A lot can happen to pickup trucks in just a few years, especially in a segment as brutally competitive as half-ton four-door V-8 pickups. Sales are on a torrid pace and incentive wars are heating up. In the middle of all this, every one of the pickup makers are bringing out more new products and technology, the likes of which we've never seen before.
The last time we got all the half-ton pickups together in 2013, we had one of the most competitive head-to-head battles we've ever conducted, and the previous-gen Ford F-150 won by a slim margin.
This time, we invited each of the half-ton pickup players to submit their best 4x4 crew-cab V-8 pickup as long as the final price was less than $55,000. Within that price cap, manufacturers could equip their trucks however they wished. The competitors for this Challenge were:
- 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71 LTZ
- 2015 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT (each GM had a brand-new 6.2-liter overhead-valve V-8 and eight-speed transmission)
- All-new 2015 Ford F-150 XLT
- 2015 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn
- 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro
Unfortunately, Nissan declined to participate, noting that it will be debuting a new Titan at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which opens to the media Jan. 12.
We conducted all of our testing in Arizona, with empty and loaded track testing done at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler. Fuel economy testing ran from Chandler up to the Apache Trail and back. Because we wanted to know how well these trucks handle towing, we enlisted Logan Coach Trailers to provide us with three closely matched horse trailers that we picked up at Imperial Trailers in Tempe. We even made a road trip to Kingman, where we conducted acceleration tests with our loaded trailers up the infamous Davis Dam grade on Arizona Route 68.
After all our driving tests, we collected some engine dynamometer data on each engine (at Arizona Dyno Chip in Chandler) so you could compare how each of these engines stacked up against one another. We'll have more on these particular results later.
Finally, we enlisted the help of five experts to judge how these trucks compared with each other, scoring the half-tons in six separate categories:
- Seating comfort and ergonomics
- Technology and entertainment
- Ride and suspension
Our judges included longtime freelance writer Dave Boldt, truck expert Bruce Smith, Cars.com Road Test Editor Joe Bruzek, MrTruck.com owner/operator Kent Sundling and PickupTrucks.com Editor Mark Williams.
When calculated, our empirical tests amounted to two-thirds of total points awarded, with the remainder determined by the judges. So let's get to it.
Here are the competitors for the 2015 Light-Duty V-8 Challenge.
2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71 LTZ
Our Chevy entry had the 6.2-liter overhead-valve V-8, 3.23:1 axle gears and new eight-speed transmission ($2,495), MyLink and 4G hotspot ($495), side steps ($650) and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels ($850). Our Chevy did not have the NHT max trailering package (however, the GMC Sierra 1500 did), which offers a stronger rear axle, lower ring-and-pinion gear and 400 pounds more gross vehicle weight (see the What You Get chart). The total here, including destination, was $54,310.
2015 Ford F-150 XLT
Our new F-150 crew cab had the smallest V-8 of the group ($1,559) and came in Ford's midlevel XLT trim, so it had one of the lowest prices of our test. Our test truck — we should note this was technically an early production unit, which explains why Ford could only give us what it had to fit our criteria — came equipped with a rear electronic locking differential ($470), a trailer tow package ($495), box side steps ($325) and a tailgate step ($375). It came with 3.55:1 gearing. The final total, including destination, was $47,845.
2015 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT
Like the Silverado, the big news for the GMC is that its biggest V-8 is now mated with the brand-new eight-speed transmission. The only distinction between the GMC and the Chevy was that this one did not have the Z71 suspension and offered a gross vehicle weight rating that was 400 pounds more at 7,600, as well as 3.42:1 gearing. Our test unit had the driver alert package ($845), the max trailer package ($880), heated and cooled front seats ($650), spray-in bedliner ($475) and leather interior ($375). Total vehicle price, including destination, came to $54,655.
2015 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn
Our test Ram, which does not offer anything new for the 2015 model year, came to us with the western-themed Laramie Longhorn interior. The powertrain was the familiar 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi and ZF eight-speed transmission. As you might expect, this package was polished and well-equipped but still offered a few options: four-corner air suspension ($1,695), wheel-to-wheel side steps ($600), limited-slip differential ($325), trailer brake controller ($230) and 3.92:1 gears ($50). The final pricing for our Ram 1500 test truck, including destination, was $54,820.
2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro
Although the Tundra went through a significant refresh for the 2014 model year (inside and out), Toyota opted not to send us either of its premium trims (the 1794 Edition or Platinum), but instead sent us its newest option package, the off-road-ready TRD Pro. The massive CrewMax 5.7-liter V-8 has a unique look and an impressive high-tech suspension (and 4.30:1 gearing), but it did not come equipped with a trailer brake controller or max tow package. All totaled, the Tundra TRD Pro, including destination, had the lowest transaction price of our test at $45,045.
Any guesses on how they did? Let's see how they performed.
To see our What You Get specification chart, click here.
Cars.com images by Evan Sears