The differences that set apart the performance of the modern crop of domestic half-ton pickup trucks are minuscule.
Each will handle hard work and the strain of towing and hauling. But it isn’t about whether or not the work gets done, but rather how the work gets done, that separates one truck from the next. And it’s these small differences that can bring in customers with cash in hand.
In partnership with the Canadian Truck King Challenge, we gathered together the three domestic half-ton pickup trucks to pit them against one another in an effort to find those differences.
Like with every AutoGuide.com pickup truck test, this isn’t a beauty contest. Each one of the trucks was hooked up to a 6,000-pound trailer for a towing test, loaded with 1,000 lbs worth of payload in the bed and driven through a moderate off-road course to replicate real-world conditions (all in the pouring rain, as our photos will attest).
Another part of our testing includes hooking up a data recorder to the OBDII port of each pickup that accurately tracks fuel economy, while empty, towing and hauling.
Read on for the detailed fuel economy numbers and for our findings on each of the truck.
3rd Place: 2016 Chevrolet Silverado
Just two years after a full redesign, Chevy is introducing a facelift for the Silverado in 2016. It mainly revamps the front end styling, but there are a few noteworthy changes that make the truck a bit better at getting work done.
The first is the availability of an eight-speed automatic transmission paired with the truck’s 5.3-liter V8. This transmission is also available on the larger 6.2-liter V8. A new set of powered running boards, which can pivot rearwards to act as a step to access cargo in the bed, are also now available.
So how does the Silverado handle hard labor? Even with the new eight-speed automatic, which improves the engine’s responsiveness, this truck has the lowest power output of the three and it’s obvious with weight behind it.
This powertrain seems to be working the hardest of the group to get the weight going. It is fair to point out that there is also a 6.2-liter V8 available with 460 lb-ft of torque in the Silverado if you want more grunt, but even compared to the smaller Ford 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine or the Ram’s HEMI V8, the 5.3-liter feels lethargic. Furthermore, GM’s pickup transmissions have always felt reluctant to downshift, and this hasn’t changed. The request for more power is eventually met, but the truck seems geared towards keeping you in the highest gear possible if it can.
Handling the weight as the driver is made easy with the Silverado. The steering offers a fair amount of feedback and is progressively weighted, getting firmer the further you turn through a corner at speed. This allows the truck to be easily controllable at highway speeds with light inputs, while cornering is met with a heavier, more substantial feeling.
One of the things the Silverado does great is drowning noise out with a quiet and isolated cabin.
In practical everyday use, the Chevy has a few tricks up its sleeve. First is the rear bumper-integrated steps, which offer built-in steps that require no moving parts and no service. Lights in the bed and a variety of different mounting points for tie-down cleats are also handy.
So how did the Chevy fare in fuel economy? Unfortunately, the Silverado showed up late to the event, so the empty fuel economy was not logged. With 1,000 lbs of payload in the bed, the truck managed an average of 19.6 mpg, while towing a 6,000-lb trailer brought fuel economy down to 13.5 mpg. It’s also worth mentioning that the other vehicles in the competition varied less than 1 mpg when hauling payload, so the 19.6 mpg figure is likely very close to the Silverado’s empty driving figure.
A comfortable cruising worker, the Silverado does everything well, but with this competitive set, doing jobs “well” isn’t quite good enough to cut it.
- Engine: 5.3L V8 with 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
- US Pricing: Starts at $28,090. As tested $53,000
- CDN Pricing: Starts at $28,780. As tested $60,300
- EPA Fuel Economy: 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway
- CDN Fuel Economy: Not yet rated
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2nd Place: Ford F-150
Our Ford F-150 was fitted with the top-dog 3.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged V6 and was fully loaded in Platinum trim.
Ford’s half-ton is a mix of a potent powertrain and some very well thought out gadgets and tools that make the truck more useful than just a simple tow vehicle. You need only use the mirror-mounted spotlights while working at night or the trailer light check status that appears in the driver’s info cluster when you’re working alone to see what I mean. And loading and unloading cargo from the bed is simplified by the best bed step available, which only takes seconds to be fully deployed from its hiding place in the tailgate.
Inside, the F-150 doesn’t seem quite as posh as the Ram or as well laid out as the Silverado, though that is mostly a personal preference, as getting to everything you need is easy and intuitive. The seats are comfortable and this remains the only truck you can get with a massage feature built into the seats, a great feature for those commuting home after a long day of labor-intensive work.
Getting this truck out on the road is a surefire way to forget about any gripes with the interior. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost seems to get stronger and smoother each year, despite its power numbers remaining the same. With nothing hitched to the back, this truck surges forward when the accelerator is hit, while a 6,000-lb concrete block in the bed did little to hinder its performance, still pulling up to highway speeds quickly.
