Here's an interesting question: What's the ultimate American luxury vehicle? The Germans can point to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, while the Japanese would say it's the Lexus LS. But Americans don't really have anything like that anymore … unless you consider the humble pickup truck.
Say you're a construction boss. What are you going to drive to the site: a BMW 7 Series or the most loaded, most opulent, most capable pickup you can find? Base-model work trucks are for employees, but the trucks assembled for our 2017 3/4-Ton Premium Truck Challenge are what the bosses drive to work. Or use to tow a recreational vehicle, boat or race trailer with a couple of race cars.
These three-quarter-ton luxury trucks are more capable than light-duty half-ton trucks because they all feature diesel engines and boosted payload capacity. They also provide more day-to-day comfort than one-ton towing rigs. They're for well-to-do folks who need a more rugged vehicle for duties more strenuous than a casual-use half-ton truck can accommodate. They're expensive — every truck in this Challenge costs $63,000 or more — they're heavy, they're powerful. We decided to see which is best.
The competitors, 4×4 crew cabs all, were:
- 2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 LTZ Midnight Edition
- 2017 Ford Super Duty F-250 King Ranch
- 2017 Nissan Titan XD Platinum Reserve
- 2017 Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn
As we did with our 2017 3/4 -Ton Work Truck Challenge, we tested these brutes in and around Phoenix, running acceleration and braking tests at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., to see what they could do both empty and loaded. We did 111-mile fuel-economy test loops around the city with the trucks empty and towing a 10,000-pound gooseneck Load Trail trailer to measure how thirsty the big diesel engines get when used as empty daily drivers versus when towing.
As always, we broke the Challenge into two scored sections. One part evaluated the trucks in 21 empirical categories such as acceleration and braking tests at the track (empty and loaded), real-world sound testing, max towing and payload capacities, dynamometer performance and a hill climb up Arizona's famous Davis Dam grade with a hefty load in the gooseneck trailer.
The second part of our testing came from our five judges who awarded points in 10 subjective categories such as bed features and access, interior layout, materials and comfort, visibility and more. All totaled, each player had the potential to receive as many as 3,100 points; of course, since no pickup is perfect, none of them achieved that score.
We did not weight any of these tests — we never do in our Challenges — making each test equal in importance. That allows you to emphasize categories that are more important to you. You may even want to ignore some altogether, but at least this information will allow you to see which truck best suits your needs.
The crux of this test was simple: What were the real differences here? How did the trucks compare? Is there a difference between Nissan's "extra-duty" pickup and a traditional "heavy duty"? And finally, are these pickups worth $60,000 to $70,000 plus?
Our panel of judges were:
- Aaron Bragman, Cars.com Detroit bureau chief
- Joe Bruzek, Cars.com senior road test editor
- Bruce Smith, freelance automotive journalist
- Warren Spears, auto body and truck expert
- Mark Williams, PickupTrucks.com editor
Here are the details for each competitor:
2017 Chevrolet 2500 LTZ Midnight Edition
Chevy's new HD truck last saw a light update for 2016, so it's still pretty fresh. Our test truck was a well-equipped LTZ with the all-new turbo-diesel 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax mated to a beefed-up Allison six-speed automatic transmission. This engine makes 445 horsepower and 910 pounds-feet of torque. A base LTZ stickers at $52,570 (all prices include a destination fee), but that doesn't include the Duramax diesel or the Allison transmission. While our tester wasn't the top High Country trim level, it lacked nothing. It had power-adjustable everything, including pedals, a Bose audio system, remote start, power sliding rear window, front and rear park assist, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front leather seats, and more. Our test truck also came with the Z71 Off-Road Package, which added Rancho shocks, extra underbody skid plating and hill descent control. The "murdered-out" look of the truck came from the appearance package, which blacked out the grille, bumpers, wheels and Bow Tie emblems, and added Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac off-road tires. A Driver Alert Package with forward collision and lane departure warning rounded things out for a grand total of $67,940.
2017 Ford Super Duty F-250 King Ranch
Like Chevy, Ford did not send us its ultimate luxury truck but the one a step below it: a two-tone F-250 King Ranch, which starts at $58,650. Our all-new Super Duty test truck came with a powerful (and pricey) turbo-diesel 6.7-liter V-8 Power Stroke making 440 hp and a best-in-class 925 pounds-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed Ford transmission. It also featured an adjustable exhaust brake, luxurious leather-trimmed interior, automatic folding running boards, panoramic moonroof, LED headlights, adaptive steering, 20-inch wheels, heated rear seat and much more. It was the newest and one of the best-equipped trucks in our contest, but you'll pay for it; ours had a lofty price of $76,545.
2017 Nissan Titan XD Platinum Reserve
Unlike Ford and Chevy, Nissan did send its top-of-the-line fully loaded trim level — the Platinum Reserve — but unlike the others, the Titan XD sits just beneath a true three-quarter-ton truck. With a lower gross vehicle weight rating, its payload capacity is significantly less than the other trucks (by more than 600 pounds), and it isn't rated to tow nearly as much, either. Powered by a turbo-diesel 5.0-liter V-8 Cummins making 310 hp and 555 pounds-feet of torque, it's also considerably outgunned in the engine department. It does have a price advantage, with the Platinum Reserve model starting at $63,155 but including almost every option. That means 20-inch wheels, a leather interior with a leather wood-trimmed steering wheel, a Rockford Fosgate 12-speaker audio system, front and rear parking sensors, LED headlights, power-extendable towing mirrors and LED under-rail bed lighting. Adding the Bed Utility Package brought the total to $63,905.
For a larger version of the 2017 Nissan Titan XD Platinum Reserve Monroney, click on the picture above.
2017 Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn
It's amazing how many people still call this a Dodge even though it's been a Ram-branded vehicle for nearly a decade. We had the 2500 in the top Laramie Longhorn trim level. It starts at $58,595, to which we added the turbo-diesel 6.7-liter inline-six-cylinder Cummins engine rated to make 370 hp and a hulking 800 pounds-feet of torque (Cummins does offer a 900 pounds-feet rating, but that is only available in the max-tow Ram 3500 dually configuration). The engine includes an adjustable two-stage exhaust brake, and our truck came equipped with the upgraded 220-amp alternator. The Cummins engine is mated to a heavy-duty (68RFE) six-speed automatic transmission with a 3.42:1 axle gear. Our Ram also had an Off-Road Package that included underbody skid plates, electronic hill descent control and Bilstein shock absorbers. Inside, the Laramie Longhorn offered opulent leather with stitched seats, doors and dash, and a heated steering wheel with massively thick wood rim trim. The Alpine nine-speaker audio system joined navigation, heated and ventilated front seats, power-adjustable pedals and more for an as-tested total of $71,300.
For a larger version of the 2017 Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn Monroney, click on the picture above.
Cars.com photos by Angela Conners