May 16, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

Hard Bargain Half-Tons: How To Get The Most Truck For The Least Money

5 min read

What’s the best full-size pickup truck for the money? That’s a question shoppers want to answer before they put down $40,000 or more for a new truck. After all, with a dizzying array of potential configurations and MSRP-inflating options, it’s good to go into the store knowing what you really need to get the job done. 

Forbes Wheels set out to answer that by looking at 11 metrics, items such as how much can the truck tow, how far can it go on a tank of gas, how much it will cost to fuel over 12,000 miles and the size of the bed. 

To be fair, this type of analysis doesn’t get into what many shoppers find as subjective quality, such as the handling characteristics, the suspension, infotainment technology or seat comfort. But it does sort out which of the least expensive trucks can haul the most or have what should be basic safety features like forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking.  

For its analysis, Forbes Wheels picked only the least expensive crew cab version of the pickups from Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Ram and Toyota. Focusing on crew cabs meets what automakers are seeing in the marketplace. Except for commercial users, truck buyers want the extra space to haul a family and gear. Consequently, crews are by far the most popular cab configuration these days. 

All of the selected pickups are two-wheel-drive models. The low-priced models from the domestic nameplates tend to be very spartan work trucks and don’t come with some of the amenities found in the base models of the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. None of the models had options beyond the standard configuration to meet the requirements with one exception. The Ford included an $80 axle upgrade that jumped towing capacity by thousands of pounds.  

The truck that scored the highest in each category received five points. The scale awarded four points for the second-best and then went down to just one point for the worst in each category. The analysis included five full-size pickups, but not the GMC Sierra, as that is essentially a more expensive version of the Chevrolet Silverado.  

Here’s how each of the five trucks mapped out. Note, our annual fuel cost reflects gas prices as of December 2021. To see our raw data, scroll down to the end. 

The lifted, four-wheel drive LT will cost more than the bare-bones Work Truck grade, but it does come with more amenities. If getting the job done is your primary concern, however, the base 2.7-liter Silverado wins our comparison. Chevrolet

1. Chevrolet Silverado WT (38 points)  

The Chevrolet Silverado, equipped with a turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, offered the most capability for the money. It had the lowest price, the biggest bed and was tops in payload. It also scored fairly well in fuel economy. It sets a driver back $2,350 to travel 12,000 miles annually, according to EPA data as of December 2021 that factors in an average cost per gallon of gas at $3.32. The big drawbacks for the truck are a low towing capability of 7,200 pounds and a lack of automated safety systems such as automