America loves pickup trucks, especially full-size pickups! In 2019, about 17 million new cars and trucks were sold in the US, and of those, many millions were half-tons.
The king of the hill, for 43 years, has been the Ford F-150. But the Chevy Silverado (and its stablemate, the GMC Sierra) did pretty well, too. The RAM 1500 was Business Insider's 2019 Car of the Year, an indication of how important pickups are to automakers' bottom lines.
And lest we forget, the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan are both made in the USA and have been in the market for over a decade each.
So let's get to it and see how these big guys ranked!
Let's start at the top of the mountain. The Ford F-150 has been America's bestselling vehicle for 43 years.
My 2019 Ford F-150 4x4 SuperCrew was very well-optioned, with an added Limited package that took the price above $74,000.
The F-150's design refresh wasn't anything dramatic. The biggest difference was the beefed-up front grille, lending a more aggressive demeanor to America's favorite truck.
The "agate black" paint job and shimmering chrome highlights gave this pickup a near-luxury vibe. As you can see, my tester came with a short bed. We generally don't get the longer box for our review vehicles.
The short box is more than adequate for most jobs that don't involve ranching, farming, or serious construction. The bedliner protects the metal from rust and corrosion.
Let's take a look at the Ford's EcoBoost engine — the only V6 in this comparison!
This high-output variant of the 3.5-liter V6 is something: The turbocharged mill cranks out 450 horsepower with 510 pound-feet of torque. That beats the 5.0-liter V8 engine by a notable margin (395 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque).
The F-150 has a multifunction steering wheel, leather-wrapped, and an analog-digital instrument cluster that can be customized to display a wide range of vehicle info.
The "camelback" two-tone leather interior on my F-150 test truck was el primo. The front seats are heated, cooled, and exceptionally comfortable.
The F-150's infotainment system runs on what is by contemporary standards a modest 8-inch central touchscreen. The Sync 3 system is generally superb, with excellent navigation, easy Bluetooth device pairing, USB integration, and a SiriusXM introductory subscription. Bonus points for the wonderful Bang & Olufsen premium audio setup.
I also sampled, a few years back, the high-performance version of the F-150, the Raptor. It was stupendous.
In summary, the Ford F-150 is ... the friggin' Ford F-150! A truly great pickup that truly deserves its reputation.
Onto the usually number two player in the US full-size pickup truck market: the Chevy Silverado. Chevy redesigned and relaunched the perennial aspirant to the full-size-pickup throne in the US, putting on sale for the 2019 model year.
My "Summit White" Silverado 4x4 LTZ Crew Cab stickered at $57,000, well above the base work truck (30,000) but far below the $74,000 F-150 Limited 4x4 SuperCrew. The Silverado simply wasn't as fancy.
This Silverado isn't a huge departure from the previous generation. But with that massive grille and bow-tie badge, it retains road presence.
My tester featured a tonneau cover for the bed.
The short box could swallow up pretty much everything I threw at it. The spray-on bedliner is $500 extra.
The Silverado could be outfitted with a 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, a 4.3-liter V6, a 5.3-liter V8, a 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder diesel — or, in the case of my tester, a 6.2-liter V8.
At full bore, the 6.2-liter V8 makes 420 horsepower with a whopping 460 pound-feet of torque. That's 65 more ponies than the 5.3-liter V8 mill. It can propel the truck to 60 mph in about six seconds, sending the power through a 10-speed automatic transmission. The MPGs are actually respectable, at 16 city/20 highway/17 combined.
The "Gideon/Very Dark Atmosphere" interior is oddly named but still quite pleasant, if a bit on the utilitarian side.
The Silverado's as-tested interior wasn't as flashy as the Ford's — nor the RAM 1500's, as we'll soon see — but it had most of the same features, including ...
... A multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel. And the Silverado gets extra points for having a good old-fashioned column shifter!
Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system is good, but the Chevy's is better. The 8-inch center touchscreen isn't huge, but it is responsive, with a few buttons and knobs to fall back on.
I had also checked out a Chevy Silverado Z71, Chevy's version of the Ford Raptor.
To sum it up, I couldn't find anything substantial to dislike about the Silverado. And I found plenty to enjoy.
Time for our 2019 Car of the Year winner, the formidable RAM 1500.
The 2019 RAM 1500 Crew Cab I originally tested was a Western-themed Laramie "Longhorn" edition, which was $54,000 before the addition of many extra features. As tested, the price was $68,500. We drove the vehicle a total of three times, in Los Angeles and the New York-New Jersey metro area.
The RAM front end is a study in forcefulness, intended to invoke semis and deliver a singular road presence.
The RAM 1500 weighs about 5,400 pounds and can tow 12,750 pounds.
Each of my two East Coast test trucks had short beds, and one of them had a nifty retractable tonneau cover.
Engine time! Let's pop that hood.
The mighty Hemi powerplant in our test truck featured a mild hybrid "eTorque" system coupled to the 5.7-liter V8, making a total of 395 horsepower with 410 foot-pounds of torque. The zero-to-60 time is about 6 seconds. Fuel economy is OK: 17 mpg city/22 highway/19 combined.
