With their powerful engines, advanced four-wheel-drive systems, ample ground clearance and abundant technology, today’s full-size trucks are ready for just about anything, from heavy-duty towing to weekday commuting to tackling the worst conditions Old Man Winter can conjure up.
Getting a feel for the segment, we brought together the three best-selling half-ton pickups available today. Coincidentally, they all hail from Motown, with each of the domestic automakers represented in this comparison. Are you ready for an all-American, red-white-and-blue Detroit-City showdown? The truck segment is about to get a lot more competitive, too, with Ram and Chevy coming out with overhauled models for the 2019 model year very soon.
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Meet the Contenders
But before diving into things, let’s get to know a little about each of these contenders. Representing the suburb of Auburn Hills and FCA in this automotive melee is the Ram 1500, a real style leader. This model should have more than a few gray hairs at this point since it’s been on the market for many years, but engineers at Ram have worked hard to keep it fresh. Along the way, it’s gained things like rear coil springs, air suspension, an eight-speed transmission, swanky interior upgrades and much more. Even though it’s an old man, the Ram is still a force to be reckoned with.
Fresh off a significant mid-cycle update for 2018 is a pickup that hangs its hat on capability, the pride of Dearborn, Ford’s esteemed F-150. With an aluminum body, high-strength-steel frame and range of turbocharged engines, it offers something for everyone, catering to construction workers who need a no-nonsense truck as well as urban cowboys that demand the softest leather and latest in tech.
Lastly, fighting for D-Town itself is General Motors’ low and lean Silverado 1500. It boasts of efficient powertrains, handsome styling and is supposedly the most dependable, longest-lasting full-size pickup available today, though Ram might dispute this claim. Overall, the Chevy could be this three-horse race’s best all-around option.
To keep things as fair as possible, we were gunning for a level playing field. Each truck is a 2018 model, has four-wheel drive, features a roomy crew-cab body and is dressed in highest trim, save the Chevy, which came to us in LTZ Z71 form, one step below the range-topping High Country model.
2018 Ram 1500 Limited Tungsten Edition Crew 4×4
Starting with the oldest pickup in this trio, the Ram 1500 Limited Tungsten is swanky six ways to Sunday. Accordingly, its window sticker is way up there, with the number at the bottom hovering right around $60k.
Under-hood, this rig features a booming 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that’s good for 395 horsepower and 410 foot-pounds of torque. It’s backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission. Keeping things on an even keel is a class-exclusive air-suspension system that pays major dividends while towing, trail bashing and driving to work on Tuesdays.
Introduced in its current form around 2009, this generation of Ram is certainly getting old, though you’d never know it. They’ve constantly updated this truck with new features and technologies.
But one thing that doesn’t need changing is the Hemi engine. It’s strong across the rev range, enhanced by that eight-ratio gearbox, plus it easily sounds the best of this bunch, the Silverado is too quiet, Ford overly synthesized. Aside from maximizing performance and minimizing consumption, that transmission is also well sorted, smoothly shifting as conditions dictate.
On road and off, this truck’s air suspension proved its worth, offering a creamy-smooth ride and stable towing. This Ram is noticeably the most confident with a 7,000-pound trailer hooked to its hitch, though as equipped it’s only rated to drag 7,750 pounds, the lowest by far in this group.
Thanks to its planted rear end – another advantage of those airbags – this Ram 1500 was the most confident off-road, providing a smooth ride and stable feel. Of course, the adjustability helped here as well, allowing you to get the body a couple inches higher, which is always helpful while bombing through in the woods.
Surprisingly, the Ram drives the heaviest here, with everything feeling chunky and dense, an attribute that provides stability, though I wish it were a bit more easygoing. There’s a severity to the way it moves that can be intimidating.
Aside from these assets, this pickup is also graced with a stylish and tastefully designed interior. The materials used are interesting to the eye and of high quality, plus the overall design is both elegant and functional. Inside and out, it’s probably the best looking. With this additional feather in its cap, Ram is a tough truck to beat.
2018 Ram 1500 Fast Facts
Engine: 5.7-liter Hemi V8
Output: 395 horsepower, 410 foot-pounds
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
U.S. Fuel Economy (MPG): 15 city, 21 highway, 17 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 16.1 city, 11.5 highway, 14.0 combined
U.S. Estimated Price: $59,045 including $1,395 for delivery
CAN As-Tested Price: $76,345 including $1,795 for delivery
Love It: Burly sounding Hemi, stable tow vehicle, upscale interior, easy rider
Leave It: Low-ish tow rating, oldest of the trio, feels heavy
2018 Ford F-150 4×4 Limited
Next up, the half-ton segment’s freshest offering, Ford’s updated, aluminum-bodied F-150 Limited. Bringing the thunder, it’s hauled around by a very capable 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 that offers 375 horsepower and 470 foot-pounds of twist. Two-upping the Chevy and Ram, it’s graced with a 10-speed automatic gearbox, a transmission that’s ideal both on road and off. The richest in present company, its as-tested price is nearly $66,000.
Moving from the Ram to F-150, the first thing I noticed about this Ford was the driver’s seat — I loved it. Recliner comfortable, both front buckets offer heating and cooling, plus they’ll even give you a massage while driving.
As for the remainder of this rig’s cabin, it’s also premium and well built. The leather trim employed is buttery soft and most controls are easy to reach, perhaps excluding the trailer-brake controller, which is located low on the center stack. Despite Dearborn’s best efforts, the Ram 1500 may still have a slight edge in overall interior quality.
SEE ALSO: 2018 Ford F-150 Review
But where Ford really steps up in the technology department. They’ve crammed so many innovative features into this truck; one example of that is how engineers have made towing as easy as a Sunday drive.
