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  • 2004 Truck Comparisons - Road Test: 2004 Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 Quad Cab SLT, 2004 Ford Harley-Davidson F-250 Crew Cab 4x4 Super Duty, 2004 GMC Sierra 2500 HD 4WD Crew Cab

2004 Truck Comparisons - Road Test: 2004 Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 Quad Cab SLT, 2004 Ford Harley-Davidson F-250 Crew Cab 4x4 Super Duty, 2004 GMC Sierra 2500 HD 4WD Crew Cab

Moving Mountains: You've got 8500 pounds of boat and trailer behind you and a steep grade ahead. Let's hear it for Rudolph Diesel

Kim Reynolds
Dec 29, 2004
Photographers: Wesley Allison
Sometime during the night of September 29, 1913, Rudolph Diesel, 55 years old, roughly 10 million marks in debt, and racked by debilitating headaches, disappeared from the liner Dresden as it crossed the English Channel. In Diesel's cabin was found his inventor's notebook. Under the date of his disappearance, there was nothing but a small cross, marked in Diesel's hand; 11 days later a passing ship found his floating body. At that point, there'd been little progress in commercializing the Paris-born Bavarian's highly efficient engine. And its future seemed to go over the rail along with its creator.

Had Rudolph Diesel, at that railing, clairvoyantly seen, say, 91 years into the future, he might not have made that fatal leap into the sea. For he would've witnessed us whistling up and down the steep incline called the Grapevine, north of the Los Angeles basin, in a trio of turbodiesel trucks towing an 8500-pound boat and trailer rig like it was a Zodiac inflatable. There we were, the toast of the truck lane. The dandies of dieselland. Thanks, Rudy.
None of this is to say these behemoths make quite the same sense uncoupled from this profound payload. Trailerless, the Cummins-engined Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 Quad Cab SLT, the Duramax-equipped GMC Sierra 2500 HD 4WD Crew Cab, and the Power Stroke-propelled Ford F-250 Crew Cab 4x4 (this one in spectacular Harley-Davidson orange, black, and chromes, no less) are awkwardly incomplete arguments. Uncoupled, they're inexplicably huge. They're insanely noisy. On irregular concrete, they can erupt into fits of bull-ride shuddering that would throw you into the back seat were you not buckled in. And for your trouble, diesel refueling stations have an uncanny knack for vaporizing exactly when you need them ("please, please, let there be a fourth number on that gas station's price board...").
However, with your speedboat looming in the side mirrors and a steep grade facing you in the windshield, everything snaps into logical sense. Instantly, the size is right, the roar is reassuring, the ride settles into a fluid lope. What perfect tools these three are for the megatowing job at hand. And 500-plus pound-feet of diesel torque doesn't seem the least bit excessive. In 1892, Rudolph Diesel was awarded a patent for finding a way to exploit the theoretical benefits of a high compression ratio; 112 years later, we decided it was time to explore its real-world value in our own high-compression comparison and towing matchup.
Third Place
Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 Quad Cab SLT

Dodge's entry in the turbodiesel sweepstakes has two big cards to play: its great looks and that intriguing Cummins engine.

At a premium of $5460 (plus $1095 for the automatic transmission), the high-output version of the Cummins engine offers a goodly list of big numbers to ponder besides its steep option price. For instance, 600 pound-feet of torque at 1600 rpm. And how about a 350,000-mile lifetime-to-major-overhaul interval--100,000 more than its competitors? The torque figure is a volatile subject in this category, 600 being a benchmark envied and targeted by the industry (see GMC's Duramax plans later in our story).
Photo 2/8   |   Our Take:2004 Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 Quad Cab SLTWhat's Hot• 600 pound-feet of torque• Cummins exclusivity• Good looksWhat's Not• Rough ride• Noisy, even for a diesel• Four-speed transmissionDon't MissA diesel traditionalist's powerplant under the hoodBottom LineA great engine wrapped in sensational bodywork in search of better suspension tuning and one more gear
Numbers aside, the Cummins straight-six is far and away the diesel-truck guy's diesel-truck engine on a sensory level. At idle, when the GMC and Ford V-8s sound like loose quarters in a dryer, the Cummins straight-six thunders with ricocheting silver dollars. And when you comment to a Cummins owner that, gee, maybe it feels cruder than the GMC Duramax or Ford Power Stroke alternatives, they smile in appreciation of the compliment (if you said it was rougher than 60-grit sandpaper, they might even high-five you). No accusation of primitiveness will offend these people.
Pop the hood, and the sight of the Cummins High Output turbodiesel is defiantly individual as well. It's nostalgically straightforward, a huge iron block entombing a half-dozen big 4.02-inch cylinders standing shoulder-to-shoulder like a row of cannon barrels. A hefty turbocharger spins in plain sight on its right side. No frilly faux-plastic covers here: The Cummins is a grand chunk of throw-back cast-iron honesty that proudly displays its metal components--bolts, tubing, and couplings--like tattoos on a bicep. While it seems the noisiest, that's more of a perception of the engine's particularly clattery texture. In reality, our dB meter perceived it as quieter than the GMC Duramax whether we were standing in front of the truck, seated behind the wheel at idle, or accelerating hard out of the hole.
After climbing the Grapevine's grade with the boat in tow, colleague Greg Whale, editor-at-large for our sister magazine, Truck Trend, commented, "The Cummins has the most low-end grunt, whether the specs say so or not. During our climb, the coolant temperature went up 10 degrees to 205, but the radiator's clutch fan never came on. And descending the hill, the transmission's tow-haul mode [wherein the gearbox maximizes engine braking] did a good job hanging onto each gear's revs right down to 1800 before downshifting." Though the 48RE transmission was previously beefed up to handle the high-torque engine, that you can count its gears on four fingers instead of five is a constant handicap relative to the trannies in the Ford and GMC.

