Words by Mark Williams, Photos by Ian Merritt
Warning: This is not the usual PickupTrucks.com comparison test.
You know the drill. We work for months with manufacturers, asking for specific, equally matched and equally equipped vehicles to bring you a true apples-to-apples comparison test. You don’t have to be a genius to know that just a few key mechanical differences from one truck to another can be enough to make some results questionable. But this is a different test.
We went to the half-ton manufacturers and forced each one to answer the question: What’s your best truck for $30,000? We allowed them to equip the pickups any way they wanted, knowing that PickupTrucks.com values function over form and steak over sizzle. (The $30,000 figure does not include destination charges.)
Maybe not so surprisingly, most of the five trucks in this test were similarly equipped, just like you’d expect in one of the most competitive automotive segments. Here are the competitors and you can download the specs as tested here:
- 2011 Chevy Silverado 1500 Extended Cab
- 2011 Ford F-150 Regular Cab
- 2011 Nissan Titan King Cab
- 2011 Ram 1500 Quad Cab
- 2011 Toyota Tundra Double Cab
Our four days of testing were done in and around Detroit in the first week of August, with temperatures never exceeding 80 degrees. In a word, the truck-testing weather was perfect.
We started our five-truck test with walk-arounds, spec analysis and short-course back-to-back driving. Day two was at Milan Dragway, south of Ann Arbor, for quarter-mile testing. Day three had us running a diverse 169-mile fuel economy route. And we finished with a very long day at Ford’s Michigan Proving Ground near Romeo.
As we’ve said, this test is a little different because these vehicles have significant differences among them. Regardless, our objective remains the same: find the truck that offers the most value for your dollar, just as if you or I walked in to a dealer with a firm $30,000 budget.
No doubt, this test will spark debates and maybe even offer a few surprises. No matter what, we think this is the perfect time to shine a spotlight on a road-test comparison that finds the best-bang-for-your-buck pickup. So here we go.
2011 Chevy Silverado 1500 Extended Cab [Download Monroney]
Chevy sent us a two-wheel-drive Silverado extended cab half-ton with a base price of $25,395. The Silverado was the most “bare bones” model of our competition but did provide seating for six.
It’s worth noting the rear reverse-swing-out doors pivot almost 180 degrees for easy rear access. Also, our Chevy was the only vehicle with rubber floormats, crank windows, manual door locks and side mirrors, and without a key fob.
The $495 LS package comes standard with 3.42:1 gears, but a few cosmetic extras gave us chrome wheel caps, grille surrounds and front bumper accents. The most expensive option, at $1,745, was the Vortec LMG 5.3-liter V-8 (with Active Fuel Management cylinder shutoff for improved steady-state driving fuel economy) and six-speed transmission. Other options included 17-inch all-terrain tires, XM radio, an upgraded stereo with six months of OnStar and the heavy-duty tow package. The final tally was $29,320.
2011 Ford F-150 Regular Cab [Download Monroney]
Our two-wheel-drive Ford truck came to us fairly well dressed with the midrange XLT trim package — Ford’s sales volume leader — which meant its standard vehicle price was $27,250. If the Silverado was the most stripped truck of the competition, our F-150 regular cab had the most creature comforts, but it had only two doors — two fewer than every other truck we tested.
The most expensive option was the $1,000 5.0-liter V-8 engine option and six-speed automatic transmission. The XLT Plus and Convenience packages gave us adjustable pedals, Ford’s Sync multimedia system, power heated mirrors, a sliding rear window and a reverse sensing system, all for $1,249. Other options included the Trailer Tow Package, tailgate step, integrated trailer-brake controller, 3.55:1 gears, rearview camera and six months of XM satellite radio. Also, helping with the bottom line, Ford happened to be running two big XLT discount promotions for an extra savings of $1,500, giving the big blue oval a grand total of $29,920.
2011 Nissan Titan King Cab [Download Monroney]
Nissan’s King Cab just squeaked into our competition by offering a well-equipped two-wheel-drive Galaxy Black SV with the standard 5.6-liter V-8 engine — the only engine available for the Titan — for $29,410.
As many might recall, Nissan was the first in the segment to offer the fully extending, wide-open rear set of doors that give easy entry to the second row for passengers and easy access to cargo in its extended-cab model.
Our test unit came fairly well equipped with the SV trim package, which included power windows and door locks, six-speaker stereo, seven-gauge instrument panel and key fob. The other options on our test unit included splash guards ($120), floormats ($150) and the tow package ($290). However, while all the other trucks had satellite radio, the Titan only offered an AM/FM head unit. Total price: $29,970.
2011 Ram 1500 Quad Cab [Download Monroney]
Our Ram Quad Cab — with smallish, conventional rear doors — came to us with a two-wheel-drive powertrain and a base ST trim package, priced at $25,240.
The most expensive option on this truck was, as you might imagine, the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine upgrade from the base 3.7-liter V-6. It’s an extra $2,295 and includes a heavy-duty oil cooler and radiator to help with towing. Options included the $770 ST Popular Equipment Group that adds Sirius satellite radio, a 40/20/40-split front seat, cruise control and front and rear floormats, and the $495 chrome package gave us shiny rims and accents on the front and rear bumpers. Add to that the $450 factory spray-in bedliner and the $335 receiver hitch, and the final price came in at $29,660.
2011 Toyota Tundra Double Cab [Download Monroney]
Toyota sent us the two-wheel-drive Double Cab that offers (like the Ram) conventional-opening rear doors and a powerful 5.7-liter V-8, for a base price of $27,665.
Additional options included an upgraded stereo with an iPod USB port, XM satellite radio and Bluetooth capability for $510, the $160 Cold Weather Package that gave us a bigger battery and starter, and mudflaps. Finally, Toyota ordered a pretty serious Tow Package for $660 that includes a brake-controller prewire, 4.30:1 gears, a transmission cooler and gauge, 7-pin connector and heavy-duty alternator. Other assorted extras — like heated mirrors, 18-inch wheels, daytime running lights, floormats and a drop-in bedliner — round out our test unit to a total of $29,698.