What's the Best Light-Duty Truck for Towing 2016: Texas Truck Showdown

Joe dyno reading II

By Patrick Olsen, Cars.com

We put these five light-duty pickup trucks through a week's worth of tow testing in and around Houston to see which came out on top. Our judges were:

Mark Williams — PickupTrucks.com editor
Joe Bruzek — Cars.com senior road test editor
Bruce Smith — automotive freelance journalist who specializes in trucks and 4x4s
Kent Sundling — editor and owner of MrTruck.com

Here's how the trucks finished and what the judges thought about each one.

 

No. 5: 2016 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition, 5.7-liter V-8; 2,102 points

Toyota Action 1 II

100-point categories (best in test): Fuel-tank capacity

The Verdict: "Perhaps a Tundra equipped differently could have made a better tow rig," Bruzek said, "but this Tundra with its off-road package was far outclassed for a comparison on maximum towing."

What They Liked

Quick start: The Tundra "launches with authority," Smith said, and Williams agreed: "The engine and transmission is always ready to jump off the line."

Transmission: "It may be short a few gears compared with the others," Bruzek said, "but the Tundra has very positive shifts from its six-speed package."

Handling: "Its light steering effort makes for quick lane changes, despite being the heaviest in this comparison," Bruzek said, and Smith liked how the Tundra "handles the trailered load."

The 1794 trim level: Bruzek liked the "beefy looks of its TRD Off-Road Package," while Williams said that "the 1794 Edition is a good first attempt with room for improvement," and Sundling appreciated its "quality luxury interior."

And …: Smith liked the "overall visibility." Sundling applauded that its "4.30 axle ratio is made for towing; you have to go to a Ford F-450 to get that axle ratio." And Williams noted that "there is nothing like the CrewMax cab out there. It's an entirely separate room in the back of the cab."

What They Didn't

Poor mpg: It "inhales fuel," Smith said. "The fuel mileage is the lowest in this group," Sundling noted, and Williams added, "fuel economy for a truck like this in a segment this competitive needs to be much better."

Toyota Int 1 II

Transmission, while towing: "It did a lot of hunting when loaded with a heavy trailer," Williams said, and Sundling found that "at slower speeds, even in Tow mode, the transmission hunts for gears and doesn't stay in gear until it reaches higher speeds."

Ergonomics: Smith disliked "the Tundra's placement of switches and knobs," while Sundling noted that he's "glad they finally have a factory trailer-brake controller, but it's hard to see while driving and using the manual control."

The exhaust note: "The optional TRD exhaust is an initial novelty that grows old the more miles you put on the truck," Bruzek said, and other judges agreed.

And …: "Most outdated truck in the group, other than the sheet metal," Sundling said. "Brake pedal feel is light and uncommunicative," Bruzek said. Williams found that there was "too much sagging in the rear end with payload; 1,200 pounds of [calculated] payload here is unconscionable."

 

No. 4: 2016 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn, 5.7-liter V-8; 2,149 points

Ram Action 1 II

100-point categories (best in test): None

The Verdict: "The value player in the group when loaded with options and features," Williams said, "if you're looking for a half-ton that doesn't need to work too often."

What They Liked

Interior quality: "Our Laramie Longhorn delivered top-notch layouts and quality at thousands less than Ford and GMC," Williams said. "It has the look and options of a luxury truck for a midrange price," Sundling said. "Highest quality and most comfortable interior with supple leather seating and fine materials for this class," Bruzek said.

Ride quality: "One of the most comfortable empty," Bruzek said, and Smith said he liked the "stable ride it provides when towing." Other judges agreed.

Value proposition: "A dollar goes very far with features like heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, towing mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, all for $50,805," Bruzek said.

And …: "I love the sound of the Hemi under hard throttle," Smith said. "By far the easiest to get comfortable inside and around town," Williams said. "Visibility is as good as it gets for a pickup truck," Sundling said. Finally, "although some hate them," Williams said, "I like the pivoting side mirrors that offer a ton of rear visibility."

What They Didn't

Side mirrors: "They hang out like oars and do little to increase vision," Smith countered.

