2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge: How We Tested

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By Mark Williams

How did PickupTrucks.com find the best half-ton pickup truck of 2018? For this contest, the 2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge, we wanted to bring together as many of the half-ton players as possible, so we sent invitations to all the truckmakers to send us what they considered to be their best half-ton pickup, money no object. In some cases, manufacturers interpreted that to mean their most popular model, while others sent their top-of-the-line trim level with every feature box checked. Toyota declined our invitation, likely due to the fact there are no changes for the 2019 Tundra except for the new SX Package, which won't be available for two months.

2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge

Results | Bed Features | How We Tested

Our crew-cab 4x4 competitors included the all-new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country, the 2018 Ford F-150 Lariat, the all-new 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT, the 2019 Nissan Titan Pro-4X and the all-new 2019 Ram 1500 Limited. All the players had prices in the $65,000 range (some higher, some lower) except the Challenge's value player, the Nissan Titan, which was the least expensive pickup in our contest at just more than $54,000. All had V-8 engines except the Ford; for a list of each truck's specifications, check out our What You Get chart.

We acquired several good-size trailers for a day of towing in the real world. Thankfully, our friends at Big Tex Trailers helped us out again, connecting us with Trailer World in Bowling Green, Ky., to set us up with five Big Tex 14LX bumper-pull, double-axle, heavy-duty hydraulic dump-bed trailers. We loaded each of them with the weight necessary for each truck to tow 6,100 pounds (load and trailer combined). That's nowhere near the maximum towing capacity for any of these trucks, but it did give our judges a real-world idea of how the pickups would handle and respond to a significant load. Finally, because our half tons had such a wide variety of rear bumper heights — and the trailer couplers did not — we called our other friends at B&W Trailer Hitches. They sent us five identical 5-inch adjustable drop hitches (with three selectable balls) so we could keep all the trailers riding safe and level.

When it comes to testing, PickupTrucks.com tries to be a little different than the competition. We do that by breaking our comparison tests into two distinct pieces: empirical measurements (on the track, dyno, specs and more) and expert scores, where each judge evaluates each pickup against its competition in several subjective categories. Having both aspects to our tests is important because our key core value is performing as many tests as possible and providing educated opinions about all things pickup truck; that way, you can make your own decision whether you're looking for a new vehicle or reinforcing or refuting an existing opinion.

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Empirical Testing

Our empirical testing for this contest was broken into 16 different events. The winner in each test received 100 points and the remaining trucks were awarded a percentage of points based on their comparative finish. For these 16 empirical tests, each truck had the possibility of scoring a maximum of 1,600 points. Here are the empirical tests we conducted for this contest:

  • Zero-to-60 mph, empty and at max payload
  • Eighth-mile acceleration, empty and at max payload
  • 60-to-zero mph in feet, empty and at max payload
  • Gross vehicle weight rating
  • Calculated max payload
  • Gross combine weight rating
  • Calculated max trailering
  • Fuel economy with trailer
  • EPA combined mpg, empty
  • Interior noise at idle and 60 mph
  • Maximum horsepower and torque on dynamometer

Track Testing

All our closed-track testing was done at Music City Raceway, a tree-lined, NHRA-sanctioned track less than an hour outside of downtown Nashville, Tenn. Temperatures on track day hovered around 90 degrees. All pickups were run with the windows up and air conditioning off; the tire pressure was set to factory numbers posted on the door placards. As we've noted in earlier contests, each truck has a different acceleration and launch feel depending on what traction control settings are on (or turned completely off) and how the tires grab the track surface. Our test driver explored several techniques to record several consistent times, taking the best of the bunch for our scoring.

For brake testing, we chose the most even portion of the track surface to run each truck to 60 mph and then dynamite the brakes. This simulates a real-world panic stop, where we hit the brake pedal with all the force we can muster through the right foot.

