2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge: Bed Strategies

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By Andy Mikonis

We gathered five half-ton pickup trucks for our 2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge and tested them based on their capacity for work and play. As pickups evolve, the one obvious feature that differentiates them from other vehicles is their bed. Years ago, that meant a rectangular box with body-color paint and accessories largely relegated to the aftermarket. Today, that's changed significantly. Once a simple box, the pickup bed has been getting more attention from the manufacturers to make these pickups work more efficiently and offer more conveniences.

2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge

Results | Bed Features | How We Tested

We took a closer look at our Challenge competitors — the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, 2018 Ford F-150, 2019 GMC Sierra 1500, 2019 Nissan Titan and 2019 Ram 1500 — to compare how truckmakers are improving on the age-old empty-bed canvas. Here's what we found:

Protection

Once a pickup is put into service, the first thing that is going to show wear is an unprotected bed. So, it was good to see all our Challenge trucks equipped with spray-in bedliners. The Chevrolet Silverado and Nissan Titan included this feature with their respective trim levels. On the Ram 1500, it was part of the Bed Utility Group ($545), and the GMC Sierra had it in the SLT Premium Plus Package ($6,760). It was a stand-alone option on the Ford F-150 ($495).

Though there were differences in the textures across the brands, the coatings all looked evenly applied. All the trucks also had protection for the tops of the bed rails and tailgate, equally vulnerable places. Truckmakers did not offer these features at one time, so now it's even easier to protect a truck's paint and resale value right from delivery.

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Tailgates

Certainly the flashiest new development in tailgates is the GMC MultiPro Tailgate. Standard on our Challenge model, the GMC Sierra 1500 SLT, as well as on AT4 and Denali trims, it can be manipulated into six positions to help with cargo carrying, bed access or to create a work surface. Some of our crew found certain functions useful. It will be interesting to get more time with it and receive feedback from owners to see if this emerges as a true innovation or more of a gimmick. Either way, it represents the most original thinking we've seen in a truck body since the RamBox bed storage system.

One caveat with the GMC MultiPro Tailgate is its many moving parts and the latches. We questioned how well the tailgate would hold up in long-term use. Since conducting this Challenge, we've seen another new Sierra 1500 that did not have this issue, so we can likely chalk our Challenge truck's tailgate play to being a preproduction unit.

Included on the High Country trim, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 had a class-first power up/down tailgate that can be operated by pushing a button on the key fob, instrument panel or the tailgate itself. It's a nice touch for a well-equipped pickup, and the feature operates smoothly and as advertised. However, it's difficult to see it making it to wider applications, especially considering the increased availability of dampened and lift-assisted hinges.

Our Ford, Nissan and Ram pickups had more conventional tailgates, meaning all were equipped with advanced backup cameras and dampened hinges. All the tailgates locked, though the Nissan Titan was the only one that required owners to use a key (others locked via the key fob).

Cargo Management

Each of the half-ton trucks in our Challenge had fixed tie-downs, a feature we like. In fact, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra had 12 tie-downs, three in each corner with a reported rating of 500 pounds per corner. Even though those two trucks were not equipped with any other movable or removable anchors (GM Accessories offers nine other optional types of attach points), the 12-loop arrangement will cover most of your needs. The three other competitors had four movable rings each. All were made of round stock except the Ford, which had oval-shaped rings made of flat stock that looked more appropriate for tying off rope.

The Ford F-150 also had four heavy-duty mounting points in the bed sides for its BoxLink system. Our truck was equipped with lockable, large tie-down rings, each of which were removable with a key. To a certain degree, their fixed location limits utility, but various accessories are available via dealerships for these mounting points.

The Nissan Titan and Ram 1500 both had optional bed-rail setups with four movable cargo tie-downs. Nissan's Utili-track system is more robust, with tracks in the bed rails, bed floor and on the front wall. The only downside is the hefty aluminum cleats can be removed from the bed-rail tracks even with the tailgate closed, making them vulnerable to theft. This rail system is included with the Pro-4X Utility Package ($1,845).

The Ram's tie-downs are smaller and made of plastic with only two sets of tracks, one on each bed rail. They require a T30 Torx to be removed (which will make them all but theft-proof) and are part of the Bed Utility Group ($545), which is available with or without the RamBox. Also included in the Bed Utility Group is a flexible bed extender, which can also be used as a divider for smaller loads.

