NEWS

2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge: Bed Strategies

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We gathered five half-ton pickup trucks for our 2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge and tested them based on their capacity for work and play. As pickups evolve, the one obvious feature that differentiates them from other vehicles is their bed. Years ago, that meant a rectangular box with body-color paint and accessories largely relegated to the aftermarket. Today, that's changed significantly. Once a simple box, the pickup bed has been getting more attention from the manufacturers to make these pickups work more efficiently and offer more conveniences.

2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge

 | Bed Features | 

We took a closer look at our Challenge competitors — the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, 2018 Ford F-150, 2019 GMC Sierra 1500, 2019 Nissan Titan and 2019 Ram 1500 — to compare how truckmakers are improving on the age-old empty-bed canvas. Here's what we found:

Protection

Once a pickup is put into service, the first thing that is going to show wear is an unprotected bed. So, it was good to see all our Challenge trucks equipped with spray-in bedliners. The Chevrolet Silverado and Nissan Titan included this feature with their respective trim levels. On the Ram 1500, it was part of the Bed Utility Group ($545), and the GMC Sierra had it in the SLT Premium Plus Package ($6,760). It was a stand-alone option on the Ford F-150 ($495).

Though there were differences in the textures across the brands, the coatings all looked evenly applied. All the trucks also had protection for the tops of the bed rails and tailgate, equally vulnerable places. Truckmakers did not offer these features at one time, so now it's even easier to protect a truck's paint and resale value right from delivery.

Tailgates

Certainly the flashiest new development in tailgates is the GMC . Standard on our Challenge model, the GMC Sierra 1500 SLT, as well as on AT4 and Denali trims, it can be manipulated into six positions to help with cargo carrying, bed access or to create a work surface. Some of our crew found certain functions useful. It will be interesting to get more time with it and receive feedback from owners to see if this emerges as a true innovation or more of a gimmick. Either way, it represents the most original thinking we've seen in a truck body since the RamBox bed storage system.

One caveat with the GMC MultiPro Tailgate is its many moving parts and the latches. We questioned how well the tailgate would hold up in long-term use. Since conducting this Challenge, we've seen another new Sierra 1500 that did not have this issue, so we can likely chalk our Challenge truck's tailgate play to being a preproduction unit.

Included on the High Country trim, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 had a class-first power up/down tailgate that can be operated by pushing a button on the key fob, instrument panel or the tailgate itself. It's a nice touch for a well-equipped pickup, and the feature operates smoothly and as advertised. However, it's difficult to see it making it to wider applications, especially considering the increased availability of dampened and lift-assisted hinges.

Our Ford, Nissan and Ram pickups had more conventional tailgates, meaning all were equipped with advanced backup cameras and dampened hinges. All the tailgates locked, though the Nissan Titan was the only one that required owners to use a key (others locked via the key fob).

Cargo Management

Each of the half-ton trucks in our Challenge had fixed tie-downs, a feature we like. In fact, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra had 12 tie-downs, three in each corner with a reported rating of 500 pounds per corner. Even though those two trucks were not equipped with any other movable or removable anchors (GM Accessories offers nine other optional types of attach points), the 12-loop arrangement will cover most of your needs. The three other competitors had four movable rings each. All were made of round stock except the Ford, which had oval-shaped rings made of flat stock that looked more appropriate for tying off rope.

The Ford F-150 also had four heavy-duty mounting points in the bed sides for its BoxLink system. Our truck was equipped with lockable, large tie-down rings, each of which were removable with a key. To a certain degree, their fixed location limits utility, but various accessories are available via dealerships for these mounting points.

The Nissan Titan and Ram 1500 both had optional bed-rail setups with four movable cargo tie-downs. Nissan's Utili-track system is more robust, with tracks in the bed rails, bed floor and on the front wall. The only downside is the hefty aluminum cleats can be removed from the bed-rail tracks even with the tailgate closed, making them vulnerable to theft. This rail system is included with the Pro-4X Utility Package ($1,845).

The Ram's tie-downs are smaller and made of plastic with only two sets of tracks, one on each bed rail. They require a T30 Torx to be removed (which will make them all but theft-proof) and are part of the Bed Utility Group ($545), which is available with or without the RamBox. Also included in the Bed Utility Group is a flexible bed extender, which can also be used as a divider for smaller loads.

Finally, our Ram 1500 test unit included the innovative RamBox, with a pair of lockable, drainable storage compartments on either outer bed side ($995). A 115-volt outlet has been added inside the driver's side compartment, and the placement of interior lights has been changed. Offered in 5-foot, 7-inch and 6-foot, 4-inch lengths, the RamBox provides weatherproof secure storage space without losing any bed length to a toolbox or the like. You won't be able to use a camper/topper/shell on it (at least not yet), but our test truck did come with an optional tri-fold tonneau cover ($550) to protect cargo from rain.

User Access

Both Chevrolet and GMC offer their integrated CornerStep, a step built into the corner of the rear bumpers. This has emerged as the simplest, most elegant solution for the age-old problem of climbing into the beds of seemingly taller and taller pickups. Since there are no moving parts, it should last the life of the truck.

Additionally, 2019 models have increased in size and include an enlarged bed-corner stake pocket to give your hand something to grab on to. We should also note, the GMC's MutiPro Tailgate has one configuration that converts into a drop step for easy bed access, making loading from ground level much easier as well. There's also a hideable foldout grab handle in the bed's left corner for an additional handhold.

The power-retracting running boards ($995) on our Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country had an additional feature where you hit a button on the step's back edge with your foot and it pivots rearward to help with access into the bed's side. Yes, it works, but it adds some complexity. The Chevrolet's running boards retracted with a pronounced thud, while Ram's (which don't have the extra rearward pivoting function) were much quieter.

Both the Nissan and Ram had similar, manually actuated rear bed steps at the left rear corner of their trucks. Nissan's is part of the Pro-4X Utility Package, while Ram's comes with the Bed Utility Group. Both are helpful and sturdy, though visually they look like an afterthought. With their positioning, we wonder how they'll last in areas where road salt is heavily used.

Interestingly, Ford decided to send us a test unit without any additional provision to aid bed access, though a step and handle arrangement that folds out of the top of the tailgate is available.

Lighting and Electrical

In addition to the cargo lights above the rear window, all the trucks had LED lighting in the bed sides. The most popular location was the rear corners, though Nissan had the most well-lit bed with lights under the bed rails and additional tailgate lighting. All turned on when the tailgate was unlocked or opened except the Ford, which has a dedicated switch at the bed's rear. The Nissan Titan and the GM trucks have 110-volt/120-volt three-prong outlets in their beds. Bed lighting and outlets, where applicable (Ford offers two inside the cab), are standard on all these trucks' trim levels except for the Nissan, where it's included with the Pro-4X Utility Package.

The Best of the Beds

Today's truck beds offer a variety of amenities, and our Challenge trucks with their mid- to upper-level trims had many features for work and home needs. The starting prices of our test trucks are important to consider, though a lot of the bed scoring came down to what optional equipment each truck offered.

Ram's Bed Utility Group and Nissan's Pro-4X Utility Package stood out as great values that increased those trucks' capabilities and usefulness. By the same token, the Ford would have scored better had a few more bed options been included on the test truck.

In the end, it was the thoughtfully equipped GMC Sierra that prevailed in our stand-alone bed feature scoring with its towing package and tailgate versatility. See how the beds of these competitors performed in the chart below.

Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

 

 

 

 

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