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  • Truck Comparison: 2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS vs. Dodge 1500 SLT vs. Ford Harley-Davidson F-150

Truck Comparison: 2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS vs. Dodge 1500 SLT vs. Ford Harley-Davidson F-150

Putting a plate of steaming American muscle on the table--with a bed on the back

Kevin WingSep 5, 2003
There's something intoxicating about smashing an accelerator pedal to the floor. It's even better when you blow the doors off an unsuspecting teenager driving a lowered hot hatch. But it's even more rewarding when you're doing it in a pickup.
Chevrolet, Dodge, and Ford--the Big Three of Truckdom--all have one thing in common: Guys on their design and engineering teams are dyed-in-the-wool hot-rodders and have the opportunity to bring a plate of steaming American muscle to the table--with a bed on the back.
This year, we aren't calling them "sport trucks." Rather, they're specialists in their field. Ford's Harley-Davidson F-150, for example, takes "in your face" to a whole new level. Some may say this is a truck with an identity crisis--there are more Harley-Davidson badges and logos affixed to it (even a few thousand in the tape stripe) than Ford plates. The Harley's silver-and-black two-tone paint scheme draws attention, as does the standard-issue 20-inch chrome wheels and bright tubular grille. If the Harley-isms are too much for you, just shave off the logos, and you'd swear it's a Boyd Coddington creation.
Photo 2/14
The Silverado SS (or "55" depending on how you look at the badge) is as near to the original concept as you can get, sans the big-horsepower engine we all hoped for. In the looks department, not much has changed over a base Silverado, with the exception of the egg- crate grille, front fascia replete with lower Hoover vacuum attachments, and ground effects. The monochromatic paint scheme is the truck's saving grace, as well as its mongo 20-inch wheels.
Leave it to Dodge to bring the sleeper at the party. What looks like an ordinary, everyday 1500 Ram regular cab is really a rabid wolf in sheep's clothing. Sure, it wears the chromed five-spoke 20-inch wheels and that don't-mess-with-me grille, but the only thing giving this truck away to its prey is the HEMI badge on the front fenders and the telltale burble from the exhaust.
Photo 3/14
Testing
We've been waiting for the Chevy SS ever since the concept first rolled onto the SEMA Show floor last year. With a high-output LQ9 version of the venerable Vortec 6000, the 345-horsepower OHV V-8 delivers 380 lb-ft of torque through its standard all-wheel-drive viscous-coupled transfer case, and, with its 4L65-E four-speed automatic fitted with a 3.06:1 first cog, it's mighty impressive out of the hole. At the test track, it launched to 30 mph in 2.10 seconds, 60 mph came in 6.6 seconds, and it sliced the quarter-mile beams in 15.0 at 89.1.
In the braking department, the SS nearly pulled up the asphalt on its 60-0- mph emergency braking test, posting a 119-foot stop. We expected the Chevy to throw down the gauntlet in the 600-foot slalom, especially carrying its AWD system derived from the GMC Sierra C3 (now Sierra Denali). The Silverado snaked through the cones at 61.3-mph for second best in the test.
Photo 4/14
Crosstown rivals, the Dodge boys, have us chomping at the bit, waiting for the Viper-powered SRT-10, due out next year. Until we can get our hands on that tire shredder, they've developed a true Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde truck: a 1500 Ram with the potent 5.7-liter Hemi Magnum. Motor Trend named the Heavy Duty Ram its '03 Truck of the Year, and the Hemi fully impressed the staff of both magazines. But if the Ram fared well in a 5466-pound Quad Cab HD, then we expected it to do better in a 4970-pound 1500 regular-cab version. We were right.
Twisting the key brings to life 345 horsepower and an exhaust note that's music to our ears. Routing the power through a 5-45RFE slush box and 3.92:1 anti-spin differential, the Ram posted impressive numbers: 0-30 mph came in 2.3 seconds, and we saw 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, with the quarter mile at 15.1 at 89.1.
Photo 5/14
Through the cones, the Ram was crisp, confident, and the one to beat, posting a 62.3 pass through the timers. The Dodge's binders were the most resistant to fade in repeated emergency-braking tests, but the best it could muster was a 132-foot stop from 60 mph.
The Harley-Davidson edition of Ford's venerable F-150 Super Crew brought four full-size doors and 5.4 liters of supercharged power to the playground. Getting 340 horsepower and 425-lb-ft of torque to the pavement takes some judicial throttle-pedal playing. Feathering the throttle marked a 3.1-second launch to 30 mph, followed by a 6.0-second blast to 60 mph and wringing in the quarter mile for a 14.3 at 96.3 pass. Yes, you can beat a BMW X5 4.6 with this four-door Ford pickup.
In the slalom, the Harley-Davidson was the slowest of the bunch, posting an even 60.0-mph run through the cones. The Ford's extra length meant turn-in occurs later, scrubbing speed. Chief- tester Chris Walton noted the Harley felt as poised and capable as the Ram, but its size was a liability. Coming right in the middle of the braking pack, the F-150 ground to a halt in 129 feet.
Photo 6/14

