Growing up in rural Alberta (okay, if only just), I’m used to driving pickup trucks. My dad has driven a truck as long as I can remember, and so from day one I was indoctrinated with the sheer value and utility that a pickup truck brings to a family.
Especially when you live on an acreage prone to as many snow-swept nights as it is unpredictable rain and hail. Thanks, Alberta.
For many, a pickup can serve the same function as a car in most respects – but the reverse is not true. If you need a truck, you need a truck; and a car just doesn’t cut it.
The good news is that this segment has arguably never been better, and the market is paying attention. This time last year, more than 300,000 pickups were sold in the United States every month. I’m speaking to last year because almost every truck model, aside from the Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator, has seen significant declines in sales due to the ongoing pandemic.
So, if you’re in the market for a new truck but aren’t on a brandwagon, which do you buy? Good question; let’s look at your options. Also: check out Wade’s piece on the best crew cab pickup trucks if that’s what you’re after.
Among the full-size pickups, the F-150 is king. With excellent tow ratings, lots of configuration options for cab and bed size, powerful (and efficient) engine options, and Fords trademark “we loaded this thing up with technology” approach, the F-150 is indeed a capable and confident pickup.
You can have the F-150 of your dreams, too, as the range spans the entry-level XL ($28,745) all the way up to the King Ranch model ($52,990). And of course, you can go even further with options.
Ford offers a lot here in terms of engine variety, including turbo six-cylinder EcoBoost engines, a naturally-aspirated V8, and a diesel. All are solid engines, so I’d let the use case (towing + hauling capacity) and economy needs dictate your choice. All engines are paired with Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission.
When equipped with the 3.5L twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 (that pushes out 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque), the F-150 is capable of towing 13,200 lbs, which ought to be enough for just about anybody.
With six trims, ranging from $32k to $58k, there’s as much variety in the Ram lineup as there is any other truck here. That’s good, because Ram has done an excellent job equipping the entire 1500 range. Use case, towing capacity, and budget should all play equal weights in your selection, and the Ram delivers across all fronts.
I’d personally go for the Big Horn Crew Cab ($42,990) with the 5.7L V8 eTorque engine (+$1,695), which mates a hybrid-V8 with a total output of 395 hp and 410 ft-lb of torque to an 8-speed transmission. Add the “Big Horn Level 2″ package (+$2,500), upgraded stereo (+$695), 12” Uconnect system (+$2,095), and a panoramic sunroof (+$1,495) and you hit $49k and change.
For that money, you’d have a truck with the right options to be comfortable, safe, and capable of towing 12,750 lbs. Wade will also envy you, so there’s that.
The 2020 Ram 1500 starts at $32,145.
3. 2020 Chevrolet Silverado
The Silverado, like the F-150 ranked just above it, is cemented in Americana as the quintessential American pickup truck. Also, like the F-150, you can have your Silverado in many flavors. For the 2020 model year, you can choose from four body types, RWD or 4WD powertrains, and four different engines.
There are 8 trims for the Silverado, ranging from the entry-level WT ($28,500 for the RWD V6 regular cab longbox) to the range-topping High Country ($48,195 with the 5.3L EcoTec3 V8 and 4WD). Tack on options and you can hit nearly $67,500 if you wanted to tick every box.
The Silverado is much ado about its class-leading 13,400 lbs towing capacity and fuel economy. As far as trucks go, it’s also one of the better-looking ones and has avoided tacking on unnecessary cladding and other junk. I’d get mine with the 5.3L V8 that’s good for 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque with a crew cab and standard bed. Now that’s a nice setup…
The 2020 Chevrolet Silverado Regular Cab/Long Bed starts at $30,095. Check out Wade’s review of the 2020 Silverado HD.
4. 2020 Jeep Gladiator
What do you buy if you’ve got, say, 1,000lbs of wood to haul up a mountain that doesn’t have proper roads? Sure, you could get one of the many other very-capable 4×4’s out there from Ford, Chevrolet, RAM, etc… or you could get the closest thing you can buy to a reasonably-priced tank that has a bed. And that’d be the Gladiator.
