Review by Stephen Elmer, Jeff Wilson, and Dustin Woods. Photography by Michael Bettencourt and Stephen Elmer.
Pickups have come a long way over the years. Twenty-five years ago, your typical truck buyer would have laughed at the idea of a heated steering wheel, ventilated seats, or worse yet – an option that handled back-up duties for them while towing a trailer. This selection of model year 2019 light-duty full-size pickup trucks available are miles ahead of their ancestors; offering the comfort, convenience, and safety features of most luxury SUVs on the market.
Four different engines, various trims levels, and a wide range in pricing made them even more challenging to judge. But then again, no two truck buyers are alike either. Needs and preferences are vast.
Considering the dizzying number of configurations available from each manufacturer, finding two trucks that compete directly on each and every level is not a simple task. Gaining access to such trucks from media fleets during the same week is akin to finding a needle in a proverbial haystack. Based on availability and timing, we assembled an interesting cross-section of pickups for this comparison test to see what the latest offerings from Ram, Chevrolet, Ford, and GMC are all about.
One happened to be best suited to towing, while another had far more civilized road manners than the rest. Others boasted impressive off-road chops. Four different engines, various trims levels, and a wide range in pricing made them even more challenging to judge. But then again, no two truck buyers are alike either. Needs and preferences are vast.
Testing, and towing, on road and off
Let’s start with what these pickups had in common: all were half-ton trucks that had a crew cab mated to a short box and offered four-wheel drive capability. That’s about where the similarities end.
Regardless of the wide spectrum upon which these pickups reside (in both price and execution), we put them through their paces in a variety of real-world conditions: urban and rural; on-road and off; with a loaded trailer and without.
For the purposes of this test, we used a 1,134 kg (2,500 lb) Yamaha AR195 sport boat on a single axle trailer to simulate the kind of realistic weekend towing tasks the typical light-duty truck owner would require.
The week of testing also happened to have near record-setting temperatures, humidity so thick you could almost see it, and intermittent torrential rain. This allowed us to experience the breadth of safety and comfort amenities offered. Ice-cold A/C and ventilated seats were much appreciated options.
Fourth Place: 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Trail Boss
Offering an off-road-focussed package for your half-ton pickup truck is mandatory in 2019, and from Chevrolet we have the Silverado 1500 LT Trail Boss, offering decent value and the most crucial component of any off-roader: good tires. Opinions among our team are rarely aligned, particularly when it comes to styling, but one sentiment was unanimous – everyone loved the look of this rig.
The truck comes outfitted with LT275/65R18 Goodyear Wrangler DuraTracs, one of the most aggressive all-terrains that come straight from the dealership today. Although tire noise is certainly more apparent than on a comfort-focussed highway tire, this rubber will make its value known when the pavement ends.
As the least-expensive truck in our comparison test (though “cheap” isn’t the right word with an MSRP of $71,295), the Silverado Trail Boss had plenty of capability but was lacking in content. The pill we found hard to swallow when it came to the Trail Boss wasn’t what it offered, but what it lacked for its nearly $72,000 price tag. Namely: no navigation, wireless charging, ventilated seats (or heated rears), or bed liner.
Its sparse interior was riddled with cheap-feeling plastic, including a turn signal stalk that felt flimsy enough to break off in your hand every time it was used. The small infotainment screen and analog gauges also paled in comparison to the other trucks. Contributor Jeff Wilson disagreed: “I’m a firm believer that trucks should be utility pieces, not show pieces, and eschewing some of the fancy-pants fixtures of the other trucks suits me just fine.”
The Trail Boss gets an extra couple of inches of lift, which looks cool and is practical for off-roading, but it does make it a bit trickier to get in and out of for those who are shorter of inseam. It features static running boards though, which we all appreciated. Both the F-150 and the Ram’s power running boards would undoubtedly fold out directly into our calf once our left foot was already firmly on the ground.
Engine power fine, until tow time
The 5.3L V8 was the weakest in the bunch, but being nearly 100 kg lighter than the Ram meant it didn’t feel disadvantaged compared to the Hemi, until it came time for towing. Pulling the Yamaha sport boat tested the 5.3L V8 a little more than we expected, with power not feeling nearly as authoritative as any of the other engines in this pack.
The off-road suspension proved to be versatile when it came time to tow, feeling much firmer and more planted than its spongey suspension characteristics would suggest while bobtailing (driving without a trailer). But still, the Silverado didn’t feel quite as smooth as the Ram, or quite as confident as the F-150, simply because more throttle input was needed on level ground and much more was required on any kind of grade.
Combine the two-inch lift with skid plates, no front air dam, a low-range transfer case, and a G80 rear locker and you’re left with a formidable package that pulls the Silverado through the dirt and mud with ease. This is a sticking point for some off-roaders, as the G80 is totally mechanical and only engages after some slip happens, unlike other trucks that allow you to lock the power back there yourself with a button. We think the G80 is brilliant because like the step in the rear bumper, it’s ready to work at all times.