Road Course
Granted, 98.5 percent of people who buy any of these trucks will never put them on a racetrack, but we wanted to see how they'd perform.
We'll cut to the chase: The handsdown winner was the Harley-Davidson around the 1.1-mile short course, posting a 1:09.4 lap time. The combination of quick turn-in, grippy 275/45R20 Goodyear Eagle GT II tires, and mountains of torque allowed the F-150 to easily drift past an apex and get out of the corners quickly. To say this truck impressed us would be a gross understatement, especially when it was a mere 0.5 second off the fastest lap set by a Ford SVT Focus the same day. No matter how hard we pushed the Harley, it said back to us, "Sure, we can do that. You got anything else for me, punk?"
Photo 7/14
A close second with a time of 1:09.5, the 1500 Ram had the best chassis, fade-free brakes, and responsive steering. Its biggest drawback on the track is the locking rear end--trying to scoot out of a corner, and the diff fought to lock up and get the mighty Hemi's power down. Throughout our lapping session, we were impressed by the Ram's composure: As you enter a turn, gently squeeze the brakes to settle the nose, turn in, and the chassis lays down quickly as the suspension takes a set, then gently ease on the gas so the diff doesn't do the hokey-pokey as you exit the corner.
A close second with a time of 1:09.5, the 1500 Ram had the best chassis, fade-free brakes, and responsive steering. Its biggest drawback on the track is the locking rear end--trying to scoot out of a corner, and the diff fought to lock up and get the mighty Hemi's power down. Throughout our lapping session, we were impressed by the Ram's composure: As you enter a turn, gently squeeze the brakes to settle the nose, turn in, and the chassis lays down quickly as the suspension takes a set, then gently ease on the gas so the diff doesn't do the hokey-pokey as you exit the corner.
As we started around the Streets of Willow in the Silverado, we couldn't help but think, "I feel like Matt Crafton driving a NASCAR Craftsman Truck." Of the three, the SS was the roughest around the edges and the most unsettled of the bunch. The big Chevy would heave into a corner, and, just as the rear would rotate, the AWD would sling the front around with lots of complaints from the tires. The best it could do was 1:10.4.
Photo 8/14

Interiors
If you think the Harley is flashy on the outside, be sure to wear sunglasses before entering. You're sure to be blinded by all the chrome bits--more than we've seen since the '70s. Some of our staff were put off by the scent of the F-150's leather, which has a distinct smell of Hawg. Others instantly recognized it as gen-u-ine Harley-Davidson leather, the grain of which will last longer than the truck itself.
The two-up, front- and rear-seating arrangement isn't the most practical, but it certainly is comfortable. All four seats have lots of lumbar and thigh support, and the rear seat has first-class room. Both rows get a cavernous center console, dual powerpoints, and cupholders a plenty. Ford threw power pedals and a power sliding rear window into our tester.
Photo 9/14
Over the past two generations, we thought the faux-turned-aluminum gauge cluster was a slick touch. For some reason, this year's silk-screened image looks overtly fake and cheapens the overall appearance.
We were surprised at the lack of specialized interior bits in the Silverado SS. Given the parts bins that Chevy could have raided, the SS' lounge is as stock as a rock. Negatives include the center-stack cubby insert that kept falling out, headliner glue wept above the driver's head, and the drivers' seat rocked--unless you adjusted it to the sweet spot.
Driver and passenger receive power heated seats and one-touch express windows. We're thankful for the redundant radio controls on the wheel, as well as the trip-computer functions. Keeping with the super-sport theme, white-faced gauges are easy to read, and we love the tranny temp gauge that keeps you informed of potential thermo meltdown when towing. GM threw in AC vents and cupholders for rear occupants, but we wouldn't put anyone taller than five feet back there, as there isn't much leg or foot real estate.
Photo 10/14
With the 1500 Hemi, Dodge sees it merely as an engine option, so you get the basic interior configuration. You'd have a problem if you couldn't read the white-faced gauges with neon-red pointers. We also like the super-clean center stack, its HVAC and stereo controls perfectly placed for adjustment while underway. Like the Chevy, there are redundant radio controls on the wheel, as well as cruise functions.
Seating for two is generous, and three is possible. When traveling as a duo, the massive center console (with integrated power point) may be lowered to carry a ton of incidentals or double as a desk. Flip the seats forward, and there are bins for carrying small bags or groceries. For daily driving and usability, we'd opt for the Quad Cab, which makes the truck versatile enough for five people and their gear.
Photo 11/14
Our regular-cab tester was optioned with the Infinity seven-speaker AM/FM/CD player that's definitely worth the $750 up charge. Power pedals and seats make finding the perfect driving position simple.

