Only a few decades ago, trucks were almost exclusively used for work and by workers for their various jobs. For those still using trucks for their work, which of the top three trucks is the best?
MotorTrend requested a half-ton truck with a base engine, crew cab, and 4×4 setup. Many who work as contractors or fleet managers don’t choose to upgrade to swankier engines. They do want the traction that all four wheels provide. Crew cabs are vital for those who work in construction.
Each brand had the option to equip its representative truck with up to $2,000 of options so long as prices were around $42,000. Only one truck followed their request.
Chevrolet’s 2019 Silverado WT was the only competitor that arrived with no spray-in bedliner. It had a 6-foot-6-inch bed and the only pickup that didn’t come with 4×4 traction. The powertrain for the Silverado WT was a 4.3-liter V6 paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The Chevy truck had a cloth-seat interior, some standard technology, and came in at a total price of $41,115
Ford sent a base model F-150 XL with a 3.3-liter V6 paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. It featured the vinyl interior of a work truck, albeit with comfortable seats, and no touchscreen. The Ford truck was $43,250.
Ram sent its 1500 Tradesman with its somewhat fancy mild-hybrid technology. It came with a 3.6-liter V6 equipped with a small starter-generator and a 0.53-kW-hr battery to aid the stop/start system and give a torque boost. The Ram has a stellar interior, even for a base model, and a chrome appearance package. Its total cost was $44,275.
How each drives
The MotorTrend features editor Christian Seabaugh expressed disappointment with the interior of the Chevy, saying it felt cheap. He felt the materials were poor and the technology features were “bottom of the pack.” Chevy did offer range in accommodating different body heights. The huge hood on the Silverado along with a lack of telescoping wheel made it awkward for the crew when they tested it.
While the Silverado’s cabin wasn’t up to par for the team, the optional long bed made up for it. You can get a longer bed with the base engine on Silverado and Ram, but not Ford. Silverado offers standard CornerSteps for convenience, 12 standard hooks, and a damped, powered tailgate.
The F-150 and Ram came with 4 tie-down hooks, one for each corner, unlike Chevy’s twelve hooks. But the four hooks they had were optional and adjustable. The extra hooks offered by Silverado weren’t missed when it came to strapping ATVs to the beds. Still, Silverado’s middle hooks reached all the way to the bed floor of its competitors. The team also recommended getting the spray-in bed on Silverado to prevent scuffs and scrapes.
The team found with the Silverado with an empty bed turned in a spirited performance. The team said it felt “strong and ready for anything” with plenty of low-end torque and a transmission that lets you downshift for more power. Even with nearly 800-pound ATV in its bed, it was loud but didn’t miss a beat. Tow/Haul mode made it feel like the fastest of the trucks and it provided a comfy ride.
But the Ram had the best ride with an empty bed, the powertrain quiet with a smooth feel. When a 600-pound Honda Rancher ATV was loaded into its bed, the ride wasn’t as refined and lagged a bit. The transmission stays at a lower gear in Tow/Haul mode to provide torque when needed but it feels strained. Still, the team found that the performance wasn’t lacking even when the Tow/Haul wasn’t engaged.
Whether the Ram was loaded or unloaded, its transmission held a steady speed without needing a lot of interaction with the brakes. It was the only one that downshifted going downhill. Its coil-spring rear suspension offers an upscale ride. Plus, Ram has the advantage of a comfortable, quiet cabin with great creature comforts and technology.
Ford’s F-150 not only made vinyl seats comfy with a decently equipped two-tone interior, but there was also a lot of space. The MotorTrend team felt Ford’s engine had the least power. They found it did well on the highway or in passing but struggled going up or downhill. The ride was particularly busy when there was no additional weight.
With a 600-pound Honda Rancher ATV in its bed, the F-150’s ride was actually better, feeling more controlled and grounded with the added weight. Still, the team noticed weird quirks in the transmission, noting that even in Tow/Haul mode, the timing of the up and downshifts was off.
The team also conducted its Real MPG tests. All three trucks exceeded their EPA ratings. RAM delivered the best fuel economy numbers with 20.3/28.5/23.3 mpg city/highway/combined, it’s mild-hybrid engine setup making all the difference. Ford was next with 19.3/27.0/22.1 mpg followed by Silverado with 17.6/25.0/20.3 mpg.
The team held 0-60 tests at the track with no extra weight. Then they attached a 3,398-pound trailer to each to see how they did with towing. The weight was not even half of the towing capacity of each truck. The Ford struggled, taking 13.9 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph and with the poorest body control.
The Silverado with its 305 lb-ft of torque had decent acceleration and it shifted when it was supposed to. The Chevy demonstrated good control while accelerating and braking. It went from 0 to 60 in 13.0 seconds putting it in second place. The team noted that control was less on public roads with sketchy pavement or speed bumps.
The Ram had the strongest showing here. The team found it would hold the gears longer than anticipated which was a great benefit. The towing mirrors on the highway were highly useful. The Ram achieved 60in 12.3 seconds and had no problem at all towing the trailer which is was approximately 44% of its towing capacity.
Using the Irwindale quarry not far from L.A., the team loaded 1,800 pounds of sand into the beds of the trucks and took a 10-minute ride on neighboring streets. The end result was just over the payload capacity for the Ford F-150 (1,664 pounds) and Ram 1500 (1,773 pounds). With Silverado’s capacity at 2,006 pounds, it was okay.
RAM dominated this test as well. It demonstrated the best acceleration, braking, and handling. It was the opposite of what they expected from the truck with its coil-sprung rear suspension. It had the quickest transmission and the best shift logic. Silverado, whose capacity hadn’t been exceeded, had the worse handling of all three. Silverado’s powertrain did well beyond body control.
The Ford was slightly better than the Silverado on handling. Its brakes were an issue in hauling as there was when towing.
How did MotorTrend rank the three trucks?
3rd Place: Ford F-150
The truck the team names as their 2018 Truck of the Year didn’t cut it here. The truck is handsome with a great cabin but the base engine needs more power to be a true serviceable work truck.
2nd Place: Chevrolet Silverado 1500
If you seek value, the Silverado might be a good match. Its price is reasonable, its engine is athletic, and it has a feature-rich bed. Silverado is a strong contender. The team found the ride quality left a bit to be desired though.
1st Place: Ram 1500
The Ram turned in the best performance. Its ride quality, utility, fuel economy, and interior were impressive for the base truck that’s the current Truck of the Year at Motor Trend. It demonstrated awesome body control when hauling and towing and has great packaging too. It has everything need in a half-ton work truck on today’s market. The features you need may cost extra but the quality justifies the additional investment.