Each year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, our sister website Cars.com announces their "Best of" awards for the best new vehicles in several categories at the end of press days. For the first time ever, PickupTrucks.com and Cars.com will announce a dedicated award for pickup trucks. The announcement of the Best Pickup of 2014 will happen Tuesday evening at the historic Fillmore Theater. The nominees for the award are:
Chevrolet Silverado 1500
To say preseason expectations were high for GM's redesigned 2014 models would be a gross understatement. Not only would this be the first big test for the newly restructured GM, but also the Chevrolet Silverado is the largest selling vehicle it has, and the truck was one of the oldest in the segment. Each of its competitors had been redesigned or re-engineered (or both) at least once since the last-generation Silverado 1500 hit the market in 2007. To be clear, from bumper to bumper, inside and out, this third-generation Silverado 1500 is stronger, smarter, more efficient and more capable, by a wide margin, than the truck it replaces. The suspension and frame are both strengthened and lightened, and the interior is completely redesigned and reconfigured with more gauges, readouts and more functions than ever before. This may not be the grand slam some hoped for, but this is how you get runs on the scoreboard.
If any truck maker understands the formula for keeping buyers coming back to its brand year after year, even on those off years where it doesn't have a new truck, new powertrain or a significant upgrade, it's Ford. Even as new pickup trucks enter or are re-engineered or redesigned in the growing full-size segment, Ford has consistently held its sales lead in good times and bad. And it does that by continually delivering solid core products, good-looking trim packages and functional options. For 2014, Ford introduced the F-150 Tremor, basically the sportiest street version F-150 it makes. Although relying on plenty of existing parts, the little sport truck offers quite a bang-for-the-buck proposition with the 365-horsepower EcoBoost engine, a great power-to-weight ratio, and upgraded seats, door inserts and dash accents. During our most recent half-ton competition, the 2013 Light-Duty Challenge, our EcoBoost-equipped F-150 squeaked out a win in our 13-event head-to-head Olympic-style contest. The F-150 has been the No. 1 selling half-ton in the U.S. for many years, and we considered it the standard for the segment.
GMC Sierra 1500
The redesigned 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 gets all of the same vastly improved engineering and layout upgrades that have gone into its sibling, the 2014 Chevy Silverado 1500. With the new frame, suspension tuning, body strengthening and new extended-cab door configuration, the GMC version offers a distinctive look with its unique body panels, hoods, front grilles and headlight/taillight setups. Additionally, GMC will also offer the Sierra 1500 with its exclusive Denali trim package, as well as a special All-Terrain package. Both trim levels offer unique badging, interior upgrades and special front grille designs. All GMC Sierra 1500s will share the three new EcoTec3 powertrains, offering the 4.3-liter V-6 in either two- or four-wheel drive and in each of the three cab configurations. The 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V-8 engines will be offered in select models. All three engines have cylinder deactivation, direct injection and variable valve timing for higher power ratings and improved fuel economy. We should note that our judges during the 2013 Light-Duty Challenge called attention to the GMC's use of interior materials, dash layout and seating feel. The Sierra 1500 will be a little more expensive than its Chevy counterpart, but for many, the added expense will be worth every penny.
Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
New for 2014, Ram will be the first to offer (in a long time) a small diesel for half-ton buyers in the form of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. The smallish 3.0-liter turbo-diesel will offer 240 hp and an impressive 420 pounds-feet of torque and is likely to have an EPA highway fuel economy number at or close to 27 mpg. All Ram 1500s got a complete overhaul last year with a new look, several segment-first options and an entirely reworked interior, but by being the first in today's half-ton segment to offer a small diesel, Ram is keeping the spotlight shining on its light-duty player. The diesel option will cost a little more ($2,850 over the Hemi V-8 option), but it will be mated to Ram's segment-leading eight-speed ZF transmission. The Hemi-equipped Ram 1500 we had for the 2013 Light-Duty Challenge was a strong player in all the quantitative testing, with many of the judges especially liking the SLT Big Horn trim package. This new EcoDiesel goes on sale in the first quarter of 2014 and could be the perfect choice for those who need lots of torque and extended fuel range.
Ram 2500/3500 HD
Last year, the Ram 3500 Heavy Duty got some significant upgrades in the form of a new frame, a new front suspension setup and a higher-output Cummins turbo-diesel. Those upgrades gave that truck maximum towing bragging rights over the competition by a wide margin. This year, it's the Ram 2500 HD's turn. Yes, all Ram 2500s get the upgraded frame, front suspension and Cummins option, but the biggest news is that Ram HD engineers have included coil springs on all three-quarter-ton trucks, with a heavier-duty, load-leveling airbag spring option for tow junkies. Many will remember how revolutionary it was when the 2009 Ram 1500 went to coil springs when the competition was using leaf springs, and this change looks to be just as impressive. During our time behind the wheel of a new Ram 2500, the ride seemed dramatically changed for the better. Finally, 2014 Ram HDs (both 2500 and 3500) will have an added gas engine choice in the form of a 6.4-liter V-8 Hemi, now offering a cylinder-deactivation mode for better fuel economy.
Like the GM half-tons, the Toyota Tundra was also ready for a redesign; however, Tundra engineers took a more studied and calculated approach. With many Tundra buyers reporting that they were happy with powertrain and chassis capability, Toyota focused on interior and exterior upgrades and design changes. Last updated in 2006 as a 2007 model, the 2014 Tundra remains structurally unchanged with the same frame and suspension strategy as the current generation, although many of the spring rates and shock tuning parameters have been improved. The powertrains have not changed either with the 4.0-liter V-6, the 4.6-liter V-8 (introduced in 2010) and the twin-cam 5.7-liter V-8 offered for the lineup. What has changed is just about every body panel on the truck with a larger and more dynamic front grille, enhanced fender flares, new headlights and taillights, and significantly improved interior and cabin features. The new half-tons will also include trailer-sway control and an integrated brake controller to allow drivers to more comfortably and safely tow. Although some may criticize Toyota for not bringing more design drama and technology to this new truck, there are enough improvements here to move the needle.