Surprisingly, the three-quarter-ton pickup truck segment doesn't get a lot of respect. Half tons are the biggest-selling truck segment in the industry, and one-ton pickups are depicted as the strongest work beasts on the planet. However, the three-quarter-ton pickup is often the ignored player on the dealer lot. That's what prompted us to shine the spotlight on this segment to see which one has the best combination of brains and brawn.
For our 2017 3/4-Ton Premium Truck Challenge, we assembled four top-end crew-cab pickups equipped with four-wheel drive, as many towing features as possible and their torque-biased turbo-diesel engine option.
For this Challenge, we put the competitors through 21 empirical tests (many of which were conducted empty, loaded or towing a gooseneck trailer) and awarded unweighted points, with the winner in each category getting a score of 100, while the others received the appropriate portion of that score based on their performance. The rest of the points were distributed by our five expert judges, each of whom awarded 1 to 10 points in 10 subjective categories. A total of 3,100 points were possible; however, no truck achieved that score.
Here's how they finished:
No. 4: 2017 Nissan Titan XD Platinum Reserve, 2,428 points
First-place finishes: Least expensive, best empty braking from 60 mph, lightest truck, best empty-bed fuel economy, quietest at 60 mph
If there was a wildcard in this competition, the fully loaded, Cummins-diesel Titan XD was it. We were all quite curious to see how well it performed against the more traditional and weighty competition, and we can say — despite the XD's fourth-place finish in empirical and subjective testing — there was plenty to like about this truck.
The Titan XD won five scored empirical categories, ranging from the lowest as-tested price to being the most fuel efficient without a payload; it also proved to have the quietest interior when cruising the highway at 60 mph. The XD also impressed the judges with its comfortable interior seating and driving dynamics without a payload.
However, in just about every loaded or work-oriented category, the Titan XD could not keep pace with the more traditional, heavier, stronger players. Our XD had the lowest gross vehicle weight rating, which gave it the lowest calculated payload of the competition by more than 700 pounds. Additionally, when towing our loaded gooseneck trailer, the Titan XD needed a perfectly balanced load and tongue weight or the brakes and steering quickly let us know something was amiss. No doubt some of those weaknesses were a result of the Titan XD having the smallest and least powerful engine of the group.
Bottom line: There is value here, but you need to be clear about the trade-offs. If you need a stronger half ton, this is a great truck, but it shouldn't be playing in the same sandbox as the big boys.
No. 3: 2017 Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn, 2,777 points
First-place finishes: Best loaded braking from 60 mph, tied for highest GVWR, best bumper towing capacity, tied for Davis Dam downhill braking run, best fuel economy with trailer
The fact that the Ram 2500 finished within a few percentage points of winning this contest tells you how tight the top three finishers were. Our Ram was traditionally tall and the most rock-solid feeling truck of the Challenge. Even though it was the only competitor with coil rear springs, the ride quality and handling characteristics — empty or loaded — were quite harsh, causing us to brace for impact when driving over expansion joints or broken pavement.
So, while the bones of this truck are solid and meant to carry heavy loads, all of the judges believed the trade-off was overly biased in the wrong direction. This meant that no other competitor had a higher GVWR or bumper tow rating, and it came close to winning the gross combined weight rating category.
Unfortunately, the categories in which the Ram lost the most ground to the competition were track performance, where the more modern, freer-breathing V-8 turbo-diesels had a big advantage over the just-as-large inline-six-cylinder Cummins. We should note that the Ram's was spectacular; it only lost 4 inches of length when panic braking from 60 mph with 2,200 pounds in the bed. Another standout feature was that the Cummins exhaust brake offers two distinctly different and aggressive settings; it did an amazing job of keeping big loads under control during our downhill grade testing near Davis Dam in Arizona.
Four out of five judges gave the Ram a solid second-place finish in subjective testing, with the fifth judge scoring the Ram at a close third place. The Western-style, fully leather interior was impressive with soft-touch, high-quality materials; big-screen readouts; mountains of information in the gauge cluster; and tight seams all around the dash, center console and seats. It also offered under-seat rear storage and in-floor bins in the backseat.
Bottom line: The Ram is a gorilla in a leather tuxedo; it's the most "trucky" of the contenders and the one we'd want most when the zombie apocalypse goes down.
No. 2: 2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 LTZ Midnight Edition, 2,780 points
First-place finishes: Fastest zero-to-60-mph times empty and loaded, fastest quarter-mile empty and loaded, tied for highest GVWR, highest payload capacity, highest gooseneck towing capacity, fastest in Davis Dam hill-climb acceleration test, tied for Davis Dam downhill braking run, most horsepower and torque on the dyno
From the second we stepped inside this Chevrolet to run empty and loaded quarter-mile acceleration and brake testing, we knew the upgraded Duramax diesel was something special. This pickup did smoky burnouts with ease. When it comes to putting power to the rear wheels, this redesigned 32-valve 6.6-liter V-8 and upgraded six-speed automatic transmission is at the top of the heap.
We thought the new Chevrolet diesel engine was going to be a strong contender after we saw its class-leading results during our dyno testing, but we weren't prepared for just how strong it turned out to be. At the track, the Chevy was at least a half a second faster than the second-place finisher in both empty and loaded zero-to-60-mph runs as well as in the quarter-mile runs. It also beat the Ram up the Davis Dam grade by more than 6 seconds, topping out several mph faster as well.
Other areas where the Chevy stood out included best payload capacity (beating the Ram by 40 pounds and the 2017 Ford Super Duty F-250 by 100 pounds), the most aggressive look of the bunch (thank you, Midnight Edition) and a reasonable price for its content and capability. When looking at scoring in empirical testing, the Chevy took first place by almost 30 points. Unfortunately, its interior looks and feels like the oldest of the group, which cost it significant points in subjective judges' scoring.
Bottom line: The Chevy was our value-packed rocket ship of the Challenge and the one that did the best burnouts. It was fun and smooth when running empty, and a powerhouse when loaded, but the interior was not where it needs to be.
No. 1: 2017 Ford Super Duty F-250 King Ranch, 2,854 points
First-place finishes: Tied for highest GVWR, highest GCWR, tied for Davis Dam downhill braking run, quietest interior at idle
The Super Duty F-250 is newly redesigned and upgraded, and our test truck was the most expensive player we've ever tested in this three-quarter-ton segment at close to $77,000. Some of the more important upgrades include aluminum body panels and bed, heavier-duty axles and frame, improved powertrains and entirely new (larger) cabs and interior layouts.
Not so coincidently, it was the changes to the interior that most impressed our judges. They unanimously scored the interior as the best of the Challenge in just about every category. Of the 1,000 points our judges could distribute, they awarded the Ford 51 more points than the Ram, 102 points more than the Chevy and 204 points more than the Nissan. Interestingly, our F-250 won the fewest number of empirical categories; however, like a world-class decathlete, the Ford finished in first or second place in 14 out of 21 tests. Of note: The Ford had the highest gross combined weight rating and was the quietest truck at idle.
To be fair, we should point out we had issues with the F-250, not the least of which was the price. Add to that the still-rough empty-bed driving dynamics, poor seat comfort and a questionable paint job (a truck this expensive should not have ripples), and you see that this is not a perfect pickup truck. Still, in the context of the three-quarter-ton segment and how well the Ford can haul a load, it took the crown.
Bottom line: Like a great all-around athlete, the new Ford F-250 has the powertrain of a bulldozer, and the interior features and technology of a luxury hotel room. If we had to tow our monster trailer around the country, we'd want to call this Super Duty home.
Cars.com photos by Angela Conners
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