Chevy Silverado vs. Dodge Ram vs. Ford F-150 vs. Toyota Tundra By Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing Date posted: 05-03-2009 We see it every Friday during our evening commute. A stream of vehicles choking the freeway, headed out to the Mojave Desert or the Colorado River for some well-earned weekend stress relief. The fun varies, from camping to dirt-bike riding to water-skiing. But the vehicle that invariably gets tasked with hauling the corresponding equipment is a full-size pickup truck. You know, like the 2009 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, 2009 Dodge Ram 1500, 2009 Ford F-150 or 2009 Toyota Tundra. Sure, we talk about the virtues of the minivan as a family hauler, and there are many. But the minivan stands no chance against a looming 25-foot camping trailer. And SUVs are easily flummoxed by motocross bikes and the need to carry their smelly gas cans (or anything that's remotely dirty, actually) in the vehicle's cargo area. There's nothing like a pickup, with its big bin in back that doesn't care what you toss into it. And the truck is sure to be around long after the full-frame SUV falls completely out of favor and descends into the three-row car-based sensibility that is the crossover. The Game All the big hitters have introduced new machines in the last couple of years. It's time to see if the pecking order has changed, so we sought out one of everything for a simulated weekend romp: the 2009 Chevy Silverado, the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500, the 2009 Ford F-150 and the 2009 Toyota Tundra. (That's everything except the Nissan Titan, which is overdue for a refresh.) With them we'd pull camping trailers to the desert, so they needed to be tow-ready. Once there, we'd unburden our beasts and play in the sand, so four-wheel drive was a must. And of course we'd subject them to two weeks of day-to-day use, so we made sure all of them had a crew cab (with 5.5-foot bed), sunroof, navigation system and other convenience features. We added another task to our tow-test regimen this time. We always test trucks against their claimed capacity, ballasting each rig to a similar percentage of its particular Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR). But this produces different trailer weights for each combatant, and it confuses some readers. So we added a second test: a fixed-weight face-off in which each truck pulled an identical trailer up our test mountain. Let's meet the contestants. The Players Our Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4x4 test truck is actually a 2008 model, but we've used 2009 pricing because the truck hasn't changed. Ours had the 381-horsepower 5.7-liter iForce V8, the TRD off-road package ($2,155 option) and rear-seat DVD entertainment ($1,670), yet its $44,434 price is still the least in this test because this SR5 model doesn't have leather upholstery. The 2009 Ford F-150 Lariat Super Crew 4x4 comes loaded with a host of comfort and convenience features, inside and out. It is powered by Ford's venerable 5.4-liter V8, which makes 310 hp. An optional 3.73:1 rear axle ratio ($300) and other towing bits give it a claimed towing capacity of 11,200 pounds, the highest rating in this bunch. All that and more cost $46,415. Our decommissioned 2007 Silverado long-termer had a 6.0-liter V8, but this 2009 Silverado 1500 Crew Cab 4x4 test truck has the larger 403-hp 6.2-liter V8 ($1,000) bolted to its six-speed transmission, a stouter combination that nevertheless results in a lower tow rating. It prices out at $48,175 with leather bucket seats, 20-inch chrome-finished wheels ($745) and LTZ trim. Finally there's the 2009 Dodge Ram Laramie Crew Cab 4x4, with coil-spring rear suspension and the only five-speed automatic transmission in this group. Its 5.7-liter V8 makes 390 hp and matches up here with the optional 3.92:1 rear end ($350), but the truck's 7,300-pound tow rating is still the lowest by far. And at $52,555, the Ram is also the priciest. Much of the cost comes from the unique RamBox bed ($1,895) and a rear-seat entertainment system ($1,695). And let's not forget the trailers these trucks pulled. Our Fleetwood Prowler 230 RKS is a 29-foot camper that weighs 6,280 pounds with dry tanks. We also had a Fleetwood Backpack 210 FQ, a 3,880-pound unit that's around 23 feet long. All the trucks pulled the heavier Prowler (ballasted to an even 6,500 pounds) in the fixed-weight test. Afterwards, trailers and ballast were manipulated to burden each truck to 80 percent of its towing capacity. 