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2016 Pickup Truck of the Year

Two new diesels, a toy, and one crazy sheep

Ali MansourWriterKen BrubakerPhotographer

It’s a great time to be in the market for a new truck. While there’s been some serious movement in the truck market over past couple of years, 2016 is looking to be a standout. With a host of new technology, engines, and complete vehicle makeovers from both domestic and foreign manufacturers, finding a truck that fits your exact needs has just become a little easier. Of course, we wanted to know how the new-for-2016 field would hold up in our weeklong Pickup Truck of the Year battle, so we gathered them up for a battle royale.

For those of you unfamiliar with our Pickup Truck of the Year (PTOTY) competition, here is a bit of background: PTOTY isn’t about awarding the truck that excels in one category but rather championing the vehicle that is the top all-around contender. We don’t hook up to any trailers or load them with excessive amounts of cargo, but we do cover nearly a 1,000 miles of on- and off-road driving conditions. To participate in the late-model truck showdown, the pickup has to be all-new or significantly revised from the previous model year, have a two-speed transfer case, a production run of at least 1,500 vehicles available in the U.S., and be on sale by January 15, 2016.

Using the vast and wildly varying terrain in Southern California, we traverse everything from rocky mountain trails to windy canyon passes. With the exception of deep mud, we put these trucks in nearly every off-road scenario imaginable. After all, what good is a four-wheel-drive truck if it doesn’t perform in the dirt? Since we are an off-road–centric publication, the wheeling portion of our judging carries the most weight.

The total scoring breakdown is divided into the following: Trail Performance: 30 percent; Empirical, 25 percent (price, payload, mpg, ground clearance, etc.); On Pavement: 20 percent; Interior: 15 percent; and Exterior: 10 percent. We test each vehicle just as the manufacturer offers it, which means no modifications are done to things such as tire pressure, low-hanging bumpers, or the easy-to-kill steps.

Our participants included a Ram Rebel 1500 Crew Cab, Nissan Titan XD PRO-4X, Chevy Colorado Crew Cab Z71, and Toyota Tacoma Double Cab TRD Off-Road. Ford had eligible trucks, but the company declined to participate. So, all you Blue Oval lovers be sure to email Ford and tell them to get with the program! This year’s competition was as especially exciting as all of the trucks had something new to offer for the ’16 model year. So, want to know who landed where? Just read on to find out.

4th Place
Chevy Colorado Crew Cab Z71

We tested the then all-new Chevy Colorado last year and found it to be a formidable machine. The refined interior and styling of the truck can also be credited with getting Toyota to go for a massive refresh with its dated-by-comparison Tacoma. Making it eligible for this year’s test is the new-for-’16 2.8L Duramax diesel engine option. The direct injected and turbocharged I-4 engine puts out 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.

With our Crew Cab, long-bed truck rated to tow 7,600 pounds and 1,457 pounds of payload, it’s a small truck designed for big jobs. Speaking of big, so is the price. Coming in with an as-tested price of $47,670, it’s pushed itself well into 1/2-ton pricing territory. We had high hopes for the diesel Colorado, but ultimately, the others in the group edged this “Trail Boss” to the back of the pack.

The Colorado received an assortment of praise for its interior when it first came out, but we’re still mixed on it as a whole. The interior touch points are slightly above average, but many judges thought it could be better given the steep price. If you’ve been in an S-10 or previous-generation Colorado, there will be many familiar cues, such as the tall dash and almost comically large gear shifter. The easy-to-use gear selector on the massive shifter slightly makes up for the size.

For a seemingly simple dash layout, many of the knobs and controls were hidden and took a bit to find. We did find the technology features (navigation, Bluetooth, and so on) worked very well. The displays for instrument cluster also gave the truck a modern feel.

One carryover complaint from last year’s model has to do with the front seats. While most judges found the seats to be plenty comfortable, they are a touch on the small size. This tiny feel is echoed outback as the overall room is better suited for smaller adults. Again, it’s a comfy truck, just a little compact in the seat department.

Overall, we found it to be modern but lacking a few of the details and finishes to make it where it could be. After all, if you are paying 1/2-ton prices, you should get 1/2-ton quality.

Our tester was equipped with the Trail Boss package. From an appearance standpoint, the package equated to a bed-mounted sport bar with two LED lights, 17-inch black painted wheels, black Chevy emblems, black fender flares, and 3-inch round rocker steps. While the judges praised the clean wheel design and aggressive 265/65R17 Goodyear DuraTrac tires, the votes were mixed on the bed-mounted sports bar. Some wrote that it appeared dated, while other’s liked the throwback look with a modern twist.

One thing we could all agree on were the side steps were too big and in the way. We repeatedly found them to be dirt magnets on the trail and awkward to use exiting the truck. If you’re going to take yours off-road, plan on ditching the front valance as well. Ultimately, we still very much like the sheetmetal styling of Colorado, but we’ll probably stick to picking out our own accessories.

We often write how many modern diesels are so quiet and refined that you’d never notice it under the hood. This isn’t one of those trucks. More than once, the Colorado was likened to a Kubota diesel tractor for its light chatter and slow-but-steady power feel. It’s easy to associate diesel trucks in the U.S. with massive power, since the 3/4- and 1-ton trucks equipped with diesels are typically pumping out stupid-high 800 and 900 lb-ft torque figures.

Unlike its fullsize forefathers, this diesel isn’t intended to haul a house. It actually drives like a more conventional gas engine, with most of its power coming at higher rpms. With an estimated fuel rating of 29 mpg, the 2.8L diesel engine is more about economy than power. Backed by a six-speed automatic transmission, the powertrain offered a nice balance for city and highway driving. The 140-inch wheelbase was found to feel a bit long in the city but provided a soft ride for the longer highway jaunts. Many judges found the wind noise a little loud, but the cabin noise was still lower than the Tacoma.

The long wheelbase and narrow track width of the Colorado made it a hillclimbing champ. Despite not having a selectable rear locker, we found the G80 rear differential to worked well. In the sand and snow, the little 2.8L diesel chugged along great and had no trouble of doing so in high range. You’ll need to remember to turn off the electronic nannies if you want to cut loose, but the vehicle was safe and stable in dry, wet, and powdery conditions.

The Achilles' heel for the Colorado was most definitely rockcrawling. The low ground clearance and massive steps that acted like grappling hooks hindered the truck’s potential. Chevy’s traction control system was effective at keeping the truck moving even when it lifted a tire, but it wasn’t as smart as that of the Tacoma’s. Speaking of traction, the tires were a great addition to the Trail Boss package. While not as aggressive as a conventional mud-terrain radial, we found the Goodyear all-terrains to works great every place we put them in.

Lasting Impression
We’re still excited to see Chevy offering a compact and fuel-efficient diesel engine option. We simply wish it had more seat-of-the-pants power. Despite its rattle under the hood, we really enjoyed driving the Colorado, more so off-road than anywhere else. A small suspension lift and ditching the front valence would do wonders for its off-road performance.

What’s hot: Diesel engine, interior, great tires
What’s not: Underwhelming power, step bars, high price
Our take: Perfectly practical, but painfully pricey

Judges quotes
“A 1/4-ton truck with 1/2-ton pricing is a hard sale.”
“Trail Worthy? Yes. Trail Boss? Not Quite.”
“Are we back in the ’80s?”
“It feels like a classic diesel truck.”

Vehicle/model: ’16 Chevy Colorado Crew Cab Z71
Base price: $35,835
Price as tested: $47,670
Options as tested: 2.8L Duramax turbodiesel ($3,230), Trail Boss Package ($7,710), Destination Charge ($895)

Type: 24-valve DOHC V-6
Displacement (ci/liter): 169/2.8
Bore x stroke (in): 3.70x3.94
Compression ratio (:1): 16.5
Intake/FI: Turbocharged/direct injection
Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp): 181 @ 3,400
Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 369 @ 2,000
Mfg.’s suggested fuel type: Diesel or B20

Transmission: Hydra-Matic 6L50 6-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First: 4.06
Second: 2.37
Third: 1.55
Fourth: 1.16
Fifth: 0.85
Sixth: 0.67
Reverse: 3.20
Axle ratio (:1): 3.42
Transfer case: Magna NQ6 2-speed
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.7
Crawl ratio (:1): 37.8

Frame: Steel ladder-type
Body: Steel

Front: Independent coil-over-shock w/twin-tube shocks/Dana 7.5-in
Rear: Semi-elliptic two-stage multi-leaf springs, twin-tube shocks/Dana 8.7-in, G80 locking differential

Type: Electrically-assisted power rack-and-pinion w/variable assist
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.3
Ratio (:1): 16.8.1

Front: 12.20x1.00-in disc, four-piston caliper
Rear: 12.75x0.70-in disc, four-piston caliper
ABS: Four-wheel

Wheels (in): 17x8 cast aluminum
Tires: P265/65R17 Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac

EPA city/highway: 20/29
Observed city/highway/trail: 15.6

Weight (lbs): 4,711
Wheelbase (in): 140.5
Overall length (in): 224.9
Overall width (in): 74.3
Height (in): 70.5
Track f/r (in): 62.4/62.4
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.1
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 44.6
Approach/departure angles (deg): 17.1/22.2
Breakover angle (deg): 18.6
GVWR (lbs): 6,200
Payload (lbs): 1,457
Maximum towing capacity (lbs): 7,600
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 21

0-60 mph (sec): 10.5
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 17.8 @ 77.6
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 125.6
Ramp Travel Index (20-degree, points): 388

3rd Place
Nissan Titan XD PRO-4X

Competing in the fullsize truck market is no easy task. But when you're trying to launch a truck in an all-new category, it can be especially tough. The Nissan Titan PRO-4X doesn't fit neatly in any one category. It has the girth of a 3/4-ton, 1/2-ton underpinnings, and an engine that's caught somewhere in the middle. With an as-tested price of $58,085, our expectation level was understandably high.

The Titan XD definitely caught judges off-guard in more ways than one. It's filled with both good and bad surprises, but for a first offer in a new-generation truck, it has plenty to talk about. Sure, the big story here is the Cummins diesel engine, but we found there’s more to this truck than a fancy twin-turbo V-8. Despite its many strong points, it will have to settle for a Third Place in this year’s PTOTY.

If you were to fall asleep in once place and wake up in the backseat of the Titan (what, that’s never happened to you?), you’d be hard placed to identify it from a late-model Ram. In fact, we found a lot of similarities between our 1/2-ton Ram Rebel tester and the Titan XD. Small things such as the folding storage tables in the back to the way the seats fold. This isn’t a bad thing as both trucks offer ample rear passenger room and storage.

Up front there are a lot of knobs and buttons to get used to. It has a familiar feel to many Nissans, but it is slightly amplified to go with the over-the-top truck. The leather and assortment of padded touch points all seemed nicely done but not as refined as some of its competitors. By far, the best seat in the house was reserved for the driver, as it had an assortment of positions to allow you to get the best fit and comfort level. A telescoping wheel and simple navigation controls finish out a long list of first-class appointments.

There was a clear divide at times on what the judges felt about the exterior styling of the vehicle. The main topic of discussion being the massive front end. Some judges felt it looked too big and almost like an afterthought. Others liked the big-and-bold styling and thought it helped the Nissan standout in the pack. The bright yellow exterior color helped the Titan quickly garnered the nickname of the Banana Ram.

The front doors are very F-150-esk, which seems to be a styling cue that has been borrowed by Nissan in the past. If you’re comparing the Titan with a 1/2-ton, it seems big. Side by side with a 3/4-ton, it’s much closer at home. Since it is a fairly large truck, we would have liked to have seen a taller tire. Sure, this would have made it even bigger, but if you’re going big, you might as well go all the way.

All of the judges on our panel have piloted a late-model 3/4-ton diesel, which led onne comment to repeat throughout the judging: “It just doesn’t have the power we thought it would.” This begs the question of where does this truck truly belong. The truck’s estimated 7,000-plus-pound weight puts in past the average 1/2-ton. This weight could be felt when powering through the city and countryside as the truck never struggled, but took work to move on the fast-paced California roads.

One trick feature to help guide the Titan around was the 360-degree cameras, which showed you how many puppies or Hondas are waiting in your blind spots. This takes a little getting used to as it sends your eyes away from the large tow mirrors and back to the center mounted display. As was the theme for the giant Nissan, the ride quality rested somewhere between a 1/2- and 3/4-ton truck. Not overly stiff but far from the smooth ride of the air-ride–equipped Ram 1500 in our test.

Some judges felt the steering ratio was a little slow, which equated to more steering input when cruising down the highway. When it came to twisty sections of road, the heavy-weight pickup would often lean and push. As one judge put it “it corners like an ice cream truck.” We don’t think he meant super sweet.

Being overweight off-road is always a performance penalty. When you combine that with the manufacturer’s suggested 72 psi in the tires, you’re starting off with the cards stacked against you. The Titan’s size made it a chore at times to navigate some of the tighter trails, but we still managed to do so without any body damage thanks to great visibility and ground clearance. In the sand, the Titan would chug along, but it was the one area that it struggled the most. Sand blaster it is not. Since it’s equipped with the PRO-4X package, it does have a selectable rear locker, which was a well-needed and used piece of equipment.

The long wheelbase, combined with the extra traction aid, helped the truck get where we needed it with little drama on most trails. In low range, minimal throttle input was required to chug around the dirt. For light backwoods exploring, we think the platform has a tremendous amount of potential. Overall, it performed well for a fullsize truck and never left us standing in our tracks.

Lasting Impression
Not being able to place the truck squarely in one truck category or another isn’t so much as an identity crisis as it is Nissan potentially pulling its punches. The company knows that the fullsize truck market is big business, and we feel the performance potential of the V-8 diesel under the hood is much greater than what they are giving us. There’s no question, it’s a great truck. However, to break through in this marketplace, they’re going to need to step up the power and/or start shaving some weight.

