Test Fest 2014: Pickup trucks

Jil McIntosh's pick: Ram 1500

  • Test Fest 2014

It’s tough to properly judge pickup trucks at Testfest, because they’re driven empty, instead of working at towing and hauling. Even so, it’s an opportunity for back-to-back comparisons of engine performance, handling characteristics, and interior appointments. All three are good, and so close that ranking them came down to one or two features.

Ram 1500

$52,195 base, $57,965 as tested

Big and beefy (too big, actually, as are all full-size pickups right now), the Ram is arguably the best-looking of the three, both inside and out.

Looks don’t get the job done, though, and for that, I like Ram’s tried-and-true 5.7-L Hemi V8, producing 395 horsepower and 410 lb.-ft. of torque, and now hooked to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The shifter’s a dial, which I thought was just a gimmick until I tried it. It frees up storage space in the massive centre console, and it’s easier to quickly grab the right gear than with a console shifter.

What tipped the Ram to the top of my list was its exclusive four-corner air suspension, a $1,500 option, which automatically levels the truck when it’s loaded. It can also be lowered for easier entry and exit, or raised for off-road driving, and offers the smoothest ride of the three.

On the down side, the thick steering wheel feels like I’m holding a life preserver; while all three trucks have narrow passenger-side foot wells, Ram’s is the tightest; and with only a sliver of bumper available for a foothold when you lower the tailgate, it’s not easy to climb into the bed.

Chevrolet Silverado

$36,010 base, $60,645 as tested

Completely redesigned for 2014, the Silverado was tested in High Country trim, the first time Chevy has offered its half-ton in luxo-limo style.

Its all-new 6.2-L V8 engine makes 420 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. As with all of the trucks tested, a deactivation system shuts off half the cylinders under light load, such as at cruising speed, for improved fuel efficiency. On the GM trucks, an icon in the instrument cluster indicates whether it’s on four or eight cylinders.

The new interior is a huge step up from the outgoing GM trucks, and the cabin is extremely quiet. The price includes a forward collision and lane departure alert system that warns the driver via a vibrating seat, a feature first seen on Cadillac.

Controls are grouped by function, and the integrated brake controller is especially easy to reach. If you don’t order an option, you get a modified dash bezel, rather than a chintzy blank button. It’s a minor thing, but trucks are expensive, and there shouldn’t be any cheap touches.

The tailgate is damped, unlike the Ram’s, and there’s a brilliantly simple and effective step in the bumper, with a corresponding hand-hold in the box side, to access the bed.

GMC Sierra

$36,625 base, $56,365 as tested

Silverado and Sierra are mechanical twins that share three engine choices. The Sierra, tested in All-Terrain trim, used a 5.3-L V8 that makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. of torque, and like its two competitors, shuts off half its cylinders when not needed.

The outgoing 2013 Sierra and Silverado trucks also used 5.3-L and 6.2-L V8 engines, but while the displacements are the same, the 2014 engines are completely new. All are mated to six-speed automatic transmissions.

The Sierra’s interior is similar to the Silverado’s, but without the High Country’s two-tone colour scheme. Unlike the Ram, there’s no grab handle on the driver’s side to make it easier to climb in, but once you’re up there, the seats are comfortable, and there’s a ton of small-item storage space.

There are numerous little touches throughout to make life easier: little LED lights under the bed rail, to find stuff under a tonneau cover; a locking tailgate that’s well-balanced and easy to close; and power-adjustable pedals.

The All-Terrain package includes off-road shocks, but I still prefer the Ram’s variable suspension for getting over the rough stuff, and unfortunately, this Sierra trim line’s fancy colour-matched bumper doesn’t include the Chevy’s ever-so-useful integrated step.

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