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The 2017 Canadian Truck King Challenge


February 15, 2017
By Howard J. Elmer

The Canadian pickup truck market is huge. It caters to the multiple needs of work, institutional and personal trucks – sometimes all of them in one package. In fact, pickups that serve the workplace and family are becoming the norm – this fact alone makes choosing the right one simply that much more complex.

Trying to offer buyers an unbiased perspective is one of the reasons that I started the Canadian Truck King Challenge 10 years ago. Since then, each year, my group of journalist judges continues to fulfill that original mandate: testing pickup trucks and vans the same way that owners use them.

This “real world” competition includes empty evaluations but more importantly testing while loaded and while towing.  The judges are members of the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada. Collectively they brought over 200 years of trucking experience to this year’s testing while driving a combined total of almost 4,000 km, over three long days. The event takes place at a private 70-acre site in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario.

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WHAT WE TESTED
Each year the market offers up different trucks; often depending on what’s new. However there are rarely more than two new trucks in a given year, so we also look to fill out each group to offer a decent sized comparison. This year we had a field of eleven 2017 pickup trucks, falling into four classes. Mid-size, full-size half-ton and full-size three-quarter-ton were tested in the Kawarthas. The full-size one-ton trucks were tested in London, Ont. a few days later.  

THE TESTING METHOD
Each judge drives each truck empty, then with payload on board and finally towing a trailer over this same route, one after the other, back to back. Yes, it gets repetitive, but this is the best way to feel the differences between the trucks. Trucks are scored in 20 different categories; these scores are then averaged across the field of judges and converted to a percentage out of 100. Finally the “as tested” price of each vehicle is also weighted against the average price of the group (which adds or subtracts points) for the final outcome.

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 highway. Speed limits vary from 50 to 80 km/h and the road climbs and drops off an escarpment several times giving good elevation changes.

Finally, four-wheel-drive (4WD) equipped trucks (which all our entries were) are driven on an internal off-road course built for that purpose at the IronWood test site.  

This year the mid-size trucks carried a payload of 500 lb and towed 4,000 lb. The full-size half-tons hauled payload of 1,000 lb and towed 6,000 lb; while the three-quarter-tons towed 10,000 lb and also used 1,000 lb 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, Ont. Here we have access to two partners who loan us the weight and trailers necessary to test the big pickups. Patene Building Supply and IKO let us use 4,000 lbs of singles for payload, while CanAm RV centre lets us tow 15,000 lb fifth-wheel travel trailers.

MID-SIZE GROUP

  • Honda Ridgeline – 3.5L V6 gas, 6-speed auto, AWD, crew cab, touring trim. Price as tested: $47,090.
  • Chevrolet Colorado – 2.8L Duramax turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, Z71 trim. Price as tested: $44, 695.

Between the two mid-size trucks the Honda impressed the judges. As with anything new, it had an edge – the Colorado diesel was a big splash when it debuted last year. However, it wasn’t just the new factor that pushed the Ridgeline’s score past that of the Colorado. The prior generation of Ridgeline was a niche, quirky truck that appealed to a select buyer – this time the Ridgeline has moved closer to the mainstream while retaining some of its unique characteristics. It did most everything (payload, towing, even off-road) well and still offered the most “car-like” ride. The judges rewarded Honda for a significant generational update. Toyota opted not to give us a Tacoma (which we did test last year) and the Nissan Frontier was also not offered – no doubt because it’s in the last year of its current cycle before a major upgrade.

  • Honda Ridgeline – final score of 75.5 per cent.
  • Chevrolet Colorado – final score of 72.2 per cent.

FULL-SIZE HALF-TON GROUP

  • Dodge Ram 1500 – 5.7L Hemi V8 gas, 8-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, sport trim. Price as tested: $58,110.
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500 – 5.3L V8 gas, 6-speed auto, 4WD, Crew cab, Z71 trim. Price as tested: $59,890.
  • Nissan Titan – 5.6L V8 gas, 7-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, PRO-4X trim. Price as tested: $63,050.
  • Toyota Tundra – 5.7L V8 gas, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, TRD Pro trim. Price as tested: $60,025.

The full-size half-ton category is the meat of the market. In Canada it makes up just under 80 per cent of total pickup sales. As such it is one of the most competitively fought over among the builders and for us at the challenge it’s a segment that we annually consider carefully – as in what to test.

This year we came up with an idea that should appeal to this large group of buyers. We asked each of the manufacturers to give us one half-ton – the one that was its best seller – as in the most popular combination of body style, trim and powertrain. This way we would test the trucks that Canadians buy most often.

Some, like the Nissan Titan, are all new. Others like the Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram are midway through their current lifecycle. Toyota chose to give us an off-road version of its Tundra – the TRD Pro. This is the newest truck they had; not really the most often purchased. But that was their choice to enter it. As you’d expect it did really well off-road. The other entries were exactly what we asked for. The Dodge Ram emerged as the judges’ choice for best all-round half-ton. However all the scores were close and the Chevrolet Silverado also did well.

Of course, I have to mention what is missing from the list: Ford. The leader in half-ton Canadian truck sales chose not to compete. Despite having entered trucks in every other Truck King Challenge competition since 2006, this year they declined. 

  • Dodge Ram 1500 – final score of 79.4 per cent.
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500 – final score of 76.7 per cent.
  • Nissan Titan – final score of 74.3 per cent.
  • Toyota Tundra – final score of 73.7 per cent.

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.
  • Nissan Titan XD – 5L Cummins V8 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, PRO-4X trim. Price as tested: $64,950.
  • Chevrolet Silverado 2500 – 6.6L Duramax V8 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, crew cab, LTZ trim. Price as tested: $82,560.

In the three-quarter-ton category, note that each of the trucks was diesel-powered. As these are the most common big haulers being bought by Canadians, we stressed them by towing 10,000 lb of concrete. The judges made a point of saying that under load was when they really felt how the trucks behaved. The scoring here was close as each truck did well, however the Dodge Ram 2500 with the Cummins 6.7L diesel did come out slightly ahead. What was more interesting was the Nissan HD tied with the HD Chevrolet Silverado.  

The Nissan Titan XD is the lightest (GVWR) of the three trucks and has the lowest tow and payload limits – that is also reflected in its price, which elevated it overall score. These lower limits are not a disadvantage though – if anything it means that the segment is growing and offering up more choices for consumers.

This was the first time we tested the all new 5L Cummins diesel V8. It’s also worth noting that Chevrolet’s veteran 6.6L Duramax diesel will be generationally updated next year.

  • Dodge Ram 2500 – final score 77.0 per cent.
  • Nissan Titan XD – final score 74.9 per cent.
  • Chevrolet Silverado 2500 – final score 74.9 per cent.

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.
  • Dodge Ram 3500 – Cummins I6 turbo-diesel, 6-speed auto, 4WD, DRW, crew cab, Laramie trim. Price as tested: $88,085.

For the one-ton trucks we had a field of two – again we missed having Ford, particularly because its 2017 Super Duty trucks are all new. However, we still performed a full field of tests on the Dodge Ram 3500 and Chevrolet Silverado 3500. After a full day of driving both trucks back to back, the judges awarded the win to the Chevrolet Silverado 3500. Both trucks worked well; the key difference judges noted was ride quality when towing – they preferred the Chevrolet.

  • Chevrolet Silverado 3500 – final score 75.1 per cent.
  • Ram 3500 – final score 71.8 per cent.

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 Dodge Ram 1500.