2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge: How We Tested


How did find the best half-ton pickup truck of 2018? For this contest, the 2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge, we wanted to bring together as many of the half-ton players as possible, so we sent invitations to all the truckmakers to send us what they considered to be their best half-ton pickup, money no object. In some cases, manufacturers interpreted that to mean their most popular model, while others sent their top-of-the-line trim level with every feature box checked. Toyota declined our invitation, likely due to the fact there are no changes for the 2019 Tundra except for the new , which won't be available for two months.

2018 Best Half-Ton Truck Challenge

 |  | How We Tested

Our crew-cab 4×4 competitors included the all-new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country, the 2018 Ford F-150 Lariat, the all-new 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT, the 2019 Nissan Titan Pro-4X and the all-new 2019 Ram 1500 Limited. All the players had prices in the $65,000 range (some higher, some lower) except the Challenge's value player, the Nissan Titan, which was the least expensive pickup in our contest at just more than $54,000. All had V-8 engines except the Ford; for a list of each truck's specifications, check out our  chart.

We acquired several good-size trailers for a day of towing in the real world. Thankfully, our friends at Big Tex Trailers helped us out again, connecting us with Trailer World in Bowling Green, Ky., to set us up with five Big Tex 14LX bumper-pull, double-axle, heavy-duty hydraulic dump-bed trailers. We loaded each of them with the weight necessary for each truck to tow 6,100 pounds (load and trailer combined). That's nowhere near the maximum towing capacity for any of these trucks, but it did give our judges a real-world idea of how the pickups would handle and respond to a significant load. Finally, because our half tons had such a wide variety of rear bumper heights — and the trailer couplers did not — we called our other friends at B&W Trailer Hitches. They sent us five identical 5-inch adjustable drop hitches (with three selectable balls) so we could keep all the trailers riding safe and level.

When it comes to testing, tries to be a little different than the competition. We do that by breaking our comparison tests into two distinct pieces: empirical measurements (on the track, dyno, specs and more) and expert scores, where each judge evaluates each pickup against its competition in several subjective categories. Having both aspects to our tests is important because our key core value is performing as many tests as possible and providing educated opinions about all things pickup truck; that way, you can make your own decision whether you're looking for a new vehicle or reinforcing or refuting an existing opinion.

Empirical Testing

Our empirical testing for this contest was broken into 16 different events. The winner in each test received 100 points and the remaining trucks were awarded a percentage of points based on their comparative finish. For these 16 empirical tests, each truck had the possibility of scoring a maximum of 1,600 points. Here are the empirical tests we conducted for this contest:

  • Zero-to-60 mph, empty and at max payload
  • Eighth-mile acceleration, empty and at max payload
  • 60-to-zero mph in feet, empty and at max payload
  • Gross vehicle weight rating
  • Calculated max payload
  • Gross combine weight rating
  • Calculated max trailering
  • Fuel economy with trailer
  • EPA combined mpg, empty
  • Interior noise at idle and 60 mph
  • Maximum horsepower and torque on dynamometer

Track Testing

All our closed-track testing was done at Music City Raceway, a tree-lined, NHRA-sanctioned track less than an hour outside of downtown Nashville, Tenn. Temperatures on track day hovered around 90 degrees. All pickups were run with the windows up and air conditioning off; the tire pressure was set to factory numbers posted on the door placards. As we've noted in earlier contests, each truck has a different acceleration and launch feel depending on what traction control settings are on (or turned completely off) and how the tires grab the track surface. Our test driver explored several techniques to record several consistent times, taking the best of the bunch for our scoring.

For brake testing, we chose the most even portion of the track surface to run each truck to 60 mph and then dynamite the brakes. This simulates a real-world panic stop, where we hit the brake pedal with all the force we can muster through the right foot.

Both acceleration and brake testing runs were conducted with the pickups empty and at their maximum calculated payload rating. Before testing, we took each vehicle to a truck-stop CAT Scale to find out their exact weight, then we subtracted that number from the vehicle's gross vehicle weight rating posted on the federally mandated door tag. Using 40-pound bags of rock salt, we loaded each test unit's bed area with the proper number of bags to reach their calculated max payload. We did the loaded runs after they finished their empty runs.