4th Place: 2009 Ford F-150 Lariat SuperCrew 4x4 Our F-150 had all the towing options required to get the advertised 11,200-pound maximum towing capacity, yet it struggled the most when faced with a 6,500-pound trailer and our test mountain. This $350 tailgate step is a nice parlor trick that's surely useful to those who don't get around as well as they once did, but it makes the tailgate heavy. We wish the steering-mounted cruise control had a "cancel" feature, and these white-faced gauges are hard to read. What? This isn't supposed to happen. After all, the F-150 is the perennial pickup sales champ. Perhaps, but this is a strong field, and the margin between 1st and 4th is thin. Our Lariat-trim F-150 is truly a nice place to spend time, featuring Sync voice-actuated audio and telephone control plus sumptuous leather seats that can either heat or cool our posterior. But nothing about the interior style is subtle, and there's lots of chrome. The Lariat Plus package ($1,295) adds still more brightwork outside. With Amber Gold paint, the "pretty truck" theme goes to an oxymoronic extreme. The 2009 F-150's elongated wheelbase (144.5 inches, an increase of 6 inches over last year) provides a smooth and confident highway ride, plus there's ample cabin space for the tallest among us, especially in the backseat, where it offers 43.5 inches of headroom. But the extra length affects performance. More truck means more weight, and our test example weighs a whopping 6,040 pounds, some 200-500 pounds heftier than the others. Parking this beast was no picnic either, thanks to a turning radius of 47 feet. Put both extra wheelbase and extra weight together and you'll understand why the F-150 feels ponderous on twisty roads. Our test-driver looked like all arms and elbows through the slalom test at the track, but came away with only a 55.9-mph run. Secure? Yes. Predictable? You bet. Willing dance partner? No. Acceleration isn't particularly sprightly, either. Despite the smooth-shifting six-speed automatic, the F-150's 8.4-second run to 60 mph from a standstill (8.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) lags 1.0-1.8 seconds behind the rest. Perhaps it's optimized for towing, we theorized. A mere 6,500-pound trailer should be a minor annoyance for a truck with an 11,200-pound tow rating, right? Well, it didn't work out that way. Simply put, the Ford got beaten on our 11.5-mile test grade, coming in dead last by 27 seconds in a test that should have stressed it least. It was the only truck to drop below 50 mph, sagging to 47.8 mph at one point, and it spent the most time at wide-open throttle. None of this should be a surprise. Physics suggests that a tepid 5.4-liter V8 that makes 310 hp (in the heaviest truck, no less) should not be able to out-tow others that boast 380 hp and up. Physics is right. Furthermore, the 3.73:1 axle ratio that's needed to generate the advertised tow rating drastically affects everyday fuel economy. Our unburdened F-150 achieved 12.6 mpg, well below the window sticker ratings of 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway (which were achieved with the standard 3.55:1 ratio). This 2009 Ford F-150 is a nice truck in many ways, but it's clearly time for a new engine. The 5.4-liter V8 is simply being asked to do too much, and the rumored 4.4-liter turbodiesel cannot come soon enough. 3rd Place: 2009 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ Crew Cab 4x4 A 6.2-liter V8 engine that makes 403 hp can kick a lot of sand on 98-pound weaklings. But the most powerful V8 in the test does not dominate the tow tests because our truck has the standard 3.42:1 axle ratio. The Silverado's LTZ-level interior is clean, well-trimmed and nearly seamless, but it comes across as a tad monochromatic and cold. At 69.3 inches, the Silverado Crew Cab's short bed is the longest by a couple of inches. If lots of motor makes a trucker's life easier, the 2009 Chevy Silverado proves it with a stout 6.2-liter V8 that cranks out 403 hp — the class of the field by 13 horses. On top of this, the Silverado tips the scales at just 5,520 pounds, some 500 pounds less than the F-150 and more than 300 pounds less than the others. This pays off big at the test track, where the Silverado beats the rest with a 6.6-second run to 60 mph from a standstill (6.3 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). It is also king of the slalom, where its relative lightness and lower overall height help it to 58.6 mph. Its stopping distance from 60 mph while unloaded is also best in this test at 124 feet. Uphill with a trailer attached, the Silverado trails the quickest truck by only 4 seconds after almost 13 minutes of climbing. The steepest stretch requires some encouragement with wide-open throttle and the speed dips to 50.2 mph, but this is still a pretty stout performance from a truck with a standard 3.42:1 axle ratio. And here the use of a standard axle ratio means our 14.2 mpg observed fuel economy (best of the test) accurately reflects the EPA window sticker, which predicts 12 mpg city/19 mpg highway. We also like the Chevy's six-speed transmission, which executes snappy yet smooth shifts. And its tow-haul mode demonstrates psychic ability by downshifting proactively to