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2011 Ford vs. Ram vs. GM Diesel Truck Shootout

We Travel To Detroit To Test The Latest Ford, GM, And Ram 3/4- And 1-ton Pickups

Text By , Photography by ,

The heavy-duty truck segment has come a long, long way in the last two decades. Never before have manufacturers offered such capable machines to the public. That is, until now. Whether you need to conventionally tow 20,000 pounds, haul a 3-ton payload in the bed, climb steep grades with ease, or prefer a comfortable ride, any of the latest offerings from Ford, GM, or Ram will suit your needs.

Back in July, we teamed up with PickupTrucks.com in Detroit, Michigan, and with the help of Ricardo Engineering, tested the latest trucks the Big Three currently offer (one 3/4-ton and one 1-ton from each manufacturer). During our weeklong performance analysis, the trucks were subjected to 7.2 percent and 16 percent grade testing at General Motors' Milford Proving Grounds, countless passes at Milan Dragway's quarter-mile dragstrip, and concluded with a real-world, 160-mile fuel economy drive through southeastern Michigan. All tests were performed with and without trailers in tow.

Beyond the performance characteristics of each vehicle, key in-cab features such as exhaust brake operation, integrated brake controller placement and usability, and transmission functionality were evaluated. Other pertinent observations included: ride comfort, back seat space, interior amenities, and best overall value. Follow along as we profile each truck, explain how it performed, and reveal what we liked most (and least) about each test mule.

'11 Ford F-250 Lariat
Diesel Power stamp of approval: Best Daily Driver, Best New Look
It's no surprise to us that the heaviest trucks in the test were Ford's Super Dutys. However, due to an extremely lowFirst gear ratio (3.97:1) and a responsive accelerator pedal, these trucks feel much lighter on their feet than last year's 6.4L trucks. The F-250 in our test gets the nod for best daily driver. With or without a 10,000-pound test trailer in tow, getting up to speed in both city traffic and highway on-ramps felt smooth and effortless in this truck. In addition, a respectable 17.6 mpg was achieved while empty, thanks to Ford's use of selective catalytic reduction (SCR, or urea injection) on the new 6.7L Power Stroke.

Unlike GM (which focused its attention on revamping its entire chassis and powertrain) or Ram (which merely upgraded its interior and exterior appearance), the '11 Ford Super Duty received upgrades to nearly every aspect of the vehicle. With a new front end look featuring a massive, can't miss, chrome grille; a brand-new, Ford-built diesel engine and transmission; increased towing, payload, and GCWR; and a redesigned interior-Ford has the freshest product on the market.

Specs:

  • Engine: 6.7L V-8 Power Stroke
  • Transmission: 6R140 TorqShift, six-speed auto
  • Horsepower: 390 hp at 2,800 rpm
  • Torque: 735 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm
  • Configuration: Crew cab, four-wheel drive
  • Color: Royal Red
  • Axle Ratio: 3:55
  • Curb Weight: 7,840 pounds (full fuel tank, no driver)
  • Price As Tested: $60,830

Likes:

  • Radio and navigation controls are large and legible
  • Power steering has the strongest assist feel
  • New 6.7L engine and 6R140 transmission provide excellent acceleration and improved fuel economy -much better than the '08 to '10 6.4L-powered trucks
  • Interior features four different door pockets, six cupholders, four auxiliary power switches, a deep center console, a driving coach for helping owners control their fuel economy strategy, and the best location for an integrated trailer brake controller (right of the driver) and best towing mirrors-by far

Dislikes:

  • Exhaust brake is only engaged with Tow/Haul mode enabled, and the system seemed more predicated on the transmission's grade braking
  • Rougher rear suspension ride than GM and Ram models

'11 Chevy Silverado LTZ 2500HD
Diesel Power stamp of approval: Best Fuel Economy, Best Rear Suspension, Most Powerful 3/4-ton in Test
The new LML Duramax and Allison 1000 combination have proven to be powerful and economical. Although the new, heavier-duty chassis added some weight to the '11 models, our test Silverado 2500HD achieved more than 20 mpg empty and 13.5 mpg while towing 10,000 pounds. Like the Super Duty, the use of urea injection on GM's latest trucks is improving fuel economy considerably compared to '10 models, and the 20-mpg number parallels the kind of mileage we predicted customers would see ("Duramax Domination," Sept. '10).

