By Mark Williams, PickupTrucks.com
After two years of conducting unjudged Annual Physicals, we know pickup truck shoppers want our perspective on which trucks are best for them. Enter the Texas Truck Showdown. For its inaugural year we focused on two flavors of light-duty trucks: those with maximum towing ability and those that maximize mpgs.
For this max towing Showdown, we pushed the manufacturers to send us their best all-around half-ton pickups set up with their best towing option packages and features to see how they perform. Our Texas Truck Showdown 2016: MPG will publish in early February.
Our request here was simple: We asked each half-ton truckmaker to send us a two-wheel drive (to save some weight) with a crew cab to represent the heart of the market. Each player would need to be equipped with whatever max-tow package and features might be needed for multiple towing exercises, and it needed to be packaged as close to $51,000 as possible. What we got from the manufacturers was a group of test pickups close in size, capability and price, but each one displayed different personality traits when pushed in head-to-head competition.
Just to make things interesting, we tested a new 2016 Nissan Titan XD alongside our competitors to see how it would compare with this segment. However, we are not including this truck in this package of stories because it did not meet enough of our criteria and, technically, given its gross vehicle weight rating and size, it sits outside the segment. But because we know you'll want to know all the details, we will publish a separate story soon about how this all-new entry directly compares with the trucks in this test.
These are the tests we put our Texas Truck Showdown 2016: Towing competitors through:
- We track-tested (acceleration and braking) all the players at the Royal Purple Raceway outside of Houston, both empty and loaded with 1,750 pounds of payload. We loaded the exact same weight into each pickup to better compare and measure them against one another.
- We also ran each of these pickups on a 170-mile fuel-mileage route in and around Houston to get a clearer idea of how much compromise their towing packages surrendered when driven empty and how they performed driving the exact same route towing a 10,100-pound 18-foot Load Trail flatbed trailer.
- We stopped by EngineLogics to run each of our test trucks on the Mustang MD250 chassis dyno to see how the engines compared using the same test equipment on the same day; all were tested by the same technician.
- Our judges drove each pickup in multiple back-to-back settings while transporting the trucks to and from the racetrack, the hotel, the dyno shop and various photo shoot locations.
- Finally, we did sound testing in each vehicle over the same stretch of Interstate 10 (east of Houston) at idle and at 60 mph in top gear with the windows rolled up, and the air conditioning and fan off.
2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ (redesigned for 2016)
Our Deep Ocean Blue Metallic two-wheel-drive crew cab came to us with a $51,010 price tag (all prices include destination fee) that included the athletic 5.3-liter overhead valve V-8 and eight-speed automatic transmission (Chevy sent us a competitor with the smaller V-8, while GMC sent the 6.2-liter V-8 at an additional cost). Although $51,000 might sound like a lot of money, the Silverado 1500 is basically a well-equipped middle-of-the road player in this segment with all the proper equipment for heavier towing and payload hauling. The LTZ Plus Package (a $1,165 option) added power adjustable pedals, a Bose audio system, front and rear park assist, and a heated steering wheel. Our test truck also had 20-inch chrome wheels ($1,495), chrome side steps ($700), heated and vented leather front seats ($650), a leather wireless charging console ($510), spray-in bedliner ($475), special paint color ($395), towing mirrors ($230) and movable upper tie-downs ($60). The Max Trailering Package ($925) added a bigger and stronger rear axle, stronger rear leaf springs, retuned shocks, better radiator cooling and an integrated brake controller inside the truck. The EPA fuel economy ratings for this V-8 truck are 16/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined. The Silverado 1500 is a strong mainstream pickup choice that delivers a lot of value for your dollar.
For a larger version of the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Monroney, click on the picture above.
2016 Ford F-150 Lariat (all new in 2015)
Our two-wheel-drive Shadow Black Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat had a final price of $50,270 and came equipped with the twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine ($1,200) and six-speed automatic transmission. Equipment Group 501A ($1,500) includes a remote start system, 360-degree blind spot detection, backup sensors, LED spotlights in the side-view mirrors and an extra 110-volt, 400-watt outlet. Our test truck also had the Lariat Chrome Appearance Package ($1,695), leather bucket seats and console ($650), and a bed tailgate step ($375). The Max Trailer Tow Package ($1,195) includes an integrated trailer brake controller, Pro Trailer Backup Assist, 3.55:1 axle gears and a GVWR up to 6,800 pounds. Although unrelated to towing, this Ford also came with voice-activated navigation for $795. Finally, the optional larger 36-gallon fuel tank ($395) allowed us to tow heavy loads without stopping for fuel every 200 miles. The EPA fuel economy ratings for this V-6 truck are 17/24/20 mpg. The F-150 is the No. 1-selling pickup in the segment because it offers a wide variety of options and features that many buyers seem to want.
For a larger version of the 2016 Ford F-150 Monroney, click on the picture above.