All timing and instrumentation was conducted using our Racelogic Vbox II, which electronically used up to seven different satellites to chart and record our test truck's progress and course in real time. All track testing was done with official spotters and an on-site paramedic team at the ready.

Mileage Drive and Dyno

The judges spent quite a bit of time with the test trucks over the course of our weeklong testing, but we made sure to carve out a half-day where each judge could jump in and out of (and make notes on) each of the trucks during relatively stress-free drive loops. For the first loop, judges drove the pickups like a normal vehicle, meaning through city traffic, some intermittent congestion, on some longer highway stretches and then finishing up on a higher-speed freeway setting. This loop took less than 30 minutes for each driver to complete but provided the opportunity to test each truck in many of the same environs an average owner would experience.

For our loaded fuel-economy test run, all the pickups were hooked up to their respective trailers and driven out of Nashville to our designated swapping spot about an hour east of the city. This location allowed each judge to rotate through each of the five competitors and drive over the same sections of road through the Buffalo Valley, where our photographer and video crew collected action shots and footage. At the start of the run, all the trip odometers and real-time mpg indicators (and their histories) were zeroed out. Temperatures were mild, with occasional light rain falling (remnants of Hurricane Florence) as we wove through city streets to multilane highways, exiting Nashville and entering the thicker forested hills of Buffalo Valley.

Our total distance for the fuel-economy loop was about 65 miles. Each truck's onboard computer calculated its own mpg. Only the Ford, Chevy and GMC offer a dedicated "towing" setting for their onboard computers to more accurately measure fuel economy. We're told the others have sensors that determine whether the vehicle is pulling a heavy load and cycles through calculations more often than normal when not sensing a heavy trailer. Judges were able to haul their 14LX trailers onto freeways for merging acceleration as well as for discerning how confidently each truck pulled their load up the hill and then controlled it on the steeper downhill sections. Our stretch of road was heavily populated with professional long-haul truckers as well as rookie recreational vehicle owners along with quite a few sedans headed to the city for, we're guessing, country-music-loving fun. Most importantly, we were able to employ and test the towing accessories and features each truck was equipped with, as well as observe which powertrains and transmission software programming performed best under stress.

We collected rear-wheel dynamometer numbers from the Nashville power experts at Carma Performance. Erin Carpenter is the owner and top computer wiz at the shop; he ran each of our five test trucks through his Dyno Dynamics portable machine in a single afternoon. Carpenter ran each truck in the same way with the same procedures in place, but a few trucks put up a fight. Most readers will likely notice that the Ram 1500 with the mild-hybrid Hemi V-8 got lower numbers than would be expected, but we can testify that all the same procedures were used. We did multiple runs and still got close to identical output numbers. This is a topic we plan to revisit once we get more details from Ram and Dyno Dynamics.

Judges' Scoring

Our judges scored the trucks in 10 subjective categories using a 10-point scale. To give our judges an appropriate portion of each truck's total points, we multiplied their individual scores by two for a possible total score of 600 points per truck. The subjective categories were:

  • Bed features and access
  • Interior layout
  • Interior quality of materials
  • Interior storage
  • Overall interior comfort
  • How it drives empty
  • How it drives towing
  • Overall visibility
  • Engine layout
  • Overall value

Final Evaluation

When adding up the scores from the 16 objective tests and 10 subjective judges' categories, each pickup could have gotten a maximum of 2,200 points. As is our tradition, we do not weight testing categories. This allows readers to see the raw data and weight those categories they think are important based on their truck's likely usage and their needs. It also lets readers make their own best choice, just in case they are shopping for a pickup.

We work hard to bring readers as much information as possible about how we test and why we perform these tests. A lot of that is based on input from our readers. In the name of transparency, we've detailed the processes, procedures and thinking behind what we've done, but we also want to make sure you have all the data and as much of the judges' information as possible. In the chart below, you'll find all the data we collected so you can see exactly how the scoring fell out.

Tell us what you think in the comment section below. We're looking for readers' feedback to help us to evolve our testing processes. photos by Christian Lantry


Photo of Mark Williams
Former Editor Mark Williams lives in Southern California with his wife and enjoys camping, hiking, skiing, big trucks and towing, and backcountry 4x4 driving. Email Mark Williams

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