Pick-up Farm Truck Review
By Howard Elmer
The year 2009 is one that the automotive world would like to forget: pick-up truck sales across North America fell by around 300,000 units. But despite this trend, purchases, particularly for industries such as farming, continue and topped 1.6 million trucks in the year.
By Howard Elmer
|From left to right, the trucks in this year’s review are the Chevy Silverado, the Dodge Ram, the Toyota Tundra and the Ford F-150.
All photos courtesy of Howard Elmer, Truck King Media Group.
The year 2009 is one that the automotive world would like to forget: pick-up truck sales across North America fell by around 300,000 units. But despite this trend, purchases, particularly for industries such as farming, continue and topped 1.6 million trucks in the year. The year 2009 also saw a new Ford F-150 and a Dodge Ram, while the new GMs were just a year old at the time. So with 2010 dawning, hope returns to the auto makers, but there are no new trucks. In fact, the start of this new decade is simply a carryover year for the Big Three’s half-tons, so all the testing we did last summer is still fresh and relevant. The exception is Toyota, which added a new small V-8 for this year, but we were fortunate to get the first one in Canada in July 2009, and those results are included.
The purpose of Truck King Challenge has always been to test pick-ups under real world conditions, which is what we continue to do, but because of the small number we felt that to try to judge categories numerically (as we have done in the past) wouldn’t work, the sample was too small. So, with two veteran AJAC truck writers, and me, we agreed that it was best to simply report our observations rather than try to declare a winner.
Of the trucks we had to test, the F-150 Ford and Ram from Dodge are the newest in terms of their most recent updates. Both were ’09 models (neither brand plans any significant changes for the ‘10 model year) and both featured body, powertrain and suspension upgrades. The Chevy Silverado that we were given to test by GM Canada was the unusual one of the bunch because of its hybrid powertrain.
The Toyota Tundra we had on hand was the exception as it was one of the first 2010 models available in Canada. It was equipped with the new 4.6L V-8 engine, which will now be the entry-level motor and has been specifically added to offer a fuel-efficient alternative to the powerful 5.7L V-8.
We spent two days running back-to-back test loops empty, while towing and while on an off-road course. A good portion of this route was on gravel roads that are great for three things: evaluating cabin noise levels, getting steering feedback and driving dirt into every possible crevice on the truck; and with the rain we had managed all three equally.
Consensus was that the Chevy and Ford were the quietest of the trucks. Not just on overall road noise, but they also deadened the pinging in the wheel wells from the gravel hits. Meanwhile, on pavement, tire noise was low and with both engines at idle it was almost impossible to tell they were running. (Well, with the hybrid that is a bit deceiving because at stops the engine does too.)
Steering feel is good on all the trucks, but again Ford and Chevy seem to have it over the other two with a more controlled, confident feel. Certainly the Ford’s new longer wheelbase adds to the overall ride quality, the tradeoff is that it increases its turning radius. Inside, though, the Ford puts this added length to good use as rear cabin space, adding almost six inches of floor space. For spaciousness Ford has it over the others.
It was interesting to see that on the 2010 Toyota Tundra we tested, a fold-down cargo bed step has been added. An obvious add-on that mimics the Ford step, it’s good to see that Toyota reacts quickly to the changing market, not necessarily waiting until the next generational update to make build changes.
That said, it was noted on the off-road portion of our test that of all the trucks the Tundra has the most play between box and cab; it needs to be stiffened up. With the rain pelting (and mosquitoes attacking) we attempted the off-road in 2WD mode first with each of the trucks, but with the slick mud we were soon stuck. Still, we noted that the mechanical locker that the Chevy has in its rear differential provided the most traction before we switched to 4WD. From here each truck performed adequately with the Ford’s turning radius once again causing us to have backup where the others didn’t need to.
Also on our off-road we noted that the Tundra and the F-150 persist in putting their trailer light connections below the rear bumper. We managed to bend both. These belong above or in the bumper, as Dodge and Chevy have done.
Each of our test trucks was V-8 powered with the Toyota sporting the smallest engine and the hybrid Chevy the largest at 6L. Interestingly, from a fuel perspective, the hybrid saved only about 1L/100km more than the new 4.6L Toyota engine. And while this spoke to the strides made by Toyota to put a fuel efficient motor in its Tundra, the real difference emerged when towing.
The new Ram came to us equipped with the 5.7L Hemi engine that has been doing duty in that truck for several years now. The F-150 was equipped with the 5.4L V-8, which has also been around as long as the Hemi, but which was updated with new valves and coupled to an all-new six-speed automatic transmission (the Dodge stayed with the previous generation’s five-speed auto, though it added VVT to its Hemi). In fact, Dodge is now the only one that doesn’t run a six-speed tranny, so it’s obvious that multi-gear transmissions are playing much larger rolls in power and fuel management these days (these are a far cry from the three-on-the-tree days). But these gearboxes also show off advanced computer programming with tow/haul settings that electronically change the shift points for acceleration and also allow manual control for use with engine braking on long grades. Many of these changes are innovations that have migrated from the HD truck segment. Frankly, with what half-tons will tow now, it’s needed.
Our test trailer was a dual-axle, landscape-type trailer with a tare weight of 2400 lbs. On it we loaded two ATVs that I had on hand for testing. A new Yamaha Kodiak 450 and a ‘09 475cc Honda Foreman fit our trailer and these weighed in at 629 lbs and 639 lbs, respectively. So with the trailer included we put together a modest tow test weight of 3668 lbs. Respectable for any of these half-tons to tow, but far from a real workout.
While towing this trailer, once again the power and wheelbase of the Ford and Chevy proved to be the best combinations. The Dodge lacked only in its gearing, where a long second gear tended to bog a bit on hills while accelerating. The Toyota, while it handled the weight, used all its power and the transmission was worked hard to keep pace; this is an obvious trade-off for the improved fuel economy. Of course where neither was affected was on the Chevy hybrid. With its 6L Vortec engine, it pulled with strength and confidence, and the electric motors even have enough power on their own to move the truck and trailer from a standing stop on electric power only.
As for suspensions, we concluded that our modest load wasn’t enough to highlight any major differences between leaf springs and coil suspensions, in fact the new setup on the Dodge felt pretty good. As for design, we try to be practical in our evaluations but we are as swayed by a truck’s looks as any buyer. And while there isn’t a mutt in the bunch we have to admit that the current Ram is a very pretty truck, inside and out.
With the market now recovering w expect to stage a full-blown Canadian Truck King Challenge again in the fall of 2010.
*Howard Elmer is editor of Truck King Media Group.