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A Closer Look-Four Full-size Pickup Trucks

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
2010 Ford F-150The best-selling model in North America isn't a car-it's a full-size pickup. In fact, the Ford F-150, which sells more units than any other model in the U.S., sold 39,308 units (combined total for light- and heavy-duty models) in April 2010, easily surpassing the 27,899 units sold by the best-selling passenger car, the Toyota Camry.

Full-size pickup trucks offer cargo utility and towing capabilities that appeal to businesses and private owners alike. Unlike passenger cars, which are often limited to a few manufacturer-selected configurations, full-size pickup trucks can be ordered nearly bare to the frame-or heavily optioned to the point where it closely resembles a luxury vehicle.

The full-size pickup truck segment in North America is comprised of 11 models, including the GMC Sierra, Ford F-Series Super Duty, Chevrolet Silverado HD, Ram 2500/3500HD Pickups, Nissan Titan, GMC Sierra HD, and the Chevrolet Avalanche. The group also includes two models that sold in excess of 13,000 units in April 2010: the Ford F-Series (light duty) and the Chevrolet Silverado (light duty). In addition, the Ram 1500 Pickup and the Toyota Tundra each sold nearly 9,000 units during April. These models generated total retail sales volume of 80,423 units in April 2010-a major portion of the 104,214 units sold for the entire segment during that month.

Let's take a closer look at these four models. Since pickup trucks are available with a variety of cab choices, bed choices, engine choices and powertrain options, for this discussion, we've decided to stick with the popular rear-wheel-drive (4x2) models with 6-passenger crew cabs and standard beds.

2010 Ford F-150Dimensions and interior room
These full-size pickup trucks are long-several feet longer than a typical average sedan. However, this added length means more utility to the pickup buyer. These four competitors vary in length by no more than 3 inches. The longest is the Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4x2 (231.7 inches), followed by the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew Cab 4x2 (230.2) and Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x2 (228.7). The shortest is the Ram 1500 Crew Cab 4x2 (227.5 inches).

Wheelbase is defined as the distance between the front and rear wheels. While it is often associated with improved ride quality (which is one reason why limousines have very long wheelbases), it may hinder maneuverability in larger vehicles as it increases the turning radius.

The longest wheelbase of this group is found on the Toyota Tundra (145.7 inches), followed by the Ford F-150 (144.4). The Chevrolet Silverado (143.5 inches) is slightly shorter, as is the Ram (140.0). Turning circles vary by a couple of feet, with the Toyota Tundra turning in the shortest distance (44.0 feet) followed by the Dodge (45.1), Ford (47.0), and Chevrolet (47.2). When it comes to ground clearance, the Toyota Tundra offers the most (10.0 inches). The Chevrolet Silverado (9.0 inches) follows, as does the Ford F-150 (8.6) and Ram 1500 (7.7).

While the widths of the cargo boxes are all about 51 inches across, the Chevrolet (69.3 inches) is the longest. The Ram 1500 (67.4 inches) and Ford F-150 (67.0) are only marginally shorter, but the Toyota Tundra (66.7) is the shortest. The Chevrolet can accommodate the most weight in its cargo box (1,990 pounds) followed by the Dodge (1,710), Ford (1,670) and Toyota (1,665 pounds).

Full-size pickup trucks offer generous interior space, thanks to their upright cab design. All four of these models are nearly equal in head room, with the Silverado (41.2 inches) barely edging out the F-150 and Ram (both at 41.0). At 40.2 inches, the Toyota Tundra offers the least amount of head room. Front leg room is about 41 inches in all four models.

2010 Chevrolet SilveradoFeatures and options
The full-size pickup truck segment is unique in that the "standard" models are very lightly equipped-most are sold to businesses or utility companies as "workhorses." That said, the F-Series, Silverado, Ram and Tundra are all offered with power windows, keyless entry, power door locks, power steering, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted controls, and air conditioning-depending on trim level. Standard models have vinyl or cloth seats and basic radios, while high-end trim levels are often fitted with leather upholstery, navigation systems, reverse cameras and high-end audio packages.

Mechanically speaking, each of these full-size trucks is fitted with independent front suspension and traditional solid-axle rear suspensions. All are fitted with standard front disc brakes. The Ford, Dodge and Toyota have rear disc brakes, but the Chevrolet has drum brakes on its rear axle. A 4-wheel anti-lock brake (ABS) system is standard on all four trucks.

2010 Chevrolet SilveradoPowerplant and fuel economy
Standard powerplants on these full-size pickup trucks are all 8-cylinder engines, with engine power and towing/hauling capability taking precedence over fuel economy.