With an array of sensors and cameras, one person can hook up a trailer in no time at all. It even makes sure the lights are working properly. If you want, the F-150 will even run you through a checklist so you never forget to hook up the lights or connect the safety chains.
Underway, the Ford’s EcoBoost V6 is an absolute beast, pulling like a freight train no matter what RPM it’s at. Hook a load to it and the truck barely even notices.
The transmission also shifts seamlessly every time. Nail the accelerator and it’ll go from ninth gear to third in the blink of an eye without you feeling a thing. Since it has so many ratios to choose from, this is a fairly busy transmission, but you never really notice the shifting. It’s just too bad the engine sound is fake, a real shame.
One downside to the F-150 is a slightly jiggly ride. Some hefty payload would have definitely settled things down. While off-roading I would have also appreciated a bit more suspension compliance since it felt just a bit too starchy. It’s the same story while towing, where sometimes it seemed like the trailer was moving the truck, which is the polar opposite of what you want.
Of course, the tradeoff for that stiffness is capability. As equipped, this Ford was rated to drag up to 10,500 pounds, the most of these three pickups.
Aside from the overkill-suspension, it’s worth mentioning two other issues. First, the optional side steps, which are super helpful for reaching into the bed, froze solid after getting packed with snow and ice. Not good… Also, the Pirelli tires, which are M+S rated, sucked in winter driving. The 2018 Ford F-150 often felt like it was slipping and sliding. Just moving forward was difficult at times.
2018 Ford F-150 Fast Facts
Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6
Output: 375 horsepower, 470 foot-pounds
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
U.S. Fuel Economy (MPG): 17 city, 23 highway, 19 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 13.6 city, 10.7 highway, 12.3 combined
U.S. Estimated Price: $65,830 including $975 for delivery
CAN As-Tested Price: $81,749 including $1,895 for delivery
Love It: Peerless 10-speed transmission, innovative trailering tech, muscular EcoBoost V6, cushy bucket seats, highest tow rating
Leave It: Pop-out side steps froze solid, tires ill-suited to winter, fake engine sound
2018 Chevrolet Silverado Z71 1500 4WD LTZ
Splitting the difference between the Ram and Ford is Chevy’s jack-of-all-trades Silverado. It was equipped with a silken LS V8 brandishing 5.3-liters’ worth of lung capacity, enough to deliver a reasonable if somewhat lacking 355 horses and 383 torques. An eight-speed auto-box sent twist to all four corners. Undercutting both of its cross-town rivals, this rig’s out-the door price was just a few Benjamins more than $56k.
Putting it in motion, it’s obvious the Silverado trails its primary rivals. For starters, the driving position is all askew; it feels like the pedals are in the wrong spot and even the steering wheel is off kilter.
Beyond this, there’s also no keyless entry or push-button start available, which is basically industry standard these days.
SEE ALSO: 2018 Chevrolet Silverado HD Review
Another complaint is the interior, which is by far the most ordinary of this group. There’s just nothing special about it. Everything seems to be made from run-of-the-mill materials and the general theme looks like something out of the 1990s. The center console’s plastic trim is low rent and rattles when you touch it. Step up to a High Country model and it’s basically the same thing, with slightly different leather, which is quite disappointing.
Rated to drag up to 9,100 pounds, this truck is nonetheless the busiest while towing. Its back end seems to move around far more than the other trucks’. At least the trailer-brake control is mounted high and in an easy-to-reach area to the driver’s left.
Compared to the sonorous Hemi and incredibly torquey EcoBoost V6, the Silverado’s 5.3-liter V8 felt completely lackluster. There was no aural thrill like in the Ram or instant giddy-up as in the F-150. For serious work, you’re almost certainly going to want the optional 6.2-liter engine.
On the plus side, thanks to its more aggressive tires, the Chevy was far more stable in snow and ice than the F-150. The same is true off-road, where it has plenty of traction and its low, light-feeling body made it seem far more maneuverable.
2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Fast Facts
Engine: 5.3-liter V8
Output: 355 horsepower, 383 foot-pounds
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
U.S. Fuel Economy (MPG): 15 city, 20 highway, 17 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 15.6 city, 11.6 highway, 13.8 combined
U.S. Estimated Price: $56,340 including $1,295 for delivery
CAN As-Tested Price: $66,775 including $1,700 for delivery
Love It: Best placement of trailer-brake controls, drives the lightest and nimblest, clever bumper steps
Leave It: Jiggly ride, especially while towing, off-kilter driving position, 5.3-liter V8 is middling, low-rent interior
The Verdict: Big Three Truck Comparison
After testing these trucks extensively both on-road and off, it’s time for me to pick a favorite and in the process, make most of you hate me… if you don’t already.
Each of these rigs is amazingly capable and you can’t go wrong with any of them. But my least favorite of the bunch would have to be the Silverado. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine truck that’ll work hard day in and day out, but this Chevy never really did anything to make me sing its praises.
This leaves us with a two-horse race between the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150. Each of these is an incredibly tough competitor, though only one can win, and of this pair, I give Ford’s latest offering the nod.
Its EcoBoost V6 is bonkers good, that 10-speed transmission is a work of art and it’s loaded with a ton of ingenious features. Still, despite its age, the Ram is a very close second. I love its upscale interior, smooth-riding air-suspension system, and delicious-sounding Hemi V8.
For now, F-150 takes the crown. But keep in mind, an all-new Ram is set to launch very soon, and you can bet it’ll be loaded with great features. Chevy won’t be far behind, either, with its latest Silverado, which just shows you how competitive the pickup segment is, especially for the Detroit Three.
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