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Finally, our Ram 1500 test unit included the innovative RamBox, with a pair of lockable, drainable storage compartments on either outer bed side ($995). A 115-volt outlet has been added inside the driver's side compartment, and the placement of interior lights has been changed. Offered in 5-foot, 7-inch and 6-foot, 4-inch lengths, the RamBox provides weatherproof secure storage space without losing any bed length to a toolbox or the like. You won't be able to use a camper/topper/shell on it (at least not yet), but our test truck did come with an optional tri-fold tonneau cover ($550) to protect cargo from rain.

User Access

Both Chevrolet and GMC offer their integrated CornerStep, a step built into the corner of the rear bumpers. This has emerged as the simplest, most elegant solution for the age-old problem of climbing into the beds of seemingly taller and taller pickups. Since there are no moving parts, it should last the life of the truck.

Additionally, 2019 models have increased in size and include an enlarged bed-corner stake pocket to give your hand something to grab on to. We should also note, the GMC's MutiPro Tailgate has one configuration that converts into a drop step for easy bed access, making loading from ground level much easier as well. There's also a hideable foldout grab handle in the bed's left corner for an additional handhold.

The power-retracting running boards ($995) on our Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country had an additional feature where you hit a button on the step's back edge with your foot and it pivots rearward to help with access into the bed's side. Yes, it works, but it adds some complexity. The Chevrolet's running boards retracted with a pronounced thud, while Ram's (which don't have the extra rearward pivoting function) were much quieter.

Both the Nissan and Ram had similar, manually actuated rear bed steps at the left rear corner of their trucks. Nissan's is part of the Pro-4X Utility Package, while Ram's comes with the Bed Utility Group. Both are helpful and sturdy, though visually they look like an afterthought. With their positioning, we wonder how they'll last in areas where road salt is heavily used.

Interestingly, Ford decided to send us a test unit without any additional provision to aid bed access, though a step and handle arrangement that folds out of the top of the tailgate is available.

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Lighting and Electrical

In addition to the cargo lights above the rear window, all the trucks had LED lighting in the bed sides. The most popular location was the rear corners, though Nissan had the most well-lit bed with lights under the bed rails and additional tailgate lighting. All turned on when the tailgate was unlocked or opened except the Ford, which has a dedicated switch at the bed's rear. The Nissan Titan and the GM trucks have 110-volt/120-volt three-prong outlets in their beds. Bed lighting and outlets, where applicable (Ford offers two inside the cab), are standard on all these trucks' trim levels except for the Nissan, where it's included with the Pro-4X Utility Package.

The Best of the Beds

Today's truck beds offer a variety of amenities, and our Challenge trucks with their mid- to upper-level trims had many features for work and home needs. The starting prices of our test trucks are important to consider, though a lot of the bed scoring came down to what optional equipment each truck offered.

Ram's Bed Utility Group and Nissan's Pro-4X Utility Package stood out as great values that increased those trucks' capabilities and usefulness. By the same token, the Ford would have scored better had a few more bed options been included on the test truck.

In the end, it was the thoughtfully equipped GMC Sierra that prevailed in our stand-alone bed feature scoring with its towing package and tailgate versatility. See how the beds of these competitors performed in the chart below.

Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

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  17-nissan-titan-pro-4x-2019-cargo--detail--exterior--orange

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Comments

It's beyond all comprehension why Ford would send a truck without a tailgate step.

@ Redbloodedxy Cause they are the best with or without period. FORD ALL THE WAY BOIS!!!!

It's beyond all comprehension why Ford would send a truck without a tailgate step.


Posted by: redbloodedxy | Nov 12, 2018 10:41:51 AM

Because no one uses their useless poorly thought out step.

What issue did you have with the GMC tailgate? That paragraph reads as if you edited out a sentence or two, because you mentioned you have seen other new GMC trucks without the problem you had.

@ duh -- The MultiPro Tailgate does a lot of cool things but with all those extra hinges and latches, there's a bit of play in the mechanisms that had some of us worried about how it hold up over time. Beds tend to rattle in the best of circumstances, especially if they get used a lot. The other aspect we found was when towing, especially if you like to drop the main tailgate and smaller tailgate at the same time (pushing both release buttons at the same time); with a hitch or anything in tow, there will be denting tailgate denting. Might not ever be an issue for someone who tows a lot or has already made the mistake once, but could be a boom for dent repair guys.

At Mark: check the owners manual. The issue is probably addressed in the tailgate operation section.

The GMC tailgate looks to be a terrible design, we'll be seeing a lot of dented and scratched up tailgates on these for sure. I wonder how GM invented the tailgate step, great idea GM.....errrr...

@GMSRGREAT -- Good thought. The model we had for testing did not have one but we will check out ASAP and report back.

