The Davis Dam grade in Nevada is where all of the major truck OEs come to make their trucks cry -- it's been where the majority of serious pickup truck trailer testing has been done for decades. Temperatures in this part of the desert just above Laughlin, Nevada, are usually in the triple digits. Add to that a nasty climb out of the valley for several miles and you can see how this might be a problem for an engine and transmission (not to mention a cooling system) pulling a heavy load. For many truck drivers, this is the kind situation to avoid at all costs. For Ford, in desperate need of proving the strength and durability of its new EcoBoost engine, this is where it needs to be to challenge the competition.

For those who haven't been following Ford's EcoBoost marketing plan, Ford pulled a random 3.5L V-6 EcoBoost engine off the line (#448AA), did some dyno testing (for an equivalent of 150,000 miles), then mounted it into a SuperCrew XLT for some towing (11,000 pounds for 24 hours around a NASCAR track) and hauling (26 tons of logs at an Oregon tree mill) and racing (the Baja 1000) situations. But none of those tests pitted the new engine against any of its competitors, like in this Davis Dam grade test. The testing was conducting by a third-party test crew, running a Ford F-150 SuperCrew EcoBoost against a Chevy Crew Cab Silverado 5.3L V-8 and a Ram 1500 Quad Cab 5.7L V-8. All three pulled identically equipped and weighted trailers in two different types of runs-0-60 mph from the start line, as well as a 3.5-mile full run up the course. At the same time, Ford pitchman Mike Rowe had some on-camera time with the lead F-150 engineer, Eric Keuhn, to talk about the F-150 and EcoBoost powertrains. Here's what we saw.

The runs took place on Highway 68, where the local law enforcement occasionally halted traffic so the test drivers could make clean runs up the course. On the day of the test, each truck had an identically equipped 9000-pound trailer hitched to their bumpers. Ambient temperatures hovered around 85 degrees with very little wind, so extreme heat did not come into play. In the 0-60 mph runs against the F-150, the Chevy did slightly better than the Ram off the line, but neither could keep up with the Ford. We're guessing the fact that the Ford's transmission has a lower first gear and axle ratio than the Chevy, and more gears than the Dodge, had a lot to do with that outcome. Next came 4-mile runs up the 5-, 6-, and sometimes 7-percent grade climb.

The Ford's first runs up the hill against the Chevy started out pretty close; however, as the rpms climbed in the EcoBoost, the F-150 pulled away with authority from the first mile marker, almost making it impossible to see the GM pickup in the Ford's rearview mirror. The Ram was a different story. As expected (after seeing how the Ford and Ram measured up against each other in the 0-60 test) the Ford had an easy time taking the early lead. But once the Ram got into second gear, it pulled hard, not losing any ground for the remainder of the climb. It finished behind the F-150 by a touch under 4 seconds over the three-minute course.

In the end, the tests seemed convincing, although we would have liked to see all the same ring and pinions, and some extreme heat on the hillclimb would have been nice. As to why the Chevy didn't have 3.73:1 axles, test coordinators said GM products in that body style with that engine cannot be ordered with the 3.73:1 or higher axle ratios. But we know those gears fit in those axles, and to keep this test as apples-to-apples as possible, it would have been better to have a more representative axle gear. We have a pretty good idea why GM might decide not to offer that axle ratio and, as you might have guessed, it has to do with CAFÉ numbers. 3.08:1 or 3.23:1 or 3.42:1 gears will do much better in EPA MPG testing than (numerically) higher gears.

Another consideration is the cooling needs of the smaller twin-turbo engine. From our vantage point, the F-150 had plenty of cool-down time between runs, as well as during the long downhill runs to the start line. It stands to reason EcoBoost longevity is likely to be effected by how often and how long the engine gets a chance to rest. Still, from what we saw, the new EcoBoost did a masterful job of schooling the larger, higher cylindered competition. We're eager to get our hands on one for some real-world testing, but we'll have to wait until the first quarter of 2011, when they're reported to start rolling off the line.

How the Vehicles Match Up


Chevy Silverado LT 4x4 Crew Cab Ford F-150 XLT 4x4 SuperCrew Ram 1500 SLT 4x4 Quad Cab
Vehicle Specs
Engine 5.3L OHV V-8 16-valves 3.5L DOHC V-6 DI Twin-turbocharger 5.7L Hemi V-8 OHV 16-valve
HP/Torque 315/335 365/420 390/407
Trans 6-speed 6-speed 5-speed
Axle ratio 3.42:1 3.73:1 3.92:1
Tire size 275/65R18 275/55R20 275/60R20
EPA MPG, city/hwy 15/21 *19/26 13/19
Actual Price $38,455 $43,170 $40,770
*estimated

Test Results with 9000 pound trailer.

--0-60 mph: Ford EcoBoost beat both the Chevrolet and Ram by 12.6 seconds and 11.9 seconds, respectively.

--Full course run: Ford EcoBoost beat both the Chevrolet and Ram by 42.9 seconds and 3.2 seconds, respectively.

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