Full-size Pickup Comparison Test: Battle Royale

In Canada and in the United States, full-size pickup trucks are bread-and-butter vehicles for Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The Ford F-Series largely dominates on the sales charts, followed by the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra—when added together—and the Ram Pickup.

In our country, these four models represented 17.2% of total light-vehicle sales from January 1st through October 31st, all brands considered. That’s a huge chunk of the market, and also a lucrative one. And during this comparison test, we realized once again just how competitive these trucks are.

The Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 have all been substantially redesigned for the 2019 model year, so it was obviously time to set up a confrontation between these pickups and the most popular of all, the Ford F-150. The current generation of the latter was introduced in 2015, so it’s actually not that old and constant improvements keep it fresh. The latest significant change was the addition of a turbo-diesel, 3.0-litre V6 to rival the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.

We assembled four pickups by choosing the most luxurious trim levels, and equipped with their most potent engines. The 2019 Ram 1500 Limited included the good old 5.7-litre HEMI V8, while the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country and 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali boasted the company’s optional 6.2-litre V8. As for the 2018 Ford F-150 Limited (a 2019 model wasn’t available in time for our test), it relied on the Blue Oval’s most powerful engine—and the one offering the highest towing capacity—the twin-turbo, 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6.

We also sent an invitation to the Toyota Tundra and the Nissan TITAN, but the most lavish variants of these two trucks weren’t available.

Our test was spread out over several days, including one dedicated to a drive through the countryside, around town and on the highway, with a stop at Circuit ICAR in Mirabel to perform acceleration and braking runs. The Car Guide’s team was composed of Frederic Mercier, William Clavey, Germain Goyer and yours truly, on a cold and rainy day during which the temperature hovered around 5 degrees Celsius.

The next day, relatively sunny with a temperature of about 12 degrees, Antoine Joubert and I submitted each truck to a towing test. Our 4500-lb. (2040-kg) trailer was graciously provided by Remorquage Mobile (514-521-1629). To make our pickups sweat a little more and see how they can handle a heavier load, we strapped a 2018 Nissan Pathfinder inside the closed trailer, for a total weight of 9033 lbs. (4106 kg).

After compiling the scores, a winner emerged from the bunch. However, the point spread between the first and the last truck of this test was only about 5.5%, proof that they’re all very close in terms of performance, capabilities, handling and comfort. Each one is a good purchase, but an overall ranking was inevitable. Here we go.

4th place: Ford F-150 (74.9%)

Photo: William Clavey

The most popular vehicle finishes in fourth place? What a sacrilege!

The final scoring doesn’t do justice to the F-150, which revolutionized the pickup-truck segment four years ago with its aluminum body panels, its vast selection of powertrains and its clever features. The Silverado 1500, the Sierra 1500 and the Ram 1500 have obviously been developed using the F-Series as a benchmark, which is actually very flattering.

The F-150’s design is aging well, and looks pretty good in Limited trim. Some of us loved the dark blue cockpit, while others thought it didn’t mix well with the white exterior paint job. The cushy seats proved extremely comfortable on the road, although they could benefit from a little more lateral support. The SYNC 3 infotainment system works well, fast and easy to use while driving.

On countryside roads, and especially around town, the F-150 shook its occupants more than the two GMs and the Ram did. It’s the lightest of the group—barely—but its refined drive was spoiled somewhat by heavier steering than in the other trucks. The vibration felt through the F-150’s wheel, triggered by the lane keep assist system, was downright bothersome for some testers.

The EcoBoost V6 isn’t at all intimidated by the competition’s V8 engines, and even has the cockiness of producing more torque than GM’s big 6.2-litre V8. On the other hand, we were less impressed with the automatic transmission’s reluctance to perform quick downshifts, as the F-150 was the slowest in the 80-to-120 km/h acceleration test—even with the Sport mode activated. While it ended the drive day with the best fuel economy, it didn’t stand out during the towing test. To be more precise, it consumed less fuel than the V8s in city driving, but a little more on the highway.

Since we’re on the subject, the Ford F-150 lost a few points during the towing exercise as it was the only one to exhibit a tugging sensation during relaxed driving. However, it redeemed itself somewhat by offering the Pro Trailer Backup Assist system, which makes revering manoeuvres easier for less-experienced drivers (like me).

As much as we like the 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6, which by the way isn’t subject to the high-displacement engine plate tax in Quebec, we’re on the fence concerning its long-term reliability. Several owners of first-generation EcoBoost engines had to replace turbochargers, although it seems that improvements were made by Ford over the last few years. Even if the 5.0-litre V8’s output and towing capacity are slightly lower, we’d probably prefer it if we’re planning to keep the F-150 for the long run.

It’s only normal for the oldest model of a comparison test to end up in last place. However, it doesn’t mean that the Ford F-150 is uncompetitive. Quite the contrary. The simple fact that its freshly redesigned rivals didn’t cleanly beat it says a lot about how good it really is.

3rd place: Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (75.4%)

Photo: William Clavey

Why does General Motors persevere in offering two brands with similar models, sold on the same dealership floor? We’re still scratching our heads, but the automaker still believes that there exist two different types of buyers for its trucks.

At first glance, it’s hard to imagine that these two pickups were completely redesigned, but it’s really the case. Significant progress has been made in regards to ride comfort, especially in the Chevy’s case that felt cushier than the GMC and its slightly firmer suspension. We also appreciated the truck’s steering calibration, with a perfect dose of lightness and precision, giving us the impression that we were driving a smaller-sized truck.

And then there’s that brawny and melodious 6.2-litre V8, available in the LTZ and High Country trims of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500. It provides fantastic power and flexibility while being brilliantly managed by its 10-speed automatic transmission. The latter proved more competent than the F-150’s, with notably quicker downshifts. That’s curious as it’s essentially the same gearbox, having been jointly developed by the two manufacturers. We’ll guess that GM did a better job with its programming.

The Silverado posted the quickest 0-100 km/h and quarter-mile times of the bunch, beating the GMC by a tenth of a second in both cases. The only downside about GM’s big V8 is that super unleaded is recommended, unlike the Ford’s and the Ram’s engines. The 5.3-litre V8 in the Silverado concedes 65 hp (355 against 420 for the 6.2-litre unit), but despite the addition of cylinder-deactivation technology, it isn’t more efficient. Despite that, the Silverado boasted the worst fuel economy during our drive.

During the towing test, the Silverado handled itself very well, and consumed less fuel than the Ford’s EcoBoost V6 on the highway. In addition, its rearview camera helping us line up the truck to the trailer offered a better perspective than those of the Ford and the Ram. On the other hand, the on-screen towing app isn’t all that handy, and during the whole drive, the two GM trucks displayed an error message stating the trailer’s light cable wasn’t properly attached, accompanied by an audible warning that chimed every three seconds. And yet, the trailer lights worked just fine. We’ll blame the cable this time, even if the F-150 and Ram 1500 didn’t complain about a faulty connection.

In the end, the Silverado lost points for its cockpit finish, which doesn’t reflect the truck’s near-$80,000 sticker. The design is conservative and the control layout is ergonomically sound, but in the top-shelf High Country, we’re expecting better-quality materials—especially compared to what’s found in the Ram’s cabin. We also question the relevance of the Safety Alert Seat that’s found in both GMs, which alerts the driver of imminent danger without pointing out what it is. The new generation of the Silverado 1500 is a nice evolution compared to its predecessor, but brings nothing new to the segment.

2nd place: GMC Sierra 1500 (77.2%)

Photo: William Clavey

They may be pretty similar, but we preferred the GMC Sierra 1500 over the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 during our comparison test. These two pickups share almost all their mechanical components, but it’s in the little details that the Sierra pleased us more.

From a driving dynamics standpoint, the Sierra Denali benefits from an Adaptive Ride Control suspension with variable dampers, which quell the jitteriness on rough roads without making the suspension soft. The difference isn’t great compared to the Silverado, but enough for it to be noticed and appreciated.

The Denali trim finds its share of buyers at GMC by its more upscale style, and in that regard, the Sierra received the highest mark of our quartet. For about the same price as the Chevy, the Sierra was equipped with power-retractable running boards, making ingress and egress easier—although it would be better if they could lower more—but by kicking a switch on them, they deploy rearwards to help us access the bed more easily. The steps integrated into the extremities of the rear bumper of the GM trucks are a simple, but oh so practical feature.

As for the optional MultiPro tailgate, offering six configurations to climb into the bed, hold longer objects or serve as a working station, it can be versatile for certain people, but unnecessarily heavy and complex for others. And as a loyal fan of our Facebook page pointed out, we could end up with a nasty dent on the tailgate if we lower the integrated step without initially removing the hitch ball.

Like the Silverado, the Sierra Denali was equipped with the optional 6.2-litre V8, matched to the 10-speed automatic transmission, so the same good and bad points apply here. Curiously, the GMC consumed about a litre less every 100 km than the Chevy during our road test, but during the towing test, we ended up with exactly the same average in the two GM trucks.

The GMC was up to the task by towing the heavy load without breaking a sweat. But not without complaining through its visual and audible warning that the trailer’s light cable wasn’t plugged in properly, even though it was and working just fine. And there’s no way to turn off the warning chime—at least we didn’t figure out how. At least the rearview camera to help us align the hitch ball with the trailer was the most useful (same as in the Silverado).

We would’ve liked a little more luxury in the Sierra Denali’s cockpit, but the choice of colours and trimmings were slightly more attractive than in the Silverado. The infotainment system is easy to use and offers lots of features, although it looks pretty basic beside the Ram 1500 Limited’s system.

As a whole, the Sierra pleased us with its performance, its fuel consumption, its solid drive with the trailer pinned to it and its handling. Its cabin isn’t spectacular, but it’s comfortable and serves up a long list of equipment. The GMC’s big problem is that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles put a little more effort in the development of its new pickup.

1st place: Ram 1500 (79.2%)

Photo: William Clavey

The new Ram 1500, about 10 years in the making, didn’t waste time seducing our group of testers, and stood out as much for its ride quality than the quality of its cockpit.

The moment we hopped into the Ram 1500 Limited, we realized that the cabin’s design and finish was a cut above the Ford’s and way beyond those of the GM trucks. Short from being perfect, the overall look is elegant and the choice of materials matches our expectations of an $80K pickup.

And what about that immense 12-inch touchscreen? Of course, the layout requires a learning curve, but the system reacts quickly to finger poking and we can even split the screen into two separate displays if desired. In addition, we find physical buttons to access the system’s main audio and climate functionalities. The modular centre console offers lots of storage, aided by the absence of a shift lever—even if the dash-mounted transmission rotary dial doesn’t feel very, uh, manly.

The front seats were comfy, but rear-seat passengers are treated to seats that are not only heated, but ventilated too, with reclining seatbacks to enhance comfort on long trips. Two features exclusive to the Ram 1500. The only problem is that the powerful sound system in the Limited trim includes roof-mounted speakers back there that blast music straight into our ears. It can be adjusted, but still…

Only a few minutes at the wheel are enough to demonstrate just how the Ram 1500’s refinement is superior to those of its rivals. The Ram drives as if it’s the heaviest of the group, even if it isn’t. On the other hand, from the driver’s seat, it feels as if it’s the smallest and the easiest to park.

During the towing test, the Ram handled itself perfectly, with no sign of strain while consuming the less fuel, by only a few tenths of a litre. The blind spot monitoring system includes an automatic detection of the trailer’s length, which didn’t seem to work during our test.

The 5.7-litre HEMI V8’s sound gives us goosebumps, as it always did, without being too intrusive in the cockpit, and the engine provides good performance, although it didn’t quite dish out the muscle of GM’s 6.2-litre V8. We’ll not that our Ram tested wasn’t equipped with the new eTorque system, a mild hybrid setup that reduces fuel consumption around town by about 11%, according to numbers published by Natural Resources Canada. It’s a $500 option, although its long-term reliability is unknown at this point.

The Ram 1500’s ride comfort was the best of the group, thanks to its air suspension. The latter does wonders for the truck, but in the past, it faced some durability issues. Let’s hope FCA improved it in this new-generation pickup, because without this feature, the Ram loses a great advantage compared to its adversaries. Also, the Ram 1500’s paint quality and exterior finish was voted the worst of our quartet.

The Ram does have its faults, but that didn’t prevent it from to win this confrontation, and also grabbed The Car Guide’s 2019 Best Buy in the full-size pickup truck category. While GM’s trucks evolved compared to their previous generations, FCA evolved the segment itself.

Conclusion

A victory for the 2019 Ram 1500, but by a very narrow margin. While none of these pickups clearly stood out from the pack during the towing test, a winner easily emerged during our on-road drive.

Obviously, we chose the most luxurious versions for this comparison test, but the scoring might have changed a little if we had opted for the off-road variants (F-150 FX4, Silverado 1500 Trail Boss, Sierra 1500 AT4 and Ram 1500 Rebel) or more-affordable versions equipped with fuel-efficient powertrains such as Ford’s twin-turbo 2.7-litre V6, GM’s new turbo 2.7-litre four-cylinder engine (which isn’t yet available as these lines are being written) and FCA’s Pentastar V6, which now includes the eTorque system.

These four adversaries all possess great qualities. They all have their own personality and offer practical or sophisticated features that stand out in the eye of each buyer, as needs and tastes can differ wildly. However, for now, the Ram 1500 is our favourite choice in the full-size pickup segment.