control descent speed on hills without first requiring a dab of brakes — reassuring when some 6,500 pounds is attempting to shove you down a 7 percent grade. The Silverado's leaf-spring rear suspension supports the trailer weight well enough, and Chevy's ride when unladed is second best here. But axle tramp enters the picture when the truck is accelerating on silty off-road surfaces. (Our truck didn't have the Z71 off-road package, which seems like a $275 no-brainer to us.) Athletic prowess aside, the Chevy settles into 3rd because of day-to-day issues. The interior is well-finished enough, with nicely grained surfaces and a clean overall design. But our top-line LTZ's black interior is more than a little monochromatic and dreary and the tiny control buttons on the center stack are hard to use. Plus, the as-tested price of our truck does not include things like extendable tow mirrors, a rearview camera, a fully integrated iPod connection or rear-seat entertainment — which are found on most of the other trucks. Even the Silverado's sliding rear window is an optional extra, and it's the only truck here that doesn't have side curtain airbags. And so the Silverado seems the polar opposite of the F-150. It's athletic and willing, but the day-to-day functionality and convenience come up a little short. It's a solid truck that could stand a bit more polish. 2nd Place: 2008 Toyota Tundra SR5 CrewMax 4x4 Running on 87-octane unleaded, the Tundra is king of the mountain as it cruises up the steep grade at the speed limit, needing only partial throttle. Toyota has done a good job of spreading out and enlarging the controls, but the two-tone center stack doesn't sit well with everyone. Not content with a mere pass-through, Toyota provides the Tundra with a full-width power rear window, plus a defroster grid, too. When it was introduced in 2007, the Toyota Tundra leaped to the top of the pickup truck pile thanks to its 5.7-liter iForce V8 with 381 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, a six-speed automatic transmission and a tow rating in excess of 10,000 pounds. From the get-go, this capability applied to all cab configurations and trim levels, and that's because Toyota has to do everything with the Tundra; it has nothing like a heavy-duty T-250 or T-350 in its lineup. Chevy and Ford quickly countered with trucks that had higher tow ratings, though only in low-volume variants. But Toyota's all-aluminum 5.7-liter DOHC V8 with variable intake and exhaust valve timing remains mighty impressive. It likes to rev a bit more to make power, so the axle ratio here is 4.30:1. But this combination produces a 6.9-second acceleration to 60 mph from a standstill (6.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and a run to the quarter-mile in 15.1 seconds at 91.7 mph — only a couple tenths behind the lighter Silverado with its pushrod 6.2-liter V8. On the towing hill the Tundra tops the list, cruising easily at California's towing speed limit of 55 mph all the way up at part throttle, dipping to 53.4 mph only because we didn't use cruise control. Transmission performance is excellent, as there isn't any hunting between ratios. This towing prowess does not come at the expense of everyday fuel economy. The standard 4.30:1 axle ratio leads to an EPA rating of 13 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. The EPA rates this truck at 14 mpg combined, and our Tundra does just that with 13.6 mpg over 1,000 non-towing miles, 2nd best overall. This kind of powertrain performance is possible when a strong engine is mated to a well-calibrated six-speed transmission. Some of the other trucks in this test could learn from this. At the same time, the Tundra's high tow rating leads to compromises some might be unwilling to accept. Stiff rear springs are required to support higher tongue weights for trailers, and this affects everyday ride comfort. But anyone who chooses the 5.7-liter Tundra gets such springs, and we think a significant number of "anyones" won't be towing. For us, the F-150 Lariat rides a bit smoother than this Tundra, even though the Ford's stated towing capacity is 1,100 pounds higher. (Perhaps this is a by-product of the Tundra's TRD off-road package, which made our Toyota a demon in the dirt. Then again, our past experience has shown that the Bilstein dampers that accompany this option don't necessarily harm ride comfort.) Equipmentwise, the Tundra doesn't feel like the least expensive truck in the test. Sure, it's the only truck with cloth bucket seats, and it has a simple aux jack instead of an iPod connection, but it does have a lot longer list of convenience features than the Chevy, including side curtain airbags, a rear-seat DVD player, extendable towing mirrors, a telescoping steering column, a rearview camera and a damped tailgate. It also has the only full-width, power-operated rear window instead of a small pass-through. And then there's that standard 10,100-pound tow package. The Tundra is a very strong product, but with no 3/4-ton or 1-ton variants to sell, it has to be. If the day-to-day ride had less edge, it might have won this comparison. It's that close. 