Texas®

As part of the best-selling vehicle lineup in North America for almost 30 years, the Ford F-Series is without a doubt one of the best choices for a pickup truck in the full-sized market. Now, the question is which one to choose, as they start with the 1/2 ton F-150 and proceed in increments of 100, from F-250 to F-650, for those who simply need a dump truck that only looks like a pickup truck.

I’ve always been one to appreciate a truck for being a truck, rather than a personal car with a big, open trunk. With that being said though, the pickup in Texas is a car, truck, personal expression, external display of one’s DNA, office and even a workbench.

Ford sent over a 6 cylinder F-150 a couple of weeks ago, and it was a very comfortable, competent, and solid performer. I was surprised the considerably smaller power capability didn’t result in any significant fuel economy increase. Obviously, this is something that’s becoming more important as gas prices continue to creep north of $3.50 per gallon. And for a vehicle over 1/2 ton, my personal choice is to go diesel every time.

Even with the recent spike in diesel prices I can always justify the enhanced price of entry (in Ford’s case it is a $7,000 premium) to achieve the long term reliability, durability and fuel-usage economy that comes along with the far more powerful, big diesel engine. It’s amazing how the technology on the power stroke direct injection system has evolved over the years. Most may remember the staccato beat of incoming artillery and black clouds of unspent crud coming out of the tail pipe in the old school diesels. But with the newer, cleaner and quieter systems, you will be hard pressed to actually be aware that you’re driving a diesel from inside the well insulated cabin.

This quiet, but still fantastically powerful, truck with its solid frame and all of the expected cargo and towing capabilities – which put the stamped “SUPER DUTY” across the front grill – makes quite the visual statement, as well. As someone who spends a great deal of time on motorcycles, the front facade of this truck is almost frightening, what with its large swath of chrome glistening in the sun. Simply put: It’s one of the sharpest looking, heavy-duty vehicles ever to bear a big blue oval that I’ve ever seen.

Anyone in the HD pickup market knows it is a very tough room, loyalties in this subset of the market run into warring clans with family dynasties of Ford owners who can’t imagine anyone driving another type of truck. I have to tell you, I learned how to drive on my uncles F100 as the first enclosed vehicle, after lawn mowers, motorcycles and farm tractors when I was 10 or 11 years old. I don’t really know if anyone else in the family was aware that I was out driving around the property in Uncle Charlie’s truck, but I have my own personal bias when I hop into the big Ford: It feels as much like home as the smell of my mother’s Brown Sugar cookies.

The Super Duty 4×4 crew cab 3/4 ton truck has an entry price-point of $44,500, and with the addition of the V8 Turbo Diesel, power everything, cloth interior, shiny wheels and satellite radio, the price as-tested for the “big truck” comes in just north of $60,400.00. But, if you also look at the fact that most who do buy this kind of vehicle almost live in them, as they have morphed into mobile offices that is really not that heavy major of a switch from the real thing.

Both Nissan and Toyota have ventured into the full sized market over the last few years, but have purposely not wandered north into the Heavy Duty Diesel market. If they ever do, they are in for a hell of a fight as the Dodge, GM and Ford competition is very intense, already.

From the high step into the Super Duty, to its large turning radius, there is nothing wimpy about its look or impression on the road. In town or on the highway, the 6.7l v8 single turbo’s dual impellers rocket you unencumbered from a stop and overtakes almost everything on paved or unpaved roads. I didn’t have any opportunity to test out the towing abilities, but it can handle nearly anything from small trailers to mobile homes with not so much as a blush.

Really, everything about this truck is spot-on spec, from its handsome exterior to effortless interior, but were I to be in this market, I would have a very difficult time making the decision on what to take home. Personal opinion: The Ram has a better interior, and the Chevy has a quieter drive train, but the Ford has one of the best combinations for the consumer. It’s a really tough choice, regardless.

One thing that may push you into the land of Ford is this new power plant is designed to run up to 300.000 miles before a major service. Judging from talking to owners all over the state in my travels, I have to report that they claim the 6.7 is the best diesel Ford has ever put in a pickup. This is a big deal, as problems with the prior big D had resulted in a bit of a black eye for Ford.

In many ways this truck reminds me a little of the Cattle Barron’s Ball – an annual society must-do every year, here in Dallas where folks get all dressed up in tuxedo’s and cowboy boots – it’s flashy chrome still comes with a whole bunch of real truck.

 

 

Someplace out there I’m sure exists an unwritten rule among my fellow auto journalist brethren that we are not allowed to use a quote from any movie starring Vin Diesel. But I have to. I just have to use Vin Diesel’s line from the end of ‘Fast and the Furious’ when describing Dodge Ram’s 2500 HD 4×4 Turbo Diesel,“That’s how I would do mine.”

I feel dirty.

The pickup truck market, especially in Texas, is very robust. I think the numbers on light duty truck sales (1/2 ton and below) is one of those that automotive executives just simply drool over. As of late, the light duty market is getting very crowded with the traditional offerings from GM, Ford and Dodge being joined by excellent offerings from Toyota (Tundra) and Nissan (Titan). There is a place, though, where those off-shore interlopers do not fear to tread, the medium duty and heavy duty truck market.

This is exclusively the land of Ford’s F-250, GMC/Chevy 2500 and the Dodge 2500 – all 3/4 ton full sized, tough trucks which all compete for the most loyal customer in the business. There are families who almost disown their young for buying a Chevy when the family all drives Fords.

Fundamentally speaking all three options do the same thing in slightly different ways. Bigger frames are the foundation for better towing capacity and larger cargo abilities (3/4 ton). That heavier frame is also required to carry the heavier and exceptionally torque intensive diesel engine.

In the Dodge Ram 2500 HD turbo diesel, the stump pulling power comes from a sturdy 6.7 liter Cummins power plant. When it comes to trucks the horsepower rating is not really the number to look at, more important is the torque, and boy howdy does this baby have torque. The BIG thumper puts out 650 foot pounds of torque at 1500 rpm.

Those numbers are really the reason people go for the heavy duty market, it kind of separates the men from the boys and if you do spend the extra entry fee to go HD, generally you are doing this based on NEED. The HD trucks attract people who use them as tools not as affectations of a “big hat no cattle” fashion trend.

With the Cummins, the Ram also brings to the table some pretty incredible pulling power. Towing capacities come in at a maximum of 13500 pounds. Think about that for a moment and there is not too much out there you would want to pull someplace that exceeds its abilities.

Folks with big boats, trailers, horses or anything else you can tug down the road can be hooked up and hauled. The HD also comes with upgraded suspension and braking and an integrated engine braking system to keep heavy loads under control.

Where the Ram really makes its mark is in having one of the best cabin interiors in the business. It has the ability to handle a job site outside, but inside the multiple power points and comfortable cloth interior can become an office on wheels with even an option, dealer installed, that can turn your truck into a mobile WiFi Hotspot. With so many wireless devices – from laptops to smart phones – being needed on the job site, this truck literally can be an indispensable tool of communications, hauling, and cargo.

For many years there really was no innovation in the diesel power plants available in the HD pickup, mostly because of the old “If it aint broke why fix it” mentality but market and governmental emissions standard changes have spurred a huge  leap in technology. The power plants from all three manufacturers are quiet, efficient, and powerful pushing away the smoky rattle traps you might think of when thinking diesel.

If I was in the market for a pickup I would definitely put the Ram with the Cummins on the list and it would be a very short list. It is surprisingly fast and comfortable on the highway. When passing or just running down the road it feels like an indestructible tank and has the ability to wander far from the paved road and still make it back. The best part of the diesel (aside from the power) is the fact it lasts longer and gets considerably better fuel economy than similar gas motors. The diesel has more power, better fuel economy, and now can exceed the new really tough tailpipe emissions standards due to kick in next year.

The base price of a 2500 HD 4X4 is on the high side of $37k and adding the Turbo Diesel and the Hot Spot technology, Navigation/Satellite Radio and towing packages pushes the price just north of $50,000.00, which sounds like a lot but there are some tax incentives out there for purchasing commercial use vehicles and some for alternate fuel and other things. Not to mention that the fuel savings with the more efficient, longer lasting power plant make the HD purchase one that is more of a long term investment than a personal whim.

As far as whims go, I didn’t want to return this truck to Dodge, it really does fit all my needs and exceeds many wants. It is pretty much ideal in almost every way…wait… Chevy just dropped off the Silverado 2500 HD Duramax 4×4…

Stay tuned for Part 2

dodge-ram-12As an automotive journalist for the last 25 years, I have driven quite a few pickup trucks. In said trucks I towed, hauled, loaded, soaked up miles of asphalt and navigated thousands of tons of mud and rock. That being said, I’ve never seen a truck like the one the good folks at Dodge dropped off for me last week.

