Which Work Truck Performs Best as a Daily Driver?

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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.

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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.

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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 

Overview | Track TestingPayload | Daily Driving | Dynamometer Testing | Results

 

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Comments

Seeing objective stats regarding FE graphics & analysis on a report about subjective differences makes no sense.

I'd much rather see quotes from the various drivers in the test discussing their impressions of the respective vehicles.

What really surprised me was the fact that the Chevy got the second worse fuel mileage of the group--one area where they were always on top. The Ram's numbers were expected.

I would have expected loaded weights to be closer than the unloaded running, since you come to a point where it just takes a certain amount of fuel to get it done. Perhaps the test DOES point out that the Ford powertrain guys did a better job fine tuning things.
If the Nissan wasn't the best riding truck of the bunch, I would have been shocked- Front coil-over suspension is the best starting point (ride-wise) up front, while it has the lowest rear axle rating- all with the same curb weight as the other trucks.

Chevy always on top on FE? Depends on whos driving, which is why these tests should be taken with a grain of salt. I do agree the old 5.3L was a FE winner most of the time, but with anything, if you know how to drive you can make them all pretty close to each other.

" The suspension doesn't beat you up like it does in the Ford."

YUP!

" The suspension doesn't beat you up like it does in the Ford."

YUP!


Posted by: HEMI V8 | Mar 20, 2017 5:46:10 PM

Hmmmmm forgot something little boy?

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

Ford gas engines in the trucks always did better at towing than the competition in my opinion. The torque curve is Way better in the Ford's I've driven

Looking at that Nissan truck I wonder how difficult is for the Japanese truck manufacturers to design a vehicle geometrically appealing. Both, the Tundra and the Titan, look really uggly, and that is probably the main reason why they sell so poorly in the USA.

The power and fuel economy of the new Ford 6.2 L gas engine really closes the gap ( or eliminates the gap altogether) and questions the reasoning of paying a $9K premium for a Power Stroke diesel.

On the FTE (Ford Truck Enthusiasts) forum, new 2017 diesel owners are reporting similar or worse fuel economy for their Power Strokes.

I'm really impressed with the loaded MPG on the Ford.

Obviously the diesel will do better towing heavy trailers and racking high miles, but carrying a ton in the bed and pulling a smaller trailer, this gasser is a no brainer.


The power and fuel economy of the new Ford 6.2 L gas engine really closes the gap ( or eliminates the gap altogether) and questions the reasoning of paying a $9K premium for a Power Stroke diesel.

On the FTE (Ford Truck Enthusiasts) forum, new 2017 diesel owners are reporting similar or worse fuel economy for their Power Strokes.

I'm really impressed with the loaded MPG on the Ford.

Obviously the diesel will do better towing heavy trailers and racking high miles, but carrying a ton in the bed and pulling a smaller trailer, this gasser is a no brainer.


Which is better as a daily driver is a question about base trucks that I would bet no one has ever asked. Does anyone actually buy a base truck for a daily driver?

It's funny how the base model Titan looks WAYYYY batter than the higher trim level versions. Usually it's the other way around.

@greenrover

You seem to arrive at the right conclusion (about the gas vs diesel) but I'm less certain about your reason. Not only is the gas engine a LOT cheaper (to build, repair or buy) it's also a lot more convenient.

I'm sure that most PUTC readers live north of where I do (Florida) and owning a diesel in cold climates is a hassle UNLESS you really need the advantages of a diesel on a regular basis.

So many working guys who own a 3/4 ton truck also use it for other kinds of transportation/recreation. I could happily see myself with any of these base trucks as a daily driver, but putting an oil burner in the engine compartment might change that for me. Someone else might see it differently.

Sticking your "but carrying a ton in the bed and pulling a smaller trailer" evaluation for Gas vs Diesel it is in fact a no brainer.

@PUTC you guys should get a Prodigy RF controller. It is a wireless brake controller that you can move from truck to truck, so you can do maximum tow tests with any truck.

Living in a 480 foot elevation valley 90 miles from 8000 foot sierra mountain peaks were I do 95%of my camping. The gas engines have always been a no brainer.
Once I would leave town I would never get into overdrive no matter how much power I had.
And with hairpin turns downshifting to 1st gear common.

Getting 2 mpg with any engine would be a blessing.

Also even at at 8000 ft elevation the diesel turbos were not much of a factor. Hairpin turns and max speed limits of 45mph made gearing and number of gears the greatest consideration.

Does anyone actually buy a base truck for a daily driver?
Posted by: Soakee | Mar 21, 2017 7:25:52 AM

I always buy the GM LT/Ford XLT/Ram SLT trims. The "luxury trims" are WAY too expensive for what you get and for what I use my trucks for.

One thing I didn't see covered was cost of maintenance-it has been my understanding that scheduled maintenance costs on the Chevy have been less than on the others. Even if you pay a little more for fuel, when you factor in maintenance costs, the Chev comes out ahead. Perhaps a breakdown of this would be a good thing to see too.

Can we assume all the trucks have similar gearing in the rear differential? If not, your comparisons may not be apples to apples. Thanks to cheap gasoline, I cant imagine someone making a purchase decision based on a 1 or 2 mpg difference. Big deal!

Stupid question.

By definition, a work truck should be a "daily driver".

I don't see many people buying base model regular cab HD's as an alternative to an economy car.

That was the domain of the Tacoma regular cab and the defunct Regular cab Ranger.

Wouldn't a conversation about daily driver work trucks more apply to 1/2 tons? Why would you shell out that much more money for a 3/4 ton if its going to be empty most of the time?



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