Best Pickup Truck of 2021

By Editors

February 26, 2021

What’s eligible: All models that are new or significantly revised for the 2021 model year.

Criteria: Our watchwords for the best trucks 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.

Winner: 2021 Ford F-150

Of our nominees, the 2021 Ford F-150 half-ton pickup truck is the most easily overlooked. The other two are flashy and purpose-built to blast through sand dunes and have all kinds of fun. One of them can be heard a block away, and both clearly look different; conversely, the 2021 F-150 barely looks different from the 2020 despite the redesign. But to dismiss it would be an error for an award with criteria including power, capability and value — especially for this particular truck.

The F-150 being the bestselling model of any type in the U.S. for decades is no accident, and the strength of the 2021 model comes from Ford compulsively keeping what works, improving on what doesn’t and adding innovation after innovation. Naturally, the best remain: pioneering fuel-saving turbocharged engines, an optional integrated tailgate step, Pro Trailer Backup Assist and more. 

This year, the most impactful exclusive is the optional PowerBoost hybrid powertrain, which provides 430 horsepower and 570 pounds-feet of torque, giving it the highest output as well as the highest gas mileage of any F-150 powertrain: an estimated 25 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and 24 mpg combined for the 4×4. The beauty of this system is that it keeps on delivering — capability, efficiency and one of the biggest pluses, an optional integrated generator, Pro Power Onboard, which provides up to 7.2 kilowatts right in the bed without the hassle of transporting a portable generator and everything that entails (wasted bed space, gas, never-ending theft risk). The PowerBoost hybrid isn’t a trim level, it’s a powertrain option on every trim level that’s less expensive than the Power Stroke diesel. While the automotive industry hyperventilates (again) about electric cars — and now pickup trucks — that have struggled to maintain 2% of the U.S. market and for which consumer demand remains questionable, we wonder if a 5-mpg combined improvement over every 5.0-liter V-8 in the kind of sales volume the F-150 could provide doesn’t deserve a little more attention.

The innovations continue. Knowing a lowered tailgate doubles as a workbench, Ford integrated a ruler, gutters to hold pencils and cutouts to allow clamping without damaging the gate’s painted surface. Cabin options include a table surface up front, recline-flat front seats for napping and a well-integrated 12-inch touchscreen. We could go on. The other candidates are no doubt good at their narrower objectives, but the well-rounded ’21 F-150 fairly redefines power, capability and value. That’s why it’s the Best Pickup Truck of 2021.

Editor’s note: Since choosing the 2021 Ford F-150 as our Best Pickup Truck of 2021 and Best of 2021 overall, we made our customary transition to ownership by purchasing one for a year of real-world testing. Early in our ownership, Ford instituted a small safety recall (our truck was unaffected), made news due to reports of premature rust (we found some and we’re looking into it), and we experienced a few other idiosyncrasies. While we hadn’t expected to encounter problems so early in our ownership, we have dealt with serious issues with past Best Of winners. Though this dampens our enthusiasm, it doesn’t change what led to our unanimous decision to give the new F-150 both of these awards: improvements and innovations that complement all the attributes the truck has to offer. As the year progresses, we’ll continue to share every aspect of our ownership of the 2021 F-150 with consumers.

Shop the 2021 Ford F-150 near you

Ford Certified
2021 Ford F-150 Lariat
31,991 mi.
$43,000 $500 price drop
2021 Ford F-150 XL
97,320 mi.
$23,871 $829 price drop

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2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave | Manufacturer image

2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave: Nominee

Jeep looked past rock crawling and overlanding for a new recreational off-road pursuit to conquer, giving us the high-speed desert-running Gladiator Mojave. While the popular Rubicon is a great slow-speed off-roader, we’ve found that the high-speed stuff isn’t necessarily its forte.

Enter the Mojave, riding a half-inch higher than the Rubicon and boasting a variety of features to earn Jeep’s new orange Desert Rated badge. Among those features are 2.5-inch Fox shock absorbers with unique front hydraulic jounce bumpers that help soften landings the way the Rubicon’s suspension doesn’t. The Mojave can also operate in 4-Low at up to 50 mph (compared with the Rubicon’s 30 mph). As an added bonus, its 33-inch tires aren’t as knobby as the Rubicon’s, improving sand traction and providing a more pleasant on-road experience. Unfortunately, on the road is where we spent most of our time in the Mojave this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic curtailing travel and greatly limiting our access to the desert, but the Mojave is relatively pleasant on-road for a desert runner, where it’s sure to spend much of its time.

Where the Mojave doesn’t really differ from the Rubicon or other Gladiators is the interior, save for some “Mojave” stitching on the seatbacks — but that’s a good thing, as the interior remains one of the Gladiator’s strong suits.

While we would’ve liked to test it more and hope to do so soon, the Jeep Gladiator Mojave still stands out as one of the best new pickup trucks.

Shop the 2021 Jeep Gladiator near you

2021 Jeep Gladiator Sport
35,613 mi.
$29,650 $100 price drop
2021 Jeep Gladiator Sport
68,220 mi.
$32,400 $500 price drop

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2021 Ram 1500 TRX 2021 Ram 1500 TRX | Manufacturer image

2021 Ram 1500 TRX: Nominee

It was only a matter of time before Stellantis’ supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat V-8 found its way into a pickup truck, so naturally it arrived in the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX to go head-to-head with the Ford F-150 Raptor in a bid for desert-running supremacy.

Here, the supercharged V-8 puts out 702 hp and 650 pounds-feet of torque, enough to sprint from 0-60 mph in just 4.5 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds at 108 mph, according to Ram. The engine, however, is just part of the story.

The TRX gets a reinforced frame that’s different from other Ram 1500s and a unique suspension with Bilstein adaptive shock absorbers providing more than 13 inches of wheel travel. Each corner has 35-inch all-terrain tires on 18-inch aluminum wheels, which sit within flared fenders that add 8 inches of width compared with a regular 1500. 

What impressed us most is that a truck designed for high-speed off-road thrills retains many practical pickup attributes. It’s rated to tow up to 8,100 pounds when properly equipped, its massive crew cab carries the whole family in comfort and, despite its extra width and hulking presence, the TRX is surprisingly easy to drive on city streets. This truck even offers a Ram 1500 Limited’s award-winning level of interior refinement when you choose the TR1 or TR2 Equipment Group, with an all-black color scheme and available carbon-fiber accents for a performance-oriented look. Of our nominees, the Ram TRX is a multisensory extravaganza. It won’t be ignored.

Shop the 2021 RAM 1500 near you

2021 RAM 1500 Big Horn/Lone Star
21,969 mi.
$33,900 $1,000 price drop
2021 RAM 1500 Big Horn
74,712 mi.
$32,500 $200 price drop

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