Both acceleration and brake testing runs were conducted with the pickups empty and at their maximum calculated payload rating. Before testing, we took each vehicle to a truck-stop CAT Scale to find out their exact weight, then we subtracted that number from the vehicle's gross vehicle weight rating posted on the federally mandated door tag. Using 40-pound bags of rock salt, we loaded each test unit's bed area with the proper number of bags to reach their calculated max payload. We did the loaded runs after they finished their empty runs.

All timing and instrumentation was conducted using our Racelogic Vbox II, which electronically used up to seven different satellites to chart and record our test truck's progress and course in real time. All track testing was done with official spotters and an on-site paramedic team at the ready.

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Mileage Drive and Dyno

The judges spent quite a bit of time with the test trucks over the course of our weeklong testing, but we made sure to carve out a half-day where each judge could jump in and out of (and make notes on) each of the trucks during relatively stress-free drive loops. For the first loop, judges drove the pickups like a normal vehicle, meaning through city traffic, some intermittent congestion, on some longer highway stretches and then finishing up on a higher-speed freeway setting. This loop took less than 30 minutes for each driver to complete but provided the opportunity to test each truck in many of the same environs an average owner would experience.

For our loaded fuel-economy test run, all the pickups were hooked up to their respective trailers and driven out of Nashville to our designated swapping spot about an hour east of the city. This location allowed each judge to rotate through each of the five competitors and drive over the same sections of road through the Buffalo Valley, where our photographer and video crew collected action shots and footage. At the start of the run, all the trip odometers and real-time mpg indicators (and their histories) were zeroed out. Temperatures were mild, with occasional light rain falling (remnants of Hurricane Florence) as we wove through city streets to multilane highways, exiting Nashville and entering the thicker forested hills of Buffalo Valley.

Our total distance for the fuel-economy loop was about 65 miles. Each truck's onboard computer calculated its own mpg. Only the Ford, Chevy and GMC offer a dedicated "towing" setting for their onboard computers to more accurately measure fuel economy. We're told the others have sensors that determine whether the vehicle is pulling a heavy load and cycles through calculations more often than normal when not sensing a heavy trailer. Judges were able to haul their 14LX trailers onto freeways for merging acceleration as well as for discerning how confidently each truck pulled their load up the hill and then controlled it on the steeper downhill sections. Our stretch of road was heavily populated with professional long-haul truckers as well as rookie recreational vehicle owners along with quite a few sedans headed to the city for, we're guessing, country-music-loving fun. Most importantly, we were able to employ and test the towing accessories and features each truck was equipped with, as well as observe which powertrains and transmission software programming performed best under stress.

We collected rear-wheel dynamometer numbers from the Nashville power experts at Carma Performance. Erin Carpenter is the owner and top computer wiz at the shop; he ran each of our five test trucks through his Dyno Dynamics portable machine in a single afternoon. Carpenter ran each truck in the same way with the same procedures in place, but a few trucks put up a fight. Most readers will likely notice that the Ram 1500 with the mild-hybrid Hemi V-8 got lower numbers than would be expected, but we can testify that all the same procedures were used. We did multiple runs and still got close to identical output numbers. This is a topic we plan to revisit once we get more details from Ram and Dyno Dynamics.

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Judges' Scoring

Our judges scored the trucks in 10 subjective categories using a 10-point scale. To give our judges an appropriate portion of each truck's total points, we multiplied their individual scores by two for a possible total score of 600 points per truck. The subjective categories were:

  • Bed features and access
  • Interior layout
  • Interior quality of materials
  • Interior storage
  • Overall interior comfort
  • How it drives empty
  • How it drives towing
  • Overall visibility
  • Engine layout
  • Overall value

Final Evaluation

When adding up the scores from the 16 objective tests and 10 subjective judges' categories, each pickup could have gotten a maximum of 2,200 points. As is our tradition, we do not weight testing categories. This allows readers to see the raw data and weight those categories they think are important based on their truck's likely usage and their needs. It also lets readers make their own best choice, just in case they are shopping for a pickup.

We work hard to bring readers as much information as possible about how we test and why we perform these tests. A lot of that is based on input from our readers. In the name of transparency, we've detailed the processes, procedures and thinking behind what we've done, but we also want to make sure you have all the data and as much of the judges' information as possible. In the chart below, you'll find all the data we collected so you can see exactly how the scoring fell out.