Where the Silverado also shines is in its many work-focussed upgrades that arrived for the bed. For instance, walls that are seven inches wider than the previous generation, giving this truck the most cargo volume in the segment out back. Three tie-downs at each corner offer convenient height options for any type of cargo load you might have. The Silverado even has an electronically controlled tailgate which can open at the touch of a button. It’ easily is the lightest gate to close back into place. Not to mention the bumper-integrated step, which is still one of the smartest solutions going for bed access.
Where we believe the value truly lies with Trail Boss is with the Silverado Trail Boss Custom, a trim with fewer options and a lower price while still offering the off-road gear. In this group, the Chevy’s saving grace is its price tag, but that’s not enough to excuse some of what it lacks, especially an inspiring powertrain.
Third Place: 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4
There’s no two ways about it, the 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 is a good-looking truck. Hop up into the cab, though, and the experience is very utilitarian where the Ram and F-150 offered materials that were more visually pleasing, soft to the touch, and felt far more substantial.
Truck expert and autoTRADER.ca contributor Stephen Elmer was particularly impressed with the optional engine in the GMC. “The 6.2L V8 nestled under the hood of the Sierra AT4 added a performance package that brings an extra 15 ponies to the table, and is one of the most formidable engines you can get in a half-ton truck today. It also made towing a breeze.”
MORE RELATED ARTICLES
Power delivery is strong, and it sounds great thanks in part to the dual cat-back performance exhaust system included in the $6,240 Off-road Performance Package. While it has dynamic fuel management (a fancy name for cylinder deactivation) it doesn’t have elaborate turbos that require spooling up like the F-150, so power is always on hand in each of its 10 gears.
Similarly to the Chevrolet, we all found it strange that manually shifting gears required selecting L on the column shifter then selecting + or – buttons. Why L? Wouldn’t M for Manual or S for Sport make more sense?
The off-road AT4 package and upgrades on this truck make for a comprehensive offering right from the factory, including Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, a two-inch lift, skid plates and unique suspension tuning. Speed bumps, potholes, washboard roads and backwood trails be damned, the Sierra AT4 cleared bumps at speeds that would’ve ripped the fancy air dams and shrouds clear off the Ford and Ram.
Interior simple to use, but well-equipped
The dash featured large, round knobs to work the volume, tuning and climate control, which are a welcome simplicity in a world of complicated toggles, menus, touchpads, and screens. Particularly come winter when the gloves are on. The Sierra also featured lots of practical compartments, including the clever in-seat storage in the back. The multi-piece tailgate served as a great coffee bar and work station while on the job too.
Tech features on the Sierra helped it stand out above its Bowtie-wearing sibling, including the wireless charging pad, rear-camera mirror, and the head-up display, which features an inclinometer for off-road usage. The infotainment system was intuitive and well laid out but couldn’t compare to the sheer size of the Ram’s. Even with the upgrades over the Silverado, the Sierra’s cabin feels dated and cheap compared to the Ford and Ram’s. It was a unanimously disappointing aspect of an otherwise dynamite package. Sure, it’s a truck, but when you’re spending $79,395, the expectation is that you feel like you’re getting what you’ve paid for.
Costing roughly $2,000 less than the Ram and $8,000 less than the F-150, the Sierra came well equipped and makes for a compelling value proposition as an out-of-the-box total package. “This was the truck I would’ve been happiest to keep after the test,” said Wilson. “It has the power to haul and work, but the suspension and tires to go out and play off-road when the day is done and it’s time to play.”
Second Place: 2019 Ram 1500 Sport Crew Cab 4x4
Canadians have proven that we like monochromatic colouring and less chrome, and that is exactly what the 2019 Ram 1500 Sport brings to the table. Getting an urban look that’s more city slicker than cowboy, the Sport is now only available in Canada as it was far more popular here than with our friends south of the border. Their loss.
Ram rolled out the latest 1500 fairly early in 2018, so it feels like this truck has been with us for quite some time now, even though it’s still in its first model year. In that time, Ford launched some changes to the F-150 and GM launched and entirely new half-ton, and still, no other brand can compete with the Ram’s interior. The combination of thoughtful, quality material choices, elegant design, and clever use of space highlight the insides of the new Ram.
The centre console is flexible and can be configured to your preference, allowing for storage of many different shapes and sizes of bag, computer, tablet, or phone. Among the highlights of this truck is the massive 12-inch infotainment touchscreen. Though its operation felt a little convoluted, the longer we spent in the cabin the more familiar it became. And the more fingerprint smudges accumulated. Icons can be customized, and Ram left just enough physical buttons to at least make HVAC controls simple and accessible. The 12-inch touchscreen is impressive, but Ram’s own 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment setup is smarter and more intuitive in our opinion.
Naturally, since Wilson was a big fan of the Sierra’s raw utility, he was less of a fan of the Ram’s civility. “While the murdered-out colour scheme caught the eye of our videographer, to me the Ram puts too much emphasis on flash and sportiness, and not enough on good ol’ raw truck-ness.” He did however concede that its interior is the new benchmark for interior quality and is a revelation in the pickup truck game.
