OK, we've been through the testing, we've put on the miles, and now we're just about ready to render our verdict.
We decided to judge these trucks both on their physical capabilities as well as other more subjective characteristics. Thankfully, we were able to get experts from RaceLogic and Popular Mechanics to help out. The end result is mountains of data and impressions collected, and one overall winner for our 2013 Light-Duty Challenge.
Scoring a test like this can be complicated. In the past, we used a series of formulas that weighted each category according to how important (or not) we thought those categories were. Not so this time. This year each winner of each quantitative test was awarded 100 points and all other competitors received whatever fraction of points their own score deserved when compared to the winning time or distance.
For example, if the winning truck accelerated a prescribed distance in 10 seconds and the second-place finisher accelerated in 11 seconds, the former would be awarded 100 points and the latter 91 (10 divided by 11= 90.9). Likewise, in stopping distances, if the winner stopped in 135 feet (100 points) and the fourth-place finisher stopped in 153 feet, the fourth-place truck got 88 points. (You can do the math.)
The only place where fractions were allowed into total scoring was in the qualitative section, where judges could award points in any way they saw fit. As you can see from our judges' impressions, each expert had his own biases and preferences, and each reflected those opinions in his scores. The fact that this particular section can be considered "fuzzy" motivated us to designate this section to be worth about half as much as the 13 objective categories.
Before we get to the final finishing order, we'd like to thank our third-party experts at RaceLogic (thanks Joe Lachovsky) who were responsible for collecting our test data and providing tons of helpful testing advice, as well as both original equipment manufacturer support teams that helped us use the Chrysler and GM Milford Proving Grounds to their fullest (Ford, it's your turn next time). And thanks also to our compatriots at Popular Mechanics: Your insights and driving skills were hugely appreciated. We've been told readers can look for PM's own half-ton challenge in the September issue, going on sale near the beginning of August.
For all our quantitative test and calculated data in one head-to-head chart, click here.
2013 Nissan Titan Pro-4X | 1,605.5 points
Even though the Titan did not win a single category in our tests, the news is not all bad. The foundation of this truck is solid, and our judges seemed to have a soft spot for the Titan as the sportiest player in the segment. Sure, the engine and interior are the weakest links but there are some good qualities that Nissan can build off of when the next-generation Titan debuts, hopefully by 2015. The Titan was the last-place finisher in our quantitative testing, but our judges did not believe it deserved last place in interior and exterior scoring. At the end of the testing, the Titan was simply outgunned with more under-hood technology and firepower from the other trucks; it also is significantly in need of a new interior design. On a positive note, from what we're hearing, the next-gen Titan will offer many more powertrain options and cab configurations, something that all the players in this arena must have.
2013 Toyota Tundra SR5 | 1,624.5 points
The Tundra did not win a single one of our testing categories either, but it did perform well during our most extreme tow tests, thanks in large part to a relatively solid Max Tow Package that included 4.30:1 axle gears but no integrated brake controller (just like the Nissan). Unfortunately, the biggest weaknesses centered on the outdated gauge cluster and split center stack, as well as the underperforming tire choice. The 2014 Toyota Tundra is set to debut later this year with a new interior and exterior design, and since our judges scored the current Tundra in last place for our contest in both those categories, we'd say that's good timing. Our judges all liked the powerful sound that the Tundra's engine made when hauling and towing, but it somehow seems appropriate given the quality of the all-new or recently updated competitive powertrains that the Tundra finished fifth in our quantitative tests, fifth in our qualitative categories and fifth in total points. As a small piece of advice, we'd suggest giving some serious thought to updating and modifying this truck's powertrain and chassis choices soon.
2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Z71 | 1,715.75 points
The only contest the new Chevy Silverado 1500 won was the fuel economy loop with the trailers in tow, scoring just a hair better than its GMC cousin. Beyond that one category, the Silverado was a solid middle-of-the-pack player, often getting close to joining the leaders, yet never threatening to join the bottom two. It's worth noting the Silverado is less than 34 points from third place and more than 90 points better than fifth position. Due to a few option differences with the GMC, the Chevy weighed 60 pounds heavier than its cousin, which generally hurt it most in performance and fuel economy (at least when empty). With our judges, the new Silverado was usually a top-three finisher, garnering plenty of comments about creature comforts and stellar ride quality; unfortunately, the GMC interior resonated with our judges just a touch louder. Finishing in fourth place after all the quantitative testing and calculations, and a strong third place in the qualitative portion, the 2014 Chevy Silverado just couldn't keep up with the better-looking and ever-so-slightly better-performing Sierra.
2014 GMC Sierra 1500 SLE Z71 | 1,749.25 points
If there was a surprise in this competition, it was that the all-new GMC Sierra 1500 won two of our 13 quantitative contests outright, and came in second in four others, all done without a maximum trailer package or the all-new 6.2-liter V-8 (both arriving later this year). Impressively, that put the GMC within striking distance of the Ford (only 55 points behind out of 1,300) after the quantitative section of the test. Unfortunately, the GMC made up less than 40 points in the judge's scoring, winning the exterior styling portion outright but finishing in second place to the Ram 1500 in both interior and overall value. Our judges were clearly impressed with the new material choices and gauge cluster layout inside the GMC but they weren't impressed enough to take away points from Ram or Chevy, both of which also scored well. As strong as the push was for the Sierra near the end (it was like we were watching a long-distance runner finish a marathon with back-to-back five-minute miles), it wasn't enough to overtake the hard-performing Hemi in the Ram 1500 or the monster-strong F-150.
2013 Ram 1500 SLT Big Horn | 1,753.5 points
Watching the top two in a comparison test like this is more like witnessing King Kong wrestle a giant anaconda or a T-rex; you know you shouldn't be standing around watching the bloody battle, but it's just too dang mesmerizing to look away. Together, the Ford and Ram pickups won more than three-quarters of all the test events. In fact, the new Ram 1500 won five separate events (both autocross tests, both hill-climb events and the empty zero-to-60 run), as well as coming in a close second in three categories. Additionally, the new Ram was a strong player with our judges, winning both the interior and overall value categories, and finishing second in the exterior section behind the stylish GMC. If the Ram 1500 had one obvious weakness, it was in our calculated payload and towing capacity events. In those two categories, the Ram gave up the most points of any other competitor in any event, and with that huge distance to make up, it couldn't close the gap enough on the Ford no matter how well it performed in the other events. In the end, this truck missed the tape by a nose.
2013 Ford F-150 XLT | 1,765 points
Say what you will about the F-150, but as the biggest-selling half-ton in the U.S. offering the most engine choices and trim packages in the class, you had to think this was the favorite from Day One. Although the F-150 hasn't won a PUTC comparison test since the 2010 V-6 Work Truck Shootout, we should note we're not counting last year's Ultimate 4x4 Shootout because the Ford Raptor is in a class by itself. The performance in this well-equipped XLT SuperCrew with its Max Tow Package was, quite simply, dominating. In the quantitative section of our test, with 13 different performance tests and max rating calculations, the Ford outdistanced the competition by a significant margin. It won five competitive events outright and came in second in six others. However, in the qualitative section of our testing, the Ford's domination fell short. In fact, even though the F-150 did not garner any harsh criticisms, the XLT interior was clearly not up to the levels seen in the new GM trucks and Ram 1500. After the judges' scores were sorted, the Ford never received higher than a third-place finish in this section, winding up in fourth place overall in our qualitative portion of the test. But this contest wasn't only about what a few experts think, so now that all the dust has settled on one of our most thorough and exhaustive half-ton pickup truck comparison tests, the 2013 Ford F-150 is PickupTrucks.com's 2013 Light-Duty Challenge Champion by 11.5 points more than the Ram and 15.75 points more than the GMC. Congrats to Ford and to all of our competitors, because this was one crazy, brutal battle royale.