From the October 2022 issue of Car and Driver.
Around here we like nothing better than to lean against a dusty wall, squint into the middle distance, and grumble short declarative sentences about pickup trucks. "Some new trucks out," one of us might say, while spitting casually on the ground. "Sure are," one or the other grizzled car wranglers would grumble, punctuating the idea by idly kicking away a scorpion. "Some of 'em even electrified, I reckon." And then, after a minute or two of quiet self-reflection of our regrets, a third tester might say, "We should round up a Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, a Ford F-150 Lariat PowerBoost, and a Ram 1500 Limited eTorque and conduct a rigorous and thorough comparison test of hybridized full-size pickup trucks." That's about the time the office manager comes in and tells everyone to go outside, please. Enough with the dust and the spitting and the scorpions! Do we have to do this whole thing every time we plan a truck comparison? Honestly.
Hey, we like to get in the proper mindset, even when the trucks in question are partially propelled by this newfangled "electricity." And all three of these bruisers have some form of battery-electric assist bolstering their internal-combustion powerplant. The Tundra augments its 389-hp twin-turbo V-6 with an electric motor that chips in 48 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The F-150 uses a 400-hp twin-turbo V-6 paired with an electric motor that makes 47 horsepower and 221 pound-feet. A 16-hp motor that twists out 130 pound-feet of torque joins the Ram's 395-hp V-8. The Ford and the Toyota can roll down the road on electric power alone, while the Ram's setup is more for torque fill-in and smooth starts. But they all have an engine and a motor, so here we are.
This trio reminds us of the joke where a Tundra TRD Pro, an F-150 Lariat, and a Ram 1500 Limited all walk into a bar, and then a month later we get letters complaining that those trims don't align. Well excuse us, but maybe you've heard about supply-chain issues? Yeah, that applies here too. And anyway, they're all priced around $70,000, and we doubt matchy-matchy trims would've changed the results any, so feel free to mail those letters to 123 Go Away Street, care of Cut Us Some Slack.
Okay, now that the parameters are clear, let's talk trucks.
2022 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro
Highs: Major torque, cushy Fox suspension, airy cabin.
Lows: No full-time all-wheel-drive mode, hybrid battery kills interior storage, weight negates power advantage.
Verdict: One for the Tundra fans.
The new Tundra is a quixotic beast. You get the idea that along many points of the product-development decision process, Toyota said, "We're not going to outsell any of the domestic trucks no matter what we do, so let's not strain ourselves." And thus the hybrid system uses a nickel-metal hydride battery instead of a lithium-ion one, and it takes up all the rear under-seat storage. The transfer case doesn't have a full-time mode, meaning that in normal on-road driving the TRD Pro is rear-wheel drive funneling 583 pound-feet to an open diff beneath an unladen pickup bed—in the rain, a hybrid Tundra might do a one-wheel peel until it runs out of gas. Which, incidentally, it drank at the highest rate of our trio, averaging 16 mpg in our testing. That provided us frequent opportunities to notice that the Tundra still has a gas cap, while the other trucks have capless fillers.
The Tundra is nice to drive, the coil-spring rear end feeling composed and the Fox internal-bypass dampers (with remote reservoirs at the rear) helping to smother lumpy pavement. The 437-hp hybrid powertrain delivers easy muscle, with the synthetic V-8 soundtrack combining with the real turbocharger intake hiss to make it sound like you're driving a Mercedes-AMG GT (from inside the cabin, anyway). But that best-in-test horsepower and torque didn't correspond to the quickest acceleration, in part because the Tundra, at 6174 pounds, was also the heaviest truck here. Its 5.9-second 60-mph time lagged behind the F-150's sprint by 0.6 second, and its 14.5-second quarter-mile at 95 mph exactly matches the run we recorded from a nonhybrid Tundra Limited. The hybrid does earn a 1- to 2-mpg EPA combined fuel-economy advantage against its conventionally powered counterpart, so there's that.
Certain facets of the TRD Pro interior aren't directly comparable to the other trucks—camo-look SofTex upholstery is its own lifestyle choice—but we can make some observations that apply to any Tundra trim. For instance, the available panoramic roof and roll-down rear window give the Tundra the airiest pickup cabin this side of a ragtop Jeep Gladiator. However, neither the 8.0-inch standard center display nor the optional 14.0-inch screen includes a tuning knob, and a fat driveshaft hump bisects the rear floor. Why design a new truck with a driveshaft hump? The Ram and the Ford have flat floors.
The previous-generation Tundra, introduced in 2007, was a striver, overengineered compared to its contemporaries. And yet it still never outsold any of the domestic trucks, a fact that likely informed the product planning on this latest one. As one logbook entry put it, "This truck makes me think Toyota has given up on chasing the Detroit Three and is instead focused on pleasing its loyalists." It's not a bad truck, the Tundra. But it doesn't exist in a vacuum.
2021 Ford F-150 Lariat PowerBoost 4x4
Highs: Quite quick and most efficient, onboard generator, hands-free cruise control.
Lows: Shivering structure, leaf-spring rear end, petrochemical-based interior.
Verdict: A truck that straddles the future and the past.