The rear suspension does a ton of work controlling the 765 lb-ft of torque in two-wheel drive. During our 16 percent grade acceleration tests with a trailer, the suspension did the best job maintaining traction over the rough pavement. As a driver, you could certainly feel a lot of that movement, but the Chevy's rear suspension was the only one that seemed to be able to maintain traction most of the way up the hill. Even with the 10,000-pound trailer, the truck pulled hard, making it into Second gear and hitting 35 mph by the top of the 1,000-foot-long, 16 percent grade.

Specs:

  • Engine: 6.6L V-8 Duramax
  • Transmission: Allison 1000, six-speed auto
  • Horsepower: 397 hp at 3,000 rpm
  • Torque: 765 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm
  • Configuration: Crew Cab, four-wheel drive
  • Color: Steel Green
  • Axle Ratio: 3:73
  • Curb Weight: 7,560 pounds (full fuel tank, no driver)
  • Price As Tested: $59,624

Likes:

  • Powertrain and chassis upgrades for '11 were very noticeable: strong acceleration, best traction during grade acceleration and fastest in all acceleration tests, no wheelhop on 7.2 percent or 16 percent grades (Ford and Ram had quite a bit of wheelhop), traction control is very effective in two-wheel drive

Dislikes:

  • Feature the same body and interior as the '07 to '10 models
  • Radio and navigation controls are too small for a truck owner and are hardly legible
  • Exhaust brake wasn't effective enough to reduce the vehicle speed on steep downgrades with a trailer in tow and, like the Ford, the exhaust brake system seems more predicated on the transmission's grade braking
  • Exhaust brake's on/off button is as low and far away from the driver as it could be
  • Had the smallest back seats in the test
  • 10,000-pound trailer seemed to push the Silverado 2500 around more than the other 3/4-tons, and the trailer brake controller was put in a bad location (by driver's left knee)

'11 Ram 2500 Laramie
Diesel Power stamp of approval: Best Improved Ride Quality, Best Value, Excellent Low-Speed Hauler
In years past, the Ram was known for its harsh ride quality and its rear end skipping across bumps. All of that has been solved-and was accomplished with the addition of rear hydraulic body mounts. The mounts consist of fluid (similar to hydraulic oil) flowing through small, internal chambers, which soften frame-to-body inputs and greatly help with vibration damping. The '11 GMs feature hydraulic body mounts as well, but the ride improvement was much more noticeable in the Ram.

Of the six diesel-powered trucks we tested, the Ram proved to be the best value for the dollar. With the improved ride quality mentioned above, a very capable engine (although underpowered compared to Ford and GM) well suited for towing, integrated brake controller, and the strongest exhaust brake available, the Ram had all the bells and whistles the other 3/4-ton trucks had-but for nearly $10,000 less.

Specs:

  • Engine: 6.7L I-6 Cummins
  • Transmission: 68RFE, six-speed auto
  • Horsepower: 350 hp at 3,013 rpm
  • Torque: 650 lb-ft at 1,500 rpm
  • Configuration: Crew Cab, four-wheel drive
  • Color: Deep Water Blue
  • Axle Ratio: 3:73
  • Curb Weight: 7,420 pounds (full fuel tank, no driver)
  • Price As Tested: $51,220

Likes:

  • Most effective exhaust brake
  • Driving coach helps drivers control their fuel economy strategy (we suspect the GM trucks would do even better in fuel economy testing if this simple technology was added)
  • Better rear seat room than Ford or Chevy

Dislikes:

  • Traction issues during grade and dragstrip testing in two-wheel drive
  • Noticeably low on power when compared to Ford and GM
  • Loudest engine
  • Bad location for trailer brake controller (by driver's left knee)
  • Transmission does not feel as robust as GM's and Ford's

'11 Ford F-350 Lariat FX4
Diesel Power stamp of approval: Best Hill-Holding Capability, Best Interior
The F-350 had a functional hill-holding capability, which effectively keeps the truck still while on an incline as the driver transfers from the brake pedal to the accelerator. This isn't an option on the GMC 3500 dualie, and the Silverado 2500 HD's hill-holding system didn't work on the 7.2 percent grade-but did work on the 16 percent grade. Ram doesn't offer any type of hill-holding assist.