Ram Int 1 II

Trailer squat: Williams disliked "the horrible sagging when the Ram was loaded with bed cargo. It's uncomfortable to look at and has the headlights pointing skyward." "With this squat," Sundling added, "it handles the worst with a trailer, fishtailing."

Power: "I expected gutsier acceleration for its power and torque ratings with the eight-speed automatic transmission," Bruzek said, "though its hefty weight might have something to do with that."

Controls: "I don't like the dial-a-shift in the Ram," Smith said, "and the Longhorn's distracting gauge overlays make it difficult to read them, day or night."

And …: "I can't quite explain why this truck has a heavy and sluggish steering feel," Williams said. "Braking performance is far less confident when carrying the maximum payload," Bruzek said. "Ram desperately needs a more aggressive fuel-economy strategy as the Hemi has to be babied to get good mileage."

 

No. 3: 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ, 5.3-liter V-8; 2,233 points

Chevy Action 1 II

100-point categories (best in test): Empty 60-to-zero-mph braking, sound at idle (tied with Ford), empty mpg (tied with GMC), calculated maximum payload, gross vehicle weight rating (tied with GMC)

The Verdict: "The Silverado offers stability and driver confidence when towing," Smith said. "The only thing that could make this package better would be if it had the 6.2-liter engine under the hood."

What They Liked

Transmission: "The eight-speed transmission squeezes every bit of acceleration from the 5.3-liter with impressive results," Bruzek said. Smith agreed: "The eight-speed's programming is perfectly matched to the engine."

Value proposition: "This Silverado is a good value for the price difference versus the 6.2-liter if you don't tow often," Sundling said. "I can't think of a better mainstream player in this segment, delivering solid ability and function," Williams said. "It's not sexy, but it's honest."

Interior design and quality: "It has a huge number of USB ports plus wireless charging, and that allows every passenger to charge a device at the same time," Bruzek said. "The interior designers have shown wonderful self-restraint," Williams said. "It's easy to see all the important stuff with dials and big buttons." "The memory foam in the seat makes it the most comfortable GM has ever made," Sundling said.

And …: "I like its fuel economy and power," Smith said, while Sundling appreciated its speed and braking ability while empty. "Its handling is planted when loaded or empty," Bruzek noted, and Williams concurred: "The Silverado chassis has the most composed feeling when loaded or towing."

What They Didn't

No 6.2-liter engine: "I had 6.2-liter envy driving this back-to-back with the GMC's more powerful engine," Bruzek said. "With little difference in fuel economy versus the 6.2," Sundling said, "it would be hard to pick the 5.3-liter."

Chevy Int 1 II

Steering-wheel position: "GM trucks still have their steering wheels pointed toward the door," Sundling said. "This goes back to the 1970s when it served the purpose of making entrance easier. Now that we have tilt and telescoping steering wheels, why doesn't GM align the steering wheel with the seat and doors?" Other judges agreed.

Ride: Smith didn't like "the harshness from the front suspension when encountering sharp bumps and dips, such as expansion joints and broken pavement." "Ride quality when empty is slightly disruptive and definitely more trucklike," Bruzek said, "but at the same time, body movement is controlled very well."

Features and quality: "Chevy trucks will always come up short on more options and features as long as GMC is around," Williams said.

And …: "I can't believe the crew cab doesn't offer a bigger fuel-tank choice," Williams said. "The new hood blocks frontal vision," Smith said. "With a trailer, acceleration is disappointing," Sundling said, "even with the eight-speed transmission."

 

No. 2: 2016 Ford F-150 Lariat, 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost; 2,323 points

Ford Action 1 II

100-point categories (best in test): Least expensive, scale weight, sound at idle (tied with Chevy), sound at 60 mph, peak torque on dyno @ rpm

The Verdict: "This F-150 is perfect for the times when V-8 muscle is needed," Smith said, "and perfect for when mpg matters most."

What They Liked

The way it drove: "The F-150 has unparalleled agility and maneuverability in this comparison that contribute to the Ford driving like a much smaller truck," Bruzek said. Smith liked "the nimble, sporty feeling when driven empty."

