2013 Light-Duty Challenge: Overview

LDC Group 1 II

By Mark Williams, Photography by Evan Sears

It had to be done. The half-ton pickup truck segment is going through too much growth to make you wait, even for a second. With so many pickups overhauled, we knew we had to bring all the half-ton players back together again to find out exactly where everyone stands. And since nobody tests as thoroughly or exhaustively as we do, it had to be us. And it had to be now.

Longtime PUTC readers know the last time we brought these trucks together it was for our 2011 $30,000 Shootout, where we placed few constraints on the manufacturers to create their best $30,000 pickup. The 2011 Ram 1500 won that contest but it wasn't without controversy. Not only did Ford send a regular cab among extended cabs, but due to a car-carrier fire with our test Toyota inside we never received the new Tundra for the competition.

For this test, we put a price limit on the manufacturers and we added a few requirements. All test trucks had to be four-wheel drive, have four full-size doors, be able to tow at least 8,500 pounds, and the total as-tested price had to be below $45,000 (including destination charges). What we got were six well-equipped half-ton pickups, which collectively offered almost 2,500 pounds-feet of torque and cost more than a quarter million dollars. But we knew we couldn't do this by ourselves.

In the past we've partnered with huge newspapers, enthusiast magazines, TV shows and others. This time we decided to work with automotive and technology experts at Popular Mechanics in order to judge this hugely important group — to both makers and buyers — of pickup trucks. Mike Austin and Ben Wojdyla are both longtime automotive specialists who know their way around a pickup and have seen quite a few models come and go.

This class has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Both Chevy and GMC are coming to market with their highly anticipated all-new Silverado and Sierra; Ford has introduced (and been incredibly successful with) a new lineup of engines since we last saw the F-150; and Ram introduced its latest half-ton incarnation only months ago and is enjoying huge sales gains as a result. The two oldest players in the segment are now the import pickups (although it's important to note that the trucks themselves are built here in the U.S.), with both the Toyota Tundra (with a new interior and exterior coming for 2014) and Nissan Titan (we hear 2015 will have big changes) the oldest designs in this class.

The 2013 Light-Duty Challenge competitors are:

  • 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Z71 Crew Cab
  • 2013 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew
  • 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 SLE Z71 Crew Cab
  • 2013 Nissan Titan PRO-4X Crew Cab
  • 2013 Ram 1500 SLT Big Horn Crew Cab
  • 2013 Toyota Tundra SR5 CrewMax

As for scoring, we broke down the test into separate categories. Our quantitative section has 13 categories, and each was scored this way: The top finisher got 100 points, and the rest were scored by how close they were to the winner. Those tests included highest calculated payload, top towing capacity, fuel economy, acceleration (with and without a payload, and with an 8,500-pound trailer), braking and more, with a total of 1,300 points at stake.

Towing prep II

Our qualitative section was broken down into three parts. Each of our four judges (Mark Williams and Aaron Bragman from PickupTrucks.com, and Austin and Wojdyla from Popular Mechanics) determined each truck's score on a 1-to-10-point scale in six separate areas: interior quality, layout and features; exterior quality, fit and finish, and features.

Each judge also gave each truck a score from 1 to 100 based on how much value that truck offered for the money. The total number of points possible for the qualitative section was 640, or about one-third of the 1,940 total points available for the entire challenge. None of our categories were weighted, so depending on what priorities you have or believe are most important, you can recalculate the data we've collected to choose your own winner.

We conducted our testing in and around Ann Arbor, Mich., during May with temperatures ranging from the 70s to the high 80s each day under clear skies (we got lucky). Our acceleration and brake testing was done at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, while our hill climb was conducted at the same 7.2 percent hill-climb area at the General Motors Milford Proving Grounds track where we conducted our Heavy-Duty Shootout in 2010. Additionally, our autocross course for this test was held at the Milford Black Lake Vehicle Dynamics Area, where we conducted portions of our 2011 $30,000 Shootout.

