Best Trucks of 2011
A surge in truck sales is helping fuel the auto-industry’s comeback and full-size pickups are in the forefront of the recovery. Iguida.com’s truck category concentrates on those very vehicles and the Best Trucks of 2011 includes our top choices overall and top alternatives for some specific duties.
Sales of full-size pickups, such as the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado, climbed to nearly 1.67 million in calendar 2010, a 17 percent increase. That outpaced the 11 percent sales gain registered by cars and trucks as a whole and compares to a 3 percent decline for the smaller, compact-pickup class. Good news is always welcome, though it’s important to note that 2010’s full-size pickup gains came on the heels of a recession-wracked 2009, when sales of the trucks fell to just 1.1 million, a 39 percent decline from 2008.
Credit for the big-pickup resurgence goes primarily to demand from the building and trades sectors, not to the return of the millions of private-use buyers who not long ago sent pickup sales to record highs by purchasing these hefty haulers for daily commuting and shopping. Still, the bulk of sales in the big-pickup category are so-called half-ton versions of these trucks, such as the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, rather than the primarily work-oriented heavy-duty models, such as the Silverado 2500 and 3500. Indeed, half-ton pickups are the focus of our Best Trucks of 2011 coverage.
Best overall truck of the year
2011 Ram 1500: Dodge scored with a model-year 2009 redesign by retaining the Ram 1500’s brawny personality but tempering it with a new suspension that makes this the best-riding rig in the class. Every full-size pickup has a tough solid rear axle but only this one works with a coil-spring suspension instead of horse-and-buggy-era leaf springs. The result is class-leading absorbency over bumps and category-topping composure on most any surface. This refinement doesn’t come at the expense of job-site credibility. The 2011 Ram 1500 has a competitive 10,450-pound tow rating, and while its maximum-payload rating of 1,900 pounds is middling for the class, it’s not likely a deal-breaker for most half-ton buyers.
Ram’s entirely in the game with three cab styles and three available bed lengths. Engines start with a V-6 rated at 215-horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. We recommend at least the 4.7-liter V-8, which has 310 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. The 4.7 is standard on four-wheel-drive (4wd) and Crew Cab Ram 1500s. Better yet is the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with 390 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque. All these engines have Dodge’s Decel Fuel Shut Off that boosts mileage by stopping the flow of gas when you lift from the accelerator. The Hemi also automatically cuts back to four cylinders at idle and in low-demand conditions. The V-6 uses a four-speed automatic transmission, the V-8s a five-speed automatic.
Ram’s look is bold and its roomy cabins can be optioned to opulence. In addition, Ram, along with the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, is the only big pickup available with 4wd that can remain engaged on dry pavement. That’s a traction advantage on damp streets with little or no weight in the cargo bed. Moreover, upper-trim Rams for model-year 2011 get an advanced 4wd system that powers the front wheels only when necessary; Dodge says that nets a 1-mpg improvement in fuel economy. Crew Cab models are available with Dodge’s RamBox that transforms the sidewalls of the cargo bed into tough, plastic-lined bins for carrying tools, beverages, or gear. The bins are lockable, lit, and come with drain holes. Fuel-economy ratings range from 14/20 mpg city/highway for a 2wd V-6 model to 13/19 with a 4wd Hemi version. And note that Chrysler has spun-off Ram as a separate brand; technically, this truck is no longer the “Dodge” Ram 1500. Base price range: $21,510-$46,410. (Base prices in this article include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee.)
2011 Ford F-150: A thoroughly revamped engine lineup, including introduction of a radical twin-turbocharged V-6, highlights changes to the 2011 edition of America’s best-selling vehicle. The 2011 Ford F-150 returns to touch every big-pickup base with a wide selection of spacious cabs, cargo beds with compartments and dividers, and outstanding solidity. Its traditional leaf-spring rear suspension means the F-150 trails the Ram 1500 for suspension refinement and handling. But Ford fights back with a category-leading 11,300-pound trailer rating and a 3,060-pound payload limit. The F-150 also is a tech maven, available with Ford’s Tool Link system that employs radio-frequency identification to inventory and track equipment and tools stored onboard. Optional metal steps slide from beneath the sides or tail for easier bed access, and the tailgate can be fitted with a folding handle to assist entry and exit. And no rival matches the F-150’s SVT Raptor model, a factory-modified off-roader tuned for high-speed wilderness running.
The F-150 was last re-engineered for model-year 2009 and the most serious knock against it came when you opened the hood, where power ratings trailed those of key rivals. That’s no longer the case with the 2011 F-150. Three of its four available engines are new and each has more horsepower than the one it replaces. That holds even for the base powerplant, a 3.7-liter V-6 rated at 302 horsepower and 278-pound feet of torque. It supplants a 4.6-liter V-8 that was available in two states of tune: 248 horsepower and 294 pound-feet of torque, or 292 horsepower and 320 pound-feet.
Note that the V-6 trails the outgoing 4.6-liter V-8 in torque, which is the more important metric in a big pickup. Indeed, we recommend that 2011 F-150 buyers move up to the 5.0-liter V-8. It’s rated at 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque and essentially replaces a 5.4-liter V-8 that, at 310 horsepower and 365 pound-feet, seriously lagged rivals of similar displacement, The only returning engine from model-year 2010 is a 6.2-liter V-8, and it stays at a robust 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque. The radical choice is Ford’s EcoBoost V-6, a twin-turbocharged direct-injection 3.5-liter rated here at 365 horsepower and a 420 pound-feet of torque. Because of its light weight and high output, this is the engine that helps the F-150 reach those class-topping towing and payload numbers. All 2011 F-150 engines run on regular-octane gas and use a six-speed automatic transmission. Base-price range: $23,930-$52,115.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500: These are America’s oldest domestic-brand full-size pickups but are still terrifically appealing for their proven powertrains and broad lineups. Silverado and Sierra differ only in badging, grille appearance, and trim details, though Sierra offers a luxury Denali model with no equivalent on the Chevy side. Their basic design dates to model-year 2007, and though GM has done a nice job refining ride and handling along the way, the age of these trucks is evident in cabs that just aren’t as spacious or lavishly outfitted as those of the Ram 1500 and F-150. This is most evident in the rear-seating of the Silverado and Sierra Crew Cabs, which is relatively tight compared to that of the competition.
Dodge and Ford have done a better job throwing high-tech options and features into their big pickups, as well. But if you don’t need onboard WiFi or electronic tool tracking – and if you appreciate less exaggerated styling -- you’ll find Silverado and Sierra deserve their loyal following. The range of cab, bed, payload, and powertrain combinations seems endless. And GM has kept these trucks mechanically relevant. They’re available, for example, with GM’s Autotrac 4wd that can remain engaged in dry pavement. And their range of smooth engines includes a 332-horsepower gas-electric hybrid V-8 rated at a pleasing 20/23 mpg city/highway.
The most popular engine is GM’s bullet-proof 5.3-liter V-8 with 315 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. Along with the uplevel 6.0-liter V-8 (403 horsepower, 417 pound-feet) the 5.3 employs GM’s Active Fuel Management to save gas by automatically switching between eight and four cylinders, depending on power demands. The available V-6 (195 horsepower, 260 pound-feet) and 4.8-liter V-8 (302 horsepower, 305 pound-feet) use a four-speed automatic transmission. The other engines get a well-sorted six-speed automatic. Maximum payload is 1,779 pounds and the tow ceiling is 10,000 pounds. For the gas engines, fuel-economy ratings range from 15/21 mpg with the V-6 and 2wd to 12/18 with the 6.2-liter V-8 and 4wd. Base-price range: $21,845-$47,640.