What’s eligible: All models that are new or significantly revised for the 2020 model year.
Criteria: Our watchwords are power, capability and value. Because these pickup trucks are designed to be used for more than just transporting passengers, we include more functional considerations like payload capacity, towing strength and, above all else, value, among the highest priorities for this award. Of course, they also should be good at sedanlike, family-first duties, given that many are purchased for just such a reason.
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Diesel
GM originally planned to bring a light-duty diesel V-8 to market almost a decade ago, but those plans got scrapped with the company’s bankruptcy. Fast-forward a few years and GM has produced a different light-duty diesel, a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine — and it is fantastic. It transforms the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (and its sibling, the GMC Sierra 1500) into a phenomenally efficient commuter or a robust towing rig. When empty, it achieves some remarkable fuel economy for a full-sized crew-cab pickup (our testing saw 32 mpg combined in a similar GMC Sierra, well above its maximum combined rating of 26 mpg).
It’s powerful, too, with towing presenting no challenge for the torquey powertrain. With output ratings of 277 horsepower and 460 pounds-feet of torque, it makes short work of dragging a trailer up and down hills even at high elevations. No, the overall maximum towing capacity of 9,300 pounds isn’t all that impressive (it’s actually lower than that of a gasoline Silverado), but your ease of towing at that maximum rating certainly improves.
The engine is mated with GM’s new 10-speed automatic transmission, a unit that works beautifully, doesn’t hunt through gears unnecessarily and always seems to know what gear it needs to be in for the conditions it’s facing. The engine is available across a variety of trim levels, with rear- or four-wheel drive, crew cab or extended cab. We’re still not impressed with the GM trucks’ interiors, but when it comes to powertrains, they absolutely nailed it.
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500
One year after Chevrolet unleashed its all-new half-ton pickup, it followed up with the Chevrolet Silverado heavy-duty three-quarter (2500) and one-ton (3500) models. You can have a new 6.6-liter gasoline V-8 engine designed specifically for use in the HD trucks or the updated turbo-diesel 6.6-liter Duramax V-8. Either one makes short work of towing duties, but the honey is the diesel, mated to a new 10-speed Allison heavy-duty transmission. This combination is dynamite, making effortless work of just about any towing situation. When properly configured, the truck can tow up to 35,500 pounds, but most people will be towing considerably less than that — and doing so with ease.
If you don’t have anything in the bed and you’re not dragging a trailer, a Silverado HD with the diesel engine can sprint from 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds, according to Chevrolet. The truck is more nimble and sprightly than anything this big has a right to be.
Chevrolet has done its homework with this truck — it’s made to work, and it performs beautifully in that role. The Allison transmission makes good use of its new gears, shifting remarkably smoothly even when pulling a load.
And we can’t overlook the dramatic available towing technology: a host of electronic reminder tech, programmable profiles for various trailers, cameras that make the trailer disappear in the rearview screen so you can see what’s behind you, and even cameras that can be mounted inside the trailer so you can monitor the load while underway.
2020 Ford Ranger
When Ford discontinued the Ranger mid-size pickup in the U.S. after the 2011 model year, it left a conspicuous gap in the Blue Oval’s truck lineup. Ford decided to fix that for 2019 and brought the Ranger pickup it had been selling in global markets back to our shores, and U.S. truck buyers are better for it. One of the Ranger’s standout features is its standard — and only — powertrain: a turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. In our instrumented testing, the EcoBoost and 10-speed turned the Ranger into a track star, producing 0-60-mph times in the low 7-second range. Even more impressive, it did so on regular gas instead of the 91-octane premium Ford recommends for maximum performance.
The powertrain also gives the Ranger impressive real-world fuel economy, so buyers don’t have to choose between performance and efficiency. The Ranger is available in 4×2 or 4×4 configurations with one wheelbase; to get a longer 6-foot bed, the cab must be an extended cab. Four-door crew-cab Rangers get a shorter 5-foot bed.
Ford’s impressive FX4 Off-Road Package adds off-road shocks, skid plating, knobbier all-terrain tires, a terrain management system and an electronic locking differential to 4×4 models. For those who want the show without all the go, 4×2 Rangers can add an FX2 Package. Buyers can also option the impressive Sync 3 infotainment system and Co-Pilot 360 suite of safety features. The Ranger’s one-size-fits-most approach may not be for everyone, but the impressive powertrain alone is enough for shoppers to consider it.
