Let me begin this by saying: there is no such thing as a bad new truck in 2013.
Whether you are committed to Ram, Silverado, GMC, Ford or Tundra, you will find the latest offerings are loaded with performance, aesthetic, electronic or any of a hundred different features. You will find that what is in the dealer showroom today is a far cry from what was acceptable only a few years ago. That was reinforced when the Texas Autowriters Association held their annual Truck Rodeo to name the best of the best.
I felt unusually well-equipped to be part of this jury. Over the past two months, I have had a chance to drive every truck that was entered — many of them on- and off-road, towing, hauling and simply going through their paces. Many more than once. As a group, they were all much quieter than ever before and had hugely improved interiors. Most had greatly increased fuel efficiency and the infotainment and Bluetooth functions were right up there with luxury cars. Everything was a pleasure to drive. But, as in anything, there are good, better and best.
The Truck of Texas: 2014 Ram EcoDiesel 1500
From a crowded field that included the new 2015 Chevy Silverado 1500 (which came in a strong second), the 2014 Ford F-150 powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) and The 2014 Toyota Tundra, Ram repeated its win of a year ago to be named 2013 Truck of Texas. (GM did not enter its new GMC Sierra because it would have divided votes between its brands.)
This time the win was with Ram’s new EcoDiesel engine which delivers 18mpg city and 25 mpg highway results for a 3.0-Liter V6, great torque and up to 9,200-lbs. of towing capacity. The ones entered at the Truck Rodeo all had the high-end Laramie Longhorn trim package as a reminder that you needn’t sacrifice luxury for performance. (By the way, outside of Texas this is called the Bighorn addition.)
Other features that were reflected in the judges’ decision were: a standard eight-speed transmission, stop/start technology that saves fuel, thermal management system, pulse-width modulation and active aerodynamics which include grille shutters, and a unique and effective suspension system.
Ram continued to dominate the competition, as it did a year ago, winning the Heavy Duty Truck of Texas for the 2500, with tow capacity of up to 17,970-lbs.; and the 2014 Ram Promaster Cargo 136 WB-High Roof as commercial vehicle of Texas, as well as Luxury Truck of Texas. The Ram line of trucks was also named Truck Line of Texas for the second consecutive year.
For Off-Road Truck of Texas, the 2014 Ford F-150 Raptor was a walkaway winner with about double the points of its nearest competitor. I still believe that no commercially marketed truck can better the performance of this great drive. (And, on the subject of the F-Series Trucks, only a few were entered since we are expecting an all new F-150 next year and it is bound to be a doozy.)
For Mid-Size Truck of Texas — a category that should really heat up next year, the Nissan Frontier PRO4X was the winner, besting the Toyota Tacoma in a relatively close race. I hope to see the Canyon and Colorado in the mix next time, and — who knows — there may be other challengers. Nissan’s entries in the truck category were only in mid-size since they are working on new full-size trucks for 2015 (I believe) and that should again make this truck competition interesting.
In the three feature categories, it was again a sweep for Ram, winning Best Powertrain for the Jeep/Ram 3.0L EcoDiesel, Best Connectivity for the company’s UConnect and Best Technology for the Ram 1500 five-link coil rear suspension.
Best of SUVs and Crossovers also showed corporate strength
As it has in year’s past, the Jeep Grand Cherokee enjoyed a win as SUV of Texas and its Summit upscale package won Luxury SUV of Texas. For this year, however, the new EcoDiesel which bragged 30mpg highway and range of more than 730 miles from full were factors, along with the 8-speed transmission, Quadra-Lift suspension, a terrain management system and improved crawl ratio of 44.1:1. The base price of $29,790 was impressive for everything that was included. This competition is also about the value proposition or each of the vehicles entered in every category.
In the categories for Compact SUV (2014 Jeep Cherokee) and Off-Road Utility Vehicle (2014 Jeep Wrangler), these frequent winners continued the tradition. As with the Raptor win, it’s tough to compete with both the product and the iconic off-road tradition that Jeep carries with it.
The 2014 Dodge Durango won best full-size SUV for its best-in-class towing of up to 7,400 lbs. based upon engine chosen. It’s new 8-speed transmission and a range of other features made it a standout among voters. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 was named one of Ward’s Automotive 10 Best Engines with 3,60 horspower and 390-ft.lb. of torque. It has a driving range of more than 600 miles per tank and mpg of up to 25 miles per gallon.
The GMC Terrain Denali, a favorite vehicle in Texas and almost everywhere else, won its category as Best Compact Luxury SUV. I can’t wait to see its 2015 model year entries, which I have previewed in this column, competing next year. They take these vehicles and their Chevrolet counterparts into some new territory. (As with the GM trucks, in an effort to avoid competing brands within a category, no Chevy vehicles were entered into this category — a smart move since the vote would most likely be divided.)
The Land Rover Range Rover won the race for Full-Size Luxury SUV. It, too, has a long tradition of providing luxury accoutrements in a hardy and agile vehicle which takes off-road courses and highways with equal proficiency.
Crossover vehicles expands the competition
The crossover categories always confuse me. It seems like some workhorses like the Nissan Pathfinder are a better fit with SUVs, but the classifications used throughout the industry define what goes where (along with some manufacturers who know where they want to be measured.
Many of the companies that do not produce SUVs or trucks qualifiy their vehicles as CUVs, and they are generally lifestyle-type drives.
Winner of CUV of Texas was the Hyundai Santa Fe Ltd. AWD. This was a second win for this vehicle and there is a review on the this site that sums up all of the features included for a very affordable price. It also was named Mid-Size CUV.
Nissan won two awards in the CUV category: Best Compact CUV for the Nissan Juke Midnight Edition — always a fun drive, and for the Nissan Pathfinder SL 4X4 as Best Full-Size SUV. The Acura MDX Advance was named Luxury Crossover Utility Vehicle.
In the future, I will be reviewing as many of these large category and specialty vehicles, driving them for at least a week.
As always, your thoughts regarding the winners is appreciated.