Head to Head: 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Elevation Duramax vs 2020 RAM 1500 Rebel EcoDiesel
Who makes the best half-ton diesel-powered rig?
Automotive wars have existed since the automobile was born. Think Ford vs Ferrari, Mustang vs Camaro, BMW vs Mercedes-Benz and so on and so forth. But there’s one rivalry that is often overlooked, and that’s the current war between full size trucks.
For over three decades now, Ford, General Motors and FCA have been battling it out to claim the throne as the king of trucks. The rivalry is so strong, that each of them have spawned overachieving modern machines that excel consumer expectations.
A good example of this is the latest trend of diesel-powered half-ton trucks, where heavy duty technology has trickled down to spice up the capability of these already impressive vehicles.
The 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Elevation Duramax and the 2020 Ram 1500 Rebel EcoDiesel are the latest interpretation of this development. Both offer engines of the same displacement, both can tow large loads and both present fuel economy ratings that rank in the same ballpark as a midsize sedan. Impressive, to say to least.
But which is best? We break them down to figure out which of these two high-tech pickups trucks deserves your hard-earned money.
We’re well aware that our testers aren’t exactly equipped the same way. While these two trucks are mechanically similar, our Ram was dressed up in the off-road ready Rebel package while the GMC got the thriftier Elevation trim. A Sierra AT4 would have been a more realistic contender.
The Elevation package that was grafted onto our GMC still does a fantastic job of allowing this Sierra to appear just as if not more badass than the Ram. The package is mostly a styling job that adds a monochromatic appearance with blacked-out body trim and model-specific 20-inch wheels. Combined with the Satin Steel Metallic paint of our tester, the Sierra comes through as a more business-like machine than the Rebel. Both look great, but I prefer the Sierra.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why we didn’t bring out a Ford F-150 Power Stroke to compare. That’s because we’re still waiting for the much-anticipated 2021 Ford F-150, which was scheduled to be unveiled at the end of this month but was delayed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Again, there’s a difference in packaging here, with the Sierra being a Crew Cab and the Ram configured as a Quad Cab. This meant that rear legroom was considerably more cramped in the Rebel. Both our trucks had the 5.7-foot bed.
The Ram’s interior is noticeably more upscale thanks to premium-feeling materials, a more attractive and modern design, and the available 12-inch infotainment screen that dominates the center-part of the dashboard. Yes, that screen is optional, but the largest screen available in the Sierra only measures 8 inches. It’s simply not as visually striking as the Ram’s.
The Sierra’s cabin isn’t only disappointing from a styling standpoint, but in the quality of the materials used. Hard plastics and a general sense that GM attempted to keep costs low lead to a cheap-feeling interior. The Ram, on the hand, always makes you feel like you’re getting a lot more than what you’re paying for.
That said, we did find the Sierra to incorporate some clever storage ideas. For instance, its rear seat integrates a pair of nifty little compartments directly into the seat cushion. We also found the GMC’s document storage compartments located on each side of the center console to be deeper and easier to access.
Both these trucks presented impressive fuel consumption numbers, but the Sierra performed a tad better and got us underneath the 10L/100 km combined mark, a number we’d normally record behind the wheel of a compact crossover.
Both these rivals can be fitted with semi-autonomous safety toys like adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring, parking sensors and rear cross-traffic monitoring. They can also both get a full camera package to assist during parking manoeuvres and towing.
However, the Sierra beats the Ram in this department due to its slightly more advanced technology. For instance, it can be equipped with what GM calls Rear Vision which projects what the rear camera is seeing directly on the rearview mirror, thus improving rearward visibility. It’s also possible to fit the Sierra with a neat “see through your trailer” camera system for larger towing applications.
People choose diesel-powered trucks for their capability and fuel economy. While technically similar, both models go about their business in a different manner.
For instance, the Ram is motivated by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel dual-overhead cam V6; an engine that was designed internally at FCA and assembled at its Cento facility in Ferrara, Italy. While presenting the exact same displacement as its predecessor, this V6 – which FCA calls EcoDiesel – is entirely new, housing a revised water-cooled turbocharger, new fuel injectors, intake ports and combustion chambers. The compression ratio was bumped from 16.0:1 to 16.5:1 and max horsepower and torque are now rated at 260 horsepower (eight percent increase) and 480 lb-ft of torque (14 percent increase).
This engine is mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission, while max towing is rated by FCA at a class-leading 12,560 pounds (5,697 kg). More impressive than what it can tow are its official fuel consumption numbers: 9.7L/100 km combined, says FCA.
The Sierra, on the other hand, is also powered by a six-cylinder turbodiesel, but set up in an inline configuration. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an Isuzu-sourced powerplant like the rest of the Duramax lineup, but a clean-sheet GM design. It’s mostly made from aluminum to be as lightweight as possible, equipped with a variable-geometry turbo, air-to-liquid intercooling, and a low-pressure exhaust-gas recirculation system to boost efficiency and responsiveness. GM also claims the inline configuration simplifies its design for improved fuel-economy all while increasing reliability.
The result is a Ram-competitive 277 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to GM’s own ten-speed automatic gearbox, while max towing is considerably lower than the Ram at 9,100 lb / 4,127 kg (9,300 lb / 4,218 kg for the Chevrolet Silverado). The Sierra makes up for that with a slightly better combined fuel economy rating of 9.4L/100 km.
The Duramax straight six also proved to be smoother, quieter, and livelier than the EcoDiesel V6. On idle, the traditional “clacking” sound of a diesel engine was lower in the GMC, while acceleration is more immediate from a standstill. The Duramax also revs higher thanks to a 5,500-rpm redline (versus 4,500 rpm in the Ram) and delivers its power in a more urgent manner. Turbo lag is non-existent in the GMC, compared to the Ram where it’s very present.
We also found GM’s ten-speed automatic transmission to perform better than FCA’s ZF-eight speed unit. While these gearboxes both do a terrific job at maximizing the narrow powerband of their respected diesel engines, we never experienced any unwanted clunks or hesitations in the way the Sierra’s transmission operated. Gearshifts were incredibly smooth and seamless.
The base price for an entry level GMC Sierra two-wheel-drive with regular cab is $34,448 versus $34,277 for a base Ram 1500 Tradesman. But the Ram comes standard with a Quad Cab configuration, so off the bat, you’re getting more for your dollar.
However, it’s possible to drive out of a GMC dealership in a diesel-powered half-ton truck for less money than a Ram. For instance, the cheapest possible Sierra Duramax kicks off at $50,543 (Crew Cab, Short Bed, 4×4) versus $51,945 for a Ram Rebel. Add to that an extra $3,900 for the EcoDiesel engine and the Ram is a fair bit more expensive, even if you’re getting more truck for the price.
But if one simply wants the benefits of the diesel engine without the toys, then the Sierra is better deal.
At this point it’s extremely difficult to pinpoint a clear winner since both of these trucks offer class-leading levels of technology, capability and frugality. While the GMC Sierra Duramax is clearly a more engineering-driven machine, boasting a more refined, smoother, and thriftier engine, the Ram comes through as the better overall package.
But consumers don’t buy engineering, they buy value. While, yes, it is possible to pay less for a GMC with a diesel engine, the fact of the matter is that Ram offers more content per dollar across the board. It also pulverizes the Sierra in towing bragging rights.
Add to that a better-appointed interior, a more comfortable ride and a wider range of available trim levels, and the 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is clearly the one we’d go for.