty close, giving our Super Duty an average of 18.0 mpg and our Ram HD 17.9 mpg -- and at the track, the Ford pulled away from the Ram with a full payload. Both trucks had onboard, instantaneous, and overtime fuel economy calculators and we found them to consistently be overly optimistic.

For our trailering loops, we borrowed a double-axle horse trailer filled about halfway up the walls with bags of horse bedding, which we swapped between the two trucks for the driving loops. By now we were starting to like the burly grunt of the Ram HD Cummins, which is more than capable of comfortably pulling a load around, but the Ram HD tended to punch into gears with more force than the Super Duty, occasionally putting us into a counter-steer situation when the trailer "pushed" us after a hard shift. Both pickups allowed us to watch transmission and coolant temperatures in real time, and both came with an exhaust brake, but only the Ram HD allowed us to keep track of each tire's exact pressure. And both drivers preferred the Ram HD's brake pedal feel, finding the Ford's pedal mushy much of the time. Thankfully, both test units came with integrated trailer brake controllers, but the Ram HD controller is almost hidden by the driver's left knee, making it very difficult to see or adjust. The Super Duty controller falls quickly to hand and is easily seen at the bottom of the center stack.

Surprisingly, when towing, the Super Duty, running the same course with a near identical average speed, got more than 15-percent-better fuel economy than the Ram HD. We can only guess the quietness and confidence we found during our Super Duty runs meant it wasn't working as hard as the Ram HD.

With pricing and equipment levels maxed out on both vehicles, it's hard not to tip the scales in favor of the Ram HD for delivering so much for $10,655 less than the Super Duty, although we should point out that some of the options and features on our King Ranch F-250 are not available for any Ram HD. So what wins? We have to admit there is something intangibly desirable about the rumble of the Cummins motor and hard-shifting Ram HD transmission that communicates the truck is ready and willing to work, and work hard. But the refinement, power delivery, driving comfort (when empty and loaded), productivity center, and powertrain technology makes us believe Ford has taken the segment to new heights. Is this a perfect HD pickup? No. But, with their backs against the wall, Ford's engineers have given the segment a huge push forward in quality and refinement with a high-tech powertrain that forces the other guys to work harder if they want to keep playing in the work-truck arena.

1st Place
Ford F-250 Super Duty

It's now stronger, more confident, and easier to drive. And it has class-leading fuel economy.

2nd Place
Ram 2500 HD

Still the commercial-grade workhorse of the bunch, but the rough edges are beginning to show.


  2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty King Ranch 2010 Ram 2500 HD Laramie
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD Front engine, 4WD
Engine type Turbodiesel V-8, iron block, aluminum heads Turbodiesel I-6, iron block/head
Valvetrain OHV, 4 valves/cyl OHV, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 406.2 cu in/6651 cc 408.5 cu in/6690 cc
Compression ratio 16.2:1 17.3:1
Power (SAE net) 390 hp @ 2800 rpm 350 hp @ 3000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 735 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm 650 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
Redline 4000 rpm 3400 rpm
Weight to power 20.3 lb/hp 21.2 lb/hp
Transmission 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.55:1/2.38:1 3.73:1/2.33:1
Suspension, f;r Live axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs Live axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs
Steering ratio 20.4:1 13.4:1
Turns lock-to-lock 4.1 3
Brakes, f;r 13.7-in vented discs; 13.4-in vented discs, ABS 14.2-in vented discs; 14.1-in vented discs, ABS
Wheels 8.0 x 20-in cast aluminum 8.0 x 17-in cast aluminum
Tires 275/65R20 126R Michelin LTX A/T2 265/70R17 121R BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 156.2 in 148.9
Track, f/r 68.3/67.2 in 68.3/68.2 in
Length x width x height 246.8 x 79.9 x 79.7 in 237.4 x 79.1 x 77.7 in
Turning circle 47.7 ft 46.9 ft
Curb weight 7910 lb 7410 lb
Weight dist., f/r 57/43% 56/44%
GVWR 10,000 lb 9600 lb
Max payload 2090 lb 2190 lb
Max towing 15,700 lb 12,600 lb
Seating capacity 5 5
Headroom, f/r 40.7/40.8 in 41.0/40.5 in
Legroom, f/r 41.1/42.1 in 41.0/44.2 in
Shoulder room, f/r 68.0/68.0 in 67.0/66.5 in
Bed cargo size 81.8 x 69.3 x 20.0 in 76.3 x 70.2 x 20.1 in
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph empty/loaded*
0-30 2.9/2.9* sec 2.7/2.7* sec
0-40 4.3/4.5* 4.2/4.5*
0-50 6.2/6.7* 6.0/6.9*
0-60 8.3/9.2* 8.3/9.9*
0-70 11.2/12.4* 10.9/13.5*
0-80 14.6/16.5* 14.4/18.5*
0-90 18.8/20.8* 19.8/NA*
Passing, 45-65 mph, empty/loaded* 4.6/5.2* 4.4/5.8*
Quarter mile, empty/loaded* 16.5 sec @ 83.8 mph/16.9 sec @ 81.1 mph* 16.4 sec @ 84.6 mph/17.2 sec @ 79.0 mph*
Braking 0-60 mph, empty/loaded 152/158* ft 146/148* ft
Top gear revs @ 60 mph 1400 rpm 1500 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $49,835 $43,450
Price as tested $64,405 $53,750
TRUE CAR TRUEAVERAGE PRICE** $62,734 $51,029
Stability/trailer sway control Yes/yes Yes/no
Airbags Front, f/r side curtain Front, f/r side curtain
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles 5 yrs/100,000 miles
Roadside assistance 5 yrs/60,000 miles 5 yrs/100,000 miles
Fuel capacity 26.0 gal 35.0 gal
EPA city/hwy econ Not rated Not rated
Recommended fuel Ultra-low sulfur diesel or B20 Ultra-low sulfur diesel or B20
*Carrying 2000 pounds of payload
** Accurate at time of publication
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