Best Pickup Trucks Buyers Guide

Driving Today rates the 2018 full-size pickups

Pickup truck buyers are a very diverse group of people. It stands to reason a Pickup Truck Buyers Guide has to acknowledge that diversity and look at trucks from all angles. If you ask today’s pickup truck buyers what they want, they’re not shy. They’ll tell you they want it everything. They want a truck that is more than tough enough to do the workaday chores, handle weekends and road trips with the family, and do it all with style. Capability, comfort, power, durability, interior space, quiet, comfort, even fuel economy — each of these attributes turns up on most buyers’ must-have lists.

Driving and evaluating to help you make a good decision

Our Buyers Guide starts with driving and evaluating each of the trucks we rate. But it certainly doesn’t stop there. We supplement our evaluation drives with secondary research that includes ownership-reported quality and satisfaction data. Another portion of our evaluation involved lengthy consultation with a veteran expert mechanic who has had decades of experience with light-duty and medium-duty trucks.

With all this disparate data gathered, we boiled it down to the essentials that will help you make a satisfying buying decision. We don’t want to bury you in data and force you to analyze what is important and what is just “noise.” We believe that is our job.  So the following Guide gets right to the nitty-gritty. In it we give the the most pertinent information about each truck model. We rate them on our exclusive and easy-to-understand rating scale — Poor, Good, Better, Best. They are descriptive of our findings and need little explanation.

How should you use this information? If we were you, we would avoid vehicles rated “Poor.” Vehicles rated “Good” are generally average in the class. They are better than the vehicles ranked “Poor,” but vehicles ranked “Better” and “Best” outdo them in our estimation.  We would have no hesitation in purchasing a vehicle ranked “Better.” And of course, “Best” is, well, best.

Importantly, each of the vehicle we rank is a 2018 model.

Full-Size Pickup Trucks

Ford F-150

The Ford F-150 has been the king of the pickup truck segment for nearly 40 years. More than 40 percent of full-size pickup truck sales are F-150s and that volume enables Ford to offer a variety of trim levels, cab sizes and bed lengths. The F-150 is offered in seven separate series, each with a personality of its own. To maintain its dominance with pickup trucks buyers, Ford continues to innovate. While other truckmakers have stuck steadfastly with steel construction, Ford uses extensive amounts of aluminum in the F-150’s body structure, including the bed. That effort was just a portion of profound initiative to enable the truck to retain its towing-and-hauling capabilities while delivering fuel economy that meets federal standards. Another part of that initiative was a the shift to smaller-displacement EcoBoost engines that employ direct injection and turbocharging. The moves were gambles, but they have paid off. The current F-150 lineup delivers the power necessary to complete pickup truck tasks while the accompanying fuel economy is praiseworthy. The truck gets stellar marks for reliability, serviceability and owner enthusiasm. But there is another side to the F-150 too. Ford has recognized the desires of its customers for comfortable, quiet, easy-to-live-with trucks. The trio of King Ranch, Platinum and Limited trim levels take pickup truck comfort and convenience to a new level.

Predicted Reliability

Poor | Good | Better | BEST

Predicted Cost-to-Own (versus key competitive vehicles)

Poor | Good | Better | BEST

Driving Today Expert Rating

Poor | Good | Better | BEST

Chevrolet Silverado

With its Silverado full-size pickup Chevrolet takes a more conservative design and engineering stance than Ford. Its television ads mock the F-150’s aluminum bed, while emphasizing its high-strength steel construction. While Ford has eagerly adopted turbocharging, Chevy Silverado feature solidly conventional normally aspirated engines. Chevy’s tactical answer to Ford’s EcoBoost technology to provide the requisite fuel economy is cylinder-deactivation. The Silverado doesn’t offer quite the trim-level variety of the F-150, but it does offer a startling number of packages. When you add up all the permutations of trim level, bed length, cab configuration and powertrains, then add the various packages, it is likely Chevy has a truck that will fulfill your needs and titillate your desires. The Silverado offers interior design that is closely related to its much-praised Tahoe and Suburban full-size sport-utility vehicles. The 2018 Chevy Silverado is a very good vehicle, but a virtually all-new 2019 version will go on sale in the fall. The good news on this is that 2018 Silverados are likely to be heavily discounted in advance of the new-vehicle introduction. View a preview of the upcoming 2019 Chevrolet Silverado

Predicted Reliability

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Predicted Cost-to-Own (versus key competitive vehicles)