It's worth noting that we hired a representative from RaceLogic to run and collect all our VBOX test data as an objective third party.

 

The Players

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Z71 Crew Cab

1 Chevy Silverado II
 

(2014 Chevy Silverado 1500 Monroney file)

In order to meet our $45,000 limit, Chevy started with a Silverado crew cab base priced at $40,525 (all base prices include destination), and then added the all-new EcoTec3 5.3-liter V-8 engine with 355 horsepower and 383 pounds-feet of torque (an $895 option), and the LT Z71 Package, which offers better 4x4 protection, bigger tires, hill descent control, additional badging and monotube Rancho shocks. Our Victory Red Silverado had the carryover 6L80 six-speed transmission and 3.42:1 rear axle gears, but it did get a trailer brake controller ($230), 6-inch side steps ($700) and a Bose speaker system ($500), which was connected to the 8-inch MyLink touch-screen. Our test truck also got the LT Plus Package ($785), which included a sliding rear window, adjustable pedals, rear park assist and a few other minor additions. Lastly, our Silverado had the All Star Edition Package ($1,080) that added conveniences like 10-way power adjustable driver's seat, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, the trailering package, rearview camera and more. The final tally for our Victory Red Silverado 1500 built in Silao, Mexico, was $44,715.

 

2013 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew

14 Ford F-150 II
 

(2013 Ford F-150 XLT Monroney file)

If you're a longtime PickupTrucks.com reader, you might remember Ford's controversial decision to send us a regular cab XLT pickup for our 2011 $30,000 Shootout. That decision didn't turn out so well, and we're guessing that's probably why Ford decided to take a different course this time, opting for a lower-level trim package that allowed for plenty of options. The base SuperCrew 4x4 with the short bed had a starting price of $39,325 but Ford did add the full XLT Package ($4,080), which included a power driver's seat, adjustable pedals, select-shift transmission, six months of satellite radio, backup sensors and a rearview camera. Add to that the EcoBoost engine and six-speed transmission ($1,095), 3.73:1 gears ($100), an Off-Road Package with locking differential and extra skid plating ($770), the Max Trailer Tow Package with the 36-gallon fuel tank and telescoping mirrors ($335), a tailgate step ($375) and a spray-in bedliner ($475). Top that off with a $1,750 302A Group D discount and our Blue Jeans Metallic F-150 built in Dearborn, Mich., finished at $44,805.

 

2014 GMC Sierra 1500 SLE Z71 Crew Cab

1 GMC Sierra II
 

(2014 GMC Sierra 1500 Monroney file)

Our all-new GMC Sierra 1500 came to us with four-wheel drive and four full-size doors in the new crew cab configuration. This is an entirely new crew cab for GM. The setup has slightly smaller front doors (meaning the B-pillar was moved forward a few inches) in order to make the rear doors larger, allowing rear-seat passengers several more inches of foot and knee room. Our base Sierra 1500 SLE came in at $40,650 but offered a few options. The addition of the SLE Value Package ($1,720) gave our truck the Trailering Equipment Package, power adjustable driver's seat, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote start, dual-zone climate controls and more. We also upgraded from the base 4.3-liter V-6 to the 5.3-liter V-8 ($895) and the Z71 Off Road Suspension Package ($775), which gave us aluminum wheels, hill descent control, monotube Rancho shocks and a high-capacity air cleaner. We added a trailer brake controller for $230, and the final option was better all-terrain tires for an additional $200. Tallied with our $750 SLE Value Package discount, our Fire Red Sierra 1500 made in Silao, Mexico, finished at $43,720.