What’s hot: Cummins diesel, huge interior, rear locker
What’s not: Massive truck, category confusion, slightly underwhelming power
Our take: It’s big, refined, and diesel powered, but we still want more.

Judges quotes
“It feels like a land yacht.”
“Engine lacks the punch we’ve come to expect from a fullsize diesel.”
“Great truck with an identity crisis.”
“Solid and quiet on-road feel but jittery in the dirt.”

Vehicle/model: ’16 Nissan Titan XD PRO-4X
Base price: $50,970
Price as tested: $58,085
Options as tested: PRO-4X Utility & Audio Package ($1,100), PRO-4X Convenience Package ($3,310), PRO-4X Luxury Package ($1,510), Destination Charge ($1,195)

Type: 32-valve DOHC V-8
Displacement (ci/liter): 305/5.0
Bore x stroke (in): 3.70 x 3.54
Compression ratio (:1): 16.3:1
Intake/FI: Turbocharged/direct injection
Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp): 310 @ 3,200
Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 555 @ 1,600
Mfg.’s suggested fuel type: Ultra low sulphur diesel

Transmission: Aisin A466ND 6-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First: 3.74
Second: 2.00
Third: 1.34
Fourth: 1.00
Fifth: 0.77
Sixth: 0.63
Reverse: 3.54
Axle ratio (:1): 3.92
Transfer case: Magna TX91A 2-spd
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.72
Crawl ratio (:1): 39.8

Frame: Steel, ladder-type
Body: Steel

Front: Double wishbone IFS, Bilstein monotube coil-over shocks, stabilizer bar/AAM 9.25-in
Rear: Multi leaf, stabilizer bar, Bilstein shocks/AAM 9.84-in, GKN LDC3-2 electric locker

Type: Hydraulic recirculating ball
Turns (lock-to-lock): 4.6
Ratio (:1): 19

Front: 14.17x1.50-in vented disc, two-piston caliper
Rear: 14.37x1.20-in disc, two-piston caliper
ABS: Four-wheel

Wheels (in): 18x7.5 aluminum
Tires: LT275/65R18 General Grabber APT

EPA city/highway: N/A
Observed city/highway/trail: 12.55

Weight (lbs): 7,257
Wheelbase (in): 151.6
Overall length (in): 243.6
Overall width (in): 80.7
Height (in): 78.3
Track f/r (in): 68.6/68.6
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.9
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 53.8
Approach/departure angles (deg): 21.0/23.9
Breakover angle (deg): 20.1
GVWR (lbs): 8,990
Payload (lbs): 2,000 (or more depending on configuration)
Maximum towing capacity (lbs): 11,784
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 26

0-60 mph (sec): 9.9
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 17.5 @ 81.6
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 135.9
Ramp Travel Index (20-degree, points): 379

2nd Place
Toyota Tacoma Double Cab TRD Off-Road

With only minor revisions done to the Tacoma over the last 10 years, the midsized pickup had grown long in the tooth. In what was a clear response to the evolving midsize truck marketplace (ahem, Colorado), Toyota stepped up with its all-new ’16 Tacoma. Fit with a fresh face, new engine, and a host of interior refinements, Toyota is looking to retain its dominance in this category.

Thankfully, the company wasn’t foolish enough to stray too far from its proven formula. Class-leading ground clearance, a selectable rear locker, and off-road-tuned shocks, are all part of the Tacoma heritage and things carried over to the ’16 models. After a 10-year lull, was this refresh really enough? With a strong Second Place finish, we would say it is.

We’ve criticized the Tacoma for years on its dated interior. Finally, we get a refresh, but it’s not as radical as we were hoping for. To retain the high ground clearance, we have all learned to expect from the Tacoma, the floor remains mostly flat. This creates a sometimes low and uncomfortable seating position for short and tall drivers alike. However, the seats themselves, along with the touch points around the cab, are an improvement from the outgoing model.

When comparing it to the Colorado, some judges felt it wasn’t as refined, while others preferred the easy-to-navigate dash and controls. The proximity key is a first for Toyota, as is the wireless phone charging system. These appoints, along with the Entune app system, give the Taco a much-needed boost into the technology arena. With so many complaints centered on the low seat, we’re thinking a power multipoint driver seat would be a worthwhile option. Rear seating and comfort remains fine for two adults.

If you were looking for a night-and-day difference from the outgoing model, it’s going to be found at the front and back of the truck. The most polarizing feature of the all-new Tacoma is the front end. Its massive grille and front bumper pull inspiration from its big brother, the Tundra. We are big fans of the new tailgate, and the three-piece rear bumper will be handy for those inevitable off-road dings.