Pulling the weight is no issue for the F-150, which has the strongest-feeling powertrain of the bunch. It’s in handling the weight that things change a bit.
The steering in the F-150 is quite light, too much so to make the truck feel overly confident or planted. Its suspension can also feel a little jittery, even with weight on the back. Now, this isn’t to say that the truck feels like it isn’t in control of the weight, but when a competition is so close, these small details in ride and drive matter.
While cruising empty, the F-150 also has the harshest ride of the three competitors.
Fuel economy for the F-150 was measured at 21 mpg empty, 19.8 mpg with 1,000 lbs of payload, and 15.1 mpg with a 6,000-lb trailer hitched to the rear. Those numbers are enough to trounce the Silverado, while providing the fastest acceleration and what feels like the most power of the three engines.
The new F-150 is a capable work truck with plenty of handy features that can be extremely helpful when you’re working. Its big EcoBoost engine is also a winner, providing ultra-smooth low-end torque and heaps of power. Really, this truck is let down by its light, numb steering and its rear end suspension setup.
- Engine: 3.5L Turbocharged V6 with 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic
- US Pricing: Starts at $26,030. As tested $55,800
- CDN Pricing: Starts at $32,799. As tested $64,800
- EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway
- CDN Fuel Economy: 14.2L/100km city, 10.4L/100km highway
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1st Place: Ram 1500
Ram continues to be the only manufacturer to currently offer a diesel engine in a half-ton pickup truck, and it continues to be the strongest package of the bunch. Nissan is looking to take away a bit of Ram’s market share with its upcoming Titan XD (although that is a class 2b, or 2500 truck), which is also a diesel-powered half-ton, but for now, FCA owns that market.
With its 3.0-liter V6 turbocharged diesel and air suspension system, Ram offers the ideal package for anyone looking to tow. But it isn’t just performance that the Ram has on lockdown.
Inside, the design and materials used are top notch, not only pleasing the eyes but also the hands. Functionally, everything is well laid out, though the rotary shift knob gear selector takes some getting used to. For in-dash infotainment and information, the Ram does it best, with Uconnect providing a lag-free, easy to operate user interface. Chevy’s MyLink system is not far behind, while the F-150 falls short with MyFordTouch. Luckily, that system will soon be all gone.
For rear seat storage, the Ram is second best. The F-150 offers a totally flat, cavernous rear floor, while the Chevy still has a pesky hump right in the middle, making stowing stuff in the back seat more of a hassle. Ram has devised a system of fold-out platforms that convert the rear floor into a flat floor, which is a decent solution, though the platforms can get in the way and are a bit flimsy.
What makes the Ram 1500 the best then? It’s all about how it drives and tows. The EcoDiesel doesn’t break a sweat while towing, getting the trailer moving and up to highway speeds without hesitation. The 3.5L EcoBoost may do it a little faster, but the Ram does the deed with less drama and a sense of relaxation that makes towing with it so much less stressful.
Best of all is the suspension system, which actively levels the rear end to help the truck ride flat and smooth. Imperfections in the road are soaked up by the air suspension, and the truck never gets out of sorts like the F-150 can. To complement this suspension is a heavily weighted steering wheel, which makes this truck feel stuck to the ground and robust.
Simply put, the Ram drives big and heavy. It pushes through corners and takes some effort to steer at low speeds, unlike the more lithe feeling F-150 which tucks into corners quite nicely, though it has that numb steering. In my books, the Ram’s big heavy feeling provides pure pickup truck confidence to the driver.
Fuel economy for this diesel, as can be expected with this alternative fuel source, is wonderful. In our time with the truck, the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel managed 26.5 mpg while driving empty, 27.3 mpg with 1,000 lbs of payload (the increase in fuel economy with payload can be chalked up to drivers having a lighter foot when transporting weight), and 19.7 mpg with a trailer hooked up.
That means that with 6,000 lbs hanging from the rear hitch, the EcoDiesel is getting the same fuel economy as the other trucks when they were hauling payload. That is a significant difference that proves to be one of the factors that makes this EcoDiesel so compelling.
It sips fuel, feels the best with a trailer and has a gorgeous, well thought out interior. Most of all, the sensation of being rooted to the pavement always brings me back to the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel as the best of half-ton bunch.
- Engine: 3.0-liter diesel V6 with 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
- US Pricing: EcoDiesel starts at $32,935. As tested $54,000
- CDN Pricing: EcoDiesel starts at $41,300. As tested $55,000
- EPA Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
- CDN Fuel Economy: 12.1L/100km city, 8.8L/100km highway
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