To me the winner is the Silverado in the bed challenge. Coming standard with 12 tie-down points is huge, especially when they're rated for 500 lbs. The bed is 500 MPa high-strength steel. In my opinion, the bumper step is still the best idea for a step just for its simplicity, durability, and usefulness for doing work. The 2019 Silverado's 7" of extra width means their 5.5 foot bed has the same cargo capacity as the competitors' 6.5 foot bed, which is also a major advantage. Especially when hauling firewood.

I also think the Ram 1500 should have been docked points because despite Ram bragging up their increased GVWR (payload capacity), the typical 2019 Ram 1500 still only has a payload rating between 1,300 and 1,500 lbs (some were even as low as 1,100 lbs). Ram's bed is only 340 MPa HSS and it only comes with 1/3 as many tie down points. The Ram Box works for some guys but you make a huge sacrifice in terms of bed space and it takes away from your payload rating.

The GMC tailgate is interesting and I agree that buyers will have to accept the fact that it may loosen up as it gets used over the years, as well as increase replacement costs if the tailgate is ever damaged. The same can be said for the Ford tailgate with built-in step, which is VERY expensive to replace. Both of these integrated tailgate steps are a good buy if you're an old retiree. I have never been impressed with the Ford tailgate step. Expensive, lots of moving parts, lots of plastic bits and a few components are a little underbuilt, can't use it if a trailer is hooked up, etc.

It looks as though Ford will need to step up their game for the next truck. They need more standard tie-downs, they need an answer to GM's 7 inch wider bed construction, they need to increase the strength of the tie downs (the current tie-downs are only rated for 275 lbs of force vs the 2019 GM truck's 500 lbs of force), and I really honestly think Ford either has to start using the thicker Superduty aluminum bed or begin offering an option high strength steel bed. Over the last 3 years, I have not been impressed with the F-150's aluminum bed. It's alright if you don't use your truck bed for work, but the aluminum is just a little too thin and I've managed to cause a few cracks. The factory bedliner has also peeled off in large patches when loading some big chunks of firewood. I would gladly pay $1000 or more for an optional steel bed on a new F-150. It should have always been an option.

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Do I need to say it again?

The GMs have always been better at being TRUCKS.

You princesses can buy your mall goers and let us do the work.

However, I must hand it to Cummins trucks.

GM has more tiedowns but like the article says they are useless and NFG for tying anything.

I said that in the first review. The tie down openings were too small. Glad y'all agree. I am the tie down king.

IF you are going to use it , which many would, the Ram boxes are an excellent option (copied from the old Avalanche and improved) that offer lots of versatility , security and ease of use. They do indeed weigh 100lbs and lower your payload and towing capability if you are near the edge, that is important. Otherwise , Ford and GM don't have a clear answer in this regard.

Otherwise , GM has the best bed , hands down. The upcoming carbon fiber bed will negate the extra weight of the multipro tailgates added weight . The new tailgate is superb overall and an excellent idea. The bumper steps are perfection : simple , cheap, and they WORK. Interior space is the most in the class and the super tough steel and carbon fiber beds are the best. Number of excellent tie downs is impressive as well as the electrical lights and plugs.

Fords "man handle " works but is wonky in operation, expensive and not as effective as other designs.

I wouldn't want any of these gimmicky features let alone pay for them. And I prefer drop in bed liners to spray in.

I prefer a simple rubber bed mat to a spray in bed liner. I would like to see Ford and Chevy come up with something like the ram box. I much prefer Ford's tailgate step to the gmc overly complex design. Or the near pointless and ugly bumper step. Agree that it would be way too easy to dent the tailgate with a trailer attached simply by pressing the wrong button. The step doesn't look as easy to use because of the sides of the tailgate jutting out and your foot can't go through the step the way it does on the Ford. Also the grab handle seems to be an afterthought. I use the tailgate step on my Ford at least weekly but sometimes multiple times per day depending on what work I'm doing. I often use it while holding large items and it is just really easy to go up and down and is sturdy. ironic because when it first came out I didn't want it. Now it is probably my favorite single feature besides maybe the extra large fuel tank. Also nice because it allows my old dog to climb in the bed without me lifting him in. As far as tie downs it would be nice to have another set halfway down the bed besides the four corners but most of the tie down "tech" is just gimmicky junk.

@GMSRGREAT -- Good thought. The model we had for testing did not have one but we will check out ASAP and report back.


Posted by: Mark | Nov 12, 2018 2:57:53 PM

Mark: I got access to an owners manual. Under the heading for multi pro tailgate operations it states not to open the inner tailgate when the primary tailgate is open and there is a ball hitch or trailer attached.



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