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2017 Pickup Truck of the Year – How We Test

The Science Behind The Trophy

Feb 14, 2017
From the outside, our Pickup Truck of the Year testing may look like a bunch of ruffians doing burnouts and donuts for a week. However, in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, some juvenile shenanigans take place for the sake of photography, but what isn’t seen are the many hundreds of hours of work that go on behind the scenes. We’ll save you the details of the thousands of pages of paperwork and hours on the phone with various state, federal, and private organizations and get right to the nitty-gritty.
Testing began before any of the pickups ever hit the highway under our control. Upon delivery, our staff at our Truck Trend world headquarters weighed each vehicle. We utilize a set of precision vehicle scales from ProForm that are capable of accurately weighing pickups in excess of 7,000 pounds. We do this for several reasons: the first being that manufacturer-published curb weights typically don’t account for trim-level variations. This often leads to a discrepancy of many hundreds of pounds. For the most accurate testing possible, we calculate available payload based on the published gross vehicle weight rating and our determined actual curb weight (empty vehicle, with a full tank of fuel). We find that about half of all pickups tested actually have less available payload than published, mostly due to the manufacturers using a blanket number and not accounting for those option variations mentioned earlier.
With the full judging staff assembled for a week of intense testing, the team headed to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, for a day of instrumented testing. The field of eight was subjected to 0-60-mph and quarter-mile acceleration testing as well as 60-0-mph braking while unladen. Each truck was then loaded up with its maximum payload and retested from 0-60, for quarter-mile elapsed time, and 60-0 braking. The final instrumented test involved each truck accelerating from 0-60 mph and through a quarter-mile while towing 75 percent of its rated trailer capacity. For this testing, we utilize asphalt pavement that most closely simulates what you would find in the real world. Payload is simulated using rubber mats that weigh 100 pounds apiece and are loaded in the bed of each pickup. We load the trucks 200 pounds short of our calculated maximum payload in order to account for the weight of the driver.
The trailer is weighted in the same fashion with our rubber ballast mats and weight is set with approximately 10 percent of weight on the tongue. We settled on testing at 75 percent of rated maximum as we feel this is the sweet spot of where most owners who tow regularly would. Rated maximums are also checked using our determined curb weight and the manufacturers’ stated gross combined vehicle weight ratings. Unlike payload ratings, however, these are very rarely found to be out of spec. While instrumented testing was being conducted, each judge had the opportunity to drive each pickup with its full payload on a closed course. This allowed for testing vehicle handling with maneuvers that would otherwise be dangerous on public roads, such as panic braking and emergency lane changes.
Day Two was spent with trailer in tow. Using the same parameters as the instrumented testing, the trucks were again loaded up to 75 percent of their rated maximum and driven on a 20-mile loop up and down the infamous Cajon Pass of Interstate 15 in Southern California. The Cajon Pass features an impressive 6-percent grade, which tested each pickup to the max. Beginning with the lightest load and ending with the heaviest, our expert judges spent the day rotating through the driver seat of each of the pickups involved. This allowed our judges to evaluate every vehicle with a loaded trailer driving both up and down the grade. Our chosen grade allowed us to test merging and passing power, vehicle stability, downhill control, and available features such as towing mirrors, integrated trailer brake controllers, and integrated exhaust brakes. Transmission function, both up and down the grade, along with the vehicle’s service brakes, were also put to the test. Testers also got well acquainted with how easy, or difficult, each truck was to hitch a trailer to and how each truck’s backup camera and sensor systems either helped our hindered the process.
With load and instrumented testing complete, on Day Three the vehicles were pointed towards Las Vegas for a 500-mile highway slog designed to test maximum real-world fuel efficiency. Our convoy drove at the stated speed limit in a lead-follow formation, rotating both drivers and vehicle positions at designated intervals. This method produces the most accurate representation of real-world highway fuel economy possible. While all fuel use during the test is logged to get an overall average, this allows us to see what each vehicle is capable of producing under nearly ideal real-world circumstances.
Finally, the vehicles headed to California’s Johnson Valley, where the field completed extensive off-highway testing over miles of diverse desert and mountain terrain over the course of two days. Through rough, graded roads, muddy basins, rocky climbs, tight trails, and sandy washes, judges were able to evaluate tires, gearing, traction aids, electronic traction controls, ground clearance, suspension tuning, four-wheel-drive systems, thermal management, and overall vehicle dynamics. While it’s true that most truck owners won’t use their pickup as strictly an off-road toy, the fact still remains that most are marketed towards those who lead an active outdoor lifestyle. And while one many not consider themselves an off-roader, they still use their four-wheel-drive pickup to get to their favorite hunting, fishing, camping, biking, surfing, skiing, or boarding spot. And if it’s not for recreation, then it’s use on the farm, in muddy fields, rural construction sites, or mines. We wouldn’t be doing our due diligence if we didn’t test these systems to their fullest.
Over the course of the five-day, 1,200-mile test, our experts 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 of each truck. Each judge then took this knowledge and applied it while ranking each pickup on a sliding scale in each of sixty different criteria in six different categories. How exactly did this all shake out in the end? Read on…

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