Road Test: 2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4×4 Limited

2015 Tundra towing_BS21060Road Test: 2015 Toyota Tundra LTD CrewMax 4×4

 A Tundra Built For Outdoorsmen

Abundant interior space and towing power key features of the 2015 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4×4

By Bruce W. Smith

Toyota’s Tundra is gaining ground in popularity as more and more buyers are looking for an American-made full-size pickup that has a solid reputation for having high marks in customer satisfaction.

Although it’s been virtually unchanged for several years, the third-generation Tundra is still one of the most powerful ½-ton pickups on the road in 2015 – and the CrewMax model has the biggest cab.

A roomy cab and a 5.7L V-8 that delivers a load full of power are two reasons the Toyota’s Tundra CrewMax is gathering momentum among those who use their pickups for their outdoor recreational pursuits.

With nearly eight inches more space between the front and rear seat than Toyota’s standard Double Cab Tundra, the CrewMax provides a ton of rear passenger room and front legroom that will easily accommodate tall drivers.

Flip up the rear split-bench seat and that added front-to-rear space opens nicely to provide a good bit of cargo space, too.

From a power perspective, the 2015 Tundra’s 381hp 5.7L i-FORCE V8 and six-speed automatic haven’t been upgraded for years, yet they will out run all of the competitors’ small-block V8s I’ve tested to date with 0-60mph times in the low 7s and ¼-mile speeds in the low 90s.

That kind of power translates into being a strong performer when towing travel trailers, pleasure boats, or multiple snowmobiles and ATVs where the loaded trailer weights are less than 7,000 pounds.

That weight isn’t  the towing capacity of the Tundra. It’s a weight where most 1/2-ton pickups are comfortable towing – and where most pickup buyers usually make a choice between 1/2-ton and 3/4-ton purchases.

CrewMax with Off-Road package makes an excellent outdoorsman's pickup.
2015 Tundra CrewMax 4×4 with the optional Off-Road package makes an excellent outdoorsman’s pickup.

The truck I tested, a Limited 4×4 model, is rated to towing 9,000 pounds. I towed a 5,600-pound, 23-foot Salem travel trailer with it on several occasions and found the CrewMax to be quite comfortable in both handling and acceleration performance.

(Note: All Tundras require the use of a weight-distributing hitch on trailered weights exceeding 5,000 pounds.) 

I also used it to pull a 19-foot Tracker ProTeam aluminum bassboat package (2,500 pounds) to the lake and back. For the most part I almost forget there was anything in-tow as the 5.7L  pulled the lighter load with ease.

Part of the Tundra’s strong towing performance is the result of mating its 4.30 axle ratios to the six-speed automatic with its close-ratio design.

The combo of power and gearing work in sweet harmony to give strong launches from stoplights and smooth power transitions during shifts while merging into faster-moving traffic.

Where the Tundra comes up short is on fuel economy. While Toyota cars excel in that area, their full-size pickups don’t.

Like the Tundra Platinum edition I tested last year, the 2015 Limited 4×4 delivers sub-par fuel economy when compared to what Ram, Ford and GM’s ½-tons are now delivering.

EPA mpg rates The Toyota at 13/17/15 (city/highway/combined.) Those numbers are pretty accurate according to my observations.

The truck I tested delivered 18.3mpg during a 180-mile stretch of flat  interstate cruise at 65mph, low 13s in stop-and-go city driving, and mid-10s while towing the travel trailer. Those numbers came by paying attention to being gentle on the throttle.

Any amount of “aggressive” driving will see those numbers drop 1-2mpg because the 5.7L i-Force’s fuel economy is quite sensitive to throttle input; even moderately aggressive driving will cost you at the pump.

I hope the next generation of Toyota’s V-8 will see big changes in the fuel-economy arena.

Seating comfort and occupant space are excellent inside the CrewMax.
Seating comfort and occupant space are excellent inside the CrewMax.


As for overall ride quality, the Tundra CrewMax TRD 4×4 delivers a very pleasant ride on and off-pavement; the steering is light, the brakes quick and firm. It’s a very comfortable pickup on long drives or treks over backcountry gravel roads.

I took two of my deer hunting buddies out in the truck. We left before daylight, piling in with all our gear and dressed for the cold, wet weather.

We ended up driving miles and miles of old logging roads, using four-wheel-drive over a couple dicey stretches where gravel gave way to mud. All in all, the Tundra never skipped a beat, nor did it beat us up over the rougher roads.

The TRD Off-Road package, a $100 option on my test truck, helps in that regard. The Off-Road package upgrades the truck’s wheels to 18-inch Michelin ATX all-terrain tires that improve traction, and replaces the stock shocks for Bilstein gas shocks to improve handling and ride comfort.

Inside the Limited trim-level Tundra you’ll find leather-trimmed front power seats that provide very good support. The seats are firmer than most pickups, but not to the point of being uncomfortable.

As noted earlier, abundant leg, shoulder and headroom give even over-six-footers plenty of comfort space.

The interior is well isolated from exterior noise such as that induced by driving over coarse pavement and gravel roads. The interior isn’t as quiet as, say, the 2015 Silverado or F-150 as there’s a little wind noise around the doors and mirrors at interstate speeds.

But I still consider the CrewMax to be on the quiet side especially if you are moving from an older Tundra or pre-2012 pickup.

Driver visibility excellent to the front and sides. The sloping and short hood helps give a good sense of the road ahead.  Not so much so over the right shoulder where the longer cab creates a big blind spot, or out the back where the Tundra’s tall bed makes it tough to see anything that’s closer than a couple truck lengths.

Thankfully the Tundra CrewMax I was driving came with the optional ($595) Limited Premium Package that includes front and rear parking sensors to augment the industry-standard rear-view camera system.

