By Patrick Olsen, Cars.com
We took four high-mpg light-duty trucks to the track and the streets of Houston to see which one came out on top. Our judges were:
Mark Williams — PickupTrucks.com editor
Brian Wong — Cars.com Los Angeles bureau chief
Bruce Smith — freelance journalist who specializes in trucks and 4x4s
Kent Sundling — editor and owner of MrTruck.com
Here's how the four trucks finished:
No. 4: 2016 Toyota Tundra SR, 4.6-liter V-8; 1,824 points
100-point categories (best in test): None
The Verdict: "At nearly $15,000 less than its competitors, the Toyota was predictably the least equipped and felt the most like a work truck," Wong said. "Unfortunately, it also felt and drove like something out of the bargain bin."
What They Liked
Value proposition: "The Toyota is a great value," Sundling said, "the bang-for-the-buck winner."
A true work truck: "The no-nonsense look and feel of the SR interior with the column shifter says that Toyota understands work," Williams said. "For such a big truck, overall weight is just above 5,000 pounds, and that points to it being a solid work truck with muscle."
Power: Smith liked "the punch the Toyota has in the lower speeds," and Williams liked that the "throttle response of the smaller V-8 is like a slingshot."
Ride and handling: "I liked the Tundra's ride and handling when loaded down," Smith said, "and its light, nimble, easy-to-drive character when empty." Sundling found it to be "a very stable truck in the wind, and its longer wheelbase and suspension makes handling effortless."
Tech: "The Bluetooth system paired with my Android phone easily and quickly, with a straightforward setup process," Wong said. "The larger multimedia screen than the Ford meant that even though the backup guidelines were not dynamic, it was easier for me to use the backup camera."
What They Didn't
Poor mpg: "Got the lowest fuel mileage in its group," Sundling pointed out, and Smith and Williams called it "dismal."
Cheap feel: "It's got the cheapest price of the group and it looks it," Williams said. "It has a very cheap-feeling interior with lots of road and wind noise coming in from all directions," Wong said. Several judges chimed in on the noise issue.
Suspension: "The tuning seems to be Toyota's weakest link on the full-size side," Williams said. "The steering ratios and spring rates are mismatched." Smith disliked "the jittery, nervous rear suspension under the Tundra."
Performance: "The Tundra fell flat, both loaded and unloaded, without an uptick in mpg to compensate," Wong said.
No. 3: 2016 Ram 1500 HFE, 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel; 1,992 points
100-point categories (best in test): Empty mpg, loaded mpg, EPA mpg ratings, tank range
The Verdict: "It's amazing how the right-sized engine with the right amount of torque and fuel economy can create a strong competitor," Williams said. "More half-ton players need to imitate the EcoDiesel."
What They Liked
The power: "The EcoDiesel powertrain's gaudy torque numbers shined through," Wong said. "It pulled with or without payload in an even, predictable fashion while maintaining mpg figures that were a cut above the rest." "It's still a relatively heavy truck for an extended cab, but the extra torque has a strong feel," Williams said.
The mpg: "I like the great fuel economy the EcoDiesel delivers loaded or empty," Smith said. "It gets incredible fuel mileage that revived half-ton diesels," Sundling added.
Acceleration: Smith lauded the "acceleration and midrange pull of the Ram," while Sundling said it had "decent acceleration while empty." "It has good throttle response and engine feel at speed," Williams said, "and minimized lag that delivers strong off-the-line feel."
Sound: "It's a quiet truck," Sundling said. "You wouldn't know it's a diesel." "Ram has tuned just enough of the diesel sound out of idle and highway speeds to make it a great choice for non-diesel buyers," Williams said.
Comfort and ergonomics: "The Ram has good ergonomics and visibility in the cabin," Wong said, "with the center seat folding down to form a well-positioned armrest, which isn't the case with all bench seats. The seats were comfortable and supportive enough for a fairly long haul, unlike the Toyota." "I like the bright backup camera and the view that the Ram's mirrors provide," Smith said.
What They Didn't
High-speed fade: "The diesel seems to fall flat after about 70 mph," Smith said. Williams agreed: "It does a good job pulling through midrange, but falls on its face at highway speed."
Brakes: "They don't feel up to the size or weight of the truck," Williams said, "and it just gets worse with a load." "It had the longest braking distance [loaded] from 60 mph to zero," Sundling noted.
And …: "I didn't like the nervous, jittery suspension," Smith said, "or the center stack controls or layout." "Its handling was affected by the wind," Sundling said, adding that "the non-telescoping steering column made it a bit difficult to set up a good driving position."
No. 2: 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ, 5.3-liter V-8; 2,018 points
100-point categories (best in test): Gross vehicle weight rating, calculated maximum payload, maximum rated payload, sound at idle, sound at 60 mph, peak horsepower on dyno, braking empty
The Verdict: "The quietest and most confidence-inspiring half-ton in the max mpg group," Smith said.
What They Liked
Ride and handling: "I was impressed by this midlevel-trim pickup," Williams said. "It has a stable road feel and carries a load confidently." "It has a good ride when loaded," Wong said. "I didn't detect the suspension bottoming out even over bumps, and it remained composed at highway speeds and during acceleration."
Powertrain: "The GM eight-speed automatic's programming is perfectly matched to the engine," Smith said. "The powertrain was very confident and did not feel taxed, even with 1,500 pounds of payload for half of the mileage drive," Wong said.
Value proposition: Sundling called the Chevy "a good starter truck for a family that doesn't tow much. It's well-equipped if you don't need a large, rear legroom area." "This is the value part of the pickup truck segment," Williams said. "The extended cab gives you a few liabilities, but it is very versatile."
Quiet: "Most comfortable interior of the competitors, and was the quietest as well," Wong said. "Very easy to have conversations at highway speeds," Williams said. The other judges also agreed.
What They Didn't
Powertrain: Where some judges really liked it, Williams found issues. "I'm not sure that the 5.3-liter, eight-speed combination should have been their engine and powertrain choice here," he said. "There's something about the way GM has tuned the throttle feel with this combination. There's a sluggish response, and maybe that's to improve the mpg."
Cab size, entry: "The double cab [Chevrolet's name for extended cab] is too small for adults in the rear seat," Sundling said. "The extended-cab doors feel a bit too small to be practical for family or work," Williams said.
Ergonomics: "The steering-wheel controls for the audio system are not very intuitive and would take some time to grow into over the course of ownership," Wong said. "There's no easy way to start a phone call through MyLink; I had to start a call through the phone itself."
Value: "It's one of the highest-priced trucks in the group," Sundling said, and Wong agreed: "It's the most expensive of the four contenders by at least $5,000."
And …: Smith didn't like "the hood height, as it hindered the view of vehicles in front." He also didn't like "the slow tip-in throttle response" and "the harshness of the Silverado rear suspension over expansion joints and broken pavement."
No. 1: 2015 Ford F-150 XLT, 2.7-liter V-6 EcoBoost; 2,033 points
100-point categories (best in test): Truck weight, peak torque on dyno, zero-to-60-mph empty, zero-to-60-mph loaded, braking loaded, quarter-mile empty, quarter-mile loaded
The Verdict: "The Ford F-150 2.7-liter EcoBoost is an exciting truck with speed, but its handling is a little touchy because of its light weight," Sundling said.
What They Liked
Power and speed: The 2.7-liter engine may have been the star of the entire Showdown. "There's stunning power off the line with this engine," Williams said. "You'd have no problems roasting the tires if you're not careful." "I like the EcoBoost's V-8-like power and V-6 mpg," Smith said. "It's a very fast truck," Sundling said. "It's fun to drive as a sport truck with a Sport mode." "For having a small-displacement V-6," Wong said, "the engine really pulls, and I was not left wanting for power, either loaded or unloaded. The engine was far and away my favorite part of the Ford."
Fuel economy: "Its loaded mileage was impressive at better than 22 mpg, which was second only to the EcoDiesel," Wong said.
Data display: "I'm still impressed at how much engine and truck information is placed at the driver's fingertips," Williams said. Smith appreciated "the advanced technology and connectivity in the F-150."
And …: "I like the quietness, comfort and layout of the SuperCab [Ford's name for extended cab] interior," Smith said. "Although the hinge mechanism looks scary complicated," Williams said, "all extended cabs should open so wide."
What They Didn't
Ride: "The use of aluminum saves tons of weight, but that translates into a twitchy road feel that is sometimes uncomfortable," Williams said. "The ride quality was especially harsh with payload," Wong said. "The rear felt unsettled and shifty when driving on the highway, which is unnerving with all of that weight in the back." "It's a little too light for windy conditions," Sundling said. "Its handling is affected."
Sag: "The F-150 looks and feels uncomfortably soft when loaded," Smith said. "The leaf spring pack seems too thin and not up to carrying anywhere near the rated payload without sagging horribly," Williams said.
Tires: "The choice here was most disappointing," Williams said. "They seemed designed for improved fuel economy, but the trade-offs are too harsh."
Tech: "I don't like the very small multimedia screen in the center console, which made the backup camera hard to use, and it looked out of place with the rest of the dash," Wong said.
And …: "The steering did not track straight and required constant corrections," Wong said. "The problem was more obvious when the Ford was loaded, but even when empty, there was vagueness with the steering." "The XLT interior seems cheap compared to the Lariat, especially the seats," Sundling said. "I don't like the A-pillars, which partially block the view at busy intersections," Smith said.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears and Angela Conners