Tell us what you think in the comment section below. We're looking for readers' feedback to help us to evolve our testing processes.

Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

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Comments

Test shows, Sierra/Silverado most torque, Ford 3.5 eco must have false advertised numbers, Ram must have sheep ponies

So you guys did do any hand calculated real world fuel economy testing?

Didn't

@ Jack -- The only opportunity we had to do fuel economy was on our towing day. Just a simple run out and back through the hills. No empty loop or calculations. Let us know what you're looking for.

Where is the detailed breakdown of the judge's scoring? You say there were 10 categories that were scored, but all we get are the combined results.

@duh -- Full judges breakdown and more detailed story coming soon. We'll list and explain the 10 categories and how each judge scored each truck against the others.

Just curious, that seems like a major metric was kind of glossed over.

Good read and I find it amazing just how close these trucks really are. The biggest surprise to me was how heavy the Titan and Ram are compared to GM and Ford.

Mark Williams, really?

"Road was heavily populated with professional long-haul truckers as well as rookie recreational vehicle owners"? Really, Mark?

That blanket generalization encompasses a good percentage of your audience on this very site labeling drivers with recreational vehicles as rookies, and assuming all truck drivers are professional?

Most trucks on any congested city road are regional or local haul drivers and "professional"? Some yes, but many, Not even close.

Rookie recreational vehicle owners? Wow.

That simple phrase has discounted and disrespected those of us who have pulled RV trailers safely without incident with pickup trucks many years and for thousands of miles.

Way to talk down and demean your target audience.

You probably did not mean it that way, but the way you contrasted the make up of that congestion on the highway was over the top.

FORD ALL THE WAY BOYS!!!!

@ greenrover -- Totally legit criticism and appreciate the benefit of the doubt there. Yes, a lot of assumptions being made on our part regarding the slice of truckers and RV haulers that were on the road that day. Suffice it to say, we gave a wide berth to several RV haulers who didn't seem to be very experienced about towing from our point of view. Not sure why that was on that given day but apologize to any and all who may have taken offense.

It seems like quite a coincidence that the EcoBoost had exactly the same number for Hp and Torque and the torque value seems to be way off. That makes me suspect that the wrong number was entered there.

Congrats to the GMC. The 6.2 is an unbelievable motor. I have a 2015 6.2/8 speed and I can only imagine how much better it is with the 10. Toms of power anywhere in the rev band all with an unbeatable sound and great MPG. Its the best motor in a half ton bar none. All trucks are good these days it just seems GM has the most dialed in drivetrains whether 1/2 gas or HD Diesel.

@greenrover: Fuel mileage testing is never to be done in heavy traffic since it will lack consistency. Loose the attitude and child like comments... now... For Mark, thank you for the new test. I would have preferred to see a real test track, but the 1/8 mile at least gave some numbers. It's a shame the owners of these tracks haven't been taught how long they are supposed to be. Good work though. The tests here are the best part of it.

Wow does the Chevy ever suck.

the FAKE clint

Lmfao!!!!

The 6.2L is still king!! No replacement for displacement! Now all these EcoBoost guys can shove it by here is proof it's the quickest!

Class dismissed

That terrible taste in your mouth for drools, full size, Frank, and "its" 20 usernames, its called defeat!

Hahahahahaha. I can't stop laughing

I also love how Ford supposed class leading nonsense shows up full force with its HP/TQ dyno numbers. Those are pathetic! Supposed to have 10tq than 6.2L, yet ends up 40 tq less.
Let excuses roll!!

I'm still laughing!!

The minimum 10% price premium you have to pay for the GM 6.2 gasoline sure doesn't return that $ in additional performance.

Fail.

