Pickup trucks can haul your family, tow your toys and carry your gear all at the same time. Some are pavement queens, others are specialized for adventure — and some aren’t technically pickups at all. It can be tough to choose which one is right for you.
That’s where Roadshow comes in. We’ve driven them all, from the aging Toyota Tacoma to the latest Ford F-150. If you’re struggling with a buying decision, take a look at our recommendations for pickup trucks that fit your lifestyle and needs.
There is a reason the Ford F-150 is the bestselling truck, nay, the bestselling vehicle in America: It just works. Available with three cab options, three bed lengths, four different gasoline engines, a diesel option, a hybrid variant and a soon-to-be-released electric powertrain, there’s a wealth of customization to be had. And that’s before you dig into the six different trim levels and two- and four-wheel drive options.
The Ford also comes with some cool features that aren’t found in the rest of the market. An onboard generator with up to 7.2 kW of power, four 120-volt, 20-amp outlets and one 240-volt, 30-amp plug. Ford says you could set up a mobile welding shop with this much juice. The gear selector folds flat, making way for a fold-down work surface, and the seats can recline nearly 180 degrees for a quick nap.
Depending on your configuration you can tow up to 14,000 pounds and haul 3,325 pounds, which is more than the max numbers from the Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 1500 and Toyota Tundra.
As for tech, the F-150 is available with all the advanced driver’s aids you could ever want and the 2021 has late-availability Active Drive Assist. On certain mapped and divided highways the F-150 will allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel, although a driver-facing camera makes sure your eyes remain on the road. Expect it to come to the F-150 later this year through an over-the-air update. The F-150 starts at $30,635 including $1,695 for destination.
The Ram 1500 doesn’t have nearly as many customization options as the F-150. For power plants you can choose from a V6, a diesel, a V8 and a mild-hybrid V8. There are two cab options and two bed lengths to choose from as well as two- and four-wheel-drive.
Even at the base model the Ram’s interior is really good, with quality materials and a distinct design aesthetic. The rear seat is incredibly roomy with enough legroom for even the tallest of folks back there. The max towing sits lower than the F-150 at 12,750 pounds while max payload is rated at 2,300 pounds.
On the tech front the Ram 1500 boasts an available 12-inch portrait-oriented screen running the excellent Uconnect infotainment system. There are myriad USB ports as well as 115-volt traditional outlets along with wireless charging and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Ram 1500 starts at $34,490 including $1,695 for destination.
Coming back for the 2019 model year after an eight year hiatus, the Ford Ranger gets the midsize market right. Equipped with a punchy 2.3-liter turbochargedI4, good for 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, power gets to the pavement via a 10-speed automatic transmission. The extra torque over the competition means it’s easy to get the Ranger up to speed on the highway and the 10-speed is just as awesome, never hunting for a gear. For those who want to venture off the pavement, the new Tremor package adds all kinds of off-road goodies.
Towing capacity is a whopping 7,500 pounds, regardless of configuration. A two-wheel drive Ranger can haul 1,860 pounds of payload beating the pants off the Toyota Tacoma and GM’s Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins. A 4×4 Ranger can carry a bit less –1,560 pounds.
There is plenty of tech with an available 8-inch touchscreen running Sync3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A standard blind-spot monitoring system that covers the length of a trailer makes it easier to haul stuff around town. Lane keeping assist is also standard, but adaptive cruise control is extra. Expect to pay a starting price of $26,660 including $1,195 for destination and a $645 acquisition fee.
If you go by sales numbers, the Toyota Tacoma is the midsize pickup king, but there is more to a truck than just sales reports. We like the Tacoma first and foremost for its reliability and excellent resale value. A four-cylinder engine is standard but do yourself a favor and go for the 3.5-liter V6 with a six-speed manual transmission, but know that the most fuel economy you’ll get out of a four-wheel drive Taco is just 20 miles per gallon.
Why doesn’t it take top dog? It offers less towing and hauling capabilities than the Ranger — a maximum of 6,800 pounds towing and up to 1,685 pounds in the bed. The six-speed automatic transmission is finicky and loves to upshift quickly and the throttle response is laggy. Further, the interior is cramped and uncomfortable and the infotainment, though equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is still behind the Ranger’s in terms of graphics and processing speed.
The Toyota Tacoma starts at $27,495 including $1,095 for destination.
We may be sounding like a broken record here, but the Blue Oval takes the heavy-duty prize with its F-Series Super Duty truck. Available as an F-250, F-350 or F-450 with a single or dual rear wheel set up and your choice of a 6.2-liter V8, a 7.3-liter V8 or a 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8. That diesel will deliver 475 horsepower and 1,050 pound-feet of torque. The Super Duty starts at $35,925 including $1,695 for destination.
