The Canadian Truck King Challenge

What it’s like to judge the 2016 pickup trucks

It doesn’t matter which brand we’re talking about, when you watch the many television commercials advertising their newest pickup trucks, you’re bound to hear the “best-in-class” phrase for some feature or another. It’s the kind of one-upmanship marketers love to cash in on.

In real life, though, do any of those claims carry the weight they should? And how does anyone really know how each truck’s overall performance stacks up against the others?

A group of automotive journalists in Ontario decided a few years ago that the typical reviews of new trucks in a variety of publications and automotive TV shows just didn’t cut it. If you want to give consumers realistic information on trucks, you have to do more than drive those trucks to the store to buy a loaf of bread and draw conclusions from that. You have to make trucks do what they were built for. And that means putting them to work, which led to the creation of the Canadian Truck King Challenge.

Each year a group of automotive journalists gets invited to cottage country in southern Ontario to evaluate the newest crop of pickups. This year I was one of the judges to join the team, testing four of the new half-ton models to hit the market.

I can feel your envy.

Only trucks representing something new get included. There’s no point retesting the same trucks with the last year’s features.

The Ram takes a mud-bath during the challenge.

The Ram takes a mud-bath during the challenge.
photo: Scott Garvey

This year, Ford presented two F-150s for evaluation, one with a 2.7- and the other with a 3.5-litre EcoBoost engine. Chrysler offered up an EcoDiesel 3.0-litre Ram, and GM delivered a new pre-production Silverado model with a 5.3-litre V-8.

The trucks were driven over predetermined courses, both on and off road. They ran empty, loaded and pulling a trailer. Because they were pulling or hauling measured loads on the same routes, it was much easier to rate the differences between models. But picking a winner was still a difficult task; they all performed well. In the end only a few scoring system points separated the winner from the rest of the pack.

I have to admit to finding a few surprises among the contenders.

Ford’s 2.7- and 3.5-litre engines aren’t what would come to mind as a good choice for a truck to pull a trailer with, but their performance when mated to the brand’s six-speed transmission was nothing short of impressive in front of a 6,000-pound load.

There was a lot of vacant real estate under the hood of the Ford F-150 powered by the small 2.7-litre EcoBoost engine. But the truck’s performance was still impressive.

There was a lot of vacant real estate under the hood of the Ford F-150 powered by the small 2.7-litre EcoBoost engine. But the truck’s performance was still impressive.
photo: Scott Garvey

Chevy’s 5.3 litre with the cylinder shutdown feature to improve fuel economy offered the kind of torque you’d expect from a larger displacement engine and great performance on demand when paired with an eight-speed transmission. The 2016 Silverado also has new front-end styling and a very nicely appointed interior.

But it was the Ram with its V-6 EcoDiesel and adjustable air suspension that stole the crown in this year’s challenge. The 3.0-litre diesel had impressive torque, idling up a hill with a 6,000-pound trailer in tow almost as if it wasn’t there, and the air suspension kept the truck and trailer stable, even adding to the truck’s capabilities off road.

About the author

CG Machinery Editor


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