Like a keg of black powder stored next to an open hearth, America’s truck segment is about to explode.
The industry is caught in the throes of a serious arms race, with practically every heavy-hitting player investing bankrupting amounts of cash to spruce up their pickup offerings.
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Dousing this already volatile tinderbox with accelerants, an all-new Ram 1500 is set to launch very soon, while GM is hard at work on equally fresh Silverado and Sierra twins. Not to be forgotten, Ford is reintroducing its Ranger nameplate to American motorists early next year.
There’s plenty going on in this segment, but at this moment in time, it’s pretty quiet on the truckstern front because in spite of all the headline-making news only two rigs qualified to participate in our 2018 AutoGuide.com Truck of the Year showdown: the newly invigorated Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and Ford’s revamped F-150.
To date, this is the smallest iteration of our annual pickup competition, though that didn’t stop us from exhaustively testing each vehicle. On road and off, we put them through the wringer, though it’s important to note, this is not a comparison test. Our goal was to determine which pickup is best at doing what it was designed to do.
2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Want an off-road beast that’s both more maneuverable and affordable than a Raptor? Chevrolet thinks it has what you’re looking for.
The newly minted Colorado ZR2 is as capable in mud as it is handy on tight trails. With a 2-inch (5 centimeters) suspension lift and a track that’s been increased by around 3 inches (7.62 centimeters), this truck is ready for just about anything. Dealer-installed rocker-panel guards and underbody skid-plates further accentuate its capability.
Ensuring it’s never wanting for traction, this midsize Chevy’s 17-inch aluminum wheels were wrapped in aggressive Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires that provide more grip than tank treads, especially in the snowy conditions.
Further enhancing its capability are locking differentials front and rear, a feature that can be a lifesaver if you’re severely mired.
The Colorado’s midsize body is another asset. Being narrower and shorter than a full-size pickup, it’s able to more easily navigate tight backwoods trails. Doing the same in the F-150 was an exercise in anxiety management; you had to constantly monitor the truck’s flanks to avoid scraping its expensive paint on tree branches and other obstacles.
Two engines are offered in the Colorado ZR2, either a 3.6-liter gasoline-burning V6 or a compression-ignition inline-four. Our test model was equipped with the former, which is rated at 308 horsepower and 275 foot-pounds of torque.
If axle-shearing twist is what you crave, that available 2.8-liter diesel delivers 369 foot-pounds, though it’s accompanied by a rather meager stable of 186 horses.
The V6 engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is both an asset and a detriment. This gearbox really helps the engine sing, maximizing performance while minimizing fuel consumption, it’s just not all that refined. During testing, we experienced more than a few shuddering gearchanges, both up and down.
This gasoline engine gives this Colorado plenty of go, both on road and off, the quick-witted gearbox making sure it delivers the torque you need, even if most of it manifests high up the rev range.
Acceleration is brisk, a welcome asset in any pickup’s toolbox. But what’s not so praiseworthy is the engine’s coarseness. In this application, GM’s 3.6-liter unit vibrates like a coffee grinder, sending uncouth tingles throughout the Colorado’s body.
This truck is so cool and capable it deserves a special engine. Hey, Chevy, what’s wrong with that 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 offered in the Cadillac CT6? Give it here!
Despite its crazy capability, this special-edition Colorado is perfectly civilized on road. It doesn’t wander, staying right in its lane of travel. The soft, long-travel suspension chews, digests and expels even the nastiest potholes, plus it remains quiet and composed all the time.
The ZR2’s interior is perfectly fine, constructed of good-quality materials with excellent fit and finish. But like what’s under the hood, they could have done a bit more to make the cabin feel special. About all that separates this special-edition model from mainstream versions is a bit of embroidery on the front headrests.
So equipped, the ZR2 can tow up to 5,000 pounds and carry a maximum payload of 1,100. As for fuel economy, don’t expect it to outgun a Prius. This rig is rated at 16 miles per gallon city, 18 highway and 17 combined.
The rough-and-tumble Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 starts at around $42,000, but our test model cost a not-unreasonable $43,475, a figure that includes $695 in options and $995 for delivery.
