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Diesel Shootout

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

With GM and Ford coming onto the scene with new diesels last year, it was inevitable that a three-way match up with the Ram would naturally come to fruition. We couldn’t resist. We were able to come up with this trio of hot new products, featuring all the latest technology in 3/4-ton capacity, four-wheel-drive, turbodiesel-powered pickups from the top three American manufacturers. We matched them with three identical MVP RV Vortex SURVs that weighed 7,940 pounds each, and put them to the test.

The Players
Chevrolet provided a Silverado 2500 4WD Crew Cab standard box configuration in the LTZ trim package, powered by the upgraded (about 60-percent of the engine hardware is new) 6.6-liter Duramax V-8 (LML) turbodiesel that produces 765 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm and 397 hp at 3,000 rpm. Backed by an upgraded Allison six-speed automatic transmission that allows the driver to manually select any desired gear, the Silverado offers a 13,000-pound tow rating.

Ford brought an F-250 4WD Super Duty Crew Cab shortbed in Lariat trim to the rodeo. It delivers 735 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm and 390 hp at 2,800 rpm from its all-new 6.7-liter V-8 turbodiesel. This powerplant features an inboard exhaust and outboard intake design that helps improve low-end punch, and an advanced-design dual-sided compressor wheel in the turbocharger that acts like a twin, but retains the compact size of a single turbo.

A heavy-duty TorqShift six-speed automatic transmission backs the new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 turbodiesel. It features a manual selectable gearshift system that allows the driver to use a toggle switch to shift gears up and down and hold that gear. In this configuration, the Ford has a tow rating of 14,000 pounds.

The Dodge Ram 2500 Crew Cab 4WD shortbed in SLT trim was powered by the 6.7-liter I-6 High Output Cummins turbodiesel. Cranking out 650 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm and 350 hp at 3,000 rpm, it meets 2010.5 EPA diesel emissions standards and is the only one of the three new engines in our review that does not require the new urea, or diesel emissions fluid (DEF).

Behind the Cummins 6.7-liter is the 68RFE six-speed automatic transmission with Electronic Range Select that allows the driver to manually select the gear that best fits the driving conditions. As equipped, this vehicle has a tow rating of 12,750 pounds.

Being able to clearly see your surroundings and the traffic to the side of you is key to safe towing. Good side mirrors and good line of sight out windows is important.

All three trucks offer excellent towing mirrors, but some are better than others. All are about the same size (the main mirror glasses all measure approximately 7 x 7.5 inches). However, the Ford’s mirrors were best overall with the main mirrors oriented horizontally and larger spot mirrors, plus they’re powered, and are extendable and retractable from inside the cab.

Our Dodge featured folding mirrors that pivot so they can be rotated into a vertical or horizontal position, and they had the greatest outward extension of the group; however, the convex spots were small and didn’t seem very effective, and when we rotated the mirrors into a vertical position, some drivers noted that the mirrors created a blind spot at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions.

The Chevy had nice big mirrors very similar in design to the Ford, except they are not power telescoping. We were divided as to whether Chevy or Ford had the better overall mirrors for keeping an eye on your neighbor in the next lane more easily, but we all liked how the Ford’s mirrors offered the largest convex spots at the bottom.

The Chevy offers a good over-the-shoulder view from the driver’s position, but has smaller rear-side windows than the other trucks, which cuts down on visibility a bit. The Ford also offered an unobstructed view over the driver’s left shoulder, but huge headrests can block the driver’s vision to the passengers’ side of the vehicle. The Dodge suffers a bit from a huge C-pillar and a smaller rear window than the other trucks.

All three trucks also offer rearview cameras to help when hooking up trailers. These really come in handy. Ford’s was the easiest to use, with helpful sight-depth guides in it. We also found that you can set the Ford rearview camera to stay on in forward or reverse at speeds slower than 25 mph.

Engine Performance
All three trucks have plenty of power, and each would make a terrific tow vehicle, but we felt some differences. Impressions of the Ford by all were positive. Its true muscle was immediately apparent. The new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 turbodiesel has massive towing power, and you don’t have to stomp the throttle pedal to find it.

The 6.6-liter Duramax V-8 under the Chevy’s hood is also a powerful engine, and our seat-of-the-pant’s impressions agreed. In almost every situation, it felt like it had more power than the Ford. It was only at tip in where the Ford seemed to come on stronger.

The 6.7-liter Dodge Cummins, also recently upgraded, is the oldest design of the bunch and used to be the largest-displacement powerplant in the trio. Don’t be fooled; it is still a potent and remarkable engine that could be worth 300,000 miles if properly maintained. And although it fared well and felt powerful at all throttle positions, especially off the line, it suffered during our towing acceleration runs on a 7-percent grade.