1st Place: 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 Dodge rates our Ram at 7,300 pounds of towing capacity. Its Hemi V8 makes 390 hp and 407 lb-ft of torque. With the 6,500-pound trailer and some passengers we took it to 100 percent of its rated capacity, it didn't seem to care. Heated front seats and a heated leather steering wheel are standard, but upgrading to leather seats ($500) adds front-seat ventilation and rear-seat heaters. Rambox, what you get is two of these side-saddle storage boxes, which are lit, lockable and capable of carrying long, heavy items like our load-equalizing tow hitch. After all the points were tallied, the Dodge Ram takes the win with a very well-rounded performance, despite being the priciest truck in the group. We knew from previous experience that the Ram's coil-spring rear suspension works well when the truck is unloaded, but this time we found it has the chops to handle a trailer, too. The superior lateral stiffness of a five-link rear axle and a rear antiroll bar keep things from getting all swimmy while towing, even when we're late for lunch and with a winding road between us and a burrito plate. Later, the burritos stayed down because the Ram 4x4 is best at smoothing out washboard tracks and putting the power down in sand, as you don't get the insistent rear-axle hammering of leaf-spring rear suspensions. At the track, the Ram clears the slalom cones at 57.6 mph, second quickest of the bunch. But the 390-hp 5.7-liter V8 is held back in our acceleration runs by its optional 3.92:1 rear-axle ratio and a five-speed transmission. The Ram's time to 60 mph from a standstill of 7.4 seconds (7.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) is 0.8 second slower than the Chevy but still a full second clear of the F-150. And the Dodge does better over the long haul up the long grade, where the horsepower and the axle ratio come into play. It clears the top in a virtual tie with the Tundra (12 minutes, 51 seconds) and never once needs full throttle — this from the truck with the lowest advertised tow rating (7,300 pounds) in the test. Yes, its minimum speed during towing does sag to 51 mph for a few hundred yards as the five-speed tranny dithers between its more widely spaced gears. The lack of 6th gear hurts fuel economy, too, as the Dodge comes in 3rd at 13.1 mpg, just behind the Toyota. Here again, the EPA rating of 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 15 mpg combined is misleading because of this truck's optional axle ratio. The optional RamBox proved itself useful by swallowing 85 pounds of greasy trailer hitch parts in its lockable bins. And its repositionable bed divider is easily the best of its kind. If you don't need this stuff, you can opt out and save $1,895. You win either way. Inside, the Dodge is a happy medium between dull and overdone. The new Crew Cab replaces last year's Mega Cab, and it's just right. There's just enough rear legroom, yet the whole truck avoids growing to an unmanageable size and weight. At 227.5 inches overall, the Dodge is the shortest truck here. It sits on the shortest wheelbase at 140 inches and it turns around in a second-best 45.4 feet. It's also the second lightest at 5,860 pounds, RamBox notwithstanding. There's lots of functionality, too, with heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel. It's got rear-seat DVD and TV, a back-up camera, Bluetooth and a fully integrated iPod connection that works. If only the radio itself — accessed through the same navigation screen — was as easy to use. The Dodge Ram impresses us with a solid performance, an understated ability to tow the socks off some others, a feature-laden presentation and rugged good looks. Oh, and those coil springs? After this, many of us won't have our truck any other way. Summing Up In the end, the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie dusts the competition. These are the clearest and most easy-to-read gauges in the bunch. Still, none of them is perfect. A better truck is theoretically possible if someone took the best elements from each and mashed them together. The final results show just how good the 2009 Chevrolet Silverado, 2009 Dodge Ram 1500, 2009 Ford F-150 and 2008 Toyota Tundra are. For now, the 2009 Dodge Ram sits atop this pile, but any of the others could forge ahead if they spend a little time on their respective weaknesses. It's that close. And we think it's safe to say that horsepower and torque are still among the more important elements in the mix if you're going to tow or haul for work or play. And if you're not going to tow or haul, why buy a truck at this point?