The 2017 Canadian Truck King Challenge
By Howard J. Elmer
The Canadian pickup truck market caters to the multiple needs of those in need of a truck for either work or personal use. But pickups that serve both the workplace and family are becoming the norm. Trying to offer buyers an unbiased perspective is one of the reasons I started the Canadian Truck King Challenge 10 years ago. Each year, a group of journalist judges continue to fulfill that original mandate: testing pickup trucks and vans the same way owners use them.
By Howard J. Elmer
The judges are members of the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada who devote their entire year to driving, evaluating and writing about the Canadian automotive marketplace. Collectively they brought over 200 years of trucking experience to this year’s testing while driving a combined total of almost 4,000 empty, loaded and towing kilometres over three long days.
This year judges travelled from Quebec, British Columbia and Saskatchewan to attend the event, which takes place at a private 70-acre site in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario.
The testing pool
Since there are rarely more than two new trucks in a given year, we look to fill out each group to offer a decent sized comparison. For this year’s testing of 2017 models, we had a field of 11 pickup trucks, which fell into four classes: mid-size, full-size half-ton and full-size three-quarter-ton, tested in the Kawartha Lakes region, and full-size one-ton trucks, tested in London, Ont., a few days later.
The testing method
The route we use is called the Head River test loop. It’s a combination of public roads spread over 17 kilometres. It starts on gravel, moves to a secondary paved road and finally a highway. Speed limits vary from 50 to 80 kilometres per hour, and the road climbs and drops off an escarpment several times, giving good elevation changes.
Driving over the same route, the judges first drive each truck empty, then with a payload on board, before finally towing a trailer, Although this is repetitive, it’s the best way to feel the differences from one truck to the next. Trucks are scored in 20 different categories before being averaged across the field of judges and converted into a percentage. The “as tested” price of each vehicle is then weighed against the average price of the group (which adds or subtracts points) for the final outcome. Four-wheel drive equipped trucks (which all of our entries were) are driven on an internal off-road course built for that purpose at the IronWood test site.
The mid-size trucks carried a payload of 500 pounds and towed 4,000 pounds. The full-size half-tons hauled a 1,000 pound payload and towed 6,000 pounds. The three-quarter-tons towed 10,000 pounds and also used 1,000 pounds for payload. We choose these loads by taking into consideration the lowest manufacturer set limits among each group of entries. The weights we use never exceed those published limits.
For the one-ton trucks, we changed locations to London. Here we had access to partners who loaned us the weight and trailers necessary to test the big pickups. Patene Building Supplies and IKO let us use 4,000 pounds of shingles for payload, while CanAm RV Centre let us tow 15,000 pound fifth-wheel travel trailers.
- Honda Ridgeline – 3.5L V6 gas, 6-speed auto, AWD, crew cab, Touring trim. Price as tested: $47,090. Final score of 75.5 per cent.
- Chevrolet Colorado – 2.8L Duramax turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, Z71 trim. Price as tested: $44,695. Final score of 72.2 per cent.
Of the two, the Honda impressed the judges. As with anything new, it had an edge, but it wasn’t just the new factor that pushed its score past the Colorado. The prior generation of Ridgeline had a niche: a quirky truck that appealed to a select buyer. This time the Ridgeline moved closer to the mainstream while retaining some of its unique characterises. It did most everything well (payload, towing, even off-road) and still offered the most “car-like” ride. The judges rewarded Honda for a significant generational update. Toyota opted not to participate with the Tacoma (which we tested last year). The Nissan Frontier was also not offered, perhaps because it’s in its last cycle before a major upgrade.
Full-size half-ton group
- Ram 1500 – 5.7L Hemi V8 gas, 8-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, Sport trim. Price as tested: $58,110. Final score of 79.4 per cent.
- Chevrolet Silverado 1500 – 5.3L V8 gas, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, Z71 trim. Price as tested: $59,890. Final score of 76.7 per cent.
- Nissan Titan – 5.6L V8 gas, 7-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, PRO-4X trim. Price as tested: $63,050. Final score of 74.3 per cent.
- Toyota Tundra – 5.7L V8 gas, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, TRD Pro trim. Price as tested: $60,025. Final score of 73.7 per cent.
In Canada, this group makes up almost 80 per cent of total pickup sales. For us at the Truck King Challenge, it’s a segment where we consider what models to test carefully.
This year we asked each of the manufacturers to give us their bestseller in the half-ton category (the most popular combination of body style, trim and powertrain). This way we would test the trucks Canadians buy most often.
The Nissan Titan is new, while the Chevrolet and Ram are midway through their current life cycle. Toyota gave us an off-road version of its Tundra, the TRD Pro. This is the newest truck they had, but not necessarily the model purchased most often. As you would expect, it did really well off-road. The Ram emerged as the judges’ choice for best all-around half-ton.
Ford – the leader in half-ton Canadian truck sales – chose not to compete.
Full-size three-quarter-ton group
- Ram 2500 – 6.7L Cummins I6 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, Laramie trim. Price as tested: $86,830. Final score of 77 per cent.
- Nissan Titan XD – 5L Cummins V8 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, PRO-4X trim. Price as tested: $64,950. Final score of 74.9 per cent.
- Chevrolet Silverado 2500 – 6.6L Duramax V8 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, LTZ trim. Price as tested: $82,560. Final score of 74.9 per cent.
In the three-quarter-ton category, each of the trucks were diesel-powered. Since these are the most common big haulers purchased by Canadians, we towed 10,000 pounds of concrete. The judges made a point of saying that they really felt how the trucks behaved when under-loaded. The scoring here was close, but the Ram 2500 with the Cummins 6.7L diesel came out slightly ahead. What’s interesting is that the Nissan tied with the Chevrolet.
The Titan XD has the lightest gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the three trucks and has the lowest tow and payload limits, which is reflected in its price and elevates its overall score. These lower limits are not a disadvantage though – if anything, it means the segment is growing and offering up more choices for consumers.
This was the first time we tested Nissan’s new 5L Cummins diesel V8. It’s worth noting that Chevy’s veteran 6.6L Duramax diesel will be generationally updated next year.
Full-size one-ton group
- Chevrolet Silverado 3500 – 6.6L Duramax V8 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, DRW, crew cab, High Country trim. Price as tested: $83,390. Final score of 75.1 per cent.
- Ram 3500 – Cummins I6 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, DRW, crew cab, Laramie trim. Price as tested: $88,085. Final score of 71.8 per cent.
We missed having Ford in this category, particularly because its 2017 Super Duty trucks are all new. After a full day of driving the Chevrolet and Ram trucks back to back, the judges awarded the win to the Chevrolet Silverado 3500. Both trucks worked well; the key difference was ride-quality when towing, where the Chevy outperformed the Ram.
The close scores reflect how fierce the competition is among companies. This competition is good, as it results in sharp, constant innovation. Consider Nissan. This year it’s virtually a new player in the market, while others have brought significant improvements to powertrains. These changes give buyers an ever-widening range of choices. As for electronic conveniences and luxury appointments, the variety and range of content for 2017 continues to expand unabated.
The overall winner of the 10th annual Canadian Truck King Challenge with the highest collective score of 79.4 per cent is the 2017 Hemi-powered Ram 1500.