By Aaron Bragman
Pickup trucks are meant to be tough, rugged and durable. Not all of them are built to be personal luxury conveyances or butched-up off-roaders. Some of them, like the four competitors in our 2017 3/4-Ton Work Truck Challenge, are meant to be work trucks, tools for whatever trade you practice. There are millions of people who drive trucks like these every day — bare-bones models that haul gear, tools, equipment, personnel or materials to a job. These aren't trucks you buy for fun; you don't use them to commute. But they are trucks that people drive daily, so we wanted to see what it was like to live with these base models.
Our four entry-level model-year 2017 competitors — the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 WT, Ford Super Duty F-250 XL, Nissan Titan XD S and Ram 2500 Tradesman — were equipped with their largest available gasoline engines. Since these trucks have gross vehicle weight ratings of more than 8,500 pounds, the EPA classifies them as commercial vehicles, which means manufacturers don't have to report EPA fuel-economy ratings. That makes our testing that much more valuable.
We took them on a loop of 111 miles twice, once empty and once loaded with 2,200 pounds of payload (big bags of construction sand). Although we had hoped to conduct some tow testing, we opted not to as three of the trucks lacked a trailer brake controller. Additionally, the Chevrolet suffered sensor damage during dynamometer testing, so we thought better of hooking up a weighted trailer. Instead, we conducted our loaded fuel-economy tests with payload in the bed.
Tops in the fuel-economy department — both loaded and unloaded — was the Ford equipped with the 6.2-liter V-8. On its empty run, it averaged 16.0 mpg, while it earned a marginally less 14.4 mpg on its loaded run. The Nissan with a smaller 5.6-liter V-8 turned in 15.8 mpg unloaded and 13.6 mpg with a full payload. The Chevrolet and Ram tied for third in the empty run, both getting 15.6 mpg. For the loaded fuel-economy loop, the Chevrolet with its 6.0-liter V-8 averaged 12.6 mpg, beating out the Ram powered by a massive 6.4-liter V-8; it averaged 12.1 mpg.
There wasn't a big difference in the numbers the trucks posted for the empty loop; all of them round up to 16 mpg. But the 2-mpg difference while carrying a load was interesting and telling.
How they actually drove was another matter. All of them were loud, rough, not terribly comfortable, and limited in their adjustability for comfort and convenience. All of them, that is, except the Nissan. Although it was the only 4x4 (the only configuration Nissan could get to us) in a field of 4x2s, it rode just as well empty as some more expensive, better equipped trucks do when loaded. It felt quiet, composed and even comfortable in its base trim. The suspension doesn't beat you up like it does in the Ford, especially over choppy blacktop. And we liked the fact that even the lowest trim level doesn't require you to lean over to the other side of the truck to roll down a window, which we had to do in the Ram. When compared with the Chevy, the Nissan's seat wasn't too close to the steering wheel.
As you might expect, all of these trucks have quirks that make them unpleasant for daily use in one way or another, but we found the Nissan was the least unpleasant of the bunch — a backhanded compliment to be sure, but the differences were noticeable. Now, if Nissan just could make its trucks a little stronger without losing their better driving feel...
Cars.com photos by Angela Conners