The 2019 RAM 1500 Laramie Longhorn Crew Cab 4x4 is a staggeringly good pickup. The secret weapon, of course, is the four-corner coil or air suspension (competitive pickups from Ford and Chevy continue to use rear leaf springs)
The RAM lineup is known for plush interiors. Here we have one in all black, but crammed with subtle details and elegant textures.
Crew Cabs are all about transporting fully grown adults. The back seat of the 1500 is comfortable and quite roomy. Tall humans won't want for legroom.
The 12-inch center touchscreen is stunning. The infotainment system is FCA's Uconnect, which we've found to be excellent.
The 2019 RAM 1500 is the best full-size pickup truck I've ever tested. I even got to challenge the 4x4 system with about a foot of snow at our suburban New Jersey test center, and the RAM brushed it off like nothing.
It's Toyota Tundra time!
You're not going to confuse the Tundra for anything other than a full-size pickup. Ours had a 5-foot-5 doubled-walled bed and a power-sliding rear window.
Our "Super White" test truck was Crewmax 1794 edition, well-appointed and well-optioned at almost $53,000. I tested it officially a few years ago. The Tundra is an aging platform; it hasn't been redesigned in over a decade.
Tundra badging on the liftgate was subdued.
I was able to make good use of the bed for a run to my kids' summer camp.
A full-size pickup with a tow rating of 10,000 pounds indicates some serious business under the hood.
The motor is a 5.7-liter V8, making 381 horsepower — but more importantly, supplying 401 pound-feet of bone-crunching torque. A six-speed automatic transmission gets the job done, but I found it to be antiquated relative to the competition. Fuel economy is a thoroughly unimpressive 13 mpg city/17 highway/14 combined.
The interior is roomy and comfortable. The 1794 Tundra is a close second to the Ram 1500 for sheer interior bliss.
The rear seats aren't as plush, but they aren't bad. The fronts were heated and cooled, while the rear bench design allowed for three passengers.
That's a NICE steering wheel, with the kind of wood-and-leather combo you'd expect to see on Toyota's luxury brand, Lexus. To be honest, the Tundra 1794 is kind of the Lexus of pickups.
Infotainment works fine, with GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, device integration, and satellite radio. The touchscreen interface, however, is small and rather outdated — it's more or less the same as what I have in my 2011 Prius. The JBL audio system is an 11-speaker rig that sounds pretty good, though it doesn't quite cross into premium territory.
No one is asking Toyota to mess with a good thing — and the Tundra is pretty darn good — but the segment is modernizing, and Toyota can't wait forever to roll out a next-gen Tundra. That said, it can wait a few more years without enduring significant damage.
Now let's check out our final contestant, the Nissan Titan.
My 2020 Nissan Titan Pro-4X crew cab was basically brand-spankin'-new, fetchingly attired in a "Baja Storm" paint job. Nissan hadn't officially priced this truck, but a little back-of-the-envelope math suggested a sticker just over $50,000.
Nissan has updated the Titan a few times since its 2004 introduction. But the full-sizer has never managed to crack the Big Three's sales, nor really even pester Toyota's Tundra all that much.
The 4x4 trim level is probably the sharpest option available. My tester sported a crew cab and a 5.5-foot box. Still, I found the Titan's overall looks to be sort of homely.
The all-important bed! As with all our tester trucks, which are usually upscale trims, the bed was lined. I put it to work on a run to my local recycling center, hauling A LOT of cardboard and some glass and plastic. That was literally nuthin' for a truck that can handle over 1,800 pounds.
It's hood-poppin' time!
Here we find a 5.6-liter V8, making 390 horsepower with 394 pound-feet of torque! Nissan isn't known for V8s, but it had to commit when it entered the full-size-pickup market.
Inside, the Titan has perhaps the coolest interior in the segment, with its only proper rival being the aggressively styled Ford Raptor.
Some reviewers have dinged the Titan's cab for being skimpy on rear legroom , but I thought it was adequate.
No driver would be surprised with this configuration, but while other automakers have started to update their multifunction steering wheels and instrument clusters for 21st-century duty, Nissan is entering the third decade of the millennium with a vibe that's still circa 1998.
About the infotainment system ... Nissan is TRYING. The NissanConnect setup runs on a 9-inch touchscreen. And while the system is respectable, it lacks the ease of use I found in the F-150s, the Silverado/Sierras, and the RAM 1500s. Nissan's foe here is Toyota; the Tundra's system also suffers by comparison with the Big Three.
The Titan is a good pickup at an appealing price with suitable stats and a V8 that I rather enjoyed but that doesn't match up well against the redesigned generation of half-tons from Detroit.
Now for our ranking of the contestants! Well, our Car of the Year RAM 1500 is No. 1. It remains the best full-size pickup truck I've driven.
The Ford F-150 is No. 2!
The Chevy Silverado is No. 3!
The Nissan Titan is an unexpected No. 4, beating out the better-selling Toyota Tundra.