When it was introduced, the Ram's big-rig design motif positively rocked the business. In its current version, a double shot of truck-stop visual caffeine seems to have formed the chrome-rimmed grill into a permanent "wow!" While it may be a bit over the top for some, the Ram unerringly draws admiring glances. Inside, it's also crisply contemporary, with a beveled-edge style mingling white gauge faces and simulated brushed-metal accents into a panache the others lack.
Photo 3/8   |   click to see a zoomed image of the charts
Without the boat or a heavy payload to pacify the rear suspension, however, this good-looking interior can erupt into a violent blur on too many surfaces, as the Ram's stride sometimes dissolves into a paint-shaker ride. But while the Sierra offers the most direct and easiest steering, the Dodge notably has the tightest turning diameter, 7.7 feet smaller than the F-250's (owing to its shorter wheelbase and front coil springs instead of the Ford's longitudinal leafs).
Although nothing beats it for torque and looks, the Ram's aching need for a five-speed transmission, its kidney-busting ride, and its limited-audience Cummins engine drop it to a third-place finish here. Albeit a strong and damned appealing third-place finish.
Second Place
GMC Sierra 2500 HD 4WD Crew Cab

Before the Isuzu-derived Duramax V-8 ($6805 including the Allison transmission) arrived under the 2500 Sierra's tabletop-size hood, GMC's penetration in this turbodiesel segment was 1.1 percent. With the Duramax, that number exploded to nearly 30 percent within three years. What happened?

The Duramax represented a sea change in turbodiesel design, a clean-sheet revamp that introduced civilization to an until-then resolutely coarse engine category loved only by guys with greasy fingernails and big belt buckles. Suddenly, there was a truck diesel for the more sensitive among us. Owing to a high-pressure common-rail injection that's ever-ready to spray a multitude of swift staccato puffs of fuel into the cylinder to reduce knock (and emissions)--the Duramax was strikingly quiet and refined.
Photo 4/8   |   Our Take:2004 GMC Sierra 2500 HD 4WD Crew CabWhat's Hot• New 590-pound-foot torque rating• Relatively nimble steering• Comparatively good mileageWhat's Not• Noisier engine• Aging styling• Tired interior Don't MissExcellent Allison transmissionBottom LineGood steering and mileage make it attractive for everyday city use
Times change, or at least march on. With the latest Ford Power Stroke and even the Cummins chasing the same problems, the result was that our data-logged dBA meter now indicts the Duramax as the noisiest of the trio under every circumstance we probed. Further, it was marginally the slowest of our trucks past the mph marks, despite being 680 pounds lighter than the Ford.
If there was a saving grace, the 2500 Sierra was also the stingiest with fuel. As EPA mileage figures are unavailable on these vehicles, we carefully drove each truck on a 100-mile loop at 70 mph (with speedometers checked by our GPS equipment) and precise fillups recorded before and after the runs. Result? The GMC grabbed best-in-class mileage with an 18.6-mpg figure, followed by the Dodge (17.4) and the Ford (16.6). That's a significant seven- and 12-percent advantage, respectively. Helping out with the flexibility is the excellent Allison-built five-speed automatic transmission, a robust and slick-shifting unit, and the turbo's variable-geometry design (water-cooled for long life).
On the road, the Sierra's lighter weight and more road-oriented independent front suspension made it the most nimble responder to course changes issued from the helm. Towmeister Whale commented: "It rides better in front due to the independent front suspension, but feels firmer in back, possibly due to this vehicle's smaller tires." When the grade steepened, Whale noted: "It seems to have enough power, but mash the throttle at 55 mph, and the clutch fan comes on and the engine is done--it doesn't want to go any faster. Also, the oil pressure is concerning me as it's dropped to 35 psi, whereas while cruising at the same speed on level ground, it hovered between 60 and 70." Unable to accelerate any further, our attention turned to a mini-comparison of side mirrors: "The right side one isn't wide angle, and they're not vertical enough. Ford's still got this mirror thing down pat." Uncoupled from the ride-steadying boat and trailer, the Sierra's highway lope splits the difference between the smooth Ford and the violent Dodge.

