This year’s test included three cab styles, a twin-turbo V-6, a gas V-8, and a turbodiesel I-6, one ½-ton, two ¾-tons and pricing differences that covered a range of nearly $20,000. On the surface it would appear that none of these vehicles are direct competitors, yet they are all adept at fulfilling the pickup truck mission. It is the customizability in today’s selection of trucks that makes this segment so compelling. While they may not go head-to-head on the showroom floor, these three trucks represent a great look at today’s pickup technology.
Arguably the most advanced truck in the group was the Ford F-150. From its state-of-the-art V-6, an engine that really does offer the power of an Eight with the fuel economy of a Six, to its smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, the Ford was the epitome of a modern pickup and the favorite of early-adopters and techno-geeks. Ford also uses an electrically assisted power steering system to save gas, but our testers found it over boosted and vague, with as much feedback as you would get from yelling at the San Diego Chargers through the TV.
Technology didn’t stop under the hood, however. The interior of the Ford featured a modern layout that included full gauges and a 4.2-inch LCD screed nestled in the instrument cluster that Ford calls a Productivity Screen. Similar to having a smartphone at your fingertips, the Ford system has the ability to show common information, such as fuel economy and towing information, but has a special Off-Road menu that shows the status of the drivetrain among other things. We also found Ford’s navigation system and weather radar overlay superior to either system in the Ram trucks. Front power and heated seats matched with power pedals and large mirrors made finding an optimal seating position easy. The niceties offset the fact that Ford had the smallest cab of the group and although the rear legroom was compromised, the rear seat was surprisingly accommodating.
On the highway, the Ford offered the best ride with its soft front end tuning. Overall the F-150 was the most fun to drive, with a sporty feel, aided by an ability to summon hard power when exiting out of corners. More than once the EcoBoost surprised with exceptional passing power, but it also reminded us every time we stepped in to the throttle and heard its odd exhaust note that it is not a V-8.
On the flip side, the Hemi-powered Power Wagon never disappointed the ears when we dipped in to the throttle. With a purely American truck exhaust note emanating from the smooth V-8, the Power Wagon was nearly as fun to drive as the Ford, but in a more traditional and truck-like way. The Bilstein shocks are tuned about as perfectly as one could expect and they manage chassis motions of the 6,800-pound Power Wagon remarkably well.
The interior of the Power Wagon is sized right in between the Ford and the Mega Cab and offered the best outward visibility of the bunch. The inside is not as flashy as the other trucks with vinyl flooring and cloth seats, but it still had all the basic amenities one would expect, such as power windows and door locks, full gauges, and a few upgrades such as navigation. Although the cheaper 430N Garmin-based system we used didn’t do anything to win over the staff. Its interface was simple, but sometimes frustrating to use and the quality of the display was lower than that of the nicer, albeit more expensive, 730N system in the Mega Cab.
In everything else it does, the Power Wagon exudes simplicity and functionality. For example, the simple three-knob climate control was the easiest of the bunch to use and all of the switchgear was intuitive, requiring no learning curve at all. The Crew Cab also has countless interior storage cubbies and new-for-2012 RamBox option further enhances the cargo capability of the Power Wagon. We also love that the Power Wagon comes in different trim levels for 2012, including a more basic ST and more luxuriously appointed Laramie without the gaudy sticker package.
If the standard Laramie isn’t enough luxury for you, step up to the Laramie Longhorn. Our tester was finished with the finest leather we have ever sampled in a pickup with jewel-like details spread across the interior. Intended to be a competitor to Ford’s King Ranch series, the Ram brand might get the nod in this head-to-head. Mix it in with the Mega Cab and suddenly you own your own luxo-barge as well what must have once been at least two head of cattle.
The Mega Cab has the most room of any cab on the market with enough space for rear seat occupants to cross their legs. The Mega Cab also expands storage over the Crew Cab by offering extra space behind the rear seat. Increasing the usefulness of the rear bench, the individual seatbacks not only recline, but also lay flat, allowing the rear seat to be used as a bed, if desired. Owning this truck is like owning an SUV and a pickup all-in-one, and you wouldn’t be too far off if you thought of this finely crafted interior as being in a land yacht.
But unlike most yachts, a lot has been done in the suspension tuning department of this truck. No longer does a Ram HD equal a bone jarring, man-flab jiggling ride, which is good because we imagine most people driving this truck have a soft spot for, and because of, the kind of meat one would grill over mesquite coals. And we imagine they probably didn’t miss any extra helpings of cowboy beans, either. Get out on a wide-open highway, the kind you might stretch out on in Texas, and the MegaCab is good for all-day comfort. The only place where size seems to matter is in city settings, such as LA, where bigger isn’t always better.
Owning the nearly 21-foot-long Mega Cab will ensure you never get a close spot (or two) at the mall, that is, if they even make spots large enough for this truck. You might also have to come to grips with the fact that your days of maneuvering in parking structures and three-point turns (five-point is more like it) are over. Think you might one day find the need to parallel park in New York City? Fuggedahboutit.
As for power, all of our favorite clichés apply to the 800 lb-ft 6.7L Cummins, although you can disregard the one about stump-pulling power, because it can tow the whole tree. Enjoy abusing those Load Range Es with absurd burnouts and excessive tongue weight? Have fun. Need to tow a house? Well some people actually do - with this truck. The Cummins is up to whatever workaday task you can dream up and when matched to this cab and trim, it does it in style.
3rd Place: Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn Mega Cab
Power, RamBoxes, luxury everywhere, interior space
Exterior size, weight
Probably aimed more at successful rancher than vegans
From the Logbook:
“Side steps really help with ingress/egress, but hamper trail performance.”
“Fold-flat rear seat is great for camping!”
“Fortunately there are enough seats to bring along a spotter.”
“At speed, the chassis works pretty well and the shocks do an adequate job.”
“I was surprised at the comfort level, even on nasty roads.”