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.
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.
2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Z71 Crew Cab
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
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
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
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
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
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