Under the hood is the formidable 5.7L Hemi V8, an engine that Ram has relied on for quite a few years now and with good reason. Making 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque, this V8 pulls strong out of the gate, sounding guttural and raw while doing so under load. Ram was one of the first makers to move on from six-speed gearboxes to eight-speeds. Paired with the Hemi, it liked to downshift and find the meat of the power band.
Best handling, loaded and unloaded
Air suspension was equipped to our test truck at all four corners, helping it float down the road a little nicer than every other truck in our comparison test. That suspension has a way of absorbing bumps below while keeping the handling and steering tight, with little to no vibration coming into the wheel.
Hooking up the trailer, it immediately levelled itself to compensate for the added bulk. It also immediately recognized the length and weight of the load, automatically setting the trailer brakes and switching to tow mode. It made for a strange sensation where it didn’t feel as though we were towing anything at all. Another trick option is the mirrors that can quickly flip out vertically, to configure for towing.
Another fan favourite was the RamBox. Sure, the $1,295 option is a bit pricey and it compromises bed cargo volume, but the lockable, drainable compartments integrated into each side of the truck bed are convenient for keeping dirty work boots out of the cabin, or expensive tools away from prying eyes. Or in our case, it kept cans of fancy cold-brew coffee and water on ice during scorching weather.
As the second-most-expensive truck of the test, the Ram 1500 isn’t inexpensive, but it certainly offers all the luxury features you could want and expect from a pickup in 2019. It feels like you’re piloting a luxury SUV with a strong powertrain and a laundry list of features to match. It’s clear when you put this product next to its competitors that the team at Ram have been doing their homework.
First Place: 2019 Ford F-150 Limited 4x4
What does darn near six-figures get you in a half-ton truck these days? Well, quite a lot as it turns out. The 2019 F-150 Limited was the priciest truck of the bunch, so it had to work twice as hard as the rest to get our attention and approval. In terms of features, they’re plentiful with everything from a thousand-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system and an enormous panoramic sunroof, to beautifully finished leather seating.
In fact, those heated and cooled seats are properly decadent, easily winning the award for comfiest thrones in the group, both front and back.
Fancy, inside and out
It looks fancy, too. Some found it a little too fancy, in fact. Finished in bright white with plenty of chrome bling and big wheels, it lacked some of the machismo of the off-road ready siblings from the General or the murdered-out Ram. One of our testers took to referring to it as Liberace during our test days (okay, me).
But this is a pickup and a truck should be able to do hard labour. The F-150 Limited may be refined, but it isn’t afraid to roll up its puffy sleeves and do some real work. The 3.5L V6 EcoBoost engine has its twin turbos turned up to 11, matching the same high-output as the butch F-150 Raptor. Its 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque even distances itself from the hairy-chested 6.2L V8 in the GMC.
While the EcoBoost doesn’t sound as gruff as the V8s in the other trucks (presuming gruffness is a good thing, in pickup circles), the trade-off is better fuel efficiency, at least when the driver can keep the turbos from working too hard.
That much power gives the Limited plenty of grunt when driving around unladen, but even when towing the boat, it barely broke a sweat, always having lots of oomph in reserve.
What’s more, Elmer praised the clever trailering aids like the Pro Trailer Backup assist and spotlights on the outsides of the mirrors to light up the night beside the truck. Despite being the only truck in the test not fitted with a tonneau cover, the Limited’s box did have Ford’s clever sliding cleat system for tying down loads.
Elmer also praised the 10-speed transmission for its smooth changes and ability to bypass gears – a useful function when trailering. It’s clearly programmed for efficiency, so occasionally a heavy boot to the throttle was met with a pause while three, or even four, cogs were shifted down before the engine did its thing.
The F-150 handles pretty well for a full-size truck, too, with Woods claiming the Limited feels smaller than its proportions suggest. The enormous 22-inch wheels leave little sidewall on the tires to absorb bumps, and a few of us found the Ford to ride the firmest of the bunch – so the (relatively) snappy handling does come at a cost.
Fancy styling. Luxurious interior. Lots of power. Plenty of features to make work easier. These are all reasons the F-150 Limited has topped our test. Woods summed it up best:
“There’s a reason the F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in this country for so many years. It is poised and elegant, yet robust and rugged. It just does everything well.”
The F-150 may have been the most expensive of the bunch, but it backed up its sticker price with content and comfort. The seats in the F-150 were the most comfortable in the entire comparison, rear seats included. And it’s the only truck of the bunch with a clever reverse system like the Pro Trailer Backup Assist.
With its 2019 Limited, Ford has brought together its most powerful truck engine with its more luxurious truck interior, resulting in a hard-working truck with incredible power that coddles you down the road. It is a truck that none of us would be disappointed with driving day in and day out. Heck, the seats will even give you a massage while you drive!