The F-150 PowerBoost almost feels like a retro-rod. Here we have a hybrid powertrain that puts out 430 horsepower and 570 pound-feet of torque, an aluminum body, hands-free highway driving via Ford's BlueCruise system, and generator functionality that turns the truck into a portable power station. But when you're bounding and clomping down a rutted back road, and that leaf-spring rear suspension is dancing with a ditch—just like it would have on your pappy's truck way back when—the F-150 doesn't come across as a showcase for innovation. This seems like a traditional pickup that learned some cool tricks rather than some fully realized expression of pickup modernity. "The truck that's the quickest with the least amount of body control—it's an exciting combination," read one logbook note.
The hybridized F-150 does put up some great numbers. There's the best-in-test 5.3-second 60-mph time and 13.8-second quarter-mile at 101 mph. And it also earned the best observed fuel economy (18 mpg), had the quietest cabin at 70 mph (64 decibels), and notched the highest payload and tow ratings. So why isn't this the winner?
Because of the chassis, for one thing. "Turning off the lane-departure warning system only moderately reduces the shivers coming through the steering wheel," one tester wrote. Another comment read, "If the Ram 1500 is a ball bearing rolling on steel tracks, the Ford F-150 is a partially unmoored bouncy house on a windy day." The F-150 is comfortable, to be sure, with the cushiest seats of the group, but its manners are the most resolutely trucklike.
Its interior, too, is pleasant enough but sports a whole lot of plastic pretending to be other things. One set of trim inserts with a mottled brown pattern looks halfway torn between a mission to be fake wood or fake metal. The digital instrument panel only has one display option, which was characterized as "big, goofy numbers." Yes, this is an F-150 Lariat and not a Limited or Platinum or King Ranch model, but it still costs $70,000. The Ford did score points for stashing the hybrid system's lithium battery under the bed, thereby preserving conventional interior space.
Sometimes, when you're sailing along in EV mode or driving hands-free on the highway with BlueCruise locked in, the F-150 feels futuristic. Then you hit a bump and the spell breaks as the body bounds skyward and the structure shakes and you're back in 2012. Or 2002.
As one tester put it, "F-150s continue to feel like solid everyday trucks that just work." And this is a particularly desirable pickup, given its fleetness, thrifty fuel economy, and backup-power capability. But it's not quite the total package. And one other truck is.
2022 Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4x4
Highs: Ride and handling from the luxury-SUV class, clever tailgate, unbelievable interior.
Lows: Weak-sauce hybrid system, highest price, not quickest.
Verdict: Still a peerless pickup.
Yes, the slowest and most expensive truck wins. And that should tell you something about how great the Ram 1500 Limited is in just about every other respect. We'd also point out that it's not slowest or most expensive by huge margins—its 6.4-second run to 60 mph was a half-second behind the Tundra's, and its $75,710 price was $4915 more than the F-150's. The Ram is in the same neighborhood in those respects, but when it comes to its interior and driving dynamics, this truck is on its own planet. A Ram 1500 Limited is a luxury SUV that happens to have a pickup bed.
And even though it's not much of a hybrid, the Ram scored the second-best observed fuel economy, 17 mpg, aided by four-wheel air springs that lower it to a road-hugging crouch at freeway speeds. That trick suspension also imbues it with the best ride by far, a serene and stolid glide that takes a Magic Eraser to the neglected depravity that is Michigan pavement. Why doesn't everyone offer this? The Tundra's air springs, not available on the TRD Pro, are rear-only, and the F-150 doesn't offer them at all.
While packing the lowest horsepower of the truck trio, the Ram feels like it can walk away from the other two on real-world roads. With that sophisticated suspension and the lowest as-tested curb weight (5824 pounds), the Ram posted 0.78 g in our skidpad test, the best of the bunch. It boasts the biggest brakes and, at 187 feet, the shortest stopping distance from 70 mph. And its power deficit is partially negated by its responsive ZF 8HP transmission, which helped it record a 3.2-second sprint from 30 to 50 mph, besting both competitors. As one logbook comment put it, "Why do other companies waste money developing 10-speed transmissions when the 8HP exists?"
But the Ram's interior is what truly distances it from all other pickups. Most trucks dress their top-end trims with some extra leather and wood and call it a day. The Ram is utterly luxurious everywhere you look. Flip down the center armrest of the back seat and you'll find that the cover stitching picks up the theme of the grab handles out at the corners—a hidden bit of finery that required a little extra effort to execute. Now extrapolate that fanatical attention to detail to basically everything. Look down and the woven floor mats could have been swiped from a Rolls-Royce. Look up and the headliner is faux suede. One tester climbed into the back and, upon discovering that the heated and ventilated rear seats also recline, blurted, "Come on! Are you kidding me?"
The Ram elicits that reaction regularly, and not just because of craftsmanship or fine driving manners. It functions superbly as a truck too. The optional tailgate can hinge down or split and open barn-door style, allowing you to get closer to cargo in the bed. The air springs make hooking up a trailer or loading heavy items that much easier. If you're heading off-road, this truck has the highest ground clearance. And the Ram doesn't need to pipe in synthetic V-8 noises, for obvious reasons. To quote the logbook: "Sounds like a truck should. Long live pushrods."
This generation of Ram debuted in 2019 to instant accolades. Three years later, the truck is still on top. And if, at $75,710 as tested, this Ram 1500 Limited seems expensive, consider its bandwidth: It's a luxury car, a cargo hauler, an off-roader, and a family car. Three years ago, we wondered why nobody else was building a pickup like this. We're still wondering.
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