Last week a sizeable group of members from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) descended on Canadian Tire Motorsport Park north of Bowmanville, Ontario to evaluate and vote on entries in the Canadian Car of the Year program.
The gathering, known as TestFest, is a three-day test-drive event that brings together a wide variety of new and updated vehicles that are competing not only in their respective categories, but are also in the running for the top two awards – Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year.
This year, there are 55 vehicles entered across 12 categories that cover a broad range of segments from pick-ups to large cars, small cars and premium electric vehicles (EV) to name a few. Participating journalists are encouraged to drive and vote on as many eligible vehicles as possible, not just on those that are in their assigned categories.
The evaluations took place on CTMP’s Driver Development Track (DDT), on local roads in and around the track, and an off-road course designed especially for the four full-size pick-ups in the competition.
Speaking of trucks, they’re first up on my assigned list of categories I’m tackling for Wheels.ca, and let’s just say there’s a lot happening in the segment this year.
Third Place – Ford F-150 Diesel
The test vehicle I drove came equipped with a 3.0-litre Power Stroke V6 Turbo Diesel mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission and an FX4 off-road package.
In short, this is basically a tale of two trucks. On-road, the F-150 had the most sluggish performance in the group by far. It was slow off the line and there was some reluctance in passing maneuvers until my right foot had pressed the accelerator hard enough to fully engage the turbo. With that threshold crossed, performance was adequate but not overly impressive.
Off-road, however, the F-150 felt a lot more at home. On the 6 km course that features a mix of mud, water, hard-packed dirt, and loose gravel, the F-150’s beefier off-road tires and suspension performed admirably. With plenty of low-end grunt (440 lb-ft. peak torque comes in at just 1,700 rpm) and a slick operating 4WD system, the F-150 tackled the off-road course with ease and is the most capable in the group when the pavement ends.
In 2018, however, the full-size truck market is moving further towards the luxury end of the spectrum and when compared to the others in this group, the F-150 is the least luxurious inside with an interior that is starting to show its age. That, combined with a subpar performance on-road, will consign it to third-place in this group.
Second Place (tie) – Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500
Both trucks are powerful (6.2-litre V8 / 10-speed automatic transmission), both are off-road capable (standard 4WD), and both are pretty darn luxurious with interiors that are loaded with equipment (heated and cooled leather seats, multi-colour head-up display, 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, etc.), have plenty of room and are handsomely finished.
On-road both trucks offer a lot of get up and go, with impressive acceleration, secure handling (for full-size pick-ups) and excellent braking. Each felt more responsive on tarmac than the F-150 Diesel, but neither were quite as impressive off-road as the Ford due in large measure to the way they were outfitted.
The FX4 package on the F-150 is simply better suited to rougher terrain, although both GM pick-ups performed adequately off-road.
With the on and off-road capabilities cancelling each other out, what tips the scales in favour of the GM entries is their interiors. They benefit largely from being newer with a more contemporary design, better materials and a more luxurious finish. These factors make both trucks very worthy entries, and in another year both (particularly the Sierra Denali GM Canada entered) might have won.
But this is no ordinary year, so a tie for second is as far as they go.
First Place – RAM 1500
I drove the new RAM 1500 last and, not having driven it previously – I hadn’t driven any of these trucks previously, incidentally – I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve driven several variants of the outgoing model over the past few years and thought it to be quite impressive, although the interior was beginning to show its age.
Sliding behind the wheel of the ’19 RAM was definitely an eye-opening experience. It doesn’t remind me of the outgoing truck at all. It is much more luxurious than its predecessor not only in terms of design and available content, but also in the way it rides. This is one quiet riding truck – the chassis-stiffening, weight-saving and sound-deadening measures RAM engineers worked on have paid big dividends. They’re calling the ’19 the quietest RAM ever, and it sure seems like it.
Whereas the Ford and GM entries were either good on-road or off, the RAM 1500 performed impressively on both. On-road, the 5.7-litre HEMI V8 and 8-speed automatic offered brisk acceleration, impressive handling and excellent braking. Off-road, the Limited tester Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Canada entered made short work of the challenging terrain despite riding on shiny 20-inch wheels and low-profile rubber. This is due in large measure to the Active-Level Four-Corner Air Suspension which, when set to off-road, enabled the truck to forage the trail with relative ease. I was surprised I could get RAM up to almost 50 km/h over some sections without bashing my head on the ceiling, but that was indeed the case.
Overall, all four entries are compelling in their own way, but the RAM 1500 feels like the clear winner. I expect it to take top honours in the category and it should be in the running for 2019 Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year.