Pickups show their muscle
December 1, 2015 by BILL ROEBUCK
It’s another year of constant improvement for many models in the full-size, light-duty pickup truck market. Lighter-weight aluminum body parts have been making big news since last year, especially with Ford’s 2015 F-150, in a nod to better fuel economy.
Despite the lighter weight of aluminum components versus steel, pickups across the board remain pretty heavy vehicles, which makes it a big challenge to improve efficiency in a category that’s not known for sipping fuel. Ongoing is the muscle-flexing to be at the top the strength game with horsepower, torque, payload, towing capacity and overall performance.
Let’s look at what’s new in full-size models from the various light-duty pickup truck manufacturers.
Last year, Ford chose to up its game in the pickup truck market by focusing on vehicle weight. The result was a newly redesigned 2015 F-150 with an aluminum cab and cargo box, providing a vehicle weight that was up to 700 lb. less than the previous design. As a bonus, the high-strength military-grade aluminum alloys Ford used are resistant to dents, dings and corrosion.
Those changes got attention: The truck was named the 2015 Canadian Truck of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
For 2016, the models get a bit of icing on the cake, with new Special Edition Appearance Packages with unique wheels, graphics and finishes available on the XLT and Lariat models. As well, a new Pro Trailer Backup Assist helps make backing up a trailer easier. This technology allows customers to steer a trailer instinctively by turning a knob inside the truck left or right to indicate direction; using cameras, the truck controls the steering and vehicle speed for you.
Also now available is a Compressed Natural Gas/Propane gaseous fuel prep package on 5.0-litre V8-equipped F-150s, with the aim of reducing operating costs and tailpipe emissions compared to gasoline-powered models. Ford claims this is the only light-duty pickup capable of running on compressed natural gas or propane.
Here are the specs for 2016, which are the same as the 2015 models. F-150s are available in rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel drive configurations, with a maximum payload of up to 3,300 lb. Four engines are available: a 2.7-litre EcoBoost V6 with 325 hp and 375 lb.-ft of torque; a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 with 365 hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque; a 3.5-litre V6 sporting 282 hp and 253 lb.-ft. of torque; and a 5.0-litre V8 offering 385 hp and 387 lb.-ft of torque. The maximum tow rating is 12,200-lb., and fuel economy is as low as 9.2 L/100 km highway.
Ford also offers its range of Super Duty F-250, F-350 and F-450 models. They are available in 15 different versions. The lineup boasts a maximum towing capacity of 31,200 lb. Changes made for 2016 models are minor and include an optional four-corner LED warning strobe light kit.
The 2016 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel has been named the overall winner of the Canadian Truck King Challenge. It won both the Full-Size Truck category and the overall Canadian Truck King title. Light-duty pickups last faced off in the 2014 edition of this event, where the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel also won. In the 2016 Canadian Truck King Challenge, the Ram competed against the revised 2016 Chevrolet Silverado and the 2016 Ford F-150.
2016 brings two new models to the Ram line-up, including a new top-of-class Ram 1500 Laramie Limited model and an all-new Rebel with a special off-road design. Both have a new front grille design. The Rebel includes standard air suspension for increased ride height, 33-in. tires, skid plates and tow hooks.
Although the exterior design is unchanged from 2015 models, all 2016 Ram 1500s have a new centre console layout and optional bed lighting. Configurations include Regular Cab, Quad Cab and Crew Cab, three box lengths, and 2WD or 4WD versions. A wide array of combinations is available – in fact, the Canadian spec document describing them all runs to 25 pages.
The Ram’s focus is on fuel economy this year, with its 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V6 engine delivering 240 hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque and fuel economy as good as 8.0 L/100 km highway. This engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Towing capability of this powertrain combo is up to 9,200 lb.
Other available engines include a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 that offers 305 hp, 269 lb.-ft. of torque and fuel economy as efficient as 9.3 L/100 km; and a 5.7-litre Hemi V8, producing 395 hp and 410 lb.-ft. of torque, and using fuel-saving cylinder shut-off to provide fuel economy as efficient as 10.9 L/100 km. The eight-speed automatic transmission is available with all powertrains. A six-speed is standard with certain models.
Ram also offers a full line of heavy-duty versions of its pickups, where the maximum towing rating reaches 31,210 lb. New for 2016 are a rear camera display that can be switched between the radio and the rear-view mirror, optional pickup box lighting, and the Park-Sense Front/Rear Park Assist system to help drivers manoeuvre the trucks.
Nissan is taking the light-duty pickup game more seriously, with its all-new 2016 Titan with a Cummins turbodiesel engine. The model is expected to be available in Canadian dealerships in early 2016.
It’s noteworthy that Nissan says the new Titan is really neither a light-duty nor heavy-duty pickup, providing more power than a half-ton, but without the costs and overall capabilities of a three-quarter ton rig – lying somewhere in between those two in an as-yet undefined mid-duty category.
A newly designed Titan has been anticipated for quite some time. The current design has been around since 2004, and the long-planned launch of a replacement has been delayed for a wide variety of reasons (one being the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011).