From 30 feet away, I was dazzled by the gleaming chrome and bright blue paint of the fully decked out Dodge Ram 1500 4×4 Laramie truck. After recovering from the bling factor, the first thing a truck guy or gal will notice with this new Ram,  is the nifty and well thought out Ram Box option – one of those ideas that someone should have thought up years ago.

dodge-ram-13By putting a wall down the inside line of the rear wheel humps, enclosing it and putting lockable, easy access on the rails of the truck, Dodge has hit a home run with those of us who need to carry stuff with them. Inside the rear box, the Ram is equipped with multiple tie-downs and another one of those things I wish I had invented: Smart rails. With the smart rails, you can move the tie-down points around inside the box, allowing you to secure any load, even awkwardly proportioned ones, where you want. The rectangular cargo area now is around 4×6 on the short bed and the Ram comes pre-wired for the built-in trailer towing hitch.

The 4-door truck market has been the best selling segment in the business as more and more people opt for the functionality of a pick up for a daily driver. Until recently, the Ram Quad Cab has been the smaller of the options found on the sales floor, but now the rear doors on the new Ram are considerablydodge-ram-14 larger than the old Ram. Inside, they reveal a much larger rear seat with significantly more legroom and actually can accommodate full sized adults with legs.

The interior is where the Ram takes on its “Country Cadillac” status. The truck is loaded and sports a power sunroof, power windows and a power rear window slider. Boasting a mobile satellite television powered by Sirus XM – the first I have seen of its kind – and has a limited offering of Nick, Disney and Cartoon Networks. This is the first clue that Dodge slipped me something. Options on the provided vehicle included every last thing in the list. Heated and air conditioned leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, dual climate controls, DVD Navigation, a 30 gig hard drive for MP3’s and even a two prong power point to plug in your laptop.

Frisco-Horse-5Normally you can get a Dodge Ram Quad Cab 4×4 on the road for somewhere in the upper mid 20’s, but the way this platter was plumped, the ticker hit $52,300.00. With this in mind, I needed to find a location to shoot the truck that best exemplified the obvious and exceptionally good truck that happened to be optioned for the suburbs rather than the stockyard. The perfect location was just around the corner, The Frisco Horse Park.

Frisco Horse Park is a working horse ranch inside the affluent suburb of Frisco, Texas, a city best known for its shopping malls, big box retailers, affluent subdivisions and high maintenance. Yet right at the corner of Coit and 121 sits the green, open fields and tranquil ponds of the horse park.

Frisco-Horse-2On site at the Frisco Horse Park, you’ll also find a petting zoo and rental stables for boarding and breeding some of the finest horses in the area. Originally the property was much larger, but the City of Frisco seems to have a love hate relationship with the ranch. Entire pastures have been appropriated under eminent domain so Frisco could build schools, developments and roads, but the ranch continues to be a ranch. They offer beginner trail rides, lessons and even summertime day camps.

I rolled down to the back pasture by the pond and set up my gear to shoot the truck and enjoyed the noticeable quiet that comes from not having concrete reflecting every sound. The lack of power lines and telephone polls and the big sprawling Live Oak trees were exactly what I needed. The horse park is a bit of an anomaly as a working ranch inside a city, but it was perfect for the Suburban Cowboy.

Both on road and off the Ram exceeded my expectations. As Dodge has been teetering its way from the Mercedes deal, to private equity ownership, to now being mostly owned by Fiat, the smallest of the Big Three has always had some dramatic turns in its history. The cycle of Boom and Bust at Cryco must be tough to live with, but even as they were falling into bankruptcy they introduced the newest take on the Ram pickup truck.

dodge-ram-11Dodge has needed to update the Ram for a few years now, but the extreme expense involved in a total redo was not available due to the credit crisis and their financial woes. The team behind the new Ram has done an amazing job redesigning this truck. It has real, independent suspension and the kind of on road manners that make you forget you are driving a truck as capable as any in the market. The only place you really notice is the gas pump, where the Ram’s 5.7l Hemi V8 is thirsty at an observed 14-16 MPG, which is right on the low side of the pickup market.

Funny thing is that the $53k sticker is almost exactly the same as a fully dressed Cadillac Escalade, which is the vehicle that is most likely a competitor for this over-optioned pickup. That being said, I don’t think anyone in the market for a truck will opt for this level of trim and you can get into a lesser-optioned truck with the same things that make a Ram one of the best driving pickups on the market.

It is easy to get distracted by the bling, the chrome and options, but under all the shiny stuff is a great truck.

Frisco Horse Park
13100 State Highway 121
Frisco, TX
972-335-8000