The truck reviews you may read in your weekly newspaper are great and all, but a critic loaned a vehicle for a week often doesn’t get to use a truck in the many different ways actual truck owners might. Enter the Canadian Truck King Challenge.
This real-world-type competition, now in its tenth year, includes empty-bed evaluations but, more importantly, tests of fully loaded pickups and of trucks towing stuff.
The judges are members of the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada, men and women hailing from Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and B.C. who devote almost 365 days a year to driving, evaluating, and writing about the Canadian automotive marketplace.
Collectively they brought over 200 years of trucking experience to this year’s intensive testing, driving a combined total of almost 4,000 km over three long days around a private 70-acre site in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. The goal? To determine the best new truck on sale in Canada.
What did we test?
Each year the market offers up different trucks ripe for testing; however, since there are rarely more than two all-new trucks unveiled in a given year, we fill out each test segment for a more well-rounded comparison.
For 2016 we collected a field of eleven 2017-model-year pickup trucks in four classes: mid-size, full-size half-ton, and full-size ¾-ton, which were tested in the Kawarthas; and full-size one-ton trucks, tested in London, Ontario a few days later.
The testing method
Each judge drives each truck the same route – first while empty, then with payload on board, and finally while towing a trailer – one truck 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. Finally, the as-tested price of each vehicle is 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 km. It starts on gravel, moves to a secondary paved road, and finally to a 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; at its lowest point, it crosses the Head River twice, hence the name.
Finally, 4WD-equipped trucks – of which all our entries were – are driven on a specially built off-road course at the IronWood test site.
This year the mid-size trucks carried a payload of 500 lbs and towed 4,000 lbs; the full-size half-tons hauled 1,000 lbs and towed 6,000 lbs; while the ¾-tons towed 10,000 lbs 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, Ontario, where two partners loaned us the weight and trailers necessary to test these big pickups. Patene Building Supply and IKO let us use 4,000 lbs of shingles for payload, while CanAm RV centre let us tow some 15,000-lb fifth-wheel travel-trailers.
The mid-size contenders
- Honda Ridgeline: 75.5/100
3.5-litre gas V6; six-speed auto; AWD Crew Cab Touring trim
Price as tested: $47,090
- Chevrolet Colorado: 72.2/100
2.8-litre Duramax turbodiesel; six-speed auto; 4WD Crew Cab Z71 trim
Price as tested: $44, 695
Between the two midsize trucks, the Honda most impressed the judges. As with anything new, it had an edge, just as the Colorado diesel was a big splash when it debuted last year. However, it wasn’t just the novelty factor that pushed its score past that of the Colorado.
The prior generation of Ridgeline was a niche, quirky truck that appealed to a select buyer; this time Ridgeline has moved closer to the mainstream while retaining some of its unique characteristics. 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 give us a Tacoma (which we tested 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.
The full-size half-ton contenders
- Ram 1500: 79.4/100
5.7-litre HEMI gas V8; eight-speed auto; 4WD Crew Cab Sport trim
Price as tested: $58,110
- Chevrolet Silverado 1500: 76.7/100
5.3-litre gas V8; six-speed auto; 4WD Crew Cab Z71 trim
Price as tested: $59,890
- Nissan Titan: 74.3/100
5.6-litre gas V8; seven-speed auto; 4WD Crew Cab PRO-4X trim
Price as tested: $63,050
- Toyota Tundra: 73.7/100
5.7-litre gas V8; six-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 percent of total pickup sales. As such, it is one of the most competitively fought-over among the manufacturers, and for us at the Challenge it’s a segment we’re very careful in selecting for.
This year, we asked each of the manufacturers to give us a half-ton spec’d out like its best-seller—the most popular combination of body style, trim, and powertrain. This way we’d test the trucks Canadians buy most often.
Some, like the Nissan Titan, are all-new. Others, like the Chevy and Ram, are midway through their current life cycle. Toyota chose to give us an off-road version of its Tundra, the TRD Pro—the newest truck they had, not really the most-often-purchased, but their choice, and as you’d expect, it did really well off-road.
The other entries were exactly what we asked for, and the Ram emerged as the judges’ choice for best all-round half-ton. However, all the scores were close, and the Chevy also did well.
Of course I have to mention the missing manufacturer: 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, for no specific reason, though I have my theories. They were invited, they said no, so we continued without them.
The full-size ¾-ton contenders
- Ram 2500: 77/100
6.7-litre Cummins I6 turbo-diesel; six-speed auto; 4WD Crew Cab Laramie trim
Price as tested: $86,830
- Nissan Titan XD: 74.9
5.0-litre Cummins V8 turbo-diesel; six-speed auto; 4WD Crew Cab PRO-4X trim
Price as tested: $64,950
- Chevrolet Silverado 2500: 74.9/100
6.6-litre Duramax V8 turbo-diesel; six-speed auto; 4WD Crew Cab LTZ trim
Price as tested: $82,560
Each of the trucks in the ¾-ton category was diesel-powered, and as these are the most common big-haulers being bought by Canadians, we stressed them by towing 10,000 lbs 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 Ram 2500 with the Cummins 6.7-litre diesel did come out slightly ahead. What was more interesting was the Nissan HD tied with the HD Silverado.
The Titan XD is the lightest (GVWR) of the three trucks, and has the lowest tow and payload limits; that’s also reflected in its lower price, which elevated its overall score. These lower limits are not a disadvantage though. If anything, they mean the segment is growing and offering up more choices for consumers.
This was the first time we tested the all-new 5.0-litre Cummins diesel V8. It’s also worth noting that Chevy’s veteran 6.6-litre Duramax diesel will be generationally updated next year.
The full-size one-ton contenders
- Chevrolet Silverado 3500: 75.1/100
6.6-litre Duramax V8 turbo-diesel; six-speed auto; 4WD DRW Crew Cab High Country trim
Price as tested: $83,390
- Ram 3500: 71.8/100
Cummins I6 turbo-diesel; six-speed auto; 4WD DRW Crew Cab Laramie trim
Price as tested: $88,085
For the one-ton trucks we had a field of two, and again sorely missed having Ford, particularly because its 2017 Super Duty trucks are all-new. However, we still performed a full field of tests on the Ram 3500 and Silverado 3500.
After a full day of driving both trucks back to back, the judges awarded the win to the Chevy Silverado 3500. Both trucks worked well; the key difference judges noted was ride quality when towing, with the nod going to the Chevy.
Tallying up the gas bill
For the fourth year in a row, we contracted with MyCarma of Kitchener, Ontario to collect and translate fuel economy data during the Challenge. Using data loggers plugged into the OBD readers of each truck, we gathered results that’re as real-world as it gets.
The report, found here, gives the fuel consumption results for each condition during testing—empty runs, loaded results, and even consumption while towing. The averages include each judge’s driving style, acceleration, braking and idling (we don’t shut the engines down during seat changes).
And the winner is—
All the trucks performed well, and as a group you’ll note how close all the scores are. If anything, this makes it tough for the judges to crown a winner because none of these trucks is “bad.”
It also reflects on how fierce the competition is among the truck builders. Frankly, there are few segments where the profits-per-unit are higher, which compels them to bring their A-game. This competition is good as it brings sharp, constant innovation.
Nissan, for example, is a virtually new player in the market this year; other truckmakers have brought significant improvements to powertrains for model year 2017.
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 rise unabated.
Nonetheless, a winner has to be crowned, and this year, the overall winner of the 10th annual Canadian Truck King Challenge with the highest collective score – 79.4 percent – was the 2017 HEMI-powered Ram 1500.