For the current 2015 models, the Titan full-size half-ton pickup remains available in King Cab and Crew Cab body styles in a 4×4 configuration, along with two wheelbases and three bed lengths. Unique features are Wide-Open rear doors in the King Cab that open nearly 180 deg. for unobstructed rear cab access, and an integrated, lockable bedside storage compartment.
The 2015 model continues with an all-aluminum 5.6-litre V8 engine, mated to a five-speed automatic that offers 317 hp and 385 lb.-ft. of torque. Towing capacity ranges up to 9,500 lb. and payload is up to one ton. Fuel economy is rated at 14.3 L/100 km highway.
The Cummins-powered 2016 Titan XD has already been shown at the Detroit and Toronto auto shows. The XD gets a Cummins 5.0-litre V8 turbodiesel engine producing 310 hp and 555 lb.-ft. of torque.
With heavy-duty-like capabilities such as an available towing capacity of more than 12,000 lb. and a maximum payload capacity of 2,000 lb., Nissan says the XD also will have the fuel-efficiency and affordability of a half-ton pickup. The engine is mated to a heavy-duty six-speed automatic.
The company says every component has been bolstered and strengthened for added stiffness, vertical and lateral bending, as well as torsional rigidity. A high-strength steel, fully boxed, full-length ladder frame handles all this. A gooseneck hitch – built into the frame – sits in bed of the truck, yet the ball is removable when all you need is a flat bed.
The 2016 Titan will be available in three cab configurations, three bed lengths, two frame sizes, three powertrain offerings (including 4×2 and 4×4) and five grade levels. It eventually also will be offered with V8 and V6 gasoline engines.
The Toyota Tundra full-size pickup was refreshed for 2014 and the 2016 lineup is basically a carry-over. It’s available in 10 models in four grades and a total of 25 configurations.
New this year, all Tundra models with the 5.7L i-Force V8 engine get a standard tow package. It includes an added trailer brake controller and 144-litre fuel tank – said to be the largest in its class. The tow package also includes a heavy-duty tow hitch receiver, 4+7 pin connectors, supplemental transmission cooler and a transmission fluid temperature gauge.
Engine options include a 4.6-litre V8 producing 310 hp and 327 lb.-ft. of torque, and a 5.7-litre V8 with 381 hp and 401 lb.-ft. of torque, both mated to a six-speed transmission. Towing capacity ranges up to 10,800 lb. and maximum payload is 1,895 lb. Choices include 4×2 or 4×4 models. Fuel economy is rated as low as 13.0 L/100 km highway.
Safety features include a standard backup camera on all grades, and an optional Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
There is no heavy-duty model of the Tundra.
GM continues to offer a pair of nearly identical full-size pickups, the GMC Sierra and the Chevrolet Silverado, and it has brought out a newly refreshed design for the Sierra 1500 and Silverado 1500 for 2016. But wait – didn’t we just see a redesign of this model two years ago? Yes, and those 2014 models gave customers the choice of three new EcoTec3 engines, more safety options and a restyled passenger cabin.
This year’s update includes a new, bolder front-end design and a sculpted hood to provide the truck with a wider, more substantial look. The 2016 trucks now offer a variety of optional grille and body-coloured bumper options.
Other features of the new trucks include expanded availability of the existing eight-speed automatic transmission, a new MyLink2 display featuring Apple CarPlay3 and optional safety technologies such as Lane Keep Assist, High Beam Assist and Low Speed Collision Mitigation Braking.
Engine choices include a 4.3-litre V6 with 285 hp and 305 lb.-ft. of torque, a 5.3-litre V8 with 355 hp and 383 lb.-ft. of torque, and a 6.2-litre V8 producing 420 hp and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. Maximum trailering capacity is 12,000 lb. Payload capacity can be as high as 1,980 lb.
Models include a crew cab, regular cab model and double cab, in seven trim levels, in 4×2 or 4×4 configurations. Work Truck models feature black bumpers, door handles and outside mirrors, and a 40/20/40-split vinyl bench seat; a high-wear seat cloth is available on all trim levels.
A handy feature is the step-in assist depressions in the corners of the rear bumper to make it easier to climb into the bed, no matter if the tailgate is up or down. Also, the engines use cylinder deactivation to boost fuel economy, which rates as low as 9.9 L/100 km highway.
High-strength steel is used in the frames for strength with less weight. Aluminum alloys also have been used to reduce the weight of engines, front suspension components, hoods and other parts.
The 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 was named the Best New Pickup by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and the Chevy Silverado was named the 2014 North American Truck of the Year.
The Silverado HD and Sierra HD 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty models carry over from 2015. The 3500HD can tow up to 23,200 lb.
Even in these short descriptions, there are a lot of numbers to contend with. When you’re ready to buy, you’ll need to talk to the truck experts at local dealerships to spec out a model that fits your specific needs.
Bill Roebuck is a voting member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), which produces the annual Canadian Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards.
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