While still an attractive design, the Sierra is showing its age, particularly inside, where the dash layout has a 1980s sense to it that's positively shamed by the contemporary Ram's. You expect all the radio button presets to be assigned to classic-rock stations. Yet, like a broken-in Barcalounger, it's a comfortable setting, if not grist for an Architectural Digest photo spread.
Photo 5/8   |   click to see a zoomed image of the charts
Although the Duramax has continuously evolved (now delivering 590 pound-feet of torque and adding improvements in cold start and serviceability), it's been outflanked by the Cummins torque and the Power Stroke's quiet. What's next for the Duramax? Director of diesel engineering Charles Freese challenged: "Being able to launch a rig and maintain speed on a grade means torque, so for 2005, we'll be raising the torque bar to 605 pound-feet (up 15), while retaining the horsepower at 310." Cummins, consider the challenge delivered.
First Place
Ford Harley-Davidson F-250 Crew Cab 4x4 Super Duty

As we were slowly driving through a grocery-store parking lot, two bystanders offered these shouted opinions of the F-250 Crew Cab resplendent in its Harley-Davidson treatment: "Cool wheels!" and "Looks like a Halloween truck!"

The big Ford is definitely an attention-getter, not just due to its trick-or-treat paint job, but because of its giant size and square-jawed presence on the road. Despite being heaviest of the trio (bending the scales at 7320 pounds), it somehow tosses aside the physics books to punch its way to 60 mph in the shortest time--8.5 seconds--while also stopping in the least distance from that speed (150 feet).
Photo 6/8   |   Our Take:Ford Harley-Davidson F-250 Crew Cab 4x4What's Hot• Quiet and powerful Power Stroke engine• Relatively supple ride• Great mirrors for towingWhat's Not• Gargantuan dimensions• Vague steering• Poor mileageDon't MissThe Harley-Davidson paint job (although it's unlikely you will) Bottom LineIt's big, it's brawny--and it's the best tow vehicle among this group
Dynamiting the Ford down the road is the latest Power Stroke turbodiesel ($5085), now 6.0 liters and producing 325 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque while reducing fuel consumption by 10 percent and emissions by 20 compared with its 7.3-liter predecessor. This is a contemporary powerplant, including a variable nozzle turbocharger (akin to the Duramax's), high-pressure common-rail injection (containing pressures up to 26,000 psi!), pilot injection (an early dollop of injection spray quiets the signature diesel rattle), and exhaust-gas recirculation to reduce NOx emissions.
Connected to it is the TorqShift five-speed automatic transmission ($1480) that employs solenoids to operate the transmission's clutches, quickening response time. Indeed, we noticed the transmission's fluid shifts at the track, on the road, and during our towing tests.
Partly due to the wheelbase and partly due to its sheer weight, the F-250 easily provided the best ride quality, complemented by the quietest interior by a notable margin. But the truck's immense length, together with the front-suspension's wheel-angle-limiting longitudinal leaf springs, is double-trouble for the turning radius; sometimes you wonder if the only way out of a tight parking lot is by helicopter airlift (talk about roadside assistance). Fortunately, next year, Ford is expected to adopt a coil-spring setup similar to the Dodge's.
Boat in tow, the F-250 steamed up the incline like a Union Pacific locomotive. After a few minutes, Whale offered, "Well, the Dodge makes the most grunt, but this Ford's extra horsepower and added gear are hard to beat." While the power was impressive, the steering was vague, though this has the strange advantage of providing a sort of relaxed, inattentive tracking character somehow appropriate on a long-distance haul. Inside, the F-250's design is slightly tired-looking, but like its exterior, there's a workaday earnestness to it that utterly defies age.

The F-250 was easy to drive with the trailer. No wanderings between lane edges, it was easy to see out of (due to the excellent Ford side mirrors), and remarkably stoppable, aided by the boat trailer's independent brakes. Not bad for a rig weighing the equivalent of 6.5 Mazda Miatas welded end to end.
Photo 7/8   |   click to see a zoomed image of the charts
Down To A Decision
All three of these big rigs proved competent for the job, but slowly a selection order evolved in our testers' judgment. Credit the Dodge for sharp looks and stump-pulling grunt, but its debits add up when you include its poor ride, not-for-everybody engine character, and four-speed transmission. Frugal at the diesel pump and offering the sweetest steering of the bunch, the likeable Sierra is maturing like Dorian Grey. Ageless, the Ford offers an unusually supple ride, a quiet interior, and prodigious power, but is brought down a notch by its awkwardly supersized dimensions and numb steering feel. But in a lineup of big-shouldered trucks, the Ford undeniably had the broadest when the hitch is locked into place. And what's a diesel truck like this for if not to tow something?