The large wheelwell openings leave plenty of room for the 265/70R16 all-terrains. In the bed you’ll find a nicely tied in deck-rail system, along with a power outlet, and appointments for the factory available tri-fold tonneau cover. Projector-beam headlights along with a LED daytime running light are also an improvement from the outgoing model. Couple these modern amenities with usable skidplates and a great stance for driving in the dirt, and it’s clear that Toyota hasn’t taken the Tacoma too far from its roots.

One of the big features for the ’16 Tacoma is the 3.5L Atkinson Cycle engine. Toyota states that new V-6 is designed to offer improved fuel economy and power over the previous generation 4.0L. Two things we noticed out of the gate: First, the new engine doesn’t make the same low-end torque as the 4.0L, making it feel slightly underpowered until you get higher in the rpm range. Second, the 3.5L makes a few interesting noises that are often coupled with a rough idle feel. We’re told this is “ticking sound” is due to the self-cleaning direct-injection system.

In terms of handling and highway characteristics, most judges felt the truck was neutral, meaning not overly dull or overly responsive. The leaf-spring rear suspension and coil-over-strut front suspension proved compliant on city streets and soft enough for comfort on long highway jaunts. The truck isn’t designed for high-speed canyon carving, so take it easy when you get on the twisty roads. If you’re looking to drive it more enthusiastically, we suggest toggling the gear shift manually.

The TRD Off-Road package is one of the best off-road–oriented setups you can get in a full or midsize pickup. With a specially valved set of Bilstein shocks and selectable rear locker, the Tacoma was king on the trail. As one judge put it “the Tacoma is fun and nimble,” and most agreed that the suspension seemed perfectly dialed in the dirt. The big news from an off-road–performance standpoint is the Multi-Terrain Select and five-speed Crawl Control. Both are features we’ve seen on some of Toyota’s other high-end 4x4 models and are known to work extremely well.

By choosing a specific terrain, the truck automatically regulates the throttle input and brake control to increase traction in the setting you choose. Engaging Crawl Control means relinquishing control of the braking and acceleration to the vehicles computer. The only input required is you steering the wheel. It may seem a little gimmicky, but we found it works extremely well. These technology features almost make up for its lack of selectable front locker. Almost.

To have fun the old-fashioned way, you’ll have to turn off all of the electronic nannies in high range to really make it move. The electronic controls overall seem to be greatly improved and well timed over the previous generation but still some of the most invasive in its segment. Fast or slow, the Tacoma tackled every terrain we hit with ease.

The one issue we ran into was with the tires. While we have no complaints with the size or 16-inch rim diameter, we suffered four flat tires, which was extremely disappointing. The tire failures didn’t come via sidewall, but rather punctures at the top of the tread. Six plugs got the job done, but we weren’t impressed with the rubber overall.

At the end of the day, there’s no question that this truck is born to play in the dirt. Sure, the electronics are a more invasive than we like, but low range defeats most everything we need it too.

Lasting Impression
Even with an as-tested price of $38,045, the Tacoma was still $9,625 less than the Colorado. While none of the trucks in our test were cheap, the Tacoma may have been the one with the best value. Without question, the Tacoma is a lifestyle truck. If you like to frequently go off-road and want a truck that’s easily customizable, thanks to aftermarket support, it’s hard to beat the Tacoma.

What’s hot: High ground clearance, rear locker, Atkinson Cycle engine
What’s not: Lack of low-end torque, low seat position, drum rear brakes
Our take: New where it was needed, old where it counts.

Judges quotes
“Feels solid on-road and off.”
“Power is like a light switch: on or off.”
“It’s time for a better seat solution.”
“Drum brakes? Really?"

Vehicle/model: ’16 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab TRD
Base price: $33,730
Price as tested: $38,045
Options as tested: Premium & Technology Package w/JBL audio ($3,035), V-6 Tow Package ($650), Destination charge ($900)

Type: 24-valve DOHC V-6
Displacement (ci/liter): 213.6/3.5
Bore x stroke (in): 3.74x3.74
Compression ratio (:1): 10.2
Intake/FI: Naturally aspirated/direct and port EFI
Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp): 278 @ 6,000
Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 265 @ 4,600
Mfg.’s suggested fuel type: Regular unleaded

Transmission: Aisin AC60F 6-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First: 3.60
Second: 2.09
Third: 1.49
Fourth: 1.00
Fifth: 0.69
Sixth: 0.58
Reverse: 3.73
Axle ratio (:1): 3.91
Transfer case: Aisin VF2CM 2-spd
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.57
Crawl ratio (:1): 36.2

Frame: Steel, ladder-type
Body: Steel

Front: Independent, coil springs, Bilstein shocks, stabilizer bar/Hino 8-in
Rear: Leaf springs, Bilstein shocks/BD22AN 8.75-in, electronic locking differential

Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.64
Ratio (:1): 17.3

Front: 10.75-in vented disc, four-piston caliper
Rear: 10-inch drum
ABS: Four-wheel

WHEELS/TIRES Wheels (in): 16x7 aluminum
Tires: P265/70R16 Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure with Kevlar

EPA city/highway: 18/23
Observed city/highway/trail: 16.5

Wheelbase (in): 127.4
Overall length (in): 212.3
Overall width (in): 75.2
Height (in): 70.6
Track f/r (in): 63.0/63.2
Minimum ground clearance (in): 9.4
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 44.1
Approach/departure angles (deg): 32/23.5
Breakover angle (deg): 21
GVWR (lbs): 5,600
Payload (lbs): 1,175
Maximum towing capacity (lbs): 6,400
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 21.1

0-60 mph (sec): 8.8
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 16.8 @ 86.9
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 130.6
Ramp Travel Index (20-degree, points): 459

1st place
Ram Rebel 1500 Crew Cab

If there’s one brand that has a direct line to the enthusiast market, it’s Ram. The company is doing a great job listing to its customers and delivering some incredible truck options. The Rebel Ram is a mix of smart technology and rugged off-road components. To be abundantly clear, it isn’t a Ford Raptor, nor is it trying to be.

Think of the Rebel Ram as an off-road package likened to that of the Ford F-150 FX4 or Toyota Tundra TRD. With an as-tested price of $53,150, it’s a competitively priced V-8 truck platform that brings a lot to the table. With only minor shortcomings in the dirt and incredible performance on the street, it was no surprise that the Rebel clinched the title of 2016 Pickup Truck of the Year.

Modern, spacious, and easy-to-use components, combined with an enormous amount of interior storage, make the Ram Rebel a great place to be. We could do without some of the colored accents, but we’re really just nitpicking the otherwise well-put-together interior. The 8.4-inch screen is easy to read but can be a little challenging when attempting to change the climate control settings on the go. We’re still getting used to the placement of the dash-mounted gearshift, but it’s growing on us.

Our biggest gripe lands squarely on the seats. Sure, they are plenty comfortable, but we didn’t care for the all-terrain tread pattern stitched down the middle. What if you want to change tires? Now, you're stuck with this all-terrain patch always going down your back. If you sweat a lot it's going to look like you got ran over. They could've pick something a little better—The truck is called a Rebel after all. Maybe a flag? Just kidding.

Ram must be worried about brand awareness among the visually impaired or someone at the factory left the caps lock on the emblem maker. With the grille and tailgate embossed with massive Ram lettering, there’s no wondering what this truck is. Aside from the bold badging, judges really took to the overall styling and lack of cheesy chrome accents. From the wheels to the front bumper, everything looks balanced and well appointed.

Even the 33-inch Toyo Tires were a nice fit. Despite all of the well-placed underbelly skidplates, we would have liked to have seen some rocker protection. The Ram boxes were the go-to storage for all of our recovery gear, tools, and miscellaneous supplies for the trip. At nearly $1,300, the Ram Boxes are not a cheap option, but we’ve found them incredibly useful. Overall, it’s a well-balanced look that’s easy to pick out in a crowd.

Optioned with the 5.7L Hemi V-8 and eight-speed transmission, the truck feels like a rocket in the city and on the highway. Despite the wide array of gears, you rarely notice the eight-speed shuffling as you power along the highway. In town, the 4.71 First gear propels you from a stop with conviction. Without question, Ram has the engine and transmission combo dialed.

Using a multilink rear suspension with air bags and a fully independent setup up front with air struts, the truck offers an incredibly plush ride. The truck’s fully electronic steering was adjusted for the Rebel, and we found it to be very easy and predictable. It’s not going to handle like a sports car in the canyons, but we didn’t expect it to. However, the 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque make for a fun driving experience.

In a word, the Ram off-road is smooth. The air suspension and Bilstein shocks work great together. It's not a Raptor, but it's not trying to be, so the comparison isn’t really relevant. Power was always on tap, and despite its lack of a rear locker, it was extremely competent in rough and rocky terrain. We were able to use the air suspension to raise the Ram when we needed a big of extra clearance but found it best to keep it in its lower height settings in the dirt to keep the air struts from topping out.

The equipped Toyo tires easily conquered the Sand, snow, and rough shale rock that cut through some of our other competitors tires. If you’re going to cruise around the dirt in four-wheel-drive high range, you’ll need to remember to turn the ESC completely off so the truck can let loose. Speaking of loose, we did find loose dirt hillclimbs took way more effort to complete than we thought it should. This was partly due to the invasive traction control and lack of a rear locker.

