The staffs of Diesel Power and Truckin' magazines wanted to settle a debate. Which of the Big Three manufacturers, we wondered, built the best 1-ton dualie pickup? When you get into the realm of a 1-ton dualie, you are talking about a serious truck, one that is expected to be able to work like a mule and never wimper. Modern expectations, however, have caused buyers to expect more than just work output, and the typical customer today would like a few frills thrown in, like comfortable seats, good stereos, and lots of room.
The only way to find which manufacturer was ahead of the curve was to gather up a Chevy, Dodge, and Ford (in as close to similar specifications as possible) and put them through the wringer. We dyno-tested each truck at the famed Westech dyno facility. Westech Performance Group is known as Southern California's premier engine testing center. Repeated runs were made to ensure we had the best possible numbers for each vehicle. We set up a mountain course over Cajon pass and then loaded the trucks up with a trailer and Bobcat that weighed a portly 9,380 pounds. Next, we headed off to the quarter-mile test strip at Camarillo airport and drag-raced the trucks, both loaded and unloaded. In addition to all of this empirical testing, we lived with these vehicles for weeks, as we commuted to and from work, switching off trucks every couple of days.
One-ton dualies exist to tow or haul loads that are too much for a regular 1-ton. Now they've been somewhat civilized to keep them current with automotive expectations. Make no mistake about it, these are serious workhorses in fancy suits.
When all was said and done and the dust had settled, we were able to head back to the office with some very clear ideas about just what strengths and weaknesses each truck reveals. Read on for the full scoop.
'06 Dodge 3500 Laramie Ram Mega Cab DualieDodge has a long and colorful history with the diesel crowd, and there are those who won't listen to anything but positive comments. We loved the Dodge for its interior size. The MegaCab is cavernous, and the luxurious feel is reminiscent of a limousine. All hands went up when the vote was in regard to the best people hauler of the bunch.
"It would be a particularly good selling point for a dealer to slide the front seats all the way back, and then have the customer jump in the back seat," one tester commented. "The back seat is what sells this truck to a lot of people," another added. It's not just the space, the appointments are high-class, too. An optional GPS navigation system makes trips to unfamiliar locations much less stressful. The ability to know if there is a service station at the next offramp (or not) is very valuable when you're loaded down with a trailer and you don't want any extra maneuvering. Another impressive feature is the extra-large center console. With multiple layers and large storage spaces, we found it to be the most versatile. A notch or indent on the top of the console seems like a good place to rest your arm when driving, but it's not actually at the right height for that. We did notice that the notch does a good job of keeping incidental things, like pens and cell phones, from sliding around the cab.
The huge cab does lend one problem, however. The rear of the cab-and, hence, the rear window-are so far behind the driver that it tends to isolate the truck when backing up. This is especially noticeable when attaching a trailer. In addition, the Dodge is not available with the 8-foot bed and that means the short cab-to-axle distance restricts fifth-wheel use.
When unloaded, the Dodge gets a lot of positive marks in comparison to the other two in regard to comfort. The cab is quiet and the truck just doesn't have that big and heavy feel like the Ford does-more on that later. It feels like a smaller truck than it actually is, and it is relatively easy to maneuver. We don't particularly like the way the mirrors look, but they are quite adaptable and offer good vision. Unloaded, we thought it was curious that the Dodge's rear end seemed to squirm on a bumpy freeway. Maybe the springs are a bit stiff, or the damping is a bit harsh, but the truck often felt light to us.
After the nearly 10,000 pounds were attached to the back, the Dodge seemed to be influenced by the trailer more so than the Ford, but not as much as the Chevy. Braking from 60 to zero mph with the trailer proved to be more dramatic with the Dodge, and while the Ram truck trailed the other two vehicles in performance here, the actual numbers were right in the ballpark. We definitely noted a strong smell after braking down a long hill or a panic stop, however.
'06 Ford F-350 4x4 King Ranch Crew Cab DualieFord's King Ranch is truly a unique pickup. With a weight of 8,160 pounds, it's 800 pounds heavier than the Dodge and it feels like it. The Ford, more so than any of the trucks, traces its heritage straight back to the working man's idea of what is important. The King Cab is the heaviest. It has the highest towing capacity and the lowest axle ratio. It's clear that the Ford is built to get the job done.