2020 Jeep Gladiator
Jeep’s 2020 Gladiator mid-size pickup may look like a Wrangler with a bed, but it manages to be much more than that. Fewer than half of the Gladiator’s parts are shared with the current-generation Wrangler, but the Gladiator manages to retain most, if not all, of its sibling’s go-anywhere spirit. Most important for die-hard Jeep fans, the doors and roof of the Gladiator are still just as removable as the Wrangler’s.
Powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 paired with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission, the Gladiator is available only with a four-door cab and a 5-foot bed. Despite this, the Gladiator offers a fair amount of trim-level variety. There are the entry-level Sport and slightly upgraded Sport S that offer buyers the option of a max towing package and 7,650 pounds of trailering capacity. Shoppers interested in a more premium experience can choose the Overland trim, and for those who want to leave the pavement, there’s the familiar Rubicon trim level.
The Gladiator has a longer wheelbase than the Wrangler and most mid-size pickups, giving it better ride quality than its Jeep sibling, and few trucks in the class can match it. And despite that longer wheelbase, the Gladiator Rubicon is an impressive off-roader. Removing the doors and roof also offers a distinct visibility advantage.
There’s a Gladiator for everyone — and if there isn’t, you can make one with customary Jeep customizability thanks to Mopar, the accessory supplier for Jeep’s parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and countless aftermarket companies.
2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
The new 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel starts from the right place, using our Best Pickup Truck of 2019 — the Ram 1500 — as a base and tossing in a new diesel engine that improves fuel economy without sacrificing drivability. All of the factors that led the Ram 1500 to a win last year are still here: top-shelf interior materials, excellent ride quality, and plenty of technology and safety systems.
Armed with a best-in-class 480 pounds-feet of torque, the diesel engine makes short work of everything that comes its way. It will easily tow a 5,000-pound trailer up a grade and then turn around and double as a fantastic cruising companion on a long highway road trip. With EPA-estimated mileage of 22/32/26 mpg city/highway/combined, the 4×2 diesel beats even the HFE (high fuel-efficiency) mild-hybrid-assisted 4×2 gas V-6 model’s 20/26/23 mpg.
Any Ram can go off-road, but for 2020, the diesel engine can take you way off-road, as Ram will offer it in the Ram 1500 Rebel for the first time.
Even the traditional diesel rattle is well controlled; you can hear and feel it when the truck starts up or you’re accelerating, but the sound isn’t intrusive and fades away when cruising to leave the cabin serene.
The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is a case of addition without subtraction; the powertrain gives you more torque and more fuel economy while giving nothing back. It provides an added dimension to last year’s winner and makes a worthy nominee for the award again.
2020 Ram 2500/3500
Heavy-duty pickup trucks are built for work, and the Ram 2500 and 3500 are cases in point. With a maximum towing capacity of 35,100 pounds when properly equipped and an available Cummins turbo-diesel engine with up to 1,000 pounds-feet of torque, the Ram heavy duty is built to tackle tough towing and hauling jobs.
With a variety of cab styles, cargo box lengths and trim levels, there’s also a version that likely fits your specific needs, whether you’re looking for a basic regular-cab model for muddy job sites or a decked-out Mega Cab truck with room for the whole family to ride in comfort. And though it might be surprising to some, comfort is what separates the Ram heavy duty from the competition: The 2500’s combination of a coil-spring rear suspension and optional air springs helps give it the best unladen ride quality in the heavy-duty class.
Like its sibling, the light-duty Ram 1500, the Ram 2500/3500 can be fitted with high-tech options like a vertically oriented 12-inch touchscreen multimedia system, a 360-degree camera system and important active-safety features like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist. And if you’re looking for a luxury vehicle that can tow a horse trailer, there’s the high-end Limited model with its leather- and wood-trimmed interior.
Truck buyers who need to get work done have relied on heavy-duty pickups for years. A strong foundation is still the heart of the Ram 2500/3500, but the truck has challenged conventions with its blend of comfort, features and luxury. It’s put the competition on notice.