While a tad upscale when compared to its popular XLT package, the F-350 Lariat had the most truck-like interior of the bunch-which is to say it seems the best suited for truck owners and drivers. It has large buttons, good textures, and the interior looks more utilitarian than its competitors. The Ford also had a better dash layout than the competition, with the best information center located in the gauge cluster, which boasts the most features.

Specs:

  • Engine: 6.7L V-8 Power Stroke
  • Transmission: 6R140 TorqShift, six-speed auto
  • Horsepower: 390 hp at 2,800 rpm
  • Torque: 735 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm
  • Configuration: Crew cab, four-wheel drive, dual-rear wheel
  • Color: Tuxedo Black
  • Axle Ratio: 3:73
  • Curb Weight: 8,540 pounds (full fuel tank, no driver)
  • Price As Tested: $61,610

Likes:

  • Great hill-holding function
  • Driving coach helps drivers control their fuel economy strategy
  • Driver feels isolated from the weight imposed by the 12,000-pound trailer
  • Best location for integrated trailer brake controller (right of the driver) and best towing mirrors-by far

Dislikes:

  • Slight wheelhop and traction issues during grade acceleration testing
  • Cooled seat option can confuse you -you may think you're turning on the truck's A/C
  • Roughest riding dualie in the test (when empty)

'11 GMC Sierra Denali 3500
Diesel Power stamp of approval: Best Acceleration Performance
We were surprised that the Duramax-powered trucks took top honors in all the acceleration tests. However, evenmore surprising was that the GMC Sierra Denali HD 3500 dualie ran the quickest time at the dragstrip-not the Silverado 2500HD, which weighed 500 pounds less. Clicking off a 15.40-second quarter-mile pass, the Denali is making between 350 to 370 hp at the wheels-stock. It made us wonder if we were slipped a hot version for our test, or if they'll come from the factory this way. Either way, there was no denying that our test Denali was extremely fast.

But the dragstrip wasn't the whole story. The sleek, black Denali was also the decisive winner during our 7.2 percent and 16 percent grade trailer-towing tests. It handily beat the Ram and edged the Ford every time. In fact, the Denali was the only truck we tested that was able to make it into Third gear while ascending the 1,000-foot-long, 16 percent grade while hooked to a 12,000-pound trailer.

Specs:

  • Engine: 6.6L V-8 Duramax
  • Transmission: Allison 1000, six-speed auto
  • Horsepower: 397 hp at 3,000 rpm
  • Torque: 765 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm
  • Configuration: Crew Cab, four-wheel drive, dual-rear wheel
  • Color: Black
  • Axle Ratio: 3:73
  • Curb Weight: 8,100 pounds (full fuel tank, no driver)
  • Price As Tested: $61,483

Likes:

  • Powertrain and chassis upgrades for '11 were very noticeable: strong acceleration, best traction during grade acceleration and fastest in all acceleration tests, no wheelhop on 7.2 percent or 16 percent grades (Ford and Ram had quite a bit of wheelhop)

Dislikes:

  • Radio/navigation controls are too small and hardly legible
  • Exhaust brake wasn't effective enough to reduce speed on steep downgrades with a trailer in tow, and like the Ford, the exhaust brake system seems more predicated on the transmission's grade braking
  • No hill-holding assist
  • Smallest back seats
  • Bad location for trailer brake controller (by driver's left knee)

'11 Ram 3500 Laramie Mega Cab
Diesel Power stamp of approval: Best For Road Trips, Best Exhaust Brake
Despite Ford and GM offering more powerful V-8s, the Ram 3500 Mega Cab we tested felt best suited to tow. And, contra-dictory to our performance acceleration numbers (in which the Ram finished at the back of the pack), towing isn't about speed-it's about having enough power to get the load up and moving and keep it moving, how the truck's chassis feels doing so, and most importantly, getting it stopped as safely as possible. And despite not having SCR (which proved to make a noticeable fuel economy difference when empty), the Ram 3500 finished Second Place in our fuel economy test with a 12,000-pound trailer behind it.