2016 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT (redesigned for 2016)
Our Iridium Metallic two-wheel-drive GMC Sierra 1500 SLT crew cab came equipped with the bigger of GM's two V-8 options. The EcoTec3 6.2-liter V-8 is mated to the factory eight-speed automatic transmission for a final sticker price of $53,235, making it the most expensive player in our test. The priciest option was the more powerful V-8 engine ($2,495) rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pounds-feet of torque. The Sierra also came with 20-inch polished aluminum wheels ($895), chrome side steps ($700), leather bucket seats and console with additional USB ports and wireless phone charging ($510), high-performance LED headlights ($500), Intellilink with a color 8-inch touch-screen ($495), a spray-in bedliner ($475), a premium paint color ($395) and special chrome power side-view mirrors ($230). The GMC also had the Max Trailering Package ($925) providing a heavier-duty and larger rear axle, stronger rear leaf springs, retuned shocks, better radiator cooling and the integrated trailer brake controller. Both GM trucks equipped with the max-trailering option have a GVWR of 7,400 pounds. EPA fuel economy ratings for this truck are 15/21/17 mpg. The GMC Sierra 1500 SLT, especially when equipped with the big V-8, is the hot rod of the segment, but does it with style.
For a larger version of the 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 Monroney, click on the picture above.
2016 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn (all new in 2013)
Our Bright Silver Metallic crew-cab Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn came to us in the requested two-wheel-drive configuration with the 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi and eight-speed automatic transmission, finishing with a bottom-line price of $50,805. Because the Laramie Longhorn trim level comes well-equipped at a starting price of $49,980, there was not much need for optional equipment. Standard equipment included in this top trim level are 20-inch polished aluminum wheels with silver inserts, halogen projector headlamps, heated and ventilated leather seats and console, under-seat rear storage, power adjustable pedals, power 10-way driver's seat and six-way passenger seat, Alpine nine-speaker and subwoofer sound system, 8.4-inch nav touch-screen with Uconnect and a 32-gallon fuel tank. The options it came with merely added to the Longhorn's towing capability; it comes standard with a Class IV trailer hitch. Add-ons included towing mirrors (with swing-up capability) and an integrated trailer brake controller ($380), better-performing 3.92:1 axle gears ($75) and a limited-slip differential ($370). The EPA fuel economy ratings for this truck are 15/22/17 mpg. It's worth noting this is Ram's top-level trim package, which it is able to provide under our price ceiling; none of the other competitors could deliver their top trim level in this price range — although Toyota came close.
For a larger version of the 2016 Ram 1500 Monroney, click on the picture above.
2016 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition (all new in 2014)
Our Sunset Bronze Toyota Tundra came to us with its top-level trim, the 1794 Edition, at $52,722. Unfortunately, it also came to us with a 4x4 driveline and the TRD Off-Road Package. Although not the priciest truck in this test (that was the GMC), we did consider not allowing the Tundra into the Showdown because of the driveline disparity; however, in the name of delivering to our readers as much comparative data as possible, we decided to test it at the expense of the relatively small weight and payload penalty. We also discovered that the TRD option ($100) offered softer springs and shocks with a few other pricier styling options. Additional options on our test truck included the front-end paint protection film ($395), chrome Tundra tailgate inserts ($99), rubber bed mats ($139), a TRD performance air filter ($75), a center console storage tray ($85), a spare tire lock ($75) and alloy wheel tire locks ($85). The only other add-ons were the TRD dual exhaust ($1,100) and TRD rear anti-sway bar ($299), which probably helped with power output and trailering stability, respectively. As part of the well-equipped aspect of the 1794 Edition, our Tundra came standard with an integrated trailer controller, trailer-sway control and a high-quality backup camera. (Without the optional equipment, the total price for the Tundra would have been $50,275.) EPA fuel-economy ratings for this truck are a segment worst at 13/17/15 mpg. The Tundra is a solid performing pickup, but it is aging quickly and other players offer more strength and style.
For a larger version of the 2016 Toyota Tundra Monroney, click on the picture above.
Scoring the Showdown
Scoring breaks down into 20 categories, including acceleration and braking when empty and loaded, trailered and trailer-free fuel economy, engine performance (dyno), maximum payload capability, GVWR and more. Added to that are scores from our four judges in six key areas: towing performance, ride quality, value, ergonomics, visibility, and tech and entertainment. All totaled, each competitor had about 2,500 available points.
The judges for this contest included truck testers from inside the Cars.com/PickupTrucks.com family as well as truck-loving freelancer experts. Each judge was able to spend lots of time driving each combatant in several back-to-back drive routes and had time to discuss their findings with other drivers.
Joe Bruzek — Lead driver and Cars.com's senior road test editor, Bruzek has one of the fastest reaction times you'll ever see.
Bruce Smith — A longtime automotive enthusiast, Smith is skilled in the art of towing, four-wheeling, and wide-mouth bass and walleye fishing.
Kent Sundling — Known to the world as Mr. Truck, if it has a trailer or pickup bed, it's likely Sundling has driven it over the Rocky Mountains.
Mark Williams — Veteran automotive journalist and editor of PickupTrucks.com, Williams sometimes wakes up at night with new comparison test ideas.
To see the comparison specs of these pickups, click on our What You Get chart below.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears and Angela Conners