 

2013 Nissan Titan Pro-4X Crew Cab

1 Nissan Titan a II
 

(2013 Nissan Titan Monroney file)

Our Titan already came well-equipped with its base-trim packaging and therefore offered relatively few options. Although the aging engine is down on comparative power and EPA fuel-economy numbers, the $45,000 threshold meant that there was plenty of room to add both the Pro-4X Utility Package ($1,500) and the Pro-4X Luxury Package ($2,630). This meant our Titan included items such as a premium Rockford Fosgate sound system, power pedals, a spray-in bedliner and Utili-track cargo system with adjustable tie-downs, and heated, extendable tow mirrors. In addition, the Luxury Package gave us the center-stack color navigation screen and heated, leather-wrapped and power-controlled front seats. The base-price Nissan Titan without the Pro-4X add-ons lists at $40,235, but with both the option packages and the $150 Pro-4X floor mats, our Graphite Blue test unit made in Canton, Miss., came in at $44,515.

 

2013 Ram 1500 SLT Big Horn Crew Cab

1 Ram 1500 II
 

(2013 Ram 1500 Monroney file)

Our Hemi- and eight-speed-equipped ($500) new Ram 1500 came to us with the second-lowest base price of the group while still meeting our requirements. This half-ton SLT crew cab lists for $38,295 and allowed Ram to include probably the longest list of options of any competitor. The Big Horn trim ($1,845) gave us 20-inch wheels, the premium 40/20/40 front bench seat, the 7-inch multiscreen gauge display, rear 60/40 split seats, under-seat fold-flat storage compartments and power seats with lumbar support. Additionally, the Luxury Group ($560) gave our Ram auto-dimming exterior mirrors, glove box and under-hood lamps, power heated mirrors and overhead console storage. Then there was the remote start and alarm ($350). Other add-ons Ram Truck included were the 3.55:1 gearing ($50), power heated towing mirrors ($100), HD Radio and an 8.4-inch touch-screen display with premium navigation and Uconnect access ($1,005), as well as four-corner air suspension ($1,595), backup camera ($200) and integrated brake controller ($230). Our Maximum Steel Metallic test unit, built in Warren, Mich., had a final price of $44,730.

 

2013 Toyota Tundra SR5 CrewMax

1 Toyota Tundra II
 

(2013 Toyota Tundra Monroney file)

Our Tundra came to us pretty well-equipped, but did offer the lowest base ($35,825) and overall price of any of the competitors. Although not relevant to how and why we test, it's worth noting that where other manufacturers built their test units to meet our specifications, Toyota chose to pull its test unit from the existing media fleet. As well-equipped as it was, this was the only vehicle available that could meet our criteria. The base CrewMax gave us the largest cab of the group and quite a few options, which included the high-level radio and CD player with Bluetooth ($510), auto-dimming rearview mirror with the integrated backup camera ($475), 18-inch wheels and tires ($910), a tilting and sliding moonroof ($810), a drop-in, under-the-rail bedliner ($345), carpet floor mats ($195) and remote engine start ($499). Add to that the SR5 Package ($970), which included front power adjustable seats, upgraded fabrics, fog lamps and a center console shifter. Finally, our test unit came with the Max Tow Package ($660), which gave us better engine cooling, a bigger battery and alternator, 4.30:1 gears, a Tow/Haul button, and all the hitch and wiring necessary for trailering. Altogether, our Pyrite Mica Tundra test unit, built in San Antonio, Texas, listed for $41,199.

For a more comprehensive "What You Get" comparison chart, click here.

Now let's see how they performed.

Overview | Judges' Impressions | 0-60 Acceleration | 60-0 Braking | Mileage Drive | Hill Climb | Autocross | Payload and Towing | Results

Comments

This is so cool, sure would like to be able to be in the drivers seat helping with the testing.

I'm sure the haters will come out. Of course I have a winner picked already and its would be the pickup I would like to buy next. If it does not come out on top, no big deal, what ever makes people happy.

RAM RULES!!!!!!!

KUDOS to Ram.
Too bad the RAM cult will make the most annoying comments...

Mark - I very much appreciate you mentioning that scores weren't weighted, as I think that's a critical point every reader should understand.

However, I wish you had made that point more prevalent, as it would explain that the 165pt difference between first and last is not nearly as large as it seems.

Ram and Nissan are the only trucks built by Americans....GM twins and Toyota built by Mexicans, and the Ford by Arabs. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Just sayin

Dear KingCab,
Did you notice the so called built by American trucks you listed also did the worst on the testing......Just sayin

Dear Mike, see who wrote this.

How can this be called the 2013 Light-Duty Challenge, with 2 2014 trucks? Toyota that's what you get waiting 8 years for a redesign, I mean refresh.

TundraHQ -- That's a very good point. We probably should have made that a bigger point both in the Overview and Results section. Not quite sure how familiar most readers are with the complexities of weight scoring but it seems to be done all the time by magazines. What we like about non-weighting is that allows anyone reading the story to come up with their own personal test winner by using our data and their own weighted preferences. Thanks for the input.

@KingCab - Do some research! F series trucks are tied for #2 for being most American made vehicles! GM twins are the next for trucks, not sure what # they are total. Don't run your mouth if you don't have a clue please!

I am excited to see how each truck does. I am not so bent on who places what position in the "winnings" because they all are wonderful trucks in their own right. Of coarse I am partial to the F-Series. I have owned several F-150's since 1996, and our family farm employs ten F-series trucks, and they have all been used, abused but lasted and did everything ever asked of them with minimal fuss and repair. My current 11 ecoboost FX-4 supercrew has 53,000 hard miles towing horses, vehicles, a front end loader owned by our farm numerous times, and this truck does it all very well. Not to mention my MPG is now at 19.2 (I have never reset the mpg meter since I bought it Jan 11) and that is heavy towing, 2 Florida trips unloaded, a Colorado to NJ trip carrying 2000 pounds of special pavers only found in Colorado, etc etc. I have towed very close to the Maximum tow rating (pulling a three horse trailer in the Pocono PA mountains, of coarse with the trailer brake controller) and this truck does it very well, no fuss, acceleration issues, hiccups or anything, so I hope the Ford does well here. In any case, who ever wins, KUDOS!! For all the manufactures make great trucks!!! Cannot wait to read it.

It's impressive what LD pickup trucks offer the buyers these days, but I still can't part with that magnificent all-aluminum, 32-valve, DOHC, 5.7-liter V8 in my 2011 Tundra DC SR5.

If anything, I'd like to see Tundra upgrade their original six-speed automatic to the 8-speed or upcoming 10-speed automatic from the Lexus LS460. RAM upgraded to their 8-speed behind their 5.7.

wtf? who won? ford? chevy? who?

Hey Jim, are you and Mike in a domestic partnership?

"I'm sure the haters will come out. Of course I have a winner picked already"

Doesn't that make you a hater?

Hater = Everyone who disagrees with you.

Grow up, people. Be friggin objective and stop emoting like little girls...It's embarrassing.

Lmfao! Can't argue your point? So, say something stupid? Figures! Simply stating the facts.
http://autos.yahoo.com/news/the-13-most-truly-made-in-america-cars-214211686.html

@Highdesertcat- the 8speed trans in the Lexus is a size smaller than the AB60. It could work behind the 4.6 as a fuel-economy option, especially if that motor went to DI, like it already has in the Lexus cars. Toyota decided (right or wrong) that money was not well-spent on powertrain upgrades for 2014.

To make this test really fair all trucks need to weigh the same and have the same final drive ratio. based in the testing the F150 would have still won just by a much larger amount...

Those are the only model trucks GM builds south of the border (half ton crews), and they also have the capability to produce them in Flint, MI, alongside the HDs if necessary.

@Mathewjohn... hahahaha.. Ive got a buddy that has an eco boost.. he doesnt even get that good fuel economy empty.. he averages 19mpg.. he did also say that it towed his boat effortlessly.. but that fuel economy tanked at while towing his boat he got around 10mpg.. he is second guessing getting the truck because he primarily tows his boat with it.. and could get better mpg while towing with the 6.2.... I just dont believe you man... sorry... and i know it doesnt matter, and you could probably care less...but i just had to say something

On looks alone the Ram takes top spot for me. I personally like the forward slant to the grill because the mid '60s cars--especially the Buick of '65 and '66 had a similar slant. It offers a slightly more aggressive appearance without looking blocky. My next choices are the Nissan and Toyota in that order. They offer a less blocky look--bringing in some of the car-like look that again some of the '60s trucks offered without the pretentious mock Big Rig grill. From there it's the GMC, Chevy and Ford in that order with the Chevy simply too rectangular and blocky while the Ford is trying to say, "I'm a Big Rig!"

This has nothing to do with their capabilities in any other manner. These pictures alone tell me I would look at RAM, Nissan and Toyota in that order as my first choices to buy.

Yes, I do know the Ford won the overall shootout and when I get over to that thread I may express an opinion. But at the moment, the above is my personal opinion of these trucks' appearances.

"@Mathewjohn... hahahaha.. Ive got a buddy that has an eco boost.. he doesnt even get that good fuel economy empty.. he averages 19mpg.. he did also say that it towed his boat effortlessly.. but that fuel economy tanked at while towing his boat he got around 10mpg.. he is second guessing getting the truck because he primarily tows his boat with it.. and could get better mpg while towing with the 6.2.... I just dont believe you man... sorry... and i know it doesnt matter, and you could probably care less...but i just had to say something"

Uh...I have an EcoBoost too...and I'magonna side with your friend. Me thinks Matthew is a shill for Ford. Love the truck, pulls great, but 19.2 US mpg? Overall as an average? pffft...Bull ship. My AVERAGE over the last 2 years has been 14.2 US mpg - that's 50,000 km (approx 42,000 miles) of which at least 15% minimum has been towing the camper. Probably more. One big trip to the Cdn Rockies, one to the Black Hills...many little ones in between. So if Matt is using his to tow and haul as much as he says...no frickin way is he averaging 19 US mpg unless he has a Ford name tag on his jacket. My "empty" average is only 14.2 US mpg, towing average alone is 9.5 US mpg... 19...someone's dreaming in multiples of 2. We'll see if the '13 does any better with 3.55's (my trailer only weighs 6000lbs) over the Max Tow I have now. Time will tell.

It all depends on how you drive them and where you drive them. One's driving habits make a huge difference in mpg.

I've talked to one guy with a F150 Platinum 4x4 Crew EB with a canopy on it and he says he can get 9.4 litres per 100 km or 25 mpg (USA) highway - empty. I talked to another guy with the exact same truck but with a tonneau cover. He says he never gets the rated mpg with it. He says maybe 18 mpg at best.
Both say the same thing - they love the power and both say loaded/towing mpg is no different than any gasser they've owned.
I can cite myself as an example. I've gotten 20.4 - 20.5 (USA) highway mpg with my 5.4 SuperCrew 4x4 on several long trips. My brother-in-law also has a 5.4 SuperCrew and he says he is lucky to get 16-17 (USA) mpg out of his. He is a lead foot.

I'm talking about British Columbia mountains, hills, and intermountain plateaus. The highway speed limit is 60 mph and an automatic vehicle impound if one goes 25mph over the posted speeds. Most people travel at 108 - 110 kph or 65-68 mph. If I run at 65mph, my mileage drops to 18-19 mpg (USA).
I like to stick to the speed limit as it improves mpg and do not need to worry about tickets.


All the trucks in this test were built in the USA except the GM trucks which were made in Mexico. Nice use of taxpayers bailout money GM. Thank you Ford for being the kind of company that America was built on...strong, independent, and self sufficient. Plus Ford builds a truck that continues to dominate!

I'm calling bs on the manufacturers had a oportunity to send a ram with 3:92 gear for the better tow rating, there not stupid, if they had of known they were up against a bunch of max tow trucks i think they would have sent something comparable, nice try guys, at put.com, i call bullshit, ford wouldnt have won and you know it.