Or is it? The King Cab version of this truck adds dandy leather seats with a matching leather steering wheel wrap and even a leather wrap on the grab handle. This almost-ostentatious package tends to "wow" everyone who sees it. The rest of the truck exhibits a clear style that most either love or hate. The diamond-plate side steps combine with a two-tone paintjob and a rather square or boxy styling to create a truck that knows it's a truck. "Truck values permeate throughout this pickup, despite the flair that's been added," one tester said. Several testers remarked that the cool-looking interior pieces weren't exactly perfectly matched. The relationship between the seats, armrests, and center console is not ideal for comfort. The seats, in fact, were rated by our testers as the least comfortable. So, despite the fact that the leather wows everyone, the lack of bolster support and relatively un-cushy bottoms wore on everyone who drove the truck long distances. The interior is noticeably louder than the other two trucks, and that might contribute to the feeling that long trips leave the driver a little more tired than in the other vehicles.
With all of this in mind, it should be no surprise that the Ford was the vehicle of choice for anyone who needs to haul or tow a serious load. This truck is more massive in every respect, and it doesn't let the trailer overwhelm it. When towing with the King Ranch, it feels solid and inspires confidence. It may not be the fastest in the quarter-mile (loaded or unloaded), but you have a sense that it will get you there time and time again. We liked the way the Ford's transmission shifted quickly and firmly.
The suspension on the Ford gave the most feedback, particularly the rear. Wheelhop on bumpy freeways was pronounced and can even interfere with the ability to tune the radio or dial a cell phone while driving. Of course, all of these 1-ton dualies suffer from the same condition because they are tuned more for serious work than for running to the grocery store. One tester made note of the fact that after returning from the market he found the produce had "bounced all over the inside of the cab."
'06 Chevrolet 3500 Lt 4wd Crew DualieThe Chevy presented itself as something quite different from the Ford and Dodge. With a lightweight feel and more power available, we often referred to it as the hot rod of the bunch. It produced more horsepower and torque at the dyno, and with the relatively light 7,400-pound curb weight, the Chevy killed on the acceleration tests, both loaded and unloaded. The Chevy feels downright nimble and racey for a truck of this size. The balancing of the drivetrain components is a key for the Chevy, and the six-speed automatic transmission gets a lot of the credit. Anyone who is looking for a good ratio of performance for the money has to look at the Chevy as it also sells for less than the other two.
All that engine performance, however, may be tempered a bit by the chassis platform that is somewhat dated. A lot of freeway hop was blamed on either a weaker frame or a stiff suspension damping. The Chevy was definitely the most affected by the trailer weight. You knew that you were pulling a bunch of weight behind you. Couple that with a design that isn't as manly as the other two and it might be enough to give the Ford and Dodge enthusiasts something to rally behind.
Despite that, we were impressed with the Chevy's Tow/Haul setting that offered a very smart downshift schedule. We didn't, however, like the oddly shaped transmission lever. The transmission's torque management is very aggressive. It makes the engine feel like it bogs when you floor it after you're already going 55-65 mph. This was even more apparent when the engine was cold. It may, we surmised, be a part of Chevy's plan to keep numbskulls like us from hurting the engine. Chevy uses the power steering pump to supply boost for the brakes, and it seems as if the pump doesn't have enough capacity when you are braking and turning at the same time. We actually heard the pump groan a few times. We also thought that the front brakes should be larger for a vehicle of this size.
Inside the cab of the Chevy, we found less available space compared to the other trucks. The rear cargo storage is much better when the rear seats are folded down, but that limits how far you can recline the front seats. Plus, the driver seat should recline more than it does. The center console is too small to be practical in this type of truck, but the good number of pockets in the dash are helpful. And the fact that the truck has two 12V outlets that stay on all the time is helpful.
The comfort level of the Chevy, however, gets extremely high marks. While no one was particularly enthused about the styling or muted gray materials, the seats were easily the most comfortable and offered the best structure. On long runs, you start to notice that the Chevy seats have more support and the base is more forgiving. We thought the engine noise inside the cabin was a lot less than we would expect, but you definitely can hear the turbo whistle (and all of us liked that).