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What's the Best One-Ton Heavy-Duty Pickup for 2017?

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Which pickup truck came out on top in our 2017 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Pickup Challenge?

In one corner, we had the defending champ from our , the 2017 version of the GMC Sierra 3500, an immensely capable truck that proved its everyday livability through its comfort and ease of use. In the other corner, we had the thoroughly redone challenger, the 2017 Ford Super Duty F-350, a visually imposing force that physically dominated the comparison test thanks to its bigger dimensions. But size alone won't win tests like this — you have to be better, not just bigger.

2017 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Pickup Challenge

| | | Daily Driving | | Results

We awarded points in 20 empirical categories that ranged from manufacturer capacity numbers and ratings to results from our and . A total of 2,000 points was possible but not achieved by either pickup. We then added our judges' subjective scores — where each truck could get a possible 200 points per judge for a possible total of 600 judges' points — to the empirical scores. A grand total of 2,600 was possible. Note that we do not weight our scored categories, which allows you to identify and rescore the contest so you can choose your winner based on your needs.

How They Stacked Up

The new Super Duty is so much better than the old. It no longer beats you up on relatively smooth pavement when it's empty. It no longer feels difficult to drive, nor is its demeanor temperamental. The Ford was smooth, civilized and loaded to the gills with not just new technology, but useful new technology designed by engineers who know what customers want and need in a big towing rig. While the GMC may be getting long in the tooth, capability is capability, and the GMC had it in spades thanks to that new, torquey V-8 Duramax engine and smooth independent front suspension.

In our empirical testing, the Ford bested the GMC in areas such as gross vehicle weight rating, payload capacity and the ability to handle heavy loads without being unduly unsettled (it barely squats when loaded to its payload capacity). But its size and heft counted against it in some areas; the GMC was lighter and nimbler, which gave it the edge in acceleration, braking and fuel economy.

We used a portable dynamometer on our track day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to find out if the advertised power and torque numbers were what was being delivered to the rear wheels. The GMC came out on top here again, with an observed 383 horsepower and 786 pounds-feet of torque at the rear wheels (GMC says it gets 445 hp and 910 pounds-feet of torque at the crank). But the Ford had an issue — just before really coming on boost the engine computer would pull fuel and not deliver all the beans. The Ford delivered just 360 hp and 663 pounds-feet of torque (compared to the 440 horsepower and 925 pound-feet Ford says it delivers at the crank); this was certainly less than we expected.

Add our judges' subjective scores to the empirical scores, and the gap between first and second place grew even wider. The judges liked the openness of the Ford interior, with its excellent forward and rear visibility. They also gave it high marks for technology, not only in extra bed features, but also for its advanced camera systems, state-of-the-art multimedia system and long list of amenities. They dinged it on comfort, however, with complaints about the Ford's front seats — they're short, oddly bolstered and not comfortable over longer trips. Some of the Ford's material qualities were also questioned — those running boards were covered in chromed plastic and creaked when any member of our team stepped on them.

Without further ado, the results:

No. 2: 2017 GMC Sierra 3500 Denali, 2,287 points

The GMC scored well in track performance, and empty and loaded fuel economy. It also received high marks for seat comfort and drivability. Overall interior comfort resonated with our judges because the GMC looks and feels like a lighter-duty half ton. However, it fell short in data information and amenities — even in the top Denali trim. There were no rear climate control vents, no gauge readout to tell you how much diesel exhaust fluid was left — not to mention the DEF filler was under the hood and hard to fill (especially when compared to the Ford).

Research the 2017 GMC Sierra 3500 | Search Inventory | Photo Gallery

Additionally, although single-rear-wheel GM pickups have a tire readout gauge, duallies do not. We appreciated the additional power and upgraded performance the new Duramax engine delivers (mostly from the smarter and larger variable-vane turbocharger), but the interior quality and information systems haven't kept up with the class and should be next on the list of things to deliver for GM's heavy-duty towing customers.

 No. 1: 2017 Ford Super Duty F-350 Lariat, 2,352 points

The brand-new Ford unseated the aging GMC Sierra, squeaking by with an empirical testing victory — 1,934 points for the Ford, 1,903 points for the GMC — but cementing it when the judges' scores were added: 418 for the Ford versus 384 for the GMC. That gave the Ford a grand total of 2,352 points to the Sierra's 2,287 points, which is not a huge margin by any means. But it does demonstrate the amazing capabilities of both trucks, since they remain so closely matched despite the Ford receiving a redo. It makes us eager to see what GMC will come up with when the next generation of its heavy-duty trucks arrives in a year or two.

Research the 2017 Ford Super Duty F-350 | Search Inventory |

Until then, the 2017 Ford Super Duty F-350 is our new champion. Its combination of size, capability, useful user-friendly technology and newfound civility gave it the edge in our empirical testing and subjective evaluations.

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

 

 

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