The Ram's exhaust brake is much more powerful than what Ford or GM offer and was more effective during our downhill descent testing with 12,000 pounds in tow. With a three-model-year research and development edge over its competition, the Ram's Holset HE351 variable-geometry turbocharger's capability to slow the entire vehicle proved superior. When descending grades at approximately 45 mph, no brake pedal input was needed, whereas brake input was necessary in Ford and GM models.

Specs:

  • Engine: 6.7L I-6 Cummins
  • Transmission: 68RFE, six-speed auto
  • Horsepower: 350 hp at 3,013 rpm
  • Torque: 650 lb-ft at 1,500 rpm
  • Configuration: Crew cab, four-wheel drive, dual-rear wheel
  • Color: Inferno Red
  • Axle Ratio: 3:73
  • Curb Weight: 8,060 pounds (full fuel tank, no driver)
  • Price As Tested: $57,210

Likes:

  • Most effective exhaust brake
  • Driving coach helps drivers control their fuel economy strategy (we suspect the GM trucks would do even better in fuel economy testing if this simple technology was added)
  • Most comfortable truck with 12,000-pound trailer

Dislikes:

  • Traction issues during grade and dragstrip testing-even with a 1,300-pound tongue weight on the 12,000-pound trailer
  • Noticeably low on power when compared to Ford and GM
  • Excessive heat issues with transmission during persistent 16 percent grade tests coupled to trailer (the transmission stayed in First Gear, which kept the torque converter from locking)
  • Loudest engine
  • Bad location for trailer brake controller (by driver's left knee)

Quarter-Mile Dragstrip Results
TRUCK: 1/4-MILE (EMPTY): 1/4-MILE (10,000-POUND TRAILER):
Ford F-250 17.10 seconds at 86 mph 22.30 seconds at 67 mph
Chevy 2500 16.90 seconds at 86 mph 21.50 seconds at 68 mph
Ram 2500 17.10 seconds at 83 mph 23.00 seconds at 63 mph
TRUCK: 1/4-MILE (EMPTY): 1/4-MILE (12,000-POUND TRAILER):
Ford F-350 17.40 seconds at 84 mph 22.40 seconds at 64 mph
GMC 3500 16.60 seconds at 86 mph* 22.30 seconds at 65 mph
Ram 3500 18.00 seconds at 80 mph 24.00 seconds at 60 mph
* = Our 15.40-second quarter-mile run (empty) was made launching in four-wheel drive. Dragstrip passes performed by Ricardo were done in two-wheel drive.
Trailer Tow: 7.2 Percent Grade (Distance: 1,600 feet)
TRUCK: TIME (WITH 10,000-POUND TRAILER): MPH (WITH 10,000-POUND TRAILER):
Ford F-250 30.07 seconds 54 mph
Chevy 2500 28.23 seconds 56 mph
Ram 2500 31.65 seconds 50 mph
TRUCK: TIME (WITH 12,000-POUND TRAILER): MPH (WITH 12,000-POUND TRAILER):
Ford F-350 30.93 seconds 51 mph
GMC 3500 31.03 seconds 53 mph
Ram 3500 34.65 seconds 46 mph
Trailer Tow: 16 Percent Grade (Distance: 800 feet)
TRUCK: TIME (WITH 10,000-POUND TRAILER): MPH (WITH 10,000-POUND TRAILER):
Ford F-250 26.74 seconds 31 mph
Chevy 2500 25.60 seconds 32 mph
Ram 2500 30.85 seconds 24 mph
TRUCK: TIME (WITH 12,000-POUND TRAILER): MPH (WITH 12,000-POUND TRAILER):
Ford F-350 29.16 seconds 28 mph
GMC 3500 28.62 seconds 27 mph
Ram 3500 34.60 seconds 19 mph
Fuel Economy Loop (with and without trailers, each truck drove loop twice)
TRUCK: MILEAGE (EMPTY): MILEAGE (WITH 10,000-POUND TRAILER):
Ford F-250 17.61 mpg 13.25 mpg
Chevy 2500 20.14 mpg 13.53 mpg
Ram 2500 17.49 mpg 12.58 mpg
TRUCK: MILEAGE (EMPTY): MILEAGE (WITH 12,000-POUND TRAILER):
Ford F-350 17.04 mpg 12.45 mpg
GMC 3500 17.83 mpg 11.02 mpg
Ram 3500 14.75 mpg 11.35 mpg
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