FINAL SCORING

Year 2019 2018 2019 2019
Make Chevrolet Ford GMC Ram
Model Silverado F-150 Sierra 1500
EXTERIOR
Design /25 17.5 19.2 20.3 18.9
Fit and finish /25 19.1 19.1 19.4 17.5
Total /50 36.6 38.3 39.7 36.4
COCKPIT AND BED
Interior design /10 6.3 6.8 6.9 8.3
Interior fit and finish /10 7.4 7.1 7.6 7.8
Cockpit quietness /10 7.5 7.3 7.6 8.1
Driving position /10 7.9 7.5 7.9 7.9
Ergonomics /10 7.3 7.8 7.3 8.2
Front-seat space /10 8.3 7.8 8.0 8.0
Rear-seat spce /10 7.9 8.0 7.9 8.4
Equipment /10 7.3 7.5 7.5 8.1
Storage /10 7.3 7.4 7.3 8.0
Bed size and access /10 7.1 7.5 8.6 7.0
Total /100 74.1 74.6 76.4 79.6
TECHNOLOGY
Audio system /30 21.2 22.9 21.3 23.6
Infotainment system /35 26.7 28.0 26.7 30.2
Active safety /35 24.5 24.9 24.5 26.5
Total /100 72.3 75.8 72.5 80.3
DRIVE
Engine /20 16.3 14.3 16.3 15.9
Transmission /15 12.4 11.6 12.5 12.2
Handling /10 7.4 7.6 8.1 8.0
Steering /10 7.4 7.0 7.4 7.5
Brakes /10 7.3 7.3 7.3 7.3
Ride quality /10 7.7 7.4 7.5 7.9
Towing /50 42.5 41.5 42.5 44.0
Total /125 100.8 96.6 101.5 102.7
MEASURED PERFORMANCE
Acceleration /15 12.3 11.1 12.3 11.3
Passing power /15 12.0 9.6 12.0 11.6
Braking /15 11.4 10.5 11.4 10.1
Fuel consumption /30 21.0 22.1 21.8 22.1
Total /75 56.7 53.4 57.5 55.1
GLOBAL APPRECIATION
Testers' choice /50 36.5 36.1 38.8 42.0
TOTAL /500 377.0 374.7 386.2 396.2
RANK 3 4 2 1

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TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Year 2019 2018 2019 2019
Make Chevrolet Ford GMC Ram
Model Silverado 1500 High Country F-150 Limited Sierra 1500 Denali 1500 Limited
Wheelbase (mm) 3745 3683 3745 3672
Length (mm) 5885 5890 5886 5916
Width without mirrors (mm) 2063 2029 2063 2084
Height (mm) 1918 1961 1918 1996
Front/rear headroom (mm) 1093 / 1019 1036 / 1026 1093 / 1019 1038 / 1011
Front/rear legroom (mm) 1131 / 1102 1115 / 1107 1131 / 1102 1040 / 1147
Front/rear shoulder room (mm) 1677 / 1655 1694 / 1674 1677 / 1655 1676 / 1670
Front/rear hiproom (mm) 1554 / 1530 1588 / 1683 1554 / 1530 1610 / 1611
Curb weight (kg)* 2454 (est.) 2388 2469 2405
Engine 6.2-litre V8 Twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 6.2-litre V8 5.7-litre V8
Max power (hp @ rpm) 420 @ 5600 375 @ 5000 420 @ 5600 395 @ 5600
Max torque (lb.-t-ft. @ rpm) 460 @ 4100 470 @ 3500 460 @ 4100 410 @ 3950
Fuel type, quantity (L) Super recom. / 91 Regular / 136 Super recom. / 91 Regular / 98
Transmission 10-speed automatic 10-speed automatic 10-speed automatic 8-speed automatic
Final ratio 3.23 3.31 3.23 3.21
Tires P275/50R22 P275/45R22 P275/50R22 285/45R22
Turning diameter (m) 14.3 14.6 14.3 14.1
Payload (kg)* 966 921 939 835
Towing capacity (kg)* 5534 5761 5488 5144
NRCan city/highway/combined fuel economy (L/100 km) 15.0 / 12.0 / 13.7 14.3 / 10.5 / 12.6 15.5 / 11.9 / 13.9 16.1 / 11.0 / 13.8
Observed fuel consumption (L/100 km) 14.3 12.7 13.2 13.4
Towing fuel consumption (L/100 km) 26.7 26.3 26.7 26.1
0-100 km/h acceleration (sec) 6.8 7.6 6.9 7.8
Quarter-mile acceleration (sec @ km/h) 14.8 @ 154.7 15.6 @ 135.0 14.9 @ 154.3 15.6 @ 147.8
80 à 120 km/h acceleration (sec) 4.8 5.4 4.8 4.9
100-0 km/h braking (m) 44.3** 42.5 42.1 43.8
Base MSRP $35,000 $31,049 $36,200 $33,890 / $43,295***
Base MSRP (tested version) $65,800 $78,529 $67,900 $74,695
Total MSRP (tested version) $78,195 $80,599 $78,345 $81,155
Freight and delivery charges $1,795 $1,800 $1,795 $1,795
Warranty (comp. / powertrain, years/km) 3/60 (C), 5/100 (P) 3/60 (C), 5/100 (P) 3/60 (C), 5/100 (P) 3/60 (C), 5/100 (P)
*Crew Cab Short Bed 4WD **in the rain ***Ram 1500 Classic/Ram 1500
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