To determine a winner, we considered the performance data we collected over the week, sifted through the various specs and information about each truck, measured the value they offered to owners, and added in our own driving impressions.
We logged a lot of miles and a lot of time in each truck, and if this was just about performance numbers, fuel economy and payload, our choices might well be different.
But it wasn’t. This test is about much more than that — specifically, which truck gives us the most capabilities, the most creature comforts and the fewest compromises for our $30,000 price tag? Which is the most truck for our money? Which of these five competitors would force us to make the fewest concessions while doing all the things we like and have to do? With that said, here are our results.
5th Place: Chevy Silverado 1500
The Silverado is the second-oldest model in the segment and in need of powertrain, chassis and styling upgrades. The Silverado just barely qualified for this test by offering crank windows, manual door locks, manual mirrors, rubber floormats, no key fob and rear drum brakes. And you still have to write that $30,000 check anyway. While there’s something very satisfying about driving a work truck the way your dad (or granddad) did, the Silverado should have a value package combination that was closer in features to the Ram 1500.
4th Place: Nissan Titan
You have to take your hat off to a truck that can be completely ignored for a long time that still manages to hold its own in a competition like this. The Titan is the oldest truck in the segment, and it suffers from trying too much to be like other players, without making any attempt to stand out. In fact, it didn’t win a single competitive event. The suspension and ride are probably its best features, but the interior needs a major overhaul, and the exterior styling is beginning to look dated. A six-speed (or higher) gearbox would also help improve fuel economy.
3rd Place: 2011 Ford F-150
Ford’s decision to send us a regular cab for this test was bold, if not crazy, but we’re guessing the Ford people thought they had more to gain by sending a well-equipped XLT than sending a stripped-down version like the Silverado. We’re not sure if they were right, but if that’s what allowed them to include the 5.0-liter V-8, it was probably the right thing to do. The engine impressed everyone. What didn’t impress us was the strange choice of an integrated brake controller (do regular cabs tow much?), and why include the tailgate step instead of a bedliner? This configuration forced us to compromise our people-hauling abilities, especially when compared with the others. Clearly, there is a lot of good stuff here, but in the end, fancy features couldn’t outweigh our need for extra interior space.
2nd Place: Toyota Tundra
Much of our $30,000 challenge debate came down to our last two contenders, and the arguments were heated. If you’re looking for the biggest — and heaviest — truck for your buck in hauling capabilities and raw performance, there’s a strong argument that the Tundra should be your winner. In fact, in many categories where it didn’t win outright, the Tundra came in a close second. However, where the Tundra let us down was in the areas of fuel economy, interior layout and design, and the bulky feel — those specific drawbacks were not overcome by the truck’s mechanical robustness.
1st Place: Ram 1500
The Ram 1500 is our winning choice for this half-ton Shootout. The Ram was not a huge standout in any of the specific contests, but it did well everywhere. In a contest like this where overall value is such a high priority and the performance data (e.g. zero-to-60, payload capacity, braking, fuel economy, livability) are equal pieces of the judging criteria, the vehicle that does the best in the most categories is likely to come out on top, and that’s exactly how the Ram won. With the fewest sacrifices and compromises inside and out, the ST Quad Cab is our Best Truck for $30,000. Ram found the winning formula that balances price, performance and features.