Depending on how the Super Duty is configured, you can tow 37,000 pounds with a gooseneck trailer, 32,500 pounds with a conventional trailer and can haul 7,850 pounds of payload in its bed. Remember that in many states only drivers with a commercial license can tow this kind of weight, so be sure to check your local regulations before you go off and tow the equivalent of nine elephants.
The heavy-duty variants from Ram, Chevrolet and GM come really close to the Super Duty’s numbers, but only the Ford can be had with the Tremor off-road package with 35-inch tires, drive modes with a rock-crawl mode and suspension tuned for the dirt. Sure, you may not need to take your giant pickup truck out wheeling, but isn’t it nice to know you could?
Towing a trailer can be intimidating. Visibility is tough, backing it up is difficult and folks can get really nervous behind the wheel. The Silverado 1500 is available with up to 15 different camera views to put your fears at rest.
The transparent trailer technology is really cool, giving drivers a view of what is behind them. We also like the rear side view option, which gives a trailer length indicator showing vehicles in the trailer’s lane-change path. A rear trailer view displays guidelines to help in backing up and you can even have a view inside the trailer to check in on your livestock. To help in hooking up the trailer there are four available hitch view angles as well. Finally, you’ll get a jack knife alert and a bed camera with zoom functionality.
The Silverado is also available with on-screen checklists to make sure you’ve done everything when hooking up, trailer tire pressure and temperature monitoring as well as trailer lighting checks so you won’t be driving down the highway with one tail light out like a noob.
Depending on configuration the Silverado can tow anywhere from 9,100 pounds to 13,300 pounds. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 starts at $33,595 including $1,695 for destination.
Sure the Ram 1500 has already received our best truck runner-up accolades, but when it comes to find the luxurious pickup truck rig, the Ram is tops. The range-topping Limited trim really goes all-in on luxury. Inside you’ll find plush, supportive leather seating, available with heating and cooling in both the front and rear, natch, and the rear seats can recline.
While the cabin design is top-notch, the Ram also delivers a stellar ride quality. The Limited gets air suspension standard so it rides like a dream, even on the optional 22-inch wheels, and the self-leveling technology means the rear won’t squat when trailering. The air suspension can also lower the truck when you’re getting in and out, so no jumping is necessary.
On the tech front you can get everything you could possibly want and then more. A 12-inch infotainment screen, head-up display, digital rearview mirror — it’s all possible. Driver’s aids are here too with full-speed adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring that covers the length of a trailer and a 360-degree camera. Of course, the price is pretty luxe as well: The Ram 1500 Limited starts at $58,645 including $1,695 for destination.
If you really want to get off the beaten path, you can’t go wrong with a Jeep Gladiator. There is a huge difference between trims and for my money, I’d pick the Mojave trim over the Rubicon since it’s made to go faster when the dirt gets rough. With a 1-inch front lift and retuned 2.5-inch Fox internal-bypass shocks with remote reservoir and a front hydraulic jounce shock for extra damping, the Mojave can soak up whoops that would turn a Rubicon into a pogo stick. Rear lockers and a 2.71 transfer case mean the Mojave can handle just about anything the desert can throw at it.
However, if slow-speed rock crawling is your jam, then you should snag yourself a Rubicon. This is the ne plus ultra of rough and ready Jeeps with front and rear lockers, a disconnecting front sway bar for more articulation and a super-low 4.0:1 transfer case. One added bonus: The Rubicon is available with a 3.0-liter diesel engine in addition to a 3.6-liter gas V6.
Both trims have over 11 inches of ground clearance and best-in-class approach and departure angles. However, towing and payload suffers with all the fancypants off-road goodies. Expect to tow a max of 6,000 pounds and haul 1,200 pounds in the bed of a Mojave. The Rubicon can handle a bit more — a max of 7,000 pounds towing and 1,200 pounds of payload.
The Jeep Gladiator starts at $35,210 including $1,495 for destination.
Best full-size off-road truck
2021 Ram TRX
The new kid on the block gets our pick for the best full-size off-road truck. The Ram TRX has a 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat V8 stuffed under the hood for 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. That’s Baja 1000 trophy truck kind of power, people. It’s also getting into some trophy pricing: $72,120 including $1,695 for delivery.
