In the past year or so, many consumers have latched onto the idea of “lifestyle” pickups often found in the midsize segment. Like cars in their driveability and comfort, they also provide the utility that buyers want. Examples that first come to mind are the Toyota Tacoma and the Honda Ridgeline.
But what about buyers who want basic pickup trucks intended for their original purpose? We’re talking about rugged trucks that haul and tow big loads. They do the demanding work that contractors, landscapers, and fleet managers expect from them. MotorTrend’s Miguel Cortina compares work trucks from the Big Three, and we find out why the Chevrolet Silverado falls surprisingly short in this comparison test.
Over the course of a week, the Motor Trend team tested three trucks: the Ram 1500, the Ford F-150, and the Chevrolet Silverado. The test required the carmakers to provide a half-ton truck that had a base engine, a crew cab style, and 4X4 configuration. The trucks were limited to a price of about $42,000 and had to have no more than $2,000 worth of options.
Chevy sent its 2019 Silverado WT with its 4.3-liter V6 engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The engine made 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque. The Silverado’s 4WD system had no low gear and was the only truck without full traction. It had a six-foot-six-inch bed but without a spray-in bed liner. Chevy also honored Motor Trend’s price request with a total cost of $41,115 for the truck.
Motor Trend knows and likes the Ford F-150 since the magazine awarded it the 2018 Truck of the Year. The F-150 XL used in this comparison test had a 3.3-liter V6 that produced 290 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, mated with a six-speed automatic. The price tag for this F-150 was $43,250.
The Ram 1500 Tradesman had mild-hybrid technology, which seemed almost too cutting-edge for a basic work truck. Its standard 3.6-liter V6 engine with a small-starter-generator and a 0.53 kWh battery made 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. It was paired with an eight-speed automatic. This truck won MT’s 2019 Truck of the Year award, so Ram decided to send a tricked-up version with a chrome package, alloy wheels, and a push-button start. Its total cost was $44,275.
The Silverado’s interior was low-grade and lacked some key convenience features. MotorTrend staffers who drove it had trouble seeing over the truck’s hood. But they appreciated its longer truck bed equipped with 12 standard hooks, integrated corner steps, and power tailgate. Another positive was the Silverado’s strong powertrain that offered significant low-end torque.
While the F-150 had a comfortable ride and great visibility, the MotorTrend team felt that its engine was the weakest, especially when driving uphill. Its ride was at its bounciest when it wasn’t hauling or towing. The truck’s timing while upshifting or downshifting was off.
The best ride while driving without a load belonged to the Ram, although it declined somewhat while hauling 600 pounds for the first test. Its smooth, refined powertrain was a plus. Its interior was also superior to its rivals, A big liability, however, was that the truck lacked a split-seat bench in the back.
All three trucks fared better in fuel economy than their EPA ratings. The leader was the Ram with 20.3 mpg city and 28.5 highway. Ford’s fuel mileage was 19.3 mpg city and 27.0 mpg highway. Chevy was last with 17.6 mpg city and 25.0 mpg highway.
MotorTrend testers hitched a 3,400-pound trailer to each truck to find out how it performed under load. The F-150 was the slowest in acceleration at 13.9 seconds in a zero to 60 mph run. Poor body control and brakes that were slow to respond added to its slowness, despite the fact that the Ford was rated to have a 7,594-pound towing capacity.
The Silverado’s 305 lb-ft of torque was an advantage in this test. This truck also had good acceleration, accurate shift timing, and stable body control. It placed second in the zero to 60 mph heat at 13.0 seconds. Its towing capacity is 7,656 pounds.
The Ram felt the strongest when it was towing, according to the testers. They liked the superior body control of the Ram. And the Tradesman was the fastest in the zero to 60 mph towing run at 12.3 seconds. This truck has the capacity to tow 7,623 pounds.
The testers loaded 1,800 pounds of sand into the bed of each truck and drove it around local streets for 10 minutes. The weight for this test was more than the F-150’s payload at 1,644 pounds and the Ram’s at 1,773 pounds. The Silverado’s payload was 2,006 pounds.
A heavy hauling weight was used because testers felt that many truck owners either don’t know their truck’s payload capacity or they ignore it. All three trucks felt heavy and were working hard. But the Ram’s shifting, handling, acceleration, and braking were the best of the three.
On the low end of hauling performance, the Silverado handled the worst with extreme bouncing over road dips. But its torquey powertrain added points in its favor.
The F-150 struggled under the load but still handled better than the Silverado. The Ford’s brakes were its Achilles’ heel, forcing testers to stomp the brake pedal in order to slow down the truck.
The final verdict
The Ford F-150 took last place. While it boasted a quality interior, it was hobbled by its weak engine. In second place, the Chevy Silverado offered value at a good price. It had a spirited engine and a well-designed truck bed. But its poor ride quality and its limited visibility ranked it behind the Ram.
Showing off its exceptional ride quality, good fuel economy, and high utility, the Ram took first place. A comfortable interior and first-rate body control while towing and hauling also gave it an edge over the other two trucks.
So even though the Silverado didn’t come in dead last, its showing in MotorTrend’s testing is one more piece of proof that Chevy will need to up its game. And it’s not limited to just MotorTrend. Other reviewers from Car and Driver, AutoGuide, and Consumer Reports want more than what this year’s Silverado is selling.
And a robust powertrain is not enough to attract buyers who have higher expectations for what a work truck should do these days. Chevy will need to improve ride quality, handling, and interior features to stay ahead of Ford and to catch up with Ram.