Suspensions
Sport trucks are always a mixed bag in the suspension department, especially when big tires and wheels are factored into play. Even though our F-150 Super Crew was emblazoned with no less than eight large H-D badges, we kept looking for the Lincoln logo, as the ride is decidedly more Town Car than pickup. It didn't matter what type of terrain we traveled, the F-150 squashed road imperfections before they were felt in the cabin, yet there was a controlled sense that you knew what was happening underfoot. Its 4500-pound tow rating is 3000 pounds below the Silverado, and it's obvious out on the highway as rear-axle jounce was virtually non-existent, even in big-rig lanes.
The same can't be said for the SS: We learned to avoid trucking lanes at all costs. Highway expansion joints can also be an interesting experience. Cross one while turning, and the rearend skitters for traction. Putting a few hundred pounds of weight in the bed will easily quell the situation. The best way to characterize the Chevy's ride is firm, but not to the point of being harsh. It is, after all, a truck with a towing capacity of 7500 pounds, and you can't have a sloppy suspension with a camper attached to the frame. It's also the best representation of sport-truck-style suspension tuning--you feel everything the suspension is doing, good and bad.
Photo 12/14
Using its standard underpinnings, the regular-cab Ram is light on its feet, thanks in part to its short cab and 4690-pound weight (saving 300 pounds over the Ford and 600 from the Chevy). We expected the unassuming Ram to treat us like hired help. That wasn't the case, as the ride is communicative without beating up its occupants over Peterbilt-abused roads. Its precise steering-rack, feeling more responsive than some sport sedans, won accolades from our testers. We only wonder how well this truck would handle if the center of gravity were a few inches lower.
Photo 13/14

Dollars and Sense
When it comes to dollars and sense, the Ram obliterates the competition, coming in at an as-tested price of $27,820. Even if you take the base $21,300 and add the $795 Hemi option, you still get a lot of truck for the buck. Given its supercharged powertrain, tons of chrome, 20-inch wheels and tires, Harley-ized graphics and two-tone paint, the H-D F-150 comes in at a hefty $38,240 as tested.
With the only option on our test SS being the spare-tire lock (at $15), the $40,010 Silverado left us shaking our heads. For an extra $4245, you might as well step up to the GMC Sierra Denali that gets you a plusher interior and Quadrasteer. Even though you'd lose 20 horses and 10 lb-ft of torque, the Denali is money better spent.
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So, what's the hot truck for '03? GM came with high hopes for the SS, but it fell short of the mark. Performancewise, the Chevy certainly out-braked the competition, but failed to take any of our other performance tests. Throw in the high price, less-than-stellar interior fit and finish, a sport-truck wannabe front-end treatment, and we think the SS team might want to give this another shot. In fact, we've heard it's doing exactly that with the next version of the Silverado SS.
For just dumping a hot-rod engine into an existing truck, Dodge has done wonders with its Hemi-ized 1500 Ram. The regular cab has the basics covered (engine, chassis, brakes) to make it a bona-fide sportster. But it's the SRT-10 that should answer all our desires next year: Its lowered stance, Viper power, and awesome good looks will give Ford's SVT Lightning a run for its money.
Seemingly, Ford has the right recipe for high-horsepower/great-handling pickups. And while the garish looks of the Harley-Davidson aren't for everyone, it does offer the most detailed and well-executed interior of the three, as well as tire-melting performance. If we had our druthers, we might strip off all the Harley badging, lower it a bit more, and bump the horsepower to Lightning specs. Maybe even a nice flame job on the hood.
{{{Chevrolet Silverado}}} SS {{{Dodge Ram 1500}}} Ford Harley-Davidson {{{F-150}}}
TEST DATA
Acceleration, sec
0-403.193.383.14
0-504.824.044.39
0-606.{{{62}}}6.835.96
0-708.638.837.70
0-{{{80}}}12.0911.989.77
0-{{{90}}}15.4515.7512.75
0-{{{100}}}20.2220.8516.16
Standing quarter-mile, sec/mph14.99/89.0515.12/89.0614.39/96.33
Braking 60-0, ft118.95132.03128.59
Lateral acceleration, g769800795
Speed through {{{600}}}-ft slalom, mph61.362.360.0
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy13/1714/1812/16
PRICE
Base price$39,205$21,820$36,555
Options$15$6130$890
Price as tested$40,010$27,820$38,{{{240}}}

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