It seems like all the news these days is about full-size, one-ton, heavy-duty pickup trucks with a dual rear axle and prices approaching $100,000, but not everybody needs such a monster machine. Some folks just need a good, solid work truck — a big one, something that can haul, tow and get folks to a jobsite that may not be on a paved road.
2018 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Truck Challenge
Results | | How We Tested
We invited three players to our 2018 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Truck Challenge — the 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 3500, 2018 Ford Super Duty F-350 and 2018 Ram 3500 — stipulating that we wanted to test a one-ton single-rear-axle truck with the top gooseneck towing package. The powertrain had to be diesel, but two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive was up to the automaker, as was the bed length. We set the price cap for this adventure at $75,000 — still a considerable amount of money, but average for a class that can see prices soar much higher.
Our judges were a trio of experienced truck experts, each with a different area of expertise:
- Mark Williams, PickupTrucks.com editor. Williams has been driving pickups and 4x4s for more than 30 years, reporting on all aspects of pickup trucks for PickupTrucks.com for the last eight years.
- Aaron Bragman, Cars.com Detroit bureau chief. Bragman has reviewed trucks for years, logging thousands of miles towing and hauling, and reporting on pickup trucks and the auto industry.
- Matthew Barnes, product engineer and industry blogger. Barnes' day job is testing hitch equipment for Progress Manufacturing Inc.
Testing and Scoring
Testing each truck's abilities is important to us. Anyone can deliver a subjective opinion, but the numbers often tell the tale and make or break a truck in a competition like this.
We put the trucks through 16 empirical tests around Kingman, Ariz., a hot, dry, lightly trafficked locale with easy access to off-road areas, steep mountain grades and long stretches of highway. Those tests included accelerating and braking with and without gooseneck dump trailers loaded with gravel on a runway at the Kingman Municipal Airport, towing up the Davis Dam grade, payload and towing capacity comparisons, fuel economy and noise intrusion testing.
Judges also scored the trucks in 10 subjective categories from interior comfort and quality to visibility and value. Combined, our empirical and subjective tests totaled a maximum of 2,200 points (1,600 max for empirical tests and 600 for subjective tests). Of course, none of the trucks hit that perfect score, but the totals were impressive, as you'll see below. For a deep dive into our testing, see our How We Tested article. And for the details of how these three competitors were equipped, see our What You Get chart below.
And now, without further ado, here's how the trucks stacked up after all the dust settled:
No. 3: 2018 Ram 3500 Laramie, 1,938 points
Our Test Vehicle
As-tested price: $74,435
Equipment: 385-horsepower, turbo-diesel 6.7-liter Cummins inline six-cylinder; Aisin six-speed automatic transmission; part-time four-wheel drive; auto-leveling supplemental rear air suspension
Rear axle ratio: 3.42:1
Torque: 930 pounds-feet
Gooseneck towing capacity: 16,730 pounds
Calculated fuel economy, empty: 16.9 mpg combined
The verdict: The favorite of two of the three judges, the Ram 3500 was the most comfortable truck overall and was the least fazed by a heavy trailer. Last-place acceleration and fuel economy finishes, plus a loud interior, kept it out of the top spot.
Analysis: The judges universally praised the Ram for its comfort, drivability, civility, stability and other qualities. Of all the trucks, the Ram felt most comfortable with a load behind it, especially when the trailer brakes were switched off on our 40-to-zero-mph panic stop test. But the Aisin transmission seemed to be the weak point here: The Ram 3500 had a 3.42 rear axle ratio that should have been good for highway cruising, yet it still scored the worst for fuel economy, and it did it no favors for acceleration results or 60-mph engine noise levels.
Comfortable interior: "Everything was easy to reach, the driver's seat was most comfortable for me, and the rear seats were heated and had vents," Barnes said. "It has a bumpin' sound system, too," Bragman added. "That Alpine unit sounds sick!" That's a good thing.
Thoughtful storage solutions: The Ram 3500 had plenty of nooks to store and hide gear. "Hidden storage and under-rear-seat configurations are a nice touch. I especially like the thoughtful lighting under the rear seats," Williams said. Bragman appreciated the functional cellphone or tablet holders in the center console.
Smooth ride: Everyone had big praise for how the Ram 3500 rides, thanks to its rear air suspension in conjunction with the common leaf springs. "Road feel when towing was about as smooth and confident as I've felt in this segment," said Williams. "It has been a while since I've driven a one-ton single-rear-wheel axle with the airbags, but between the leaf springs and bag pressure, this is incredibly well-dialed in."
Towing stability: Of the three trucks, the Ram 3500 felt the most at home towing a heavy trailer. Barnes said the Ram was the "most stable truck while towing; there were no vibrations or other issues, making the Ram the most confident tow vehicle of the three tested." It also handled itself best under panic braking when the trailer brakes were switched off, stopping a stunning 20 feet shorter than the third-place Ford, with perfect poise and control.
