By Mark Williams
You might think testing three-quarter-ton pickup trucks is more about math than psychology, but the truth is it's actually a little of both. We try to freeze as many variables as possible when we set up our head-to-head competitions, but we also have a group of expert judges who spend a great deal of time with each truck, peeling away the different layers of their personalities.
We know work truck buyers are quite diverse; some look for a simple one-application tool while others look for more of a utility player — a truck that's ready to jump into any questionable situation you might encounter. We hope we've provided enough information in our 2017 3/4-Ton Work Truck Challenge to serve both groups.
We awarded points in 13 empirical categories, including acceleration and braking at the track (empty and loaded; be sure to read our track testing piece to get the full story). Our five judges also evaluated the competitors in subjective categories such as interior quality, visibility, bed features and overall value. In much the same way an Olympic decathlete has to do many things well to win, our top finishers had to as well, running neck and neck throughout the testing.
We do not weight our scored categories, which allows you to identify and rescore the contest so you can choose your winner based on your needs.
Interestingly, if we excluded our judges' scores and based the winner solely on our empirical categories, we would have a different winner.
No. 4: 2017 Nissan Titan XD S 4x4, 1,842 points
First-place finishes: Least expensive
Admittedly, as seen in both the empirical and judges' scoring, the Nissan Titan XD struggled in important testing categories. From the outset, Nissan positioned this truck to slot below traditional three-quarter tons and above traditional half tons. So our single-cab 4x4 Titan XD (Nissan was unable to provide a 4x2) was rated to tow less, carry less and haul less than the other competitors (we tested the Titan XD with the Cummins engine in our last half-ton challenge; click here to read the full story).
Still, the Titan XD equipped with the high-tech 32-valve 5.6-liter V-8 and seven-speed transmission achieved pretty good fuel economy, and each of our judges called out its superior ride and handling dynamics when it was empty. Even as a 4x4, the Nissan was the least expensive of our test trucks, garnering quite a few compliments from our judges in bang-for-the-buck scoring.
The Nissan struggled in our loaded track testing and fuel-economy runs. To keep things apples to apples, we kept our payload testing even across all four pickups (regardless of their max payload capacity), so they carried 2,200 pounds during our mileage test and 3,300 pounds at the track. Astute readers will note that the XD was slightly overloaded when track testing. Unfair? Maybe, but it did make for a good real-world comparison.
We like the fact that Nissan is offering this new single cab, and we have no doubt there will be buyers who will be able to use the XD's strengths to their advantage. In this contest though, those strengths weren't enough.
First-place finishes: None
The Chevrolet Silverado 2500, with its aging overhead-valve 16-valve 6.0-liter V-8 and six-speed transmission, was the oldest competitor in our contest. However, it was a solid performer in almost every category, with the exception of chassis dynamometer testing. The Chevy did not win a single test during our competition and never scored higher than second place in our judges' scoring.
Despite placing third, the Chevy deserves some love for details that allow it to stand out in this field. While the WT's interior was fairly spartan, it came equipped with towing mirrors, dual USB ports, a backup camera and projector headlights. Additionally, three features that impressed our judges were its 4G LTE Wi-Fi and internet hot spot, Apple CarPlay integration and an impressive auto-locking limited-slip differential that gave us the best parts of a locking and limited-slip differential.
The Chevy's cab helped do it in. We experienced more wind noise in this truck than the others, and we had an unfortunate incident with the front of the pickup bed wall. During our loaded braking test at the track in which we loaded 3,300 pounds of sand against the bed wall to prevent sliding during brake testing, the Chevy bed showed some bending — almost into the cab. That did not happen with the other trucks.
The bend did not prevent us from further testing, but it did require some creativity (a 2x4 wedged between the bed and cab) to make sure there was no metal-to-metal contact.
Chevrolet definitely needs to upgrade the Silverado WT, but this mature pickup still has the chops to handle hard work.
First-place finishes: Highest gross vehicle weight rating, lightest truck, highest payload, highest max towing, highest gross combined weight rating, max torque on dyno
If there was a classically defined work truck in our competition, the Ram 2500 was it; it weighed the least, had the biggest motor, the highest gross vehicle weight rating, the most payload capacity and can tow the heaviest trailer. Unfortunately, our Tradesman came with a few too many trade-offs.
Looking at the two different scoring sections of the Challenge — the empirical tests and judges' scoring — you can see that the Ram performed the best in our measured testing, taking first place. But it suffered during our judges' evaluations, where it placed last.
That makes it hard to argue with the Ram's work truck cred, but these trucks will be used for more than work. When driving the Ram without payload, the ride was punishing and sometimes unnerving if it hit a pothole or other road irregularity when navigating a turn. Our judges also dinged it for its high step-in height that made entry challenging, the naked bed and the bare-bones interior.
We have to make special note of the Ram's strong engine feel off the line and the incredible reserve strength of the truck. Even when pushed to its payload limits, it always seemed like it could handle more. We assume much of that confident feel is due to the well-calibrated, heavy-duty transmission, because no matter what situation we threw at it, the trans never made a harsh shift.
The biggest interior weakness for the Tradesman — and we admit that some buyers may find this a strength — was its crank windows, lack of an external alarm system, manual mirrors and manual door locks. Although we appreciate the attempt to keep pricing down with these old-school features, we found the inconvenience annoying.
Still, there is something admirable about a vehicle that prides itself on having plenty of reserve in power, payload and work ability just in case there's a job too big for anyone else.
First-place finishes: Zero-to-60 mph, quarter-mile, 60-mph-to-zero braking, max horsepower on dyno, best fuel economy empty and loaded
We referenced Olympic decathletes earlier and their need to be the best, most well-rounded competitors they can be, but to say that the new Ford Super Duty F-250 does a lot of things well is to severely understate the point.
This all-new Super Duty work truck has numerous impressive talents, including the new 6.2-liter V-8 engine and six-speed transmission combination, as well as the chassis that supports it. You can see for yourself in the acceleration and braking results from our track testing just how well it performs in different settings. Additionally, we found the powertrain provided an astonishing amount of fuel economy whether empty or loaded for a vehicle weighing 6,000 pounds. In fact, the Ford offered the least amount of separation between loaded and unloaded fuel-economy runs.
The Ford won six different empirical tests outright while also placing second in three others, garnering even more points. Still, it did not win the 13-test empirical portion of our test, finishing second to the Ram by nine points. However, when factoring in our judges' scores, the Ford literally ran away with the competition, finishing with a total almost 100 points more than the Ram, more than 125 points ahead of the Chevy and more than 140 points ahead of the Nissan. The Ford was the top point getter from four of our five judges even though they made note of its punishing ride with, quite possibly, the worst seats they've seen in a base pickup.
The big standout features for our judges were the new Super Duty's striking interior layout and quality materials, its numerous large and small storage spaces, top-notch acceleration and braking feel, more bed tie-downs and lighting features than the others, and the fact that it can carry about 66 percent of its weight. Those qualities added up to its big win.
Cars.com photos by Angela Conners