41% drivetrain loss on the f150 and no one questioned the results?

also ram dyno wont be higher w/ hybrid because the motor itself puts out about 50tq but uses a 2:1 gear reduction and doesnt add to overal tq #

The turbo engine got the best fuel mileage under load. Besting the V8s by 3% to almost 10%. Does this refute the old adage that turbo engines get worse Mileage?

another dyno red flag: peak torque on the ram at 5200 rpm?? did the dyno operator not set up on the dyno for each vehicle a known mph?

I am still buying the W15 from Workhorse. Only one gear needed, best Mpg by far, 0-60 in 5.5 seconds, 2200Lb payload, 12 inches of ground clearance, lowest center of gravity, no transmission, no axles, no motor hooked to a drive train, quiet, environmentally clean, no smell and truly new, not prehistoric like vehicle like these trucks and I can power a camp site or jobsite or my house in the event of a blackout and never have to stop for fuel except for long trips and de-thaw my truck with the power from the house every morning in peace and quiet. The truck is better balanced front to back, its all stainless steel frame and composite body panels, never rust, 460Hp, torque will be insane at 0 rpm and likely be the safest truck on the road with large crumple zones where no tranny exhaust and large motor exists. There is 2500 points already- Winner W15 Plus a 1600 point bonus for be environmentally clean.

Environmentally Clean? Your Tree Hugging/SJW Community college English teacher must be real easy to look at and smell like heaven for you to actually believe that tripe.

@ fourloko

I said some thing about how terrible numbers were for ecobusts!! This is why I can't stand Ford by they are all SHOW and no go!!!!

GM is like the new England Patriots. They build trucks that perform and do there jobs and dont need to brag about it...just like the Pat's.

@ Fisherman

Totally agree with u. I have some set up on my 18 Sierra. Only better with a 10 spd now!! No better motor than the monster 6.2L

Did I mention I love GM.....boy they can build trucks that PERFORM!!

The RESULTS are in! G.M. DOMINATED!!

maybe next time ford will send their best engine, the 5.0, instead of pushing the ecoboost line up.


A great showing here by the F-150 whose performance was toe to toe with the best engine offered by Gm's all-new trucks despite the Ford not being equipped with its top engine offering.

How can the gm boys on here seriously celebrate a performance win when their favorite brand won the performance comparisons by tenths of a second??

Nice try but not a domination by any stretch of the imagination.....

The Ford fans are celebrating yet another second place result. I have to give it to them, they never give up hoping. Your 4 year old truck will require a redesign soon , maybe it will be a winner next time. Hang in there guys.

The GMC was first the Chevy was forth. Both had a 6.2 and one won and one lost. The deference a tailgate.
The GMC won by a tailgate.

Does this mean if the Ford and Ram had a fancy tailgate they would have won?

The GMC won by a tailgate.


Posted by: just the truth | Nov 12, 2018 10:09:39 PM

Look at the performance data and you"'ll discover that the Ford was looking at both the GMC and Silverado talegate.

Tailgate

Nice try but not a domination by any stretch of the imagination...Posted by: FullSize_only | Nov 12, 2018

@fullsize

When was the last time GM didn't sell more trucks than Ford? I call that domination.

GM is the best truck.

That is why GM has always sold more trucks than any other.

If you want a limo, or a shiny statement, buy other trucks.

If you want to use a truck for a truck, get a GM.

Or you could also get a Cummins, it will last longer, but nickel and dime ya.

Ford sold the most trucks in the third quarter of this year.

@ full size

The GM twins killed it in the performance categories. And the dyno chart speaks for itself. If you are not embarrassed by the output the EcoBoost put down then u should be ashamed.

Class leading Ford says it should have more TQ?? Where did it go? Dennis Leary steal it bc they don't use him anymore in commercials?

"Your 4 year old truck will require a redesign soon , maybe it will be a winner next time. Hang in there guys.
Posted by: GMSRGREAT | Nov 12, 2018 10:00:38 PM

You mean like Gm's quick redesign of the 2014-2018 trucks?? Possibly the shortest cycle in their full-size history!!

I mean it makes sense that they would do something being that Ford is outselling them so badly.

