Pickup trucks are important — not just to manufacturers and the U.S. economy, but to the lives of our readers. That's why we take testing pickups seriously. That's why we consider ourselves fortunate to conduct PickupTrucks.com Challenges. These apples-to-apples comparison tests allow us to bring readers as many objective and empirical numbers as possible, the latest of which is our 2018 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Truck Challenge. Just to make things interesting, we've thrown our opinions into the mix for your pleasure. You're welcome.
2018 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Truck Challenge
Results | | How We Tested
For the 2018 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Truck Challenge, we invited each of the three heavy-duty pickup makers — Ford, Chevrolet and Ram — to send their best 2018 one-ton crew-cab, single-rear-wheel diesel pickup trucks with a factory gooseneck tow package (and accessories). We set a price ceiling of $75,000. What we got were three HD players very close in capability: the 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 High Country, 2018 Ford Super Duty F-350 Lariat and 2018 Ram 3500 Laramie. The most significant difference among them was that the Chevy came equipped with a short box. For the full set of comparison specifications, see our What You Get chart.
We thought it was important to test how these one tons handle a significant towing load. So, they all towed three identical 4,900-pound Big Tex gooseneck dump beds from Big Tex Trailer World, along with a full payload of gravel totaling 8,100 pounds courtesy of Bedrock Sand and Gravel. Each gooseneck trailer's total weight was within 100 pounds of 13,000 pounds. Given that we'd be putting more than 1,000 miles on these heavy-duty diesel trucks by the end of our testing week, we thought this amount was a good round number and likely more load than most HD pickup owners will pull on a regular basis.
Comparative empirical testing of each truck's capabilities is important (because we know you want to know). The winner of each test was given 100 points, while the remaining trucks were awarded a percentage of points based on their comparative finish. Each truck was tested and scored on 16 tests:
- Zero-to-60-mph acceleration, empty and with trailer
- Quarter-mile acceleration, empty and with trailer
- 40-to-60-mph acceleration, empty and with trailer
- 60-to-zero-mph braking (empty) and 40-to-zero-mph braking (with trailers)
- Davis Dam 2.23-mile hill climb, towing
- Davis Dam 40-to-60-mph hill climb from 4th gear, towing
- Fuel economy (with and without trailer)
- Calculated maximum payload
- Calculated gooseneck maximum tow rating
- Interior noise at idle and at 60 mph
All track testing was done on a closed runway at the Kingman Municipal Airport, which offered us more than a half-mile of smooth tarmac and plenty of visibility. Temperatures at the outset of our testing in late May hovered around the mid-90s, with a slight wind out of the south. During our acceleration runs, we ran all trucks with the windows up, air conditioning off and tires set at factory-recommended pressures. We also allowed for a slight bit of brake-torquing (left foot on brake while running the throttle up to about 2,000 rpm, then releasing brake while going wide-open throttle) at launch. Each powertrain had a slightly different wide-open-throttle launch feel, but we managed to get several strong takeoffs for each truck.
For our brake testing, we selected an even and smooth section of the runway to keep comparisons consistent. We gave ourselves plenty of distance to run each vehicle up to an indicated 60 mph with the windows up and in top gear before we stomped on the brakes, replicating a full-blown panic stop. It's worth noting that we regularly rotated the vehicles during these tests to allow the brakes, engine and transmission to cool down before each run. For our loaded brake testing, we thought it would be interesting to see how each truck handled 13,000 extra pounds without the benefit of trailer brakes. We disconnected each of the bed-mounted wiring harnesses, ran the truck and trailer up to 40 mph in top gear and then panic-stopped the brakes.
All timing instrumentation was conducted with a Racelogic Vbox II, which electronically identifies up to seven satellites to chart and record progress and course in real time. All track testing was done with official spotters with an on-site local paramedic team standing by.
Our fuel economy testing took place in and around the city of Kingman, Ariz., over a 94-mile loop that took us on flattish two-lane highways, graded dirt roads, a multilane interstate and winding mountain roads to almost 6,000 feet above sea level. Each of our test drivers were instructed to set the air conditioning to 72 degrees on "Auto," keeping all windows rolled up and to never let the vehicle idle when it could be shut off (for example, during driver swaps and fuel fill-ups). Temperatures hovered in the mid-to-high 90s with no wind. We obeyed posted speed limits.
Since we had three test vehicles and three judges for this comparison test, we rotated between vehicles twice (after a little more than 30 miles of driving) throughout our fuel economy route to allow each driver's quirks to impact each of the three vehicles equally.
We began and ended our fuel economy day at the same fuel station with all fill-ups done at the same pump with the same nozzle. Fill-ups were also conducted by a single person, in the same manner for each truck, to ensure the tanks were filled to the same level each time. Both the cost and quantity were recorded, with fuel economy numbers calculated by dividing miles driven by gallons used. Once we finished our first loop with empty trucks, we hitched up the 13,000-pound Big Tex gooseneck trailers and followed the exact same route and procedures. This allowed us to calculate fuel economy while towing.
Much of our towing tests and judges' impressions were garnered from our time driving on the infamous Davis Dam grade, a portion of state Route 68 connecting Arizona's Golden Valley with a steep hill descent (or climb, depending on direction) into the Bullhead City/Laughlin area along the Colorado River. We've been testing on this grade for more than a decade. It has a bottom elevation around 500 feet above sea level, while the Union Pass summit sits just a touch more than 3,000 feet. The full length of the run, depending on exactly where you start and finish, is a little more than 11 miles long and can be quite taxing for heavy haulers in the desert heat, with portions of the highway offering a 7 percent grade, or about a 4-degree slope.
During our test runs, which covered the steepest 2-mile section of the climb, we took each truck and trailer (with one passenger for recording and verification purposes) from a dead stop to a wide-open-throttle run past our finish line some 11,775 feet later. Each truck was run with the windows rolled up, air conditioning off and very little traffic. Temperatures during our midday runs were in the upper 90s, with a 10-mph wind out of the west. Timing for each run was done from a designated start line near mile marker 6 and concluded at a finish line near mile marker 8.
The Judges' Scores
After we completed our 16 empirical tests, providing each pickup truck with a possible 1,600 points, we added our expert judges' scores from 10 pickup-specific categories. To weight the judges' scores with what we consider an appropriate amount of influence in our overall results, we multiplied the scores by two, for a possible total of 600 points. Those categories were:
- Bed features and access
- Interior layout
- Interior quality
- Interior storage
- Overall comfort
- How it drives empty
- How it drives with a trailer
- Engine layout
- Overall value
The empirical and judges' scores combined for a possible total score of 2,200 points per truck. We could weight categories and tests we think are more important than others, creating a complicated final equation, but we don't do that. Instead, we present the unweighted scores to our readers to allow them to weight those tests or categories they value, perhaps fuel economy or max trailering for instance. This allows readers to determine which truck is their own best choice. And we understand it may not be the same winner we've selected, but it will be the right truck for you.
In the name of transparency, we've detailed the processes, procedures and thinking behind our tests, and we've provided a chart below that details how the trucks performed in the empirical tests along with judges' scoring and final scores. Let us know what you think or ask questions in the comment section. We've got all the data and want to share as much of it as we can.
Cars.com photos by Chris Collard, Evan Sears