Ecoboost will become an experiment in ten years. Consumers are slowly learning that downsizing does not work for towing. I have an 09 Ram with 5 speed in which i towed 7000lbs worth of household stuff to and from San Bernandino to Oklahoma City on 91 octane. I averaded 18.6 MPG for the entire trip with high winds, dessert heat, and hill climbs.

How does this EcoPUSS get better MPG's than the 8 Speed POWER HOUSE!!!!

I will at least get the HEMI for the honest POWER.

GUTLESS

GLORY-LESS

POWERLESS HIGH TECH THAT CANT BEAT RAM

FORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wait until chevy and gm produce there new 6.2 motor to do the comparison seeing they used the most powerful motors in the rest of the trucks.... Which should be out very soon

"This half-ton SLT crew cab lists for $38,295 and allowed Ram to include probably the longest list of options of any competitor"

More Guts

More Glory

More for your money

Ram

Mark Williams lowballed the Ram in every category.Compared to the other judges and to make matters even more uneven at best,was the Ram had 3;55 axle and the Ford F150 had the MaxTrailer option.including a 3:73 axle.And don't bother commenting mark for i have seen your reply to others about this testing you do is "we get only what the manufactures send us for testing".But over the years Mark it is not the first time you have favor a dated at best Ford against the the future.When you compare all automotive testing and there is a ton of testers now we can at least get a fair reporting from others out there.I still do not get the low scores on interior of the Ram when others writers have raved how well the fit and materials are on the ram.I too have drive all 3 manufactures 2013 -2014 trucks with equal at best 5.7 and 6.2l trucks all with 3:73 or above and no way did I feel the ford held even the slightest edge against any one on towing or mileage runs.One thing is for sure Mark they will hold a chair at the board at ford for you.How bias Mark,next you are gonna run the gauntlet in the spring with the again redesign turbo for the ford f350 and give it rave reviews.make sure you get 4:10 axles against 3;73 to give the ford a fair advantage we will be watching when they have been clearly beaten soundly by Ram and GM now,not much from mark on the scraping the twin spooler and going to what the others have been doing for the last 4 years variable vane spoolers gee,what a funny video with ford chief engineer for power stoke,we all watch from the side as you thought you were not worthy to be there.One more thing mark we notice you did not ask him why they had to redesign the turbo and injector for the 2014 ford f350 care to take a crack at it. we know why even most writers new that the video ford ran at the texas state fair had a unfair axle ratio to give the ford a edge on the start,remember 3;73 verus 4:10 we all thought that was the joke of the fair.Apples to apples oranges to oranges mark.By the way true cars website folks give a better average of what customers are paying no body pays sticker these days mark so why should you post the most "expensive truck of the bunch" when you get tired mark let me know i run some of your testing for you.It is not even 2014 and mark gave the calibers to the ford again gee whiz why am i not surprise.See you in detriot for the NAAS I will make sure Mark the president of ford motor comes by to shake your hand on that get review of a mix of 2013-2014 1/2 ton review

there is NO WAY that lame gm would EVER out pull an eight speed ram........ these guys should quit kissing so much gm ##### we performed the same test with payload on a controlled course and gm was a full second and a half behind...dahhh also quarter mile test on an actual raceway resulted in the gm at 1.6 seconds behind. do the math fellows as it dosesnt add up !!!

I bought a tundra after two years of looking . . . I get crapy fuel mileage but I have all around great power and comfort . . . I can put 5 6'5'' guys in my truck and everyone be comfy for cross country trips I can hook up to any load ill ever need to pull and don't even touch the tow haul botton and have no problems pulling . . . Toyota and gm share all their tech and skills have since the early 90's . . . in the early 90's chevy and ford put 6 cylinders in trucks and her 15-20 years later they are falling apart but the v8's are still running great. . . when I bought my truck I chained it to a 2014 f150 guess who won? . . . tundra . . . that's right I said id buy the one that pulled the other and I bought a tundra. . . the ford takes to long to build enough boost at the get go



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