The Toyota Tundra has the most powerful standard engine. Its 5.7-liter V-8 is rated at 381 horsepower and 401 lb.-ft. of torque. It is bolted to a standard 6-speed automatic transmission. Next is the Ram 1500 Pickup with a 4.7-liter V-8 rated at 310 horsepower and 330 lb.-ft. of torque. It is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Then comes the Chevrolet Silverado, with a 4.8-liter V-8 rated at 302 horsepower and 305 lb.-ft. of torque. The Chevy is fitted with a 4-speed automatic. Lastly, the Ford F-150 is equipped with a 4.6-liter V-8, rated at 248 horsepower and 294 lb.-ft. of torque. It is also mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy on pickup trucks isn't as critical as it is on a family-oriented vehicle-thanks to their rugged mission. Regardless, each of these competitors earns better than 13 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway. The Ram 1500 and F-150 are both rated at 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. The Silverado is rated at 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. The Tundra is rated at 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway. While three of them are offered with larger gasoline or diesel engines (the exception is the Toyota Tundra, which is also offered with a smaller 6-cylinder engine), only the Chevrolet is available with a hybrid gasoline-electric powerplant.

With the aforementioned V-8 engines, the Silverado is rated to tow the most (10,600 pounds) followed by the Tundra (10,400), Ram 1500 (8,700) and F-150 (6,000). Keep in mind that each of these models may be optioned differently to tow greater loads.

2010 Ram 1500 PickupSafety and crash testing
Automakers have worked hard in recent years to increase safety in their full-size pickup trucks-a segment once overlooked. Their work is evident with these models, as each of these trucks is fitted with dual front air bags and a tire-pressure-monitoring system as standard equipment. In addition, all four pickups are fitted with standard side curtain air bags and side-guard door beams to reduce injury in a side crash. In consideration for younger passengers, all of the trucks feature passenger air bag cutoff switches in the front passenger seating position.

IIHS Assessments
In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra were rated "Good" in frontal offset and side-impact testing. However, they were not tested for roof strength. The Chevrolet Silverado was rated "Good" in frontal offset, and "Acceptable" in side-impact testing. It was not tested for roof strength. The Ram 1500 was rated "Good" in frontal offset, and "Marginal" in side-impact testing. Like the other pickups in this comparison, it was not tested for roof strength.

2010 Ram 1500 PickupNHTSA Assessments
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Ram 1500 4-door Crew Cab (with side air bags) and Toyota Tundra Crew Cab (with side air bags) 5-star ratings in Front Driver/Front Passenger testing. They were not tested for Side Driver or Side Rear Passenger ratings. The Dodge earned a 4-star rating in Rollover testing (4x2 models), while the Toyota (4x2 models) earned a 3-star rating.

The Ford F-150 SuperCab (with side air bags) earned 5-star ratings in Front Driver/Front Passenger and 5-star ratings in Side Driver/Side Rear Passenger impact testing. However, it earned a 4-star rating in Rollover testing (4x2 models). The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew Cab (with side air bags) earned 5-star ratings in Front Driver/Front Passenger testing. It was not tested for Side Driver or Side Rear Passenger ratings. It earned a 4-star rating in Rollover testing (4x2 models).

2010 Chevrolet SilveradoQuality and dependability
Statistics and numbers aside, consumers seeking a full-size pickup are also interested in initial quality and long-term dependability. In the J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Initial Quality Study (IQS),SM a study of new-vehicle quality measured at 90 days of ownership, the Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra were the highest-ranked models in a tie within the "Large Pickup" segment.

In the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS),SM which measures long-term quality in 3-year-old vehicles that were purchased new, the Toyota Tundra ranked highest, while the Ford F-150 LD and Chevrolet Silverado Classic HD (both previous-generation models) earned top-3 spots in the "Large Pickup" segment.

2010 Chevrolet SilveradoConclusion
These four full-size pickup models are all strong competitors within this segment. Comparing base models, the Toyota Tundra offers the largest engine-and heavy towing capacity as a result-as well as good IQS and VDS results. The Ford F-150 earns the highest safety ratings and also delivers good rankings in both IQS and VDS. The Chevrolet Silverado affords the most cargo capacity, heaviest bed load, and will tow the heaviest trailer. The Ram 1500 has one of the most powerful engines-yet it ties the Ford for highest fuel economy.

Keep in mind that a full-size pickup is a highly configurable purchase. While a feature may not be standard on the base model, it will certainly be offered as an option on another trim level. For this reason, comparing one truck to another is often challenging. In addition to the objective statistics discussed here, the choice often comes down to driving dynamics, styling, features/options and personal preference.


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