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Driving Today Expert Rating

Poor | Good | Better | Best

GMC Sierra 1500

GMC has established an image upscale of Chevrolet’s despite the fact that the two General Motors brand offer trucks that have very similar characteristics. In its ads GMC refers to itself as “professional grade,” and the strategy has worked. GMC and Chevrolet trucks are built in the same factories, but many consumers like the luxury-brand aura of GMC. The brand has also taken its products in a upscale direction. An example of that is the the top-of-the-line Denali version of the Sierra that GMC treats as essentially a separate model. If you want to style in the suburbs or on the open range, the Sierra Denali has a great deal to offer. Exterior differences versus the non-Denali Sierra include a chrome grille, 20-inch wheels and six-inch chrome steps. An exclusive eight-inch customizable driver display highlights the upscale interior. Even if you choose a non-Denali Sierra, the equipment level is impressive. For example, there’s the Enhanced Driver Alert Package that includes forward collision alert, safety alert driver seat, automatic high-beam control, lane-keep assist, front and rear park assist and low-speed forward automatic braking. See 2019 GMC Sierra AT4 Preview

Predicted Reliability

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Predicted Cost-to-Own (versus key competitive vehicles)

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Driving Today Expert Rating

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Toyota Tundra

For 2018 Toyota has shortened its Tundra full-sized pickup truck lineup by deleting all regular cab versions. This might seem foolhardy since Ford and Chevrolet hang their hats on a wide variety of vehicle choices.  But four-door pickups have surged in popularity over the past decade while regular cabs have almost vanished from the highways, so the decision is perfectly defensible. The Toyota Tundra offers just two engine choices, a 4.6-liter 310-horsepower V8 and a 5.7-liter 381-horsepower V8. Both naturally aspirated and have a laudable quality reputation. Though still substantial, the Tundra feels less bulk than the full-size domestic pickup trucks. For those seeking luxury in their Tundra, the Limited grade offers leather-trimmed seats, 10-way power driver’s seat and dual-zone climate control. The interior design is not as high-luxe as the highest trim levels of the Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Ram. The most significant 2018 model-year change in the Tundra is the addition of Toyota Safety Sense-P, an impressive array of electronic safety aids that includes the pre-collision system that detects pedestrians in danger, lane departure alert and radar-assisted “smart” cruise control.

Predicted Reliability

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Predicted Cost-to-Own (versus key competitive vehicles)

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Driving Today Expert Rating

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Ram 1500

For those seeking a comfortable, quit ride from their full-size pickup, Ram 1500 is one to shop. The 2018 Ram 1500 is an object lesson in how tightly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has embraced the personal-use portion of the pickup truck market. For years the Ram 1500 engineering team has gone out of its way to create a truck with very car-like ride and handling characteristics. This is exemplified by the use of a coil-spring suspension, although that suspension design is quickly being supplanted in up-level Ram 1500s by the optional auto-leveling air suspension. Both suspension designs deliver substantial ride and handling benefits versus the typical truck’s rear leaf-spring arrangement. The Ram 1500’s sedan-like ride is matched by its sedan-like interior design that includes the easy-to-understand Uconnect 8.4 infotainment interface. Ram is quite proud of its varied engine offerings, among them  a 240-horsepower 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 engine, a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter gasoline-fueled V-6 engine, and the vaunted 395-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V-8. The 2018 Ram 1500 can do heavy hauling, but it will treat you to a sumptuous experience, especially if you use your truck as a day-to-day commuter. As this is being written an all-new 2019 Ram 1500 has just hit the market, and it features many improvements all around.

Predicted Reliability

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Predicted Cost-to-Own (versus key competitive vehicles)

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Driving Today Expert Rating

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Nissan Titan

For many years now Nissan has tried shoulder its way into the full-size pickup truck discussion, and although it has had a few successes, it has found the effort against the more established brands to be difficult. Still Nissan offers a full range of half-ton pickups in a wide variety of shapes and styles, an effort it believes is necessary to make inroads in the segment. Regular cab, extended (King Cab) and crew cab body styles are available in both rear-drive and four-wheel-drive trim. Titan also offers five separate grade levels from work-truck plain to Platinum Reserve fancy. Where Titan is limited is in the engine compartment. In contrast to the multiple engines offered by the domestic-nameplate brands, every light-duty (half-ton) Titan is powered by a 390-horsepower 5.6-liter V8 engine mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission.The 2018 Titan half-ton features “big-truck” styling reminiscent of the larger Titan XD, but it is built on a separate chassis with a 139.8-inch wheelbase in contrast to the XD’s 151.6-inch wheelbase. The crew cab has a 5.5-foot bed; the extended cab has a 6.5-foot bed, and the regular cab has an 8-foot bed. TITAN King Cab includes a 6.5-foot bed. The beds offer Nissan’s Utili-track bed channel system with four aluminum-alloy cleats that can be moved and locked along the bed walls plus floor and header tracks that give plenty of tie-down possibilities.

Predicted Reliability

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Predicted Cost-to-Own (versus key competitive vehicles)

Poor | Good | Better | Best

Driving Today Expert Rating

Poor | Good | Better | Best

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