All three engines have exhaust-brake systems. Chevy has now caught up with Dodge by offering a driver-selectable system that engages with the push of a button. The Ford system is automatic and reacts to load, throttle position and a variety of other inputs. We found the exhaust brakes to be useful and welcome on all three trucks, but more pronounced in their onset in the Chevy and Dodge, more subtle in the Ford.

The Chevy’s Allison transmission is a real beauty and shifts as smooth as silk. It held the hills and controlled speed when towing on downgrades the best. It had by far the most easy-to-use manual-shift feature on the gear-shift lever. The Dodge lever operated similarly; however, we found the Dodge’s shifting performance in manual mode to be somewhat sluggish. Ford’s TorqShift six-speed auto performed very well, shifting smoothly; and like the Allison, following the brake pedal’s lead in downshifting on a downgrade. We especially like that feature in both the Allison and TorqShift. All three trucks also feature tow-haul modes that are driver selectable.

Ride and Handling
A tow vehicle’s ability to securely maintain control of the trailer behind is of utmost importance. When it comes to towing ride and handling, the Chevy’s suspension was softer overall than the other two trucks, but was nonetheless capable of easily handling the hitch weight and overall load without becoming upset or sloppy. The suspension never felt loose, and the trailer never felt like it had an influence over the truck. GM has done a lot a frame and chassis work to support increased loads. And the Chevy definitely had the top steering response, and overall ride and handling of the bunch.

Non-towing ride quality assessment for the Dodge 2500 ranges from feeling some skittering over rough roads to it being pretty tough on your back at times. It was, without a doubt, the stiffest ride when unladen. But it smoothed out considerably when towing. However, it didn’t offer the same level of control — or bring the trailer back as promptly — after induced sway as did the Ford.

The F-250 always felt solid and sure when hauling the trailer. It was quick to bring the combo back in check after induced sway, and all agreed it offered a secure and stable towing platform. Its greatest detractor was that it, too, had a fairly harsh unladen ride quality — not as bad as the Ram, but enough to remind us how sweet the Chevy was.

Creature Comforts
This shootout is about tow vehicles, but towing is not all there is to life. You’re going to drive a truck in many different situations. Interior comfort and layout — plus fit, finish and styling — are also important factors.

Styling is such a personal choice that we dare not make any judgments here, yet although all three trucks are well assembled and smartly painted, based on the comments heard in camp and around the office, the Chevy and Dodge fared better than the Ford in this department.

Opinions on each truck’s layout were varied. Most thought overall seating comfort in the Ford and Dodge was tops in the group. All three test rigs offered driver-information systems that delivered everything from tire pressure to average fuel consumption (only the Ram lacked a navigation system). The Ford system was tops by far, offering a sophisticated depth of information that was almost to the point of overload. The screen for the Chevy’s was set so low that it caused us to divert our eyes too much from the road. In addition, the Chevy’s HVAC system controls were small and hard to see at night.

The Ford’s dashboard and instruments are easy to see at a glance and the HVAC system switches and knobs are larger and easier to use. But in general, the Ford’s dash looks like a jumble of styles and design. All of the Dodge controls proved simple to operate, and the white-faced instruments were easy to read at a glance. The Chevy’s instruments are also easy to see with just a quick glance down from the road, and the Chevy interior as a whole looks well styled and put together.

Decisions, Decisions
In the end, I suppose we must pick a favorite, but first let’s just say that there are so many good things about each of these trucks to talk about.

The Ram is a powerful puller with a proven backbone and a dependable Cummins engine that may not be the fastest of the bunch, but will certainly get the job done well for a very long time and is the least expensive of the trio.

The Ford is an outstanding pickup with a stump-pulling engine, a stable suspension and data-laden information center that will make a great tow vehicle, too.

We would like to see better positioning of the navigation screen and larger HVAC systems buttons on the Chevy, but those are little nit-picky things we can live with in the long run. So, in an extremely close call, the Chevy takes our overall top choice of the three due to its blend of power, refined towing and non-towing ride and handling quality, steering response and braking control. Just don’t ask us to choose again tomorrow.

For full specs on each of these test vehicles and to receive other articles like this in their entirety, subscribe today to Trailer Life.
Chevrolet, www.chevrolet.com
Dodge Ram Trucks, www.ramtrucks.com
Ford Motor Company, www.ford.com

New Power NumbersFord recently announced increased power numbers (400 hp and 800 lb-ft. of torque) for the 6.7-liter Power Stroke; the truck delivered for our testing was built prior to this new upgrade. However, the stronger tune (requires an update to the ECU)  is available for free to existing Super Duty owners at their Ford dealer.

Chevy TrucksTrucks for Towing

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