Sometimes, a regular sedan simply won’t do. If you have a lot of stuff to haul around, you need a pickup truck, and there are plenty of choices. The pickup truck segment is one of the most competitive in the auto industry, with some of the most demanding customers. That drives automakers to design higher-quality trucks, and we’ve rounded up the best from a variety of disciplines here.
Why should you buy this: It does everything well
Who’s it for: Just about anyone who needs a full-size pickup truck
How much will it cost: $26,540+
Why we picked the Ford F-150: Because it has the fundamentals down
The Ford F-150 has been the bestselling vehicle in the U.S. for decades, and it’s easy to see why legions of truck buyers flock to it every year. The F-150 doesn’t dominate any particular category, but it covers all of the bases with solid performance, impressive refinement, and stylish and thoughtful design features.
Under the hood, the available 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 offers plenty of torque and very quick throttle response, making it a good choice whether you want to tow a boat or just pull away from the lights in a hurry. Ford also offers a more traditional 5.0-liter V8, and two other V6 options. The truck itself features an aluminum body that Ford claims saves over 700 pounds compared to a conventional steel body. While the F-150 has fairly basic suspension, the ride is impressively smooth and comfortable. The styling is also a nice departure from traditional truck boxiness.
Ford has also taken the lead in adding tech features to trucks. The F-150 is available with the same Sync 3 infotainment system available in most of Ford’s car models. It’s a solid system with fairly straightforward menu and a responsive touchscreen display. The layout of the dashboard makes it easy to use both the screen and analog controls. Other notable tech toys include a surround-view camera system and Pro Trailer Backup Assist, which allows the truck to take over steering when backing up a trailer. Even if you don’t opt for these features, the F-150’s ride quality, power, and design should prove satisfying.
The best luxury truck
GMC Sierra 1500 Denali
Why should you buy this: It proves that trucks can be luxurious.
Who’s it for: Rich contractors
How much will it cost: $52,155+
Why we picked the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali:
At this point, most manufacturers are adding wood leather trim to their pickup trucks to create luxury models, but the product generally doesn’t live up to the “luxury” branding, or the inflated price tags most of these models carry. That’s not the case with the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali, which offers buyers more than just the garnish of luxury.
The difference is in the details. The Denali’s interior features materials that are of noticeably higher quality than other Sierra models and, unlike many other high-end trucks, GMC’s designers resisted the temptation to go with a tacky Western theme. It’s just a nice place to be, and it features all of the optional tech features from other Sierra models as standard equipment, including wireless phone charging and an infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Sierra Denali comes standard with General Motors’ 6.2-liter V8, the largest and most powerful engine it offers in full-size pickup trucks and SUVs. Horsepower is always fun, but the engine’s smooth delivery of that power also makes it a good match for a high-end model like the Denali. The Denali also gets Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension, which is probably the best suspension system currently available on a truck.
The best off roader
Ram 1500 Rebel
Why should you buy this: If you’re serious about off roading, the Ram 1500 Rebel has everything you need to hit the trail.
Who’s it for: People who aren’t afraid to get a little dirty
How much will it cost: $43,270+
Why we picked the Ram 1500 Rebel:
Lots of people talk about taking their pickup trucks off road, but the Ram 1500 Rebel is built the small portion of pickup owners who actually do it. The Rebel has more than a four-wheel drive system and some mud flaps. It rides on 33-inch Toyo Open Country A/T tires, features skid plates to protect its underside, and large front tow hooks that will come in handy if the driver gets stuck.
The suspension system is based on the air-ride setup offered in other Ram models, but beefed up with Bilstein shock absorbers to handle surfaces that are less than smooth. The Rebel also rides 1.0 inch higher than the standard Ram 1500, providing a little more clearance for obstacles. The Rebel offers the most comprehensive off-road package of any full-size truck, although Ford’s upcoming 2017 Raptor will give it a run for its money.
The Ram 1500 that the Rebel is based on is also a pretty solid foundation. It provides two good engine options—the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6—to the Rebel cause, as well as an ergonomic interior with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) Uconnect infotainment system, plus handy Ram Box storage boxes built into the sides of the bed.
The best truck for people who don’t like trucks
Why should you buy this: Because it drives like a car.
Who’s it for: People who need a truck, but don’t want one.
How much will it cost: $29,475+
Why we picked the Honda Ridgeline:
The Ridgeline is different from most other trucks on the market. It’s basically a Honda Pilot crossover SUV with a pickup bed, so it uses car-like unibody construction instead of the body-on-frame construction of most trucks. That means the body is more rigid, which makes for better ride quality, with less shuddering and vibration.
The Ridgeline also features car-like suspension, so it handles better on pavement—where drivers spend most of their time. Also aiding on-road handling is the same all-wheel drive system used on the Pilot, which includes Honda’s i-VTM4 torque-vectoring feature. This shunts torque side to side, which helps turn the Ridgeline in corners. This setup does sacrifice off-road ability, it’s a good fit for drivers coming from cars or crossover SUVs.
Most trucks are short on secure storage space, but the Ridgeline features a lockable in-bed trunk for items too valuable to leave exposed in the bed itself. The tailgate can also open either down or sideways, for added flexibility when loading and unloading. Honda even offers an in-bed audio system which, should be a hit at tailgate parties.
The best fuel economy
Chevrolet Colorado Diesel
Why should you buy this: It’s the most fuel-efficient truck you can buy.
Who’s it for: People who hate the gas station
How much will it cost: $35,152+
Why we picked the Chevrolet Colorado Diesel:
Diesel may be getting a bad rap in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, but when automakers don’t cheat, it can still make sense in new vehicles. That’s the case with trucks, both because diesel engines’ torque is good for towing, and because there are no real hybrid or electric alternatives in this segment for buyers looking for low fuel costs and emissions.
The Chevrolet Colorado Diesel (along with its GMC Canyon twin) is the most fuel-efficient new truck you can buy, scoring an EPA-rated 25 mpg combined in basic rear-wheel drive form, and 23 mpg combined with the optional four-wheel drive system. The 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder engine also punches above its weight with 369 pound-feet torque, a figure matched only by much larger—and thirstier—gasoline engines.
If you buy a Colorado, you’re not just buying an engine, though. The Colorado is a good truck in every respect. Its midsize dimensions make it much easier to maneuver and park than full-size trucks. The steering response and the way the suspension controls body motion on the road are borderline car like, and you can get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a built-in WiFi hotspot.
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.
Pickup truck size categories explained
Like other types of vehicles, pickup trucks come in multiple. But the size categories often used by automakers don’t always provide the whole picture. Here’s a quick cheat sheet.
Midsize: Midsize pickup trucks are actually the smallest trucks you can buy new in the U.S. right now. Smaller trucks (often described as “compacts”) vanished from our shores years ago, although they are still available in other countries. Examples of midsize trucks include the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Honda Ridgeline, and Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon twins.
Full-size/half ton: This is the most common type of truck on the road, encompassing bestsellers like the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500 twins, and the Ram 1500. These trucks are sometimes referred to as “half tons,” which used to apply to payload ratings for this class of truck, but is now a completely irrelevant term. The term “full size” comes from the fact that these are the largest trucks classified as “light duty vehicles” by the EPA, meaning they’re governed by the same fuel-economy rules as cars.
Heavy duty/three-quarter ton/one ton: Full-size trucks aren’t the biggest trucks you can buy, though. Heavy-duty trucks like the Ford F-Series Super Duty, Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500, and Ram 2500 and 3500 are so big that they exceed EPA weight ratings for passenger vehicles. Many owners still use these trucks as daily drivers, although only buyers who spend a lot of time towing and hauling really need them. The “three-quarter ton” and “one ton” names come from the same outdated rating system as the “half ton” designation for full-size trucks.