Speaking of which, Rudolph Diesel originally sold the rights to build his engine in the U.S. to none other than Adolphus Busch, the beer magnate. Busch soon gave up, but found consolation in another impressive tow vehicle--the Clydesdale.
 {{{2004 Dodge Ram 2500}}} 4x4 Quad Cab SLT2004 Ford Harley-Davidson {{{F-250}}} Crew Cab 4x4 Super Duty{{{2004 GMC Sierra}}} 2500 HD 4WD Crew Cab
Test Data
Acceleration, sec to mph
0-{{{90}}} 22.620.221.6
1/4 mile, sec @ mph16.5 @ 81.216.2 @ 84.016.7 @ 82.6
Braking, 60-0 mph, ft158150159
{{{600}}}-ft slalom, mph56.354.753.1
{{{200}}}-ft skidpad, g0.710.690.68
Top-gear rpm @ 60 mph175018001800
Consumer Info
On sale in U.S.CurrentlyCurrentlyCurrently
Base price incl dest$32,125$36,555$41,043
Price as tested$44,750$48,{{{825}}}$47,583
AirbagsDual front, f/r head curtainDual frontDual front
Stability/traction controlNo/noNo/noNo/no
Basic warranty3 yrs/36,000 miles3 yrs/36,000 miles3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty7 yrs/70,000 miles5 yrs/{{{100}}},000 miles5 yrs/100,000 miles
Roadside assist period3 yrs/36,000 miles3 yrs/36,000 miles3 yrs/36,000 miles
Fuel capacity, gal34.029.034.0
MT obs mpg @ 70 mph17.416.618.6
Recommended fuelDieselDieselDiesel
Themes and Variations
New pickups flying under the radar
--Mark Williams

Truck makers are doing an ever better job of coming up with innovative ways of improving the utility, convenience, and efficiency of all of their products. Here are three of the most interesting offerings coming soon from Ford, Chevy, and Dodge.
2005 Ford Super Duty
Ford has given its Super Duty trucks much more than a mid-model freshening. To begin, Ford has bumped up towing and carrying capacity to class-leading status by strengthening the frame. The Super Duty also gets bigger brakes and an industry-first: a trailer-brake controller factory-installed in the dash. In addition, both gasoline engines get new three-valve-per-cylinder aluminum heads, bumping horsepower to 300 for the 5.4-liter V-8 and 355 on the 6.8-liter V-10. And, finally, on all 4x4 Super Duty models, Ford is scrapping the front leaf-spring suspension in favor of more compliant coil springs, which should vastly improve the vehicle's turning diameter and overall ride quality.
2005 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra Hybrid
General Motors has been offering what it calls a mild parallel hybrid Silverado/Sierra for fleet sales during the 2004 model year, but it'll make the truck available for retail customers this fall. The mild hybrid system uses a flywheel-type 42-volt starter/generator between the engine and transmission to make gobs of electricity, eliminating the need for a conventional starter and alternator, but it doesn't use electricity to propel the pickup, except to assist in smoothing torque-converter lockup at low speeds to improve efficiency. The system shuts off the engine when the truck would typically be coasting or idling and turns it back on when the driver touches the accelerator or lifts off the brake pedal. The result is a gain in fuel economy reported to be somewhere between eight and 12 percent. A 5.3-liter V-8 powers the vehicle; a series of 12-volt batteries stored under the rear seats runs the electrical accessories. Maybe best of all, the starter/generator supplies four separate 110-volt, 20-amp outlets--two under the rear seats, two in the pickup bed. Look for hybrid technology and cylinder deactivation to find their way into more GM pickups and SUVs by next year.
2005 Dodge Power Wagon
Dodge has come out with a rugged 4x4 option package, much like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon edition's, for the newly revived Power Wagon. Mechanical highlights include front and rear electronically locking differentials, 4.56:1 gears, an electronically controlled front anti-roll bar (it can be decoupled for improved off-road articulation), and a (nearly invisible) heavy-duty winch. A two-inch suspension lift, 33-inch tires, custom rims, and enormous Power Wagon lettering give the truck an imposing stance. Other solid details in the package include a bigger battery, higher-output alternator, and extra transmission cooling. No word at press time as to what this option package will cost, but if history is any indication, we're guessing no higher than $2500.
Photo 8/8   |   2004 Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 Quad Cab Slt Ford Harley Davidson F 250 Crew Cab 4x4 Super Duty Gmc Sierra 2500 Hd 4wd Crew Cab Pickup front



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