Panic braking a pickup truck from 60 mph to a full stop can be an unnerving experience. That's why we do all our brake testing on a closed test track with a professional test driver behind the wheel. Although you are not likely to experience this same set of circumstances in the real world, we think how truckmakers tune their vehicles to perform in these conditions can tell potential buyers what to expect from their own braking performance.
The best stopper of the group in empty runs was the GMC Canyon, stopping in just 136.5 feet. In second place was the Frontier, stopping in just 138.7 feet. The Colorado placed third, while the Toyota (the only player in the segment with rear drum brakes) stopped in 158.6 feet, 22 feet longer (more than a full truck length) past our winner.
Cars.com test driver Joe Bruzek noted that the Nissan brakes did well initially but after several stops, seemed to heat up, taking considerably longer to stop with each test. Although squishy, the Canyon had the most confident pedal response of the group and didn't lose any pedal feel after several panic stops. The Colorado, Bruzek noted, seemed to have a mushier pedal feel when compared to the others but whether that's attributable to the Z71 tires or something else we could not determine. Finally, he found the Toyota to have the touchiest pedal feel, giving it a kind of wild-ride flavor during panic stops, squirming quite a bit with a lot of antilock-braking vibration. It's possible that big tires and the oldest braking system of the category didn't help.
During loaded testing with the same payloads used during our acceleration runs, our results were predictable with one exception. Once again the Nissan Frontier — the vehicle with the smallest payload (1,000 pounds) — did well, performing better during loaded testing from 60 mph than it did empty and taking first place. The second-place GMC Canyon also performed well, stopping in 139.2 feet, less than 3 feet longer than when it was empty. In third place (and carrying the heaviest load), the Chevy stopped in just more than 5 feet longer loaded than when empty. In last place, loaded with 1,120 pounds, was the Tacoma.
What can we discern from this? A couple things: First, testing at a maximum payload rating gives us a good idea of how much faith and trust the factory engineers have in their vehicles and at what gross vehicle weight rating they trust their brake system. Newer pickups have both higher payload ratings, and stronger and better braking systems; their stopping distances were more predictable and repeatable.
Second, had we conducted the test a little differently, say only putting the same 1,000-pound payload (for the Frontier) in each truck bed, we would have likely had some different results, but several trucks wouldn't have come close to their maximum carrying capacities. Common sense would suggest that each of the players would likely have done better with less weight in their beds.
Third, how well and confident any pickup feels when carrying or stopping with a load, no matter how close to its limits, is important. Engineers who want to design trucks that are only driven while empty or provide good driving dynamics when conditions are optimal probably aren't doing in-market truck buyers the biggest favor. Our test is designed to see which truck holds up to repeated tests that push the outer edges, just in case future buyers find themselves in that unenviable position.
It's worth noting that when a truck has just 1,000 pounds of payload, once a few normal-sized adults are sitting inside there isn't much room left for cargo (maybe just a few hundred pounds or less). With that said, given how quickly the Nissan heated its brakes during repetitive testing, the Frontier probably had the right payload number.
How We Conducted the Testing
We conducted all our braking tests on the same quarter-mile test track where we did our acceleration tests, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz. We tried as best as we could to use the same portion of the track surface to initiate our panic braking events. As you might expect, tire grip and road surface can make the results shift a bit, as do temperature and weight conditions. We ran all vehicles to 60 mph in their top overdrive gear, and all braking events were pedal-mashing stomps, engaging the antilock braking system until the vehicle came to a full and complete stop.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears