Pickup Roundup

December 16, 2010 08:17 AM
Pickup Roundup

If I consider how many hours I put on my truck, the price tag seems less onerous. The good news is that sticker prices on 2011 models are holding steady as manufacturers realize folks are back to buying trucks for work and not to drive to Starbucks.

That means that while features are still important, power and towing capacity have taken center stage. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights of the 2011 models.

Ram and Ford still offer Class 1 through 5 trucks. Although GM discontinued its 4500 and 5500 model lines, it’s beefed up the 3500 to make up for some of that lost Class 4 market. Ford’s Super Duty luxury King Ranch model now has competition from GMC’s new heavy-duty Denali and the Ram Laramie Longhorn.

Power struggle. GM and Ford are in a race over heavy-duty diesels. Ford launched its new 2011 Super Duty to the press in March. In June, along came the 2011 GM diesels with higher horsepower and torque. Immediately following this announcement, Ford increased 2011 horsepower and torque ratings and upgraded previously sold 2011 trucks.

All diesel brands now have a factory exhaust brake and optional trailer brake controllers. GM and Ford heavy-duty-class trucks feature automatic trailer sway control, as do Ram, GM, Toyota and Ford half-ton models.

Toyota took the lead in addressing the new Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) 2013 towing standards by lowering towing capacity on the 2011 Tundra. It’s the first clue that truck manufacturers are getting ready to prove what they can tow.

Ram 1500 joins the Chevy and GMC half-ton segment with a full-time 4x4 that can automatically engage and disengage the front axle. Nissan Titan had very few changes in 2011 models.

The big change this year comes as a result of the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for diesels. Ford and GM now use urea or diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) to lower NOx. Ram trucks use urea in cab and chassis models, but not in the 2500/3500 trucks, which met standards without it. Meeting new emission standards pushed the cost of semi diesel trucks up by thousands, but Ford, GM and Ram haven’t increased the cost for the diesel engine option for 2011.

Extreme makeovers. Ford F-150 gets a complete overhaul for 2011 with four new engine choices and a 20% fuel-efficiency improvement. The all-aluminum 5.0-liter V8, from the Mustang, has been built heavy-duty for trucks. The base 3.7-liter V6 roars and has surprising power, and the 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost will push you back in your seat. The twin-turbo direct injection has some great numbers, with 365 hp and 420 ft. lb. of torque.

Ford rates EcoBoost to tow 11,300 lb., and it feels like a diesel without the $7,000 premium for a diesel engine. I also like the F-150’s 6.2-liter V8 gasser for towing—although it’s only available on Raptor, Harley-Davidson, Platinum and Lariat Limited models. The 6.2-liter is the same engine that powers the Ford Super Duty, and you’ll feel the 411 hp and 434 ft. lb. of torque when you are pulling a trailer.

The 2011 Ford Super Duty inherits independent trailer braking to control sway from its little brother along with electronic stability control for handling an empty truck when roads are slick. It’s incredible to feel the trailer’s brakes kick in and the truck straighten all by itself.

Side air bags and side curtains are now included, as car safety standards catch up to trucks.
In 2011, Ford becomes the only U.S. truck manufacturer to make a diesel engine. The 6.7-liter Power Stroke boasts smooth shifting, no turbo lag, no jerk from the new exhaust brake and less jerk from grade shifting. This is as close to a car feel as I’ve experienced in a heavy-duty truck.

Bigger is better. GM goes massive with improvements on heavies for 2011. Frame size, suspension, payload and towing ability put Chevy and GMC heavy-duty trucks at the top of their segment. The new exhaust brake adds stopping power to grade shifting from the Allison tranny and larger brake rotors this year.

The unique asymmetrical rear suspension design comes from unequal front and rear spring half-lengths. It minimizes axle hop and enhances traction control efficiency better than anything I’ve had on pavement. All 4x4 applications can carry snowplows due to a 25% increase in the front axle.

Formerly known as Dodge. Ram Trucks’ heavy-duty models saw big body changes in 2010, so you won’t see drastic changes in 2011. Ram crew cabs were discontinued in the 1970s. I liked that decade, and the extra space, and welcomed the return of the full crew cab coupled with an 8' bed.
Now along comes the Ram 3500 Mega Cab with reclining rear seats and limo-like legroom. It’s sweet, but it only comes in a short bed (6'4"). We all know it’s easier to tow gooseneck and fifth-wheel trailers and have toolbox room with an 8' bed. Still, this model has more aerodynamic fenders that are all-metal instead of plastic.

Ram is the only truck offering a manual or automatic transmission option. The new triple-sealed cab with isolated hydraulic dampener dramatically tames down the ride on an empty Ram Dually.
Ram’s Cummins 6.7-liter diesel engines with built-in exhaust brake were 2010 EPA compliant when the engine was introduced in 2007, so Ram didn’t need to make major diesel engine changes like its competitors.

The integrated trailer brake controller is supplied by Continental, the same as GM. I just wish it was on the right side of the steering wheel. Bigger 7"x11" trailer mirrors with full convex spotter mirror, twice the size of the corner fish-eye spotter mirror of the previous heavy-dutys, increase visibility. An increase in front-axle weight ratings and larger axle U-joints make it work for snowplows.

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