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Silverado tops among heavy-duty haulers

On the job, Chevy one-tonner outguns dual-wheel rivals from Detroit.

The Chevrolet Silverado 3500 is the king of heavy-duty trucks. That was the decision from the Canadian Truck King Challenge, where the Chevy outpointed similar one-ton, diesel-powered, dual-wheel rivals Ford Super Duty and Ram 3500 to take the crown.

Held Oct. 18 and 19 in southwestern Ontario, it marked the fifth time in six years for the award. Five judges ? three auto writers, including me, along with a professional truck driver, and a towing and hitch expert from Can-Am RV Centre in London ? drove some 800 kilometres over two days to assess the vehicles.

We certainly put them to work, towing fifth-wheel travel trailers weighing up to 7,030 kg, and then hauling loads of 2,032 kg.

The Challenge is the brainchild of Howard Elmer, an auto writer and a former professional truck driver. He came up with it when he noticed that while several writers? associations were handing out truck awards, all were simply driving the trucks empty.

?I believe we?re the only ones who are doing it this way,? Elmer says. ?These are work vehicles. A large company has a transportation manager and his year-round job is to know what?s going on in the auto sector to purchase effectively. But there are hundreds if not thousands of small companies, usually owner-operated, and they need our information because they don?t have a lot of time to be doing research. That?s the relevance of what we do.?

In past years, the event has featured light-duty pickup trucks. This time around, Elmer chose the three heavy-duty models since they?re the ones most recently updated. Only the ?Detroit Three? make trucks in three-quarter and one-ton sizes; the Japanese manufacturers don?t go larger than a half-ton.

The one-ton market is small, but these trucks really have to earn their keep, especially since they?re a large investment. The Ram was outfitted to $74,055, the Ford to $74,471, and the Chevrolet to $74,500 (the Ford?s price included a $2,035 factory fifth-wheel hitch package, while the other two had aftermarket hitches added at additional cost).

All were four-wheel-drive, and had diesel engines: a 6.6 L V8 in the Chevy (397 horsepower and 765 lb.-ft. of torque); a 6.7 L V8 in the Ford (400 hp and 800 lb.-ft.); and a 6.7 L inline six-cylinder in the Ram (350 hp and 800 lb.-ft). The Ford and Chevy used almost the same amount of fuel over the event, averaging 18.1 and 18.6 L/100 km respectively, while the Ram was thirstiest at 21.8 L/100 km.

So what makes a winner? The judges rated each truck on how it towed, performed when loaded, drove when empty and handled its human cargo. Since many work crews spend a lot of time riding, we also looked at such things as passenger comfort, accessibility, and where you?d put all your stuff.

While everyone thought the third-place Ram most attractive, and had the nicest interior (including its heated steering wheel, the best-ever invention for someone working on a cold day), it rode harsh when empty, got bumped around by the trailer, and exhibited considerable lateral movement when changing lanes with a load.

The other two were separated by just 2.5 points. The Ford handled the trailer well and its brakes felt confident, but its front end got a bit light with a load in the box. The Chevrolet handled the trailer effortlessly and was confidently planted at all times.

Even so, while rating a car is relatively simple, trucks are tough because each owner has specific work needs from the vehicle. And each had good and bad features.

The Ram was the quietest and had the best storage compartments, but its front passenger footwell was uncomfortably narrow. The Ford?s footwell was even tighter and its seats got hard as the day wore on, but it featured locking storage under the rear seats, and an easy-to-load flat rear floor.

The Chevy?s interior looked hopelessly dated against its rivals, but there was plenty of room for a passenger?s feet, and its chairs were the most comfortable of the three.

?I do this because I have an honest affection for trucks, and I respect the people who do the kind of work that uses this equipment,? Elmer says. ?I want to provide information that will let them make good purchasing decisions and run their businesses, because it?s great when you run across something that helps you make money.?

  • Silverado tops among heavy-duty haulers