2018 Ford F-150 Limited
The 2018 Ford F-150 pretty much does it all. You can get a municipal-grade, regular-cab work truck with vinyl floors, opt for a desert-dominating Raptor or go all-in and on a luxury-car-rivaling Limited model.
For this AutoGuide.com Truck of the Year test, we were coddled by the top-trim variant, one brimming with sumptuous leather, more technology than Google and an appropriately rich sticker price of some $67k. Yikes!
Along with that dizzying model range, Ford also offers several engines in this ever-popular pickup. There’s a base 3.3-liter naturally aspirated V6, a 2.7-liter EcoBoost unit, a pleasing 5.0-liter V8 and a potent, top-shelf 3.5-liter twin-turbo six-shooter. Beyond all this, a hybrid model is on the way, ditto for an economical diesel.
Newly invigorated for 2018, that 3.5-liter unit gains port and direct fuel injection plus plenty of other tweaks. These enhancements boost output to 375 horsepower and 470 foot-pounds of twist, it’s just a shame the noises it makes are phony, pumped in through the B&O Play premium sound system’s speakers.
That engine is matched to an advanced 10-speed automatic transmission. We raved about this gearbox in the Raptor last year, and it’s just as refined as before, always choosing the right gear, smoothly and promptly. Drop the hammer and it was amazing to watch the indicator go from nine to three without feeling a thing. This transmission is seriously refined and nearly telepathic.
On road, the F-150 is a breeze to drive. Acceleration is borderline fast, with that EcoBoost V6 providing tons of torque right off idle. It also feels reasonably light on its feet and more maneuverable than its gargantuan size would suggest, though we did have one major issue.
SEE ALSO: 2018 Ford F-150 Review – VIDEO
Our testing was done in snow, nearly 10 inches of fresh powder, and this rig’s summer-friendly Pirelli Scorpion tires just couldn’t handle winter weather. The F-150 was slipping and sliding all over the place and even had serious issues just getting underway. Naturally, it was not very confidence inspiring off-road. Winter tires are a definite necessity with this truck.
Other winter casualties were the optional pop-out side steps. They got promptly got packed with snow and refused to open on their own.
Ford, for now at least, is claiming best-in-class towing, payload and mileage ratings, but we’ll see how this changes once the new Ram and Silverado launch because they’re not going to let the F-150 off easy. As equipped, our tester was rated to drag up to 10,500 pounds. Fuel economy is estimated at 16 miles per gallon city, 21 highway and 18 mpg combined.
This truck’s interior is seriously luxurious, though it’s perhaps not quite as premium as what you get in higher-end versions of the current-model Ram 1500. There’s rich leather everywhere, thoughtful details and scads of technology.
The F-150’s front bucket seats are a paragon of comfort, cushy in all the right spots and supportive exactly where you need it, plus, they’ll even give you a massage while driving.
But this isn’t the limit of Ford’s cleverness; the F-150 is loaded with circuity. The multi-page display in the instrument cluster borders on information overload, showing practically every conceivable attribute of the truck, from transmission temperature, to steering angle to fuel mileage and much, much, more. This truck can even help make sure you’ve properly hooked your trailer up by walking you through a series of handy reminders.
Already a strong contender in the segment, Ford has further improved its F-150 for model-year 2018. When it comes to versatility, capability and even luxury, this truck does it all.
The Verdict: AutoGuide.com’s 2018 Truck of the Year Is…
The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is a handy all-around package that delivers beastly off-road performance all without sacrificing everyday livability. It’s quick, capable and sized right. It’s just a shame the engine vibrates so much and that it doesn’t feel as special as it should.
In comparison, the 2018 Ford F-150 offers all the latest and greatest technology, along with a comfortable interior and segment-leading capability. Plus, that EcoBoost engine and 10-speed transmission are a dynamite combination. But why are the tires so terrible and how come it costs so much?
At the end of the day, only one of these pickups can win our 2018 AutoGuide.com Truck of the Year award. And the rig that simply does more things for a greater diversity of customers is the heavily updated F-150. While not a perfect pickup, it’s still an impressive piece of engineering that once again elevates the truck standard.
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