Keeping it all in check is adaptive 2.5 Bilstein Blackhawk E2 shocks that can adjust the compression and rebound damping in just 20 milliseconds. Remote reservoirs keep the shocks cool in the hot and dusty desert environments and the truck boasts 13 inches of travel in the front, 14 inches in the rear. And, oh yeah — you can jump it. Ram claims 2,000 pounds of damping force absorption at each corner.
The Ford Raptor is still a worthy competitor, in fact it does towing and hauling just a bit better than the Ram TRX, but for all-out raucousness, whoop-running and dune jumping, the TRX is the current king.
FCA US LLC
If you want to get far off the grid with plenty of gear, check out the Ram 2500 Power Wagon. This heavy-duty truck has plenty of room in its 6.4-foot-long bed for an aftermarket rack, a rooftop tent, a fridge and whatever else you might need to keep you comfy while camping. Payload is rated at 1,560 pounds, so go ahead and add the coffee maker, a set of recovery boards and a blender for end-of-day margaritas.
The Ram comes standard with solid axles and lockers in the front and rear, a disconnecting sway bar for more articulation and a 12,000-pound Warn winch. It also has massive amounts of ground clearance, 14.3 inches, which gives the big boy some impressive geometry. I’m talking 33.6 degrees of approach angle, 26.2 degrees of departure angle and 23.5 degrees of breakover angle. Not too shabby for a truck with a 149-inch wheelbase.
The 6.4-liter V8 engine pushes out 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. The EPA doesn’t give fuel economy for heavy-duty trucks, but we averaged about 12 miles per gallon combined when we drove it. With a 31 gallon tank you could get 372 miles of range, but we recommend bringing fuel with you. We wish the Power Wagon were offered with the 6.7-liter diesel engine that’s available on other Ram HD trims, but alas, it is not to be. You’ll shell out $56,230, including $1,695 for destination, for a new Power Wagon.
If all these trucks sound just a little too, well, trucky for you, check out the Honda Ridgeline. As a unibody vehicle it isn’t technically a truck, but it performs most truck duties well enough for many consumers. The Ridgeline starts at $37,665 including $1,175 for destination.
It’s 3.5-liter V6 engine is good for 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It’s compact enough for city use but can still tow 5,000 pounds and has an excellent payload capacity of up to 1,583 pounds in its 5-foot-long bed. The independent front and rear suspension means ride quality is much nicer than a standard pickup truck, and it returns an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 21 mpg combined.
There isn’t any low gearing, ground clearance is only 7.6 inches and the geometry isn’t spectacular, but the all-wheel drive system has modes for snow, sand and mud and can throw 70% of the power to the rear wheels, and then 100% of that power to whichever rear wheel needs it.
Bottom line: You won’t do any rock crawling with the Honda Ridgeline, but if you need to haul and tow things and want a smooth pavement rider, there is no need to look any further.
Comparison of the best trucks for 2021
|Category||Name||Horsepower range (hp)||Torque Range (lb-ft)||Max towing (lbs)||Max payload (lbs)||Starting price|
|Best truck overall/Best full-size truck||Ford F-150||250-430||265-570||14,000||3,325||$30,635|
|Best truck overall runner-up/Best full-size truck runner-up||Ram 1500||260-395||269-480||12,750||2,300||$34,490|
|Best midsize truck||Ford Ranger||270||310||7,500||1,860||$26,660|
|Best midsize truck runner-up||Toyota Tacoma||159-278||180-265||6,800||1,685||$27,495|
|Best heavy-duty truck||Ford Super Duty||385-475||430-1,050||37,000||7,850||$35,925|
|Best truck for a newbie tower||Chevrolet Silverado 1500||277-420||305-460||13,300||2,280||$33,595|
|Best luxury truck||Ram 1500 Limited||260-395||269-480||11,500||2,000||$58,645|
|Best midsize off-road truck||Jeep Gladiator||260-285||260-442||7,650||1,700||$35,210|
|Best full-size off-road truck||Ram TRX||702||650||8,100||1,310||$72,120|
|Best truck for overlanding||Ram 2500 Power Wagon||410||429||10,590||1,520||$56,230|
|Best truck that isn’t a truck||Honda Ridgeline||280||262||5,000||1,583||$37,665|
How we made our list
We make sure to drive and review every vehicle we recommend. Roadshow has decades of combined experience and our picks represent the vehicles we would want to own for each individual category. Pricing is taken from every manufacturer’s websites, but the dealer sets the final price.
And remember, we don’t actually get to own everything — as much as we’d want to — so we can’t comment on long-term reliability. We recommend that you talk with current owners to get an idea of maintenance costs and the like.