4x4 Tundras with the Off-Road package are surprisingly good performers in nasty driving conditions.
4×4 Tundras with the Off-Road package are surprisingly good performers in nasty driving conditions.

With those safety items you always know when something’s getting close to the truck’s sheetmetal.

The camera and large screen makes it easy to back up to a trailer and park the hitch ball right under the trailer’s tongue. The back-up camera is a real time saver for those who do a lot of towing.

As for the tall bed, Tundras have the deepest bed in the full-size pickup market. That’s a good thing when you are hauling stuff, and they are equipped with adjustable tie-downs along both sides.

I spent a busy week behind the wheel of the CrewMax Limited 4×4 and logged more than 500 miles using it for a number of different tasks the typical owner would be doing with a pickup.

What I concluded is the 2015 Tundra easily fulfills all the needs of a ½-ton pickup that’s tasked with being the go-to truck for someone with an active outdoor lifestyle.

The bonus of the Limited model is its up-scale trim features make the occupants feel like they are being rewarded for their choice.

Its only weakness is the V-8’s thirst for fuel compared to the newest entries from its competitors.  That may be easily overlooked when one considers Toyota’s build quality and dependability have always been first-class.

2015 Toyota Tundra Basic Specifications
  • Make/Model: ‘15 Toyota Tundra LTD CrewMax 4×4
  • MSRP: $41,895
  • Price As Tested: $44,295
  • Engine: 381hp aluminum 5.7L V-8
  • Transmission: 6spd automatic
  • Axle Ratio: 4.30
  • Curb weight: 5,860 lbs
  • Max Tow Capacity: 9,000 pounds
  • Fuel Economy: EPA: 13/17/15; Observed: 13.5 City/ 18.3 Hwy
  • Performance: 0-60mph: 7.2 sec; ¼-Mile: 15.4 sec @ 92mph


Related Images:

4Runner Tracker_BS20901

Road Test: 2015 Toyota 4Runner

ROAD TEST: 2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition; 5th Generation 4Runner Better Than Ever 

Thirty years ago a new vehicle emerged in a world predominantly filled with cars and pickups: the Toyota 4Runner. It filled a niche for those truck lovers who didn’t particularly like the look of vans or station wagons, or wanted something smaller than the Ford Broncos and Chevy Blazers of the day.

4Runner action highway_BS20764Five generations later the 4Runner is rolling along among a sea of competitors. It’s moved from a compact SUV to a mid-size, but keeps to its roots  with a rugged pickup-like body-on-frame design—instead of following the car-like unibody most of its rivals are built upon.

It’s also evolved into a state-of-the-art family vehicle that’s loaded with safety features along with off-pavement/off-road capabilities in the four-wheel-drive models few other vehicles in the mid-size SUV class offer.

I spent a week putting on more than 400 miles in a mid-trim-level 2015 Trail Edition ($38,645) model with the 270hp 4.0L V-6 and 5spd automatic, which is the ony engine and transmission offering today’s 4Runners.

What makes the Trail Edition special is it’s only available as a 4×4, and it’s the only 4Runner equipped with a part-time four-wheel-drive system (the base SR5 and upscale Limited are full-time 4WD). This allows the driver to engage 4wd, and hi- or low-range to better adjust to more demanding driving conditions.

Another standard feature of the Trail Edition is an electronic-locking rear differential and Bilstein shocks, both of which add to the 4Runners off- and on-road prowess. Better traction and better suspension control elevate the Trail Edition 4Runner closer to the capabilities of Toyota’s renown Land Cruiser and FJ Cruiser.

Trail Edition models also get “Crawl Control,” which is Toyota’s version of an automatic low-speed idle so you can keep your foot off the gas in low-range 4wd and let the truck creep along at a slow, steady pace instead of your foot bouncing up and down on the pedal.

Dials in the upper console allow driver to select variable traction and idle speed settings.
Dials in the upper console allow driver to select variable traction and idle speed settings.

Another dial on the overhead console, positioned next to the one for Crawl Control, allows the driver to select the type of terrain or driving conditions being encountered. Changing the selection to one of a half-dozen settings, changes the way the onboard computers adjust brake and throttle to control wheel spin.

This adjustable “traction control” system, which only works in 4WD modes, is excellent for driving in snow, sand, mud, rocks and loose soil where some need a lot of wheel spin to get through and in other situations you don’t want any wheel spin.

The driver doesn’t need to understand when more or less wheel spin is better. They just need to dial in the type of terrain or driving conditions they are in that requires four-wheel-drive.

Another off-road feature on the Trail Edition is the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System ($1,750), which my test truck was equipped. Basically KDSS is a hydraulic system that effectively “disengages” the front and rear stabilizer bars in off-road driving situations so the front and rear suspension travel is maximized.

Stabilizer bars are designed to minimize axle travel and keep the vehicle flat when cornering. The downside, so to speak, is they also limit wheel travel, which is what you want when driving off-road. KDSS provides both.

If you take driving off-pavement and exploring the backroads seriously, KDSS is worth the added cost. If you aren’t, it’s not.

Although I never drove this vehicle into the kinds of off-road, off-pavement situations where KDSS, the selectable terrain or speed control were needed, I have used them in previous driving opportunities where Toyota showed how capable the vehicle is in extreme driving situations.

It was on those outings where I saw first-hand just how remarkable the 4Runner is when it comes to getting through trails and over terrain that would stop other pickups and SUVs in the first rough stretch.

But off-roading is only a tiny aprt of most buyer’s driving. It’s the day-to-day driving experience where the short-wheelbase Trail Runner’s ride, handling and comfort attributes are most important.

Trail Edition is mid-level trim with plenty of leather and upgrades above the base SR5 model.
Trail Edition is mid-level trim with plenty of leather and upgrades above the base SR5 model.