Worst acceleration: We wouldn't call it slow exactly, but the Ram finished last in all of the acceleration tests. We think the Aisin transmission might have been the culprit, as it had a decidedly rough demeanor versus its competitors. "The transmission definitely has a commercial feel to it that takes some getting used to," Williams said. "That 1st-to-2nd gear shift is a hard one, and I am guessing plenty of power is pulled out to accommodate the torque." It's also sported a 3.42:1 final drive ratio versus 3.55:1 for the Ford and 3.73:1 for the Chevy, which didn't help.
Mediocre fuel economy: A taller gear ratio like a 3.42:1 should have helped with fuel economy, but it didn't — the Ram scored poorly here too, averaging 16.9 mpg without a trailer and 9.9 mpg with the trailer.
Cruise control: Unlike the other trucks, the Ram 3500's cruise control would let you get well beyond your set speed going downhill before applying the exhaust brake. "The cruise control was rather ambiguous," Barnes said. "Sometimes it would be at the right speed, but it wouldn't start the exhaust brake until about 5 mph over the set speed." Williams saw it go as high as 8 mph over the set speed before actively working to slow itself.
It's loud: There's a certain degree of diesel truckiness that's cool in a one-ton rig — but the Ram 3500 goes a bit too far, scoring the worst in interior noise levels. At idle or at highway speeds, the Cummins engine makes itself very well known, which we understand some truck buyers appreciate.
No. 2: 2018 Ford Super Duty F-350 Lariat, 2,012 points
Our Test Vehicle
As-tested price: $74,470
Equipment: 450-hp, turbo-diesel 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8; TorqShift six-speed automatic transmission; part-time four-wheel drive; LED headlights; adaptive steering
Rear axle ratio: 3.55:1
Torque: 935 pounds-feet
Gooseneck towing capacity: 20,600 pounds
Tested fuel economy, empty: 17.8 mpg combined
The verdict: Spacious with a commanding seating position and bountiful visibility, the tech-laden Ford helped make towing easy by providing the driver with tons of useful information — but it didn't handle the actual job of towing well enough to snag the top spot.
Analysis: The big Ford F-350 (and we do mean big; this thing dwarfed the other two trucks) came close to taking the top spot, falling just 11 points short of the victor. It scored well in the 40-to-60-mph rolling test, and it had the highest gooseneck tow rating by a significant amount. But the towing performance of this single-rear-wheel Ford Super Duty F-350 left us underwhelmed, as it felt like it was most affected by the load behind it. We loved the information it gives to the driver, but interior comfort was an issue for some, as well.
A great view: Our judges liked the spacious interior and the visibility that such a tall roof and high seating position afforded. Bragman enjoyed the view out once the cabin had been successfully mounted. "It's one heck of a climb to get up in, but once you're there, the view out is unparalleled," he said. "With such big windows, visibility is excellent."
Tons of information: The judges universally liked the amount of data that the Ford F-350 provided the driver through its instrument cluster, gauges and multimedia center. "Absolutely love how configurable and accessible the information is on the screen between the speedometer and tachometer," Williams said. "Tons of info and the driver can prioritize it for easier access of the readouts they want." Barnes agreed: "Best technology of the group by far, with the adaptive cruise control, 360-degree camera system, power drop tailgate button and electronically extending mirrors."
Auxiliary switches: The Ford F-350 was the only truck equipped with overhead auxiliary switches, which are great for those planning to up-fit a vehicle.
Lots of bed tech: There were lots of innovative features in the bed. Our Ford F-350 had a tailgate step, push-button LED lighting, lockable tie-down cleats and a push-button drop tailgate (on the tailgate, from inside the cab and even on the key fob).
Not happy with our trailer: Several judges said that it felt like the trailer was pushing the truck around a lot more than the other competitors, creating a less stable, less confident experience. "When towing over the road, the rear suspension got into a weird resonance wave where the trailer was pushing and pulling the Super Duty," Williams said. "It got bad enough to where I had to let off the throttle and coast a bit to let all the weight recalibrate." Barnes experienced a similar issue while towing up a moderate grade. "The Ford towed well overall but had a serious fore-and-aft frequency issue that was started by certain bumps and would keep getting worse unless the throttle was released."
Poor braking stability: When we switched off the trailer brakes, the Ford F-350 did not inspire confidence in our closed-course 40-to-zero-mph emergency panic stop testing. Drivers experienced a lot of lateral movement and loss of composure.
Uncomfortable seats: Ford's pickup seats continue to disappoint. "The seat-bottom cushions feel short, or maybe it's the seatback that pushes me too far forward," Bragman said. "Either way, I feel like I'm sitting on the edge of the seats in the Ford."
Tight engine compartment: The big diesel V-8 is stuffed under that tall hood with no room to spare. "Engine layout looks fine for changing the air filter, but the rest of it looks like a hoarder's closet, packed with tubes, pipes, hoses and cooling sinks," Williams said.