Look, I’m not normally one to swoon for Jeeps. I’ve had my share and suffice to say I’ve moved on in my choices. However, the Gladiator is the machine that will force me to put asterisks* in headlines where I pan the brand.
Like the Wrangler, you can remove the roof and doors from the Gladiator and cruise around in plenty of natural airflow. It can also tow up to 7,760 lbs and can come with a manual transmission (!). The standard 3.6L V6 puts out 285 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque through either the six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic. If you’re wanting more low-end torque, you can opt for a 3 L V6 diesel, which puts down 260 hp and a monstrous 442 lb-ft of torque.
Surprisingly, the Gladiator is nearly as capable off-road as the Wrangler, and while it’s not class-leading in terms of on-road driving dynamics, no Jeeps are and you know that going in. If you want to go off-road and don’t want to have a truck and a Jeep, the Gladiator is your best bet (and it’s a good one).
You can grab your 2020 Jeep Gladiator starting at $33,545.
5. 2020 GMC Sierra 1500
The Sierra is an interesting truck in terms of where it sits in the market. From a sales perspective, it consistently ranks in the top-5 in the USA, but despite its podium-position, it still sells about one-third as much as the class-leading F-150. However, whereas the F-150 has seen a -22.7% year over year change in sales volume (comparing Q2 2019 to Q2 2020), the Sierra has only seen a -5.3% change in volume (and, in fact, it is the most resilient from a sales perspective and leads the segment in terms of retained sales volumes).
I think that’s interesting because it implies that the people who buy Sierra’s are going to do so regardless of the economy, suggesting that those Sierra buyers either really see the value in the pickup, or that they are more economically secure than Ford or Chevrolet buyers. In either case, it’s a good thing for GMC.
GMC makes much of its best-in-class V8 that puts out 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, but the pick of the lineup is the 3L turbo diesel that spits out 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque while returning 30 mpg on the highway. Even still, the base 2.7L four-cylinder turbo outputs 310 hp and 348 lb-ft of torque – if you use your truck for light duties (IE – you aren’t taking it to job sites or hauling heavy loads of concrete around), the four-cylinder engine will surprise you. Oh, and you can get a carbon fiber-derived bedliner – that’s pretty slick.
The twin of the more popular Chevrolet Colorado, we picked the Canyon for this list over the Colorado because it’s the better-looking version of a pair of very capable light-duty trucks.
You have three engine choices for 2020: a 2.5L four-cylinder engine that outputs 200 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque; a 2.8L diesel four-cylinder good for 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque; and a 3.6L V6 that puts out 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. The four-cylinder engine is widely disliked, with buyers (and reviewers) opting for either the diesel or V6. I’d opt for the V6, personally.
There are six trims for the 2020 Canyon, allowing you to opt for a strictly light-duty city truck or spec yours out for 4×4 conditions. The SLT, AT4, and Denali models tip the skills well into the $40k range with options, so be warned.
The 2020 GMC Canyon starts at $29,100.
7. 2020 Ford Ranger
The Ranger is one of the more affordable pickups on this list, with a sub-$25k starting price. “But nobody gets the base model”, you might think, but alas that is untrue. I mention this because of the base model Ranger XL and how it sports a 2.3L EcoBoost that puts 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission.
All Rangers, including the base model, come with Bluetooth streaming audio, start-stop technology, integrated USB chargers, and other convenience tech. For light-duty, the base-model Ranger is an excellent value.
That turbo-four, by the way, powers all rangers. As does the slick and well-received 10-speed transmission. If you opt for the tow package, you can tow up to 7,500 lbs.
The 2020 Ranger comes with either a 5′ or 6′ box depending on whether or not you go for a SuperCrew configuration. If you opt for the better-equipped LARIAT and tick every option box you’ll end up somewhere around $42,250, which is not inexpensive but also a far cry from the high-50s and 60s seen by other trucks on this list. For a suburban person needing a truck to haul lumber and make backyard reno’s a reality, the Ranger is the best value of the bunch with few compromises.