By Aaron Bragman
Years ago, pickup trucks were good for one thing and one thing only: work. They weren't personal style statements and they weren't luxury vehicles. They were more akin to tractors — tools that you used to get things done, whether on job sites or farms — meant to be inexpensive, tough, rugged and durable. Somewhere during the last 30 years, that image faded and was replaced by the idea that pickups can be the ultimate, uniquely American luxury vehicle. But there's still a need for basic, bare-bones, serious-duty work trucks, and you can still buy them. That's what led to our 2017 3/4-Ton Work Truck Challenge.
For this Challenge, we assembled four work trucks to test just how well they perform their duties. These aren't the popular light-duty half-ton pickups, nor are they the ultimate heavy-duty one-ton trucks. These are the in-between three-quarter-ton models, more capable and less focused on comfort than the half-ton trucks but less capable (and less expensive) than the one-ton models. We requested base-model three-quarter-ton trucks from GM, Ford, Nissan and Ram equipped with as few options as possible and the standard gasoline engine instead of the beefier diesel.
Here's what they sent to us:
- 2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 WT
- 2017 Ford Super Duty F-250 XL
- 2017 Nissan Titan XD S
- 2017 Ram 2500 Tradesman
We performed our testing in and around Phoenix, using the track facilities at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., to get some empirical numbers for our quartet of work trucks. We wanted to see how the base models of these rigs stacked up against each other in terms of acceleration, braking and overall on-road performance both empty and loaded with 2,200 pounds of payload. We tested them for fuel economy, as well, to see which one was most efficient.
We compared these pickups in 13 different empirical tests, which accounted for a little less than two-thirds of the total points awarded. Our panel of five expert judges awarded the remaining points across 10 subjective categories that covered bed features, interior comfort, visibility, overall value and more. In the end, a total of 2,300 points were possible.
We do not weight our Challenge scores. We have not biased these results in any way, leaving that to you to do as you see fit depending on what categories and truck capabilities are most important to you. Feel free to eliminate or accentuate any of our test results to determine which truck best matches your needs.
Our panel of judges were:
- Aaron Bragman, Cars.com Detroit bureau chief
- Joe Bruzek, Cars.com senior road test editor
- Bruce Smith, freelance automotive journalist
- Warren Spears, auto body and truck expert
- Mark Williams, PickupTrucks.com editor
Here are the details for each competitor:
Chevrolet's base two-wheel-drive Silverado 2500 came to us in work truck white with a starting price of $34,505 (all starting prices include a destination fee). Creature comforts of the regular-cab pickup were few: vinyl flooring, a front bench with manual adjustments, a steering column that tilted but didn't telescope, air conditioning and cruise control; surprisingly, there were two USB ports. The standard engine is a big 6.0-liter V-8 Vortec making 360 horsepower and 380 pounds-feet of torque. It's connected to a six-speed automatic transmission with a 4.10:1 final drive ratio driving the rear wheels and featuring an auto-locking (limited-slip) rear differential. Our test truck added a WT Convenience Package (power windows, tinted glass, remote keyless entry, 110-volt cabin power outlet, remote locking tailgate, power heated mirrors and a backup camera), a Trailering Equipment Package, a 7-inch touchscreen multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, and trailering mirrors for a grand total of $37,040.
2017 Ford Super Duty F-250 XL
One of two new kids on the block, the new Ford Super Duty got a significant redo for 2017, and this model was the basic work-truck version. It starts at $33,730 and comes with a 6.2-liter V-8 making 385 hp and 430 pounds-feet of torque, a whopping 50 more pounds-feet than the Chevy. For 2017, the Super Duty joins the F-150 in being primarily made of aluminum over a steel chassis for weight savings. Options in our regular-cab 4x2 test truck included the XL Value Package (chrome bumpers front and rear, cruise control and a four-speaker audio system with a 4.2-inch display screen), the Power Equipment Group (one-touch up-and-down power windows, heated power mirrors, power locks, remote keyless entry), blind spot warning, an upfitter switch panel in the overhead console, LED box lighting and more for a total of $38,220.
2017 Nissan Titan XD S
When is an HD truck not an HD truck? When it's an XD — Nissan says that its 'tweener Titan is something more than a half ton, but something less than a three-quarter ton. Maybe call it a five-eighths ton? It starts at $35,315 but already includes power windows and locks, a USB port, Bluetooth audio, remote keyless entry with push-button start, LED cargo bed lamps and cruise control. It's powered by Nissan's 5.9-liter V-8 Endurance, making 390 hp and 394 pounds-feet of torque run through a seven-speed automatic transmission. Our single-cab test truck came with four-wheel drive (Nissan couldn't provide a two-wheel-drive model), but it was still priced competitively with rivals' rear-drive trucks. Our tester added a Convenience and Utility Package, which sprays in a bedliner, wires in a trailering package and slaps on a front overhead console for a grand total of $36,115.
2017 Ram 2500 Tradesman
From Fiat Chrysler Automobiles comes Ram's entry-level 2500 Tradesman, starting at $33,465. Our truck featured Ram's stout 6.4-liter V-8 Hemi making 410 hp and 429 pounds-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and driving the rear wheels through a 4.10:1 axle. The standard engine is a 5.7-liter, with the 6.4-liter a $500 option. Our regular-cab test truck also featured a Chrome Appearance Group with 18-inch steel wheels but chrome bumpers and trim, and a Popular Equipment Group with a cloth bench seat, carpets, satellite radio, tow mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity and a trailer brake controller. It did not have power windows, locks or mirrors. The grand total for the Ram was $36,795.
Cars.com photos by Angela Conners