No. 1: 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 High Country, 2,023 points
Our Test Vehicle
As-tested price: $70,965
Equipment: 445-hp, turbo-diesel 6.6-liter Duramax V-8; Allison 1000 six-speed automatic transmission; part-time four-wheel drive; Rear axle ratio: 3.73:1
Torque: 910 pounds-feet
Gooseneck towing capacity: 17,200 pounds
Tested fuel economy, empty: 18.7 mpg combined
The verdict: The Chevrolet Silverado 3500 proves an aging platform doesn't matter when your performance is this strong. It finished first due to top marks for performance, an impressive level of equipment and a value price to boot.
Analysis: The Chevy Silverado wasn't any of our judges' favorite truck; none of them picked it as the overall winner in the 10 subjective testing categories. But first-place performances in 10 empirical tests more than made up for it, with the aging Chevy edging out the completely redone Ford and plush Ram for the top spot in our Challenge thanks to strong acceleration, good towing manners, top fuel economy and overall livability.
Smokin' value: At this price, you apparently have a choice — the mid-level trims for a Ford or Ram pickup, or a top luxury trim level for a Chevrolet. We got a loaded luxury Chevrolet Silverado 3500 High Country for the price of other manufacturers' mid-level trims and still came in thousands of dollars less than the Ford or Ram competitors. Even if Chevy had sent us a long-bed version of the 3500, as the others did, the sticker price still would have come in a lot less than the Ford or Ram.
Feels like a smaller truck: "The Chevy has strong pulling power and comfortable seating feel," Williams said. "It drives more like a half-ton truck with a monster motor. I think there's something to the fact that GM hasn't tried to make its HD trucks into monsters that is connecting with consumers. That's probably because GM has a new medium-duty Silverado 4500/5500 for even heavier-duty use."
Quiet inside: Barnes believed the Chevrolet Silverado had the calmest interior, and the test numbers backed him up. "The Chevy was noticeably quieter than the other trucks in this test, both inside and out," he said, and it's true — the Silverado scored best at idle and at 60 mph according to our sound-testing decibel meter.
Strong acceleration: The Chevrolet Silverado 3500 was quickest in our quarter-mile test — both with and without a trailer — quickest in the zero-to-60-mph test (almost two seconds faster than the Ram) and quickest in our hill-climb test. At least some of that success can be attributed to its 3.73:1 final drive ratio, but this has no penalty on fuel economy, as …
Top-notch fuel economy: … It also was hands-down the best for fuel economy, achieving 18.7 mpg combined without a trailer and 10.4 mpg combined towing a 4,900-pound Big Tex gooseneck dump trailer filled with 8,100 pounds of gravel.
Insufficient information: While the Chevrolet Silverado 3500 provides some information to the driver about what the truck is doing, it falls well short of the Ford and Ram in giving complete info. For instance, the diesel exhaust fluid gauge has only two readings: "enough" and "refill now." You can't see what gear you're in when in Drive; you must shift the transmission into Manual to see the gear in use displayed on the information screen.
Awkward cabin layout: We've complained before about the offset position of the steering wheel and it's still a problem, one that we hope will be addressed when the next generation of heavy-duty Chevrolet trucks arrive in the next year or two.
Mediocre cameras: The Chevrolet Silverado 3500 lacks a bed camera, and there's no way to activate the rearview camera while you're going forward as you can in the others. Our top-of-the-line vehicle was not equipped with the aftermarket extra side cameras (which activate when using your blinkers), but we're not sure that would have compared well anyway with either of the other systems.
Diesel exhaust fluid mess: We dislike just about everything regarding the DEF system on the Chevrolet Silverado 3500. Barnes was unequivocal: "The DEF system needs work on every part — the fill location under the hood is the worst in the industry, the DEF tank's low position is the worst in the industry and the in-dash DEF gauge itself is the worst in the industry." As noted earlier, it has two positions: "enough" and "refill immediately." Not good enough.
Lackluster storage: "There's nowhere to really slip a cellphone that has it accessible and still powered up," Bragman noticed. "Kudos for having lots of USB ports, but then it's odd that there's nowhere to securely put the thing you've just plugged in."
So, while none of the judges picked the Chevrolet Silverado 3500 as the best experience, its strong empirical test performances put it over the top. We value a truck's empirical ability as much as, if not more than, subjective evaluations. Our scoring is designed to allow readers to weight the test categories important to them any way they wish. So, have at it: Feel free to weight the scores you'll find in our full-length chart in our How We Tested story to determine your own personal winner. If you're looking for the latest and greatest features, a lot of technology and creature comforts, the Chevy might not be for you. But if you're looking for the quickest, most comfortable, most efficient one-ton pickup truck around that's quiet and easy to tow, and a smokin' value to boot, the 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 is the one to get and the overall winner of our 2018 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Truck Challenge.
- Find Pickup Trucks For Sale Near You
- More 2018 One-Ton Heavy-Duty Truck Challenge Coverage
- Heavy-Duty Truck News
Cars.com photos by Chris Collard