I found the ride quality on the firmer side, which is expected of a pickup-based SUV; firm, not harsh. The steering is also a bit more truck-like in that it’s a little on the heavy side, which helps balance the 4Runner’s quick steering response. It handles twisting country roads and city traffic with ease, with very little body lean when cornering or making quick lane changes.

Another nice trait is how easily the 4Runner maneuvers in tight places. The steering is fast and the short wheelbase makes it a breeze to park in crowded parking lots with small parking spaces. It fits nicely in those “compact cars only” spots, too.

It has good power as well. The V-6 and five-speed automatic (with manual mode) gets this SUV up to speed with ease. But I found the electronic drive-by-wire throttle is adjusted to stay out of the higher rpms until you really get deep into the throttle. Then the transmission finally downshifts and the engine rpms climb, letting the Toyota’s 270 horses go to work.

Fuel economy is middle of the pack. A week driving in a mixed bag of conditions from city to interstate to back country roads netted 20mpg. The worst I saw during those was 16.8mpg in the city and the best was 21.8mpg on the highway running along at 65mph.

I also towed a 2,200-pound Tracker Pro Team 175 aluminum bassboat combo to see how the 4Runner responded with an average weekend recreational load. Bump the 5speed out of overdrive and the 4Runner cruises along nicely over country roads with such a boat in tow, all the while delivering fuel economy in the 15mpg range.

(The 4Runner has a maximum towing capacity of 4,700 pounds.)

Seating comfort is average for a mid-size SUV. The cabin has buckets up front and a split-bench in the second row that accommodates three. Child seat restraints and plenty of air bags around the interior give it a high marks for safety, too.

The Trail Edition, being a mid-level trim, has all the creature features and creature comforts with leather interior, power and heated front seats, sunroof, big sound system, navigation system and the electronic connectivity we expect these days.

Cargo space is good, and the rear seats fold flat to expand the cargo area when needed. For those who tend to haul heavier, bulkier items in the rear, there’s a $325 optional slide-out floor tray that has a load capacity of 400 pounds. It’s a nice back-saver when loading/unloading heavy cargo.

Toyota found a winner back in 1984 and they’ve done well keeping the 4Runners that followed on pace with the times and the changing needs of buyers.

The 2015 Trail Edition is a rugged, strong, safe, go-anywhere, mid-size 4×4 SUV that would fit the young family well – or anyone who enjoys an active outdoor lifestyle or exploring the backroads. – Bruce W. Smith


(About the author: Bruce W. Smith is a veteran automotive journalist living in Eugene, Oregon, who has spent more than 30 years exploring backroads and writing about pickups and SUVs. He’s a regular contributor for GCN vehicle reviews, as well as to dozens of national outdoor, boating, construction and automotive publications.)




FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Ford F-150

15F150towing_BS20581First Drive: 2015 F-150

A 325hp twin-turbo 2.7L V6, aluminum body, bigger frame, and refined interiors are just part of the advancements found in the new generation of Ford’s most popular pickups

By Bruce W. Smith

Pickups are the bread-and-butter tool for the working class and a necessity for those who have a passion for the active outdoor lifestyles that involves boating, RVing, ATVing, hunting and other pursuits.

The most recognized as the “American favorite” is Ford’s F-150. The first F-Series (F-1) rolled off the assembly lines in 1948, and now the 12th generation is upon us. And it’s a doozy.

Ford’s new ½-ton, with its all-aluminum body, reflects the biggest technological advancements between generations since Ford added the “F-150″ model to the F-100 line as a heavier-duty model some 40 years ago. (Ford dropped the “F-100″ designation with the 1984 model year.)

Ford uses military-spec aluminum in the new F-150 bodies. It's both stronger and lighter than the steel bodies of old.
Ford uses military-spec aluminum in the new F-150 bodies. It’s both stronger and lighter than the steel bodies of old.

Although aluminum-bodied SUVs and cars have been around the luxury world for decades, convincing many blue-blooded Ford owners that an aluminum body is better than traditional steel isn’t an easy task when aluminum has a beer-can-like strength stigma.

But Ford has put the new trucks through more than a million miles of endurance testing in the lab and field, the most ever for a Ford product, before the very first early-production models I recently drove rolled off the assembly line. And I can tell you they are strong — and nicely engineered.

I drove 2015 F-150 SuperCrew and SuperCab models in and around San Antonio, TX, towing 9,000-pound trailers, off-roading, and commuting in both city and rural settings.

From that seat time it’s clear Ford’s gamble to switch the body from steel to aluminum is every bit as good a bet as it was bringing in a twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 or building their own 6.7L PowerStroke diesel. Ford did their homework: The new F-150’s ride, handling, durability, capacities and performance are a world better than the current (2014-earlier) models.

The ride is much more pleasant, the handling crisper, the braking more robust. The cab interiors are bigger, they are quieter inside, the fit and finish nicer, and the list of safety and electronic features as long as the new truck’s towing and hauling capacities are big.


They are also more powerful and fuel-efficient, and there’re four engines from which to choose. The base is a  283hp 3.5L V-6 that’s a carry-over from the previous generation and good engine for those who just want a full-size pickup at the lowest price.

But I’d skip right past it and spend the small up-charge for the all-new 325hp 2.7L EcoBoost V-6. My eyes widened when I took a 2WD SuperCab for a drive with newest Ford V-6 under the hood. Its fast-spooling twin turbos dole out torque just like a small-block V-8 as soon as you roll into the throttle, emitting a gratifying small-block V8 exhaust note to boot.

2015 F-150 Engine Specifications. Click on image to view larger.
2015 F-150 Engine Specifications. Click on image to view larger.