@papajim

"When was the last time GM didn't sell more trucks than Ford? I call that domination.
Posted by: papajim | Nov 13, 2018 1:21:38 AM"

I believe what you meant to say was: When was the last time Gm didnt sell more trucks in a class Ford DOSENT sell trucks in??

We all know who dominates the Full-size sales.....

@tnt

"The GM twins killed it in the performance categories."

Killed it?? Really?? LMFAO!! The "monster" 6.2 was never kiiling anything by more than 2 to 4 tenths of second in any of the performance categories and that was competing against the little Ecoboost.

If this has been the same but opposite with Fords 3.5HO going against the 5.3L then it could be said there was a performance killing with a difference measured in SECONDS....


" And the dyno chart speaks for itself. If you are not embarrassed by the output the EcoBoost put down then u should be ashamed. "

Those extra horses the gm's put down must be donkeys being how the gm's performed so close to the Ford! And with the weights being so close now the Ford being lighter cant be used as an excuse anymore.

Test was done incorrectly. how does the GM with the same 10 speed and 10tq less at the crank make 46 more tq at the wheels. titans tq # at 5100rpm is a dead giveaway because the titan has a much taller rear end ratio (2.93)

I believe what you meant to say was: When was the last time Gm didnt sell more trucks in a class Ford DOSENT sell trucks in?...Posted by: FullSize_only | Nov 13, 2018

Both companies sell trucks. One sells more than the other.


"Both companies sell trucks. One sells more than the other.
Posted by: papajim | Nov 13, 2018 8:11:35 AM

Ford makes full size trucks, gm makes full size trucks. Ford sells more full size trucks.

Ford DOES NOT make mid-size trucks, Gm DOES make mid-size trucks. Well obviously the company not making mid-size trucks is going to be outsold.

GM sells trucks mid and full size. Ford sells trucks full and medium. As of the third quarter of 2018 Ford sells more trucks. Also Ford full-size trucks came within 205 units of GM combined.

@ full size

Lmfao. Denial man. Pure denial. And let excuses keep coming. Still laughing

The RAM is a groundbreaking truck even without the e-torque drivetrain. Talk to people who have just bought one of these trucks. Every guy I've talked with says he feels like a guy with a new baby or a new grandson.

Every F150 Ecoboost buyer I've talked to loved his truck except for lousy gas mileage and the engine sounds pitiful and the interior looks like a Rubbermaid tub, and the brakes suck. My last new Ford was a bummer (transmission).

I'm not unfair to the Ford guys. The company today is suffering from bad management at the highest levels, although they have a few solid execs the situation does not look good long term.


Posted by: papajim | Nov 9, 2018 10:40:05 AM

hey papa tell me again what place the Ram got

@ full size

Lmfao. Denial man. Pure denial. And let excuses keep coming. Still laughing
Posted by: TNTGMC | Nov 13, 2018 9:12:21 AM


Denial exactly about what? I believe you have nothing to contradict the facts presented here:

"Killed it?? Really?? LMFAO!! The "monster" 6.2 was never kiiling anything by more than 2 to 4 tenths of second in any of the performance categories and that was competing against the little Ecoboost.

If this has been the same but opposite with Fords 3.5HO going against the 5.3L then it could be said there was a performance killing with a difference measured in SECONDS.... "

And therefore claiming denial by me is some sort of deflection mechanism for you...... You're a funny guy.


The FORD was seeing nothing but GM tailgates and taillights.

@ full size

Still laughing. And last week u said the EcoBoost would prevail. Which it did total opposite. It got beat in ALL performance categories. Lol!! And its dyno was pathetic!

U miss the point. Ford claims class leading TQ. It was 46lbs less. Lmfao. Only a blind Ford guy couldn't see that as embarrassing.

Keep denying though!! Haha.

I love GM

@ off point

"GM is the best truck.
That is why GM has always sold more trucks than any other.

Posted by: On point | Nov 13, 2018 2:32:34 AM"


Did gm sell more trucks than any other in the two years shown here?? Is this what you mean by always??

http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/2015/01/usa-best-selling-truck-sales-figures-2014-calendar-year/



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