We would love to see a selectable set of differential lockers and maybe even a 35-inch-tall tire. From the company that produces the off-road powerhouse Power Wagon, we think it makes since to have a 1/2-ton version. Ultimately, the Ram Rebel never has to try too hard to get you where you need to go off-road. Rarely was there a time that we had to readjust our line choice or try again. It’s a confidence inspiring wheeler, with plenty of power to spare.

Lasting Impression
Everything about the Ram Rebel feels right. From the suspension to the steering to the beautifully matched eight-speed transmission and V-8 engine, the Rebel is one dialed truck. Sure, we would love to see at least one differential locker and could do without the treads on the seats, but it’s hard to find many faults on- or off-road. This is one Rebel with a worthy cause.

What’s hot: Great powertrain, suspension, tires
What’s not: Tire-tread seats, lack of a rear locker, no flag
Our take: The 2016 Pickup Truck of the Year winner!

Judges quotes “The engine and trans are magic.”
“Grille looks like a handlebar mustache.”
“Excellent ride quality.”
“One smooth dirt machine.”

Vehicle/model: ’16 Ram Rebel Crew Cab
Base price: $45,200
Price as tested: $53,150
Options as tested: Luxury Group ($660), Protection Group ($150), Park Camera and Park Assist Group ($595), 8-Speed Automatic 8HP70 Transmission ($500), Anti-Spin Differential Rear Axle ($370), 5.7L V-8 Hemi MDS VVT Engine ($1,150), 7-in Rebel Reconfigurable Instrument Cluster ($175), Uconnect 8.4 NAV ($1,105), Ram Box Cargo Management System ($1,295), Trailer Brake Control ($280), Spray-In Bedliner ($475), Destination Charge ($1,195)

Type: 16-valve pushrod V-8
Displacement (ci/liter): 345/5.7
Bore x stroke (in): 3.92x3.58
Compression ratio (:1): 10.5
Intake/FI: Naturally aspirated/sequential multiport electronic
Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp): 395 @ 5,600
Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 410 @ 3,950
Mfg.’s suggested fuel type: Unleaded regular 87 octane acceptable (89 octane recommended)

Transmission: ZF 8HP70 8-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First: 4.71
Second: 3.14
Third: 2.10
Fourth: 1.67
Fifth: 1.29
Sixth: 1.00
Seventh: 0.84
Eighth: 0.67
Reverse: 3.30
Axle ratio (:1): 3.92
Transfer case: BorgWarner 44-44 2-spd
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.64
Crawl ratio (:1): 48.7

Frame: Steel ladder-type
Body: Steel

Front: Independent, air bags, Bilstein monotube shocks, stabilizer bar/ZF 8.5-in
Rear: Five-link with track bar, air bags, Bilstein monotube shocks/Chrysler 9.25-in, Anti-Spin Differential

Type: Electric power-assist
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.5
Ratio (:1): 19.1

Front: 13.2x1.1-in vented disc, two-piston caliper
Rear: 13.8x0.87-in disc, single-piston caliper
ABS: Four-wheel

Wheels (in): 17x8 aluminum
Tires: LT285/70R17 Toyo Open Country A/T

EPA city/highway: 15/21
Observed city/highway/trail: 13.7

Weight (lbs): 5,900
Wheelbase (in): 140.5
Overall length (in):
Overall width (in): 81.5
Height (in): 78.1 (normal), 75.3 (entry/exit), 79.1 (off-road)
Track f/r (in): 68.6/68.0
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.8
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 39.6
Approach/departure angles (deg): 23.8 (normal), 25.3 (off-road)/21.9 (normal), 23.0 (off-road)
Breakover angle (deg): 18.0 (normal), 19.6 (off-road)
GVWR (lbs): 6,800
Payload (lbs): 900
Maximum towing capacity (lbs): 9,000
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 26

0-60 mph (sec): 7.5
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 15.8 @ 89.4
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 130.8
Ramp Travel Index (20-degree, points): 402

Judges picks

Christian Hazel, Former Jp Editor, Four Wheeler Editor, and the New Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road Editor, shew.
Ram Rebel, hands-friggin'-down. The 5.7L Hemi and eight-speed auto are absurdly well dialed, and the big 1/2-ton feels light and airy. The RamBox bed storage system is something I discovered I can't live without in a pickup. There's a ton of interior storage, a legit towing payload, and tons of ground clearance. To me, the Rebel and Nissan offered the nicest interior appointments and amenities, but the Nissan just feels like a 3/4-ton truck with 1/2-ton power—not the opposite, which is what it should've been. Make mine a Ram tow rig, daily driver, weekend trail bomber and I'll be a happy guy.

Ken Brubaker, Heartthrob and Four Wheeler’s New Editor!
I gotta go with the Ram Rebel. The Rebel exhibited flat-out solid, consistent performance in a variety of areas both on- and off-road. It’s a do-it-all mix of luxury, high-tech, work truck, and pack mule. The Rebel is remarkably multi-faceted, which is exactly what I want in a truck.

Steve VonSeggern, Contributor
I'd take the Rebel Ram home. Ram seems to be doing everything right lately, and the company is now building some of the best trucks in the business. That's a huge improvement from just a few years ago, and the Rebel is no exception. As an off-road package, the Rebel excels in every aspect, except for the lack of a locking differential.

The suspension is tuned well for off-highway cruising (just don't run the air suspension in the tallest mode unless you momentarily need the clearance). The Hemi and eight-speed auto are wonderful, although I'd like to see an easier way to shift manually than the two tiny buttons on the steering wheel. As for the Nissan, I was expecting a home run, but their new truck just feels like a Super Duty with an engine problem and IFS, which happen to be two things I wouldn't ask for.

As for the Tacoma, the only improvement over the previous version is the somewhat modernized dash. In spite of the upgrades, somehow the engine seems worse than before and makes some seriously weird noises at idle. The interior is still too low and uncomfortable for my 6-foot, 2-inch frame anyway, so I'd have to pass. I had hopes for the Chevy being my favorite, since I'm a big fan of diesels, but the baby Duramax has some serious turbo lag, which makes driving everywhere but in steady-speed highway cruising painful. Also, while the tires are a nice upgrade, the Trail Boss’ add-on lightbar and running boards are not improvements. They're just ugly and poorly executed versions of the concept vehicle parts.

Corey Simone, Online Editor
After getting plenty of seat time in each truck, the one I would want to take home and park in my drive way would be the Ram Rebel. With a healthy V-8, plenty of storage, and the capability for work and play, it almost makes you forget about the tire tread pattern on the seats.

David Hamilton, Sales Executive
The Ram Rebel is my top pick. The Rebel offers the most versatility in an off-road–oriented pickup on the market today, from loading the bed up with camping gear for a multi-day adventure to the desert to towing the family boat to the lake on Sunday. Best of all, the Rebel is tough as nails off-road and didn't whimper one iota at anything we threw at it. Oh yeah, it's got a Hemi!

John Cappa, Grumpy Contributor
Prior to the testing, I was intrigued by several of the new pickups in the competition. I probably set my sights a little high because some of them didn't perform as well as I had hoped or at least as well as I had been led to believe they would. Off-road, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road is extremely capable, but if you are anywhere near 6 feet tall, sitting behind the steering wheel for any length of time is very uncomfortable. The Nissan Titan XD was a bit too sluggish and heavy feeling for my tastes. The Chevy Colorado with the Duramax diesel would make a great fuel-sipping adventure 4x4. At the end of the day the Ram Rebel fits my commuting, towing, and 4x4 needs better than the other pickups in the test.

Stuart Bourdon, Jp Tech Editor
Despite the exciting new Cummins diesel in the Nissan Titan XD and the excellent trail maneuverability of the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road, it is the Ram Rebel for me. It is a pickup truck with midsize handling qualities but fullsize power and capabilities. It made a very respectable trail vehicle due to its well-balanced and responsive suspension system, and good low-end power. A spacious interior, smooth ride, and great mid-range power made it an outstanding highway rig with a generous trailer-weight rating. It was easily my favorite of the four trucks in the test.

Ali Mansour, Contributor
On paper, every one of the trucks in the test has something worth writing home about, but they are all a touch on the pricy side. The only major letdown was the power from the Titan. I still believe there is a significant amount of power potential with that Cummins V-8, but what I drove didn’t leave me overly excited. If I’m picking a truck that would best serve my current off-road needs and daily driver requirements, it’s the Toyota Tacoma.

The Tacoma still feels like a compact pickup, has good power, and I wouldn’t be as concerned about taking it off-road as I would some of the other’s in the group. With that said, the Ram Rebel is a super nice truck. Sure, I could do without the tire tread in the seats, but the overall package is one that makes for a nice handling vehicle both on-road and off. I wish they would have went in the direction of more of a 1/2-ton Power Wagon, as a front winch and selectable locker set would make it one incredible machine. Ultimately, I find myself drawn to the Tacoma as it fits my needs, budget, and off-road wants the best.

Test Category Ram Toyota Nissan Chevy
Trail Performance 20.84 19.88 17.31 18
Empirical 21.79 22.32 21.07 20
On-Pavement 14.09 12.06 11.29 11
Interior 10.58 8.26 9.74 8.26
Exterior 7.18 6.73 5.16 5.67
Total 74.47 69.25 64.57 62.93