Ford rates the 2.7L EcoBoost with up to an SAE-J2807-certified 8,500 pounds towing capacity and 2,250 pounds payload in some models, making it an ideal engine for those who tow boats, ATVs, smaller horse or travel trailers.

Those that need more power can step up to the 365hp 3.5L EcoBoost V-6, which has proven itself to be a tremendous performer under the hood of F-150s (and other Ford vehicles) for a couple years now.

It’s also the engine Ford gives the highest tow rating: 12,200 pounds (SAE J2807 compliant) in 2WD models equipped with the Max Trailer Tow Package. The tow package comes with a locking 3.55 rear axle, heavy-duty front sway bar and integrated brake controller.

Then there’s the venerable 5.0L V-8. But the 2015 version has some nice upgrades that give it noticeably better performance the previous version. The 385hp 5.0L Ti-VCT, new intake and variable cam timing among other changes, isn’t quite as quick to put the power down as its 3.5L EcoBoost counterpart. But once it does, it pulls noticibly stronger than the 5.0L of old.

I towed identical 9,000-pound-plus box trailers back-to-back over several miles of two-lane Texas hill country road behind a 2015 3.5L EcoBoost Super Crew 4×4, 2015 5.0L Super Crew 4×4, 2014 5.3L Silverado 1500 Crew Cab 4×4, and 2014 Ram 1500 Crew Cab EcoDiesel 4×4 to feel the differences. All four trucks were equipped with weight-distributing hitches per Ford and the other manufacturer’s towing requirements.

The 2015 F-150 with the 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 was the smoothest, fastest accelerating, and most responsive of the four trucks, with both of the new Fords feeling more stable, smoother and more comfortable while towing than either the Ram or Chevy half-ton crew cabs.


That smoothness, comfort and towing stability are the result of Ford doing a frame-up redesign on the 2015s.

The frame is bigger, lighter, stiffer and stronger. That solid base, and the aluminum body structure sitting atop, allowed Ford designers to make the new models bigger on the inside, with noticeably more comfortable seats and quieter interior than their predecessors.

The new cabs have more headroom to the sides than the previous model, a wider interior (door panels are thinner), and on the SuperCabs the rear doors open 170-degrees, giving way to easy access to the rear seats and flat load floor.

New aluminum body F-150s are stronger, more fuel-efficient, and more powerful than the previous generation. (Ford photo)
New aluminum body F-150s are stronger, more fuel-efficient, and more powerful than the previous generation. (Ford photo)

Then there’re the new features that help make the trucks an even more productive as work tools: optional remote tailgate release; a tailgate with the step and assist handle built inside so the tailgate’s inner face itself remains flat; and Ford’s optional BoxLink storage system with cleats that can hold loading ramps and other tools tight to the bedsides.

Electronic innovations abound, as well. In the upper-trim levels (XLT-Plus and above), there’re a host of options and packages that increase safety, convenience and connectivity through just about any source one requires for commuting, work or recreational needs.

Those who tow trailers will appreciate the rear-view camera that incorporates a dotted line to show the exact path between hitch ball and trailer tongue for easy trailer connections.

Another optional convenient item is a small single-row bank of four LED spot lights in the side mirrors that can be tilted outward to serve as work lights—and an LED light under the tailgate handle that illuminates the hitch and area immediately behind the bumper.

The 2015 F-150s also have 110V, 400-watt outlets in the cab to run all sort of electronic devices from laptops to battery chargers; a must for anyone who brings along passengers with phones and tablets.

There are so many advancements and options on the 2015 F-150s that it’d take a book to cover them all in detail. The short take: I have little doubt this new generation of F-150s is going to make a lot of very happy customers — be they first-time pickup buyers or long-time F-Series owners.


First Drive: 2015 GMC Canyon Crew Cab 4×4


GM Reinvents The Midsize Truck With Same DNA As Their Full-Size Models

by Bruce W. Smith

From a distance the front of the 2015 GMC Canyon Crew Cab 4×4 looks very much like its full-size heavy-duty Sierra counterpart with its bold grille and muscular stance. It’s only when you get close does one realize ,”Hey! It’s a smaller version.”

Indeed, it is.

GM took all the newest innovations and design elements from the 2015 Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra and incorporated them into a six-inch narrower, 18-inch shorter package that fits in a normal garage and has better maneuverability than a full-size truck.

The big difference in looks is while the GMC Canyon reflects the DNA of the Sierra HD, the Chevrolet Colorado picks up the headlights and grille reminiscent of the 2015 Camaro.

But other than those two main differences, both of GM’s new midsize pickups a very close reflections of their full-size brethren. Current GM truck owners who slide behind the wheel of the new Canyon/Colorado will find the interior, ride and handling very familiar.

Those stepping into GM’s new midsize from a Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier will feel like they are stepping into an upscale, well-appointed truck that has all of the latest technology.

At least that’s what my take is after spending a day on the road in a GMC Canyon SLT Crew Cab 4×4. Pricing for the all-new 2015 GMC Canyon mid-size pickups start at $21,880, including a $925 dealer freight charge.

The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado extended-cab pickup will start at $20,995, including an $875 dealer freight charge.

The truck I drove, a loaded crew cab short box model with the 305hp 3.6L V-6 engine, leather-appointed seating, automatic climate control, 18-inch polished cast-aluminum wheels, remote start and an automatic locking rear differential had a sticker of $37,875, which is about $7,000 less than the comparable full-size model.

The 2015 GMC Canyon’s seats have dual-firmness foam,  and high-wear, stain-resistant cloth seating trim. Heated leather seats are standard on SLT.
The 2015 GMC Canyon’s seats have dual-firmness foam, and high-wear, stain-resistant cloth seating trim. Heated leather seats are standard on SLT.

GM didn’t just shrink a full-size truck; there are no shared suspension, frame, drivetrain or other major components. But the technology, or as one GM engineers said, the “GM DNA” from the full-size models is very evident.

The Canyon’s steering has a slight heaviness to it like the Sierra, the seats feel just as supportive and comfortable; the interior layout has the same familiarity;the brakes feel robust; head and legroom are abundant; and the cabin just as quiet on the road.

Power from the 305hp 3.6L V-6 moves the truck out quite smartly when it’s needed, and when cruising delivers an EPA 17 city, 24 highway mpg in the 4×4 model I was driving.

The fuel economy isn’t as big a difference between the full-size Sierra (16/22mpg) as I’d hoped on seeing.

But then again, the reason the Canyon is appealing is it’s smaller size, not great leaps in fuel economy-at least not until the 2.8L diesel emerges as an option next year.

Crew Cab GMC Canyon is slightly smaller and more maneuverable than full-size 1/2-tons. counteraprts.
Crew Cab GMC Canyon is slightly smaller and more maneuverable than its full-size 1/2-ton counteraprts.

The Crew Cab 4×4 handled towing a 21-foot ski boat with relative ease, too. The 4,200-pound boat/trailer combo I towed is well below the Canyon’s 7,000-pound max tow rating.

A trailered weight of this amount is probably more than the average Canyon buyer is going to be towing. But it’s nice to know the V-6 and six-speed automatic can handle it even with the 3.42 axle ratio that GM has stuck in their midsize V-6 offering.

Overall, my first driving impression is GM has done a commendable job elevating the quality and technology of the midsize pickup market to a new level.

They have also done a remarkable job making the GMC Canyon (and Chevy Colorado) feel like a full-size pickup.

Their new midsize shouldn’t intimidate current owners of cars and cross-overs, nor will it make current owners of full-size GM pickups and SUVs feel shortchanged.

The GMC Canyon is a true pickup. It’s just smaller.


2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Road Test

TTD Road Test

2014 Ram Crew Cab 4×4 Big Horn

Impressive fuel economy and power key features of Ram Truck’s 1/2-ton pickup; turbo-diesel pulls like a Hemi while delivering 28mpg

by Bruce W. Smith


Most pickup buyers looking at a diesel engine option are interested in two benefits it provides over gasoline engines: fuel economy and towing power.

The big question is whether or not the added cost of the diesel option is worth it. In the case of the 2014 Ram 1500, it is.

2014 Ram 1500 Crew Cab Big Horn 4x4 with EcoDiesel V-6
2014 Ram 1500 Crew Cab Big Horn 4×4 with EcoDiesel V-6

I spent two weeks driving a Big Horn Crew Cab 4×4 model powered by the new (to the U.S.) Fiat 3.0L V-6 turbo-diesel option that makes Ram the first pickup manufacturer in more than a decade to offer a diesel in 1/2-tons.

I was curious to see how Ram Truck’s V-6 diesel would fare in a world seemingly dominated by V-8s. Some 800 miles on the road with it proves it’ll do just fine as a fuel miser and as a tow vehicle.

Having the V-6 EcoDiesel’s 410 lbs-ft of torque at your beck-and-call – the majority of that pulling power coming in low in the rpms – will move a boat, camp trailer, a load of ATVs or load of hay just as smoothly as the Hemi, maybe even easier.

Getting good fuel economy is an added bonus; the VM Motori diesel delivered 14-plus mpg during one of my towing jaunts along the Oregon Coast with a 4,000-pound enclosed trailer in-tow.

This model Ram has a maximum trailer towing capacity of 7,200 pounds, and, like all Ram 1/2-tons, requires the use of a weight-distributing hitch be used on trailered loads above 5K.

Unladen, the Crew Cab 1500 got better than 28mpg running Interstate 5 at 70mph, with city stop-and-go fuel economy hovering in the low 20s.

Ram’s EcoDiesel doesn’t perform like any other V-6 I’ve driven except maybe Ford’s 3.7L EcoBoost. The engine’s throttle response is quick, the low- to mid-range torque pull strong. Good power and class-leading fuel economy are the two big selling points of the VM Motori diesel.

The engine is a two-step, $4,500 upgrade from the base gas 3.6L V-6, or $2,850 more than the 5.7L Hemi.

Highway fuel economy is the 3.0L V-6 diesel's strong point, getting 28mpg-plus.
Highway fuel economy is one of the 3.0L V-6 diesel’s strong points, getting 28mpg-plus.

Is the cost of the diesel worth it? If you put a lot of miles on the truck and do any amount of towing, yes.

The cost of the diesel package pays for itself in short order compared to the 395hp Hemi because the 3.0L diesel gets 4-6mpg better fuel economy empty, 1-2mpg better mpg when towing, and it’ll bring a higher resale/trade-in value than its gas counterpart.


Driving the EcoDiesel Crew Cab 4×4 is really no different than that of any other Ram 1500: The interior is comfortable, it’s quiet, driver visibility good and overall ergonomics well thought out. The truck handles very well on- and off-pavement, too. On curving two-lane highways the Ram’s five-link coil rear suspension did a nice job of keeping the truck planted.

It also did a nice job softening harsh changes in the rougher road surfaces and giving the driver a confident feeling of control towing or while having the bed loaded to its full load-carrying capacity of 1,200-plus pounds.

The suspension is smooth under loads, yet it never felt mushy or unstable, which is one of the reasons the 5-link setup has now migrated under the new Ram 2500HDs.


There is one oddity driving the Ram 1500 diesel: there’s no shift lever.

Designers did away with  a conventional column or console shift lever, replacing it with a shift dial on the dash.

Taking advantage of the truck’s computer power and drive-by-wire technology has no doubt saved Ram millions in manufacturing costs making regular shifters.

But it’s weird reaching for that big knob on the left edge of the centerstack to dial-in the shifts.

Although I adapted to the change, I never got comfortable with it because I didn’t like having to take my eyes off the road to do so. The buttons for switching between 2WD and the various 4WD modes are more intuitive in their placement being located directly below the shift knob.

Stepping back in time. New Ram tranny shifts are made with a knob, not a shifter.
Stepping back in time. New Ram tranny shifts are made with the twist of a knob, not a shifter.

The 4WD system works flawless, as one would hope, getting me out of one near-stuck situation near a river.

Thankfully one of the options on the test truck was Ram’s 3.55 anti-spin rear differential that added just the needed traction to get me through.

I highly recommend the $325 limited-slip axle upgrade.

Another nice feature I found useful during my test was the way Ram handles rear seat storage in the Crew Cab. Underneath the 60/40 split-bench are plastic panels on top of the seat base that look like a folded–up box.

The panels can be folded into their upright position and then the “base” folded forward to create a strong, level load floor the length and width of the rear seating area.

Ram 1500s are fine pickups and growing in popularity now that they have the diesel option.

This Ram 1500 Crew Cab 4×4 package, with the 3.0L EcoDiesel, is going to bring a satisfactory smile to first-time pickup owners – and surprise more than a few current Hemi owners who take one for a test drive.


2014 Ram 1500 Big Horn Crew Cab 4×4

MSRP: $38,665 AS TESTED: $48,425

Engine: 3.0L V-6 EcoDiesel

HP/Torque: 240hp / 410 lbs-ft

Transmission: 8HP70 8-speed automatic

Axle Ratio: 3.55 w/ anti-spin

Fuel Capacity: 26 gals

Fuel Economy: 19 City / 27 Hwy (EPA)

Fuel Economy: 21 City / 29.2 Hwy (Observed)

Suspension F/R: IFS coil/solid-axle with 5-link coil

Brakes F/R: disc/disc

Steering: electric power

Max Towing Capacity: 7,750 lbs. (as tested)

Max Payload: 1,233 lbs. (as tested)

Performance: 0-60mph: 9.4 sec

¼-mile: 17.3sec@80.5mph



Polaris RZR 1000 XP4 First Drive


2015 Polaris RZR XP 4 1000; a four-passenger ATV that will bring a smile in a hurry

The screams and laughter from the three seats around me reflected the same excited adrenaline rush that was coursing through my veins as I made a hard sliding turn just before the crest of a hundred-foot-tall sand dune, throwing up a huge spray of sand as the ATV is was piloting headed back down hill.

With a top speed of nearly 80mph, seating for four, four-wheel-disc brakes, a full roll cage, and the suspension travel of an off-road race vehicle, the 110hp 2015 Polaris RZR XP4 1000 is the kind of ATV that is built to thrill.w 2LW_7493

The XP 4 1000 is the flagship of the Polaris multi-passenger line-up.

“Razors,” as the ATV crowd call these speedy machines, are unlike any other side-by-side. With race-style bucket seats, automotive-style seat belts, electric power steering, and shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive, RZRs seem to dominate the multi-passenger ATV market.

The newest model to enter the fray is the four-seat model, which Polaris didn’t pull any punches on making it comfortable and fun to drive.

I’ve been testing a Voodoo Blue XP4 since mid-summer. My outing thus far have been on the miles of open sand dunes in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA) just south of the coastal town of Florence.

Such wide-open spaces are the perfect playground for such machines: The scenery is spectacular, the dunes are vast, the challenges always changing.

The 999cc, 110hp four-stroke and CVT transmission, with high- and low-range, delivers a boat load of pulling power whether driving alone or with three companions strapped in the high-back bucket seats.

And the shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system provides that extra level of traction and control in such changing driving conditions.

Even more surprising to the first-time RZR XP 4 driver is how controllable and how soft the ride is compared to traditional side-by-sides and ATVs.

Launch it over the crest of a dune and you expect to come back to Earth with a back-wrenching thud. Not so with the XP 4. It absorbs the impact just like off-road race trucks, the suspension never seems to bottom out. w 2LW_7550

That’s the beauty of having 18″ of rear suspension travel in the rear and 16″ in front, all controlled by Walker Evans race-style shocks that have the reservoirs remotely mounted so they maximize performance under extreme conditions.

Add in 13″ of ground clearance and those 110 ponies churning out of the big four-stroke and its easy to see why the Polaris XP 4 chews up the sand.

Then there’s the long wheelbase: it’s 146-inches long, that makes one feel like they are driving a pickup instead of an ATV.

This combo takes the hard knocks out dips, bumps and jumps, letting the 1,600-pound machine glide over terrain while other ATVs struggle to keep up.

The RZR XP 4 will also pull your cheeks back if you have room to let it run. Polaris says the top speed is 77mph. I’ve seen 60-plus thus far and have no doubts it has the power to hit the upper 70s.

With an MSRP of $22,299, it’s a bargain when you consider that building a Jeep, sand rail, or truck with the same kind of suspension and power-to-weight ratio would cost tens of thousands more — and still not be nearly as fun.w 2LW_7555

This is the perfect ride for anyone who has a family that like to explore vast expanses of off-road and have a lot of thrills together.

Be that in the desert, dunes, or anywhere else where there’s a lot of room to play, a Polaris RZR 1000 XP 4 is sure to bring smiles to every one aboard. (Photos by Larry Walton/Editorial Services West)

2015 Ram Truck Tow Ratings

Ram Truck Releases 2015 Trailering Capacity For 1500-3500 Pickups; Tow Ratings J2807 Compliant

Ram Truck Announces Industry’s Broadest Alignment with Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J2807 Towing Standards Across All Pickup Truck Segments

Beginning with the 2015 model year, Ram will become the first automaker to adopt the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J2807 standardized tow rating practices across all three fullsize pickup truck segments, including the ½-ton Ram 1500, ¾-ton Ram 2500 Heavy Duty and one-ton “King of the Hill” Ram 3500 Heavy Duty.

“Because our customers asked for it, every single 2015 model year pickup truck Ram sells will come with a trailer-tow rating achieved using SAE’s J2807 testing protocols,” said Reid Bigland, President and CEO – Ram Truck Brand. “No other automaker can make that claim.”

“Ram Truck has been preparing for integration of the SAE towing standard over the past few years and adding heavier ¾ and 1-ton trucks to the criteria gives it more teeth,” said Mike Cairns, Director- Ram Truck Engineering, Chrysler Group LLC.

“For too long, an uneven playing field existed and towing capacities went unchecked,” said Cairns. “We’re happy to be the only pickup truck manufacturer to align with the SAE J2807 towing standard across our pickup truck line up.”

The SAE J2807 towing standard outlines dynamic and performance criteria as it relates to a given vehicle.

Examples within the standard include a number of tests while towing: 0-60 MPH time allowance, tackling the notorious Davis Dam Grade while maintaining no less than 40 MPH for single-rear-wheel trucks and 35 MPH for dual-rear-wheel trucks, a constant radius understeer test while increasing speed and a sway maneuver using aggressive steering input.

The purpose is to put all trucks through the schedule of J2807 tests in which operators will likely see in the real world. SAE standards have existed in a number of other areas including engine torque and horsepower.

2015 Ram SAE J2807 Tow Ratings

  • Ram 1500 V-6 with 3.6-liter gasoline Pentastar: 7,600 pounds
  • Ram 1500 V-6 with 3.0-liter EcoDiesel – 9,200 pounds
  • Ram 1500 V-8 with 5.7-liter gasoline HEMI – 10,650 pounds
  • Ram 2500 V-8 with 6.4-liter gasoline HEMI – 16,300 pounds
  • Ram 2500 with 6.7-liter Cummins diesel – 17,970 pounds
  • Ram 3500 V-8 with 6.4-liter gasoline HEMI – 16,420 pounds
  • Ram 3500 with 6.7-liter Cummins diesel – 30,000 pounds


Road Test: 2014 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD

2014 Honda Pilot_BS27692

Getting Your Pilot’s License

When I pulled up to house in the Obsidian Blue Pearl Honda Pilot, my wife walked out the front door and said, “Wow. That’s a beautiful color.”

Usually, most people’s first impressions of a new vehicle are a statement targeting its styling, size or sticker price. Not its color. That says a lot about the 2014 Honda Pilot.

Honda continues to stick to its guns on this midsize SUV, staying with the van-like interior features while retaining the dated boxy exterior.

Boxy isn’t bad; after all, it’s a minivan in disguise, and it is aimed at attracting growing families.

Color aside, I found the Pilot appealing to a growing family. The high-end Touring 4WD model I was testing is priced less than similarly-equipped Ford (Explorer), Nissan (Pathfinder), Dodge (Durango), Nissan (Murano), Chevy (Traverse) and GMC (Acadia) competitors.


The loaded Touring comes with a leather-clad interior, third-row seating, a healthy 250hp V6 and Honda’s version of all-wheel-drive for $42,250 as tested.

There aren’t any options because the Pilot Touring is pretty well loaded. It’s also pleasant to drive.

True to minvans, the second and third-row 60/40-split bench seats, can be folded individually, or as entire rows, leaving a flat cargo floor that swallows a lot of stuff.

The steering is light, the brakes good. Visibility is what you’d expect from an SUV, but the saving grace is the rear camera system, which shows all.

The Touring edition interior is leather and loaded with options. Seats are firm, cargo space abundant.
The Touring edition interior is leather and loaded with options. Seats are firm, cargo space abundant.

I found the interior, although leather, to be a bit harder in both looks and touch than I personally like.

The seats reminded me of every economy-class airplane seat I’ve spent time in over the past few years, and legroom in the third-row makes those same airline seats look roomy by comparison. (Which is to say, the third-row seats are best suited for the little darlings.)

Speaking of airplanes, when I first slid into the driver’s seat and looked at the center console, the rows and rows of knobs and buttons instantly reminded me of what pilots look at when they buckle in an older plane.

The vast array is intimidating. But after you spend a little time with the owner’s manual and playing with the controls, they actually make sense.


When it comes to power, Honda makes a fine engine. The 250hp 3.5L V6 starts feeling its oats around 3,000rpm and stays strong to nearly 6,000rpm.

Honda's 3.5L V-6 is a nice match to the Pilot. Combined fuel economy is in the low 20s.
Honda’s 3.5L V-6 is a nice match to the Pilot. Combined fuel economy is in the low 20s.

That’s twisting it a lot for most drivers.

But when one wants to pass or merge faster-flowing traffic, it’s nice to know the engine will get you to speed rather quickly.

Acceleration is mid 8-second to 60mph and another eight to get to the end of the ¼-mile. That kind of performance puts the Pilot into the good grocery getter and family transporter class. Load the family hauler up with a full complement of passengers/cargo and it’s not quite as responsive, yet it’s still fun to drive.

Fuel economy hovered between 20-21mpg in my combined city and highway driving, which is on track with the EPA numbers.


The normally front-wheel-driven Pilot utilizes Honda’s VTM-4 (Variable Torque Management 4WD System) to automatically transfer power form the front wheels to the rear as needed.

When the slightest bit of traction is lost up front, VTM shifts power to the rear. If more traction is needed, a push of the VTM-4 Lock button on the console just forward of the shift lever increases torque to the rear wheels-but only up to 18mph – or if you shift into 3rd or higher gears.

VTM-4 works well in snow, sand, light mud and heavy rain. It’s a nice safety feature Snow Belt and Coastal buyers will find quite beneficial.

The Pilot will also function nicely for towing a couple ATVs, personal watercraft, or a smaller boat. Its tow capacity is 3,500 pounds and it handles those lighter trailered loads easily.

Another plus for the growing family with an active lifestyle.

I like the Pilot. It’s practical and well built. I’m sure Honda will be bringing a more modernized version of the Pilot to market sometime soon.

For now, however, Honda loyalists who just can’t see themselves driving an Odyssey minivan will find the Pilot delivers a lot of value for the money—and the Touring model adds just enough luxuriousness to make one feel the money was well spent. – TTD/Bruce W. Smith


Road Test: 2015 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali


Road Test: 2015 GMC Sierra Denali 2500HD Crew Cab 4×4; towing from the seat of power luxury

by Bruce W. Smith

Savvy RVers pulling 5th wheel or gooseneck trailers, and boaters trailering anything larger than a 26-footers, know the go-to tow vehicle is a heavy-duty diesel pickup because they have the power and towing stability to safely manage 7,000-pound-plus trailers with ease.

With a 13,500 pound towing capacity without need of a weight-distributing hitch, the 2015 Sierra 2500HD is a solid truck for RVers.
With an SAE J2807-rated 13,000 pound towing capacity, the 2015 Sierra 2500HD is a solid truck for RVers.

There’re a handful of excellent ¾- and 1-ton trucks from which to choose.

But if you are looking for one that provides muscle with the elegance and comfort of a high-end luxury car, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one better than the 2015 GMC 2500HD Denali. It has more power under the hood than most big rigs and an interior that’s roomy, refined and quiet.

The combination is what sets GMC’s Duramax-powered flagship apart from lesser-equipped heavy-duty Sierras.

Its leather-appointed interior easily accommodates four adults, two in leather-appointed front bucket seats and two more in the split-rear bench with its nicely contoured outer seats. (The center position can accommodate a third person, but it serves best as console/armrest.)

Leather-appointed interior is one of the quietest on the road.
Leather-appointed interior is one of the quietest on the road.

GMC’s Denali package is just a step above a fully optioned SLT, adding wood trim, projctor LED headlights, heated/cooled front seats, unique grille and full-on electronics package with all the newest in safety and sound features.

The model I tested was optioned with dual 150-amp alternators ($295) and the Duramax Plus option $8,845) that includes not only the 6.6L diesel and 6-speed Allison automatic, but also lane departure warning that vibrates the driver’s seat, and forward collision alert electronics.

Does one need the added safety alert features? Maybe not, but they do help keep tired/inattentive drivers more focused.

My test truck also included a power sunroof ($995), 20-inch tires ($200) on forged aluminum wheels ($850). The power camper mirrors ($55), which I highly recommend, rounded out the option list.

In total, the $53,740 base MSRP swelled to $64,575 when all was said and done. Is the Denaili worth the price? If you want a luxury tow vehicle, absolutely.

The 397hp 6.6L Duramax makes 765 lb.-ft. of torque and delivers better than 19mpg unladen.
The 397hp 6.6L Duramax makes 765 lb.-ft. of torque and delivers better than 19mpg unladen.

GM’s vaunted 6.6L Duramax, which is now making 397hp and 765 lb.-ft. of torque, is smooth and strong from off-idle to full throttle. It’s a wonderful beast.

The 6,900-pound truck rockets up on-ramps and will 60mph in 7.8 seconds.

Keep your foot in it and you’ll hit a ¼-mile in 16.0 seconds @ 86.4mph.

In comparison those unladen numbers are better than recent Ram and Ford 2500 diesel and gas 4×4 models I’ve tested. Put a trailer in-tow and it will not disappoint:The Denali 2500HD is built for towing, whether short distances or cross-country.

GM now rates it for a 13,000-pound trailer under SAE J2807 specs with or without using a weight-distributing hitch. The Denail can also carry up to 17,400-pound 5th wheel or gooseneck trailers, and haul more than a ton in the bed as long as the Gross Cargo Weight Rating (GCWR) doesn’t exceed 24,500 pounds.

Fuel economy is another area I find the Sierra 2500HD impressive. I drove the Onyx Black crew cab over a 110-mile interstate test loop at 70mph where the Duramax averaged 19.6mpg. Driving it around town the fuel economy hovered north of 15.1.

Soft-touch switches under the centerstack put all of the important electronic driver controls within easy reach.
Soft-touch switches under the centerstack put all of the important electronic driver controls within easy reach.

Those numbers give it a cruising range of roughly 700 miles and 540 in easy city driving.

I spent a week driving the 2015 Denali HD and looked forward to every chance to be behind the wheel. The interior design and packaging is first class. It’s roomy and comfortable. It’s remarkably quiet on the road. And it has all the electronic bells and whistles we demand these days with plenty of USB and 110V charging locations to keep you plugged in the entire trip.

Is GMC’s flagship 4×4 pickup for everyone? Absolutely not; it’s only for those who demand the best and like to tow with a truck that pampers its occupants and oozes with richness.


Westin 10 LED Lightbar Install 2014 Mazda3 S-Touring

2014 Mazda3 LED Lightbar Install

The gallery below is covers the basic installation of a Westin Automotive 10″ LED high-performance driving lightbar on a 2014 Mazda3 S-Touring 5-door hatchback.

Installation by Warren Spears, Spears Automotive, Long Beach, MS. Photos by Bruce W. Smith/TruckTestDigest.

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