Power: "The torque from the EcoBoost 3.5-liter is confidence inspiring with big payloads," Bruzek said. Smith appreciated the Ford's "surprisingly nice balance of horsepower and fuel economy."

Interior quality and ergonomics: "This is the standout feature for me," Williams said, "offering more features and options and quality surfaces than anyone in this price range. There isn't anyone who understands how to deliver information to the driver than Ford." Smith agreed: "I like Ford's technology package and how it gives a broad scope of information that's easily accessed while driving." Sundling applauded its "great dash layout, with the most options to scroll through."

Bonus features: Bruzek liked the "countless utility features, such as LED box lighting, the Pro Trailer Backup Assist, retractable tailgate step and digital dashboard displays with trailering info."

And …: The Ford "has great grade shifting in Tow/Haul mode," Sundling said, "and it's very well-equipped for the price."

What They Didn't

Wheel choice: Smith didn't like "the way its two-ply, carlike tires handle when towing," while Bruzek, our track driver, saw "absurd wheelspin that keeps the big power from being used to its maximum potential." "Our test truck had Michelin Energy Saver tires, and it was frustrating to watch it on the track," Williams said. "Yes, it got better mpg, but there was a lot of tire spin."

Ford Int 1 II

Trailer and payload issues: Smith didn't like the F-150's "soft rear suspension when towing," and Sundling noted that it "squatted bad with a trailer, which changed the headlight angle." "It doesn't track nicely when loaded on the track," Bruzek said. "It was darting around at highway speeds with the nose pointed high and the rear of the truck squatting."

Lightweight: "We could definitely feel that this truck was the lightest of the group, but that meant it was less settled on bad roads," Williams said.

And …: "There's nothing like the Pro Trailer Backup Assist, but it forces the trailer-brake controller too low," Williams said. "It didn't have the optional towing mirrors that many others in this competition did," Bruzek said.

 

No. 1: 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT, 6.2-liter V-8; 2,357 points

GMC Sierra Action 1 II

100-point categories (best in test): Empty zero-to-60 mph, loaded zero-to-60 mph, empty quarter-mile, loaded quarter-mile, loaded 60-to-zero-mph braking, peak horsepower @ rpm dyno, empty mpg (tied with Chevy), mpg with trailer, calculated maximum towing ability, maximum rated towing, gross combined weight rating, GVWR (tied with Chevy)

The Verdict: "This is a mild-mannered pickup that is ready to don its cape and do some heavy lifting," Williams said, "saving the day from a long list of work chores."

What They Liked

The powertrain: "The hot-rod 6.2-liter engine and eight-speed transmission are a match made in heaven," Bruzek said, "capable of making a maxed-out payload feel nonexistent." "The engine and transmission are synced up like a smooth-flying jet rocket," Williams added. And Smith liked "the fuel economy and power the 6.2-liter and eight-speed combo provides." "I love the sound of the 6.2," Sundling noted.

And more powertrain: "Did I mention it's fast?" Bruzek asked. "It's like hit-the-speed-governor-before-the-quarter-mile-ends kind of fast." "It's surprising how much of a sleeper hot rod this is," Williams said. "Loaf along and get rewarded; stomp the throttle and get rewarded too."

Tech: "I like the way the Apple CarPlay integrates with the Sierra," Smith said. "Apple CarPlay simplifies using an iPhone in the truck easier than any other multimedia system," Bruzek added. "The gauge layout is the quickest to read the vital signs such as engine temperature, oil pressure and battery amps," Sundling said.

Interior quality: "Even the midlevel package SLT offers all sorts of nice details and touches in the cabin," Williams said. "Soft for all elbows."

What They Didn't

Value proposition: "The 6.2-liter and eight-speed automatic are only available on the priciest trim levels," Bruzek said. "GMC will always be a little pricier," Williams said, "but I'm not a fan of having to pay $50,000 for the big V-8." Smith objected to the GMC running on premium, adding to long-term ownership costs.

GMC Int 1 II

Empty ride: "Like the Chevy, ride quality without payload or a trailer is bouncy and more rigid than the more-refined-riding trucks in this comparison," Bruzek said. Smith disliked "the GMC's stiff compression damping of the shocks, especially in the front." "The ride is not as good as the Ram's rear coil springs," Sundling said.

And …: "Just like the Chevy, it's difficult to believe that there isn't a larger fuel tank option for crew cabs. Everyone else has it, even Toyota," Williams said. "It has a smaller windshield than the other trucks, and the large rearview mirror with OnStar blocks some of the view," Sundling added.

 

TTS16_AllChart_Tow_pmo_F2

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears and Angela Conners

Overview | Acceleration | Braking | Mileage | Results

 

Judges 1 II


 

Comments

I don't understand how your tests show differing trucks being quite a bit faster than others one year, and then they flip flop the next, with essentially no changes from year to year.

Dyno results are really interesting, assuming everything was done properly it indicates that Ford has really underrated the 3.5L ecoboost and Ram may be somewhat "generous" with their hemi ratings. I wonder if the dyno has issues getting the variable intake manifold to operate properly on the hemi?

Fuel economy results really are shocking. My personal experience has not been so positive with a 3.5L ecoboost, was something updated (besides curb weight) for 2015? Would have been interesting to see how a 2.7L ecoboost would have compared here.

Wow. Very good test. Just disappointed there is no Titan. The f150 did surprisingly well and as I predicted the GMC ran away with it. I am kind of amazed that so many people are still buying the silverado 5.3. In my experience the ecoboost is a better motor in every way, and this test kind of proves that. BAFO won't be happy about the mpg results. But he'll still call it the ecothirst like a stubborn child.

Cummins,

I believe a Canadian publication did a review comparing the 3.5 Ecoboost to the 2.7. The verdict was: Unless you drive empty all the time the 3.5 Ecoboost is a better choice. I think the most damning part of the article was that the 2.7 liter had worse fuel economy with only 1000lbs in the bed. There's a possibility that the addition of the 10 speed may change that, but for the moment the 3.5 liter Ecoboost sits in the sweet spot between power and displacement for a gas turbo engine.

Or ford might just yank the 2.7 liter for the Lion 3.0 Diesel (254HP/443lbs torque/30MPG) and/or the unknown hybrid that they are cooking up. Either way we'll either see the hybrid or the diesel by 2020....cause the 2.7+6 speed is a little underwhelming in the F150.

I'm confused. They say "Our Laramie Longhorn delivered top-notch layouts and quality at thousands less than Ford and GMC"

But in fact the f150 was 600 dollars less than the ram.

Then they contradict the first statement by saying the f150 "offers more features and options and quality surfaces than anyone in this price range"

The 6.2 is a beast! The downside is the price you pay to get it. You can get nearly the same performance in a stripper F150.

Man that F150 did excellent, considering its a V6 up against the big V8 of the twins,

So the light F150 is squirmy when towing near max and the Tundra is stable. And that is why the TitanXD is a porker halfton.

uh oh, looks that way, one thing to note is, all these vehicles would pretty much blow their guts if they towed all the time like this, not what they are meant for....notice the towing test here is all highway flat towing, when PUTC says your real word numbers will be different because of that, they are not just talking about MPG.

One thing I didnt quite understand, they said they filled all the trucks at the same pump, so did they fill the recommended Premium fuel for the 6.2 chevy???

I think the biggest surprise to me is how the 5.3 out performs the hemi a the tundra. Haven't been in a hemi 8 speed but have been in new 5.3 and it is an anemic ride compared to a 6.2 or any of the ecoboosts. Ram and Toyota need engine work badly if they can't compete with a 5.3.

In Canada you can get the 6.2 in mid-level trim trucks. I've seen a few on the local GM lot but not very many.

There isn't much sense in getting the 5.3 when highway mpg is the same and only 0.5 mpg difference towing. The challenge is finding one in a less pricey package. The max tow/7600 gvw package isn't available in HighCountry trim.

So the aluminum, turbo v6 F150 with Energy saving tires still can't even match either GM V8 engine in fuel efficiency? When both GM trucks have standard, non Energy efficient tires. Man, that aluminum body is really helping you...

Biggest Surprise to me was the 5.3. It matched up very well against the bigger Eco boost. The 5.3 beat it in MPG without all the complexity of turbos or the 'military grade' aluminum.

Ford's investment in turbo charging and aluminum doesn't really pay off in the real world.

Man better get some diapers, lot of the Ford kids will need a change after the read this shoot out HAHA!

The 6.2 8 speed GM for the win. No surprise there.

I jumped straight to the results page and it does not match my personal opinions basedan on vehicles I puechased in th 1990s. Therefore, the results are flawed and the testing methods and judges are biased!

@nitro
You can pump different grades of gas from the same nozzle at most stations. I want to know which trucks required premium and midgrade? Why wouldn't they tell us that?

Bruzek said. "It was darting around at highway speeds with the nose pointed high and the rear of the truck squatting."

Wow, that sure sounds a lot like what my colleague complains about is F-150. You listening Lou_BC?

I wouldn't be too happy for the GMC, it has way more hp/tq.

Overall, great test, it's good to see Ford old V6 still hold its own.

@Beebee, true on that, and yes I would like to know that as well, I know the 6.2 is premium, and the hemi is mid grade, this is where people like BAFO need to look at the big picture instead of just MPG, if you buy a vehicle that requires standard grade fuel and gets .5 mpg less than the premium required, the better mpg argument doesnt work out since its not econimical.

For this kind of towing they really should have used weight distributing hitches too.

I wouldn't be too excited either if I was GM. GM's big bad new V8 8 speed combo barely beat Ford's old V6 6 speed. Plus they didn'tl like that the GM needs to run on premium and the added long term cost.

It says right here that the GMC 6.2 was running on premium fuel: "Smith objected to the GMC running on premium, adding to long-term ownership costs."

@nitro

The EB is a twin-turbo V6. GM twins are naturally aspirated. Lets call them like they are...

Bruzek said. "It was darting around at highway speeds with the nose pointed high and the rear of the truck squatting."

I think they are talking about LMAO kid here, probably what he looks like running for a toilet.

Maybe truck crazy kid, I don't know they both like talking about poop for some reason. Guess that's what 10 year olds talk bout now days.

Did the Ram 1500 have airbags to prevent the sagging problem? What about turn radius?
Noise?
Easy maintenance?

Both GM trucks really did well on this test, but I'm not surprised by either of the two. I have experience in both motors. The 5.3 is a true workhorse that I deal with on a daily basis and the 6.2 is a beast of its own. Haven't experienced the ecoboost but it seems that its a stout motor as far as performance goes. Also had experiece with the Tundra 5.7 and it does the job well but in my opinion it didn't have the confidence that the GM trucks provided for me. But thats just my perpective, all trucks did well though.

Some guys raise a valid point about fuel choice.

They ran ALL of the trucks with the same cargo and trailers so why not the same fuel?

That would make sense since all of these engines ECM's will adjust power and timing to fuel or sensed detonation.

It would be worthwhile to do just to put to rest that variable.

My other complaint is tires - tire choice can make a huge difference in outcome.

It is almost laughable for PUTC to complain about ride quality or rate ride quality of empty trucks. It ain't rocket science for the trucks with the highest payload numbers to ride empty rougher than the trucks with poor payload numbers.

SIMPLE - it will ride like a car if it has the same capacity as a car.

The comment about a weight distribution hitch is interesting. Isn't it supposed to move the weight forward? If so, wouldn't that alleviate some issues with sag, control, ride?

The GM 6.2 is a beast. As PUTC has pointed out, it is meek and mild mannered when needed and a monster when needed.

Sounds like GM hit the money with the 6.2.

The unfortunate negative is that it is hard to find in anything other than premium trim levels.

The other unfortunate negative is GM messed up the looks of the Sierra and Silverado with this "grill of the year" cough hack urpp "upgrade". What a misnomer- upgrade. The privious truck was much better looking.
The only one I like is the look of the monochromatic Z71. Unfortunately you can't get the 7600 gvw package in that trim.
Once GM gets the "new model" gremlins out of these trucks they will be on my "next truck" purchase list (with 6.2 of course).

I'm ok with GMC winning and Ford losing basically because of the tires. Those tires wouldn't be on the truck I would purchase. And I would replace OEM tires with AT tires anyway. I do have to say the interior with the off-center stearing wheel on the Chevy and GMC would be annoying and kind of a deal breaker. Once again Ford wins overall for me and gets it right eventhough they came in second in the judging.

Dave Z - everyone I know with a GM truck says that they don't notice the off centre steering wheel after some seat time.

I agree on the tires. I'll either burn through them and replace them or if they are really crappy ditch them right off the bat.

Dang that 5.3 ate both 5.7s up lol...

5.3-3.42 > 5.7-3.92
5.7-4.30

What's going with Fords 5.0 do it need turbos as well???


Just giving you guys a hard time lol

Just giving you guys a hard time lol

Guess this Ford ad as has been 100% correct so far

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVSyGI3xUzQ

@Jake, you brought up another point, if no WD was used on these tests, than all the vehicles were illegal, and those max tow numbers are only attainable with WD. GEEZ PUTC, no wonder you didnt actually tow anywhere with this test, besides you were unsafe doing this and should be ashamed

Williams disliked "the horrible sagging when the Ram was loaded with bed cargo. It's uncomfortable to look at and has the headlights pointing skyward." "With this squat," Sundling added, "it handles the worst with a trailer, fishtailing."

-------

Told ya guys. The Rams with the coil spring rears don't alway shandle the best. In fact they handle the worst with a trailer. Don't doubt me. I have known this since 2008 when PUTC did the first half-ton shootout.

Real truck guys will always say that there is no replacement for displacement. Now you can get the largest available displacement gas engine delivering the best overhaul FE. Great work GM engineers.

@GMSRGREAT, way to go GM, great FE which matters nothing since you have to spend 45 cents more per gallon to get it, DUH!

The GM has one of the smaller displacements since it is running in V6 mode most of the time.

Correct: V4. The GM V8 is actually the smallest since it is running in V4 mode most of the time.

Good work GM. You have to pay extra to get a V4. smh.

Sounds like gm needs a lot of suspension work. Dislikes all were around the harsh and bouncy suspension. Not ideal for, as BAFO puts it, hauls air most of the time.

LOL Ford yuppies already crying hilarious! Maybe Ford should of stuck with push rod V8s and cylinder dec, instead of crappy turd blower V6s LMBO!!

@Jason L and nitro: Pop the hood on a" 6.2 "and tell me what you see. LOL. Can I help it if GM has better working technology. As I was saying, Real truck guys......

Congratulations to all the pickup trucks that participated in this challenge. Hopefully we'll see Nissan get back in the game soon.

Straight up you can see the two older designs are not quite in the same league as the newer trucks.

Ram or better still FCA need to invest some money thier pickups. The same for Toyota and the Tundra.

Again, Frod hasn't shown it's a game changer, which one would of expected with all the hype and hoopla that was associated with it's marketing.

The aluminum pickup is just a pickup and only a competitive pickup at best. What a pity Ford had a great opportunity with the F-150, like the opportunity it grabbed by the balls with the global Ranger.

Ford is at best number 2, and it has just been highlighted with this test.

At the end of the day, most any one of these pickups sold will never see a 10 000lb trailer.

Most are bought as a car/SUV alternative.

From the best value it seems the Silverado is nice. It offers the best in many areas of testing.

Good test, thanks Mark.

BARFO, while we all want are favorite brands at the top, me being Ford and you anything but Ford I still think Ford had a strong showing. Minus the brakeing. They need to look at a tire change. But you figure the F150 is all new with a weight about the same as the GMs but the engine and transmission has been out since late 2010 (2011 model year) with virtually no changes at all. And quite frankly I think I was smart on Fords part to keep the drivetrain the same while introducing an all new truck. 1st year bugs are typical. Look at the 2014 GM twins. So why mess with the 3.5 and 5.0L? Plus they have to see how the 2.7L works out in the real world. Now is the time for increased HP and TQ out of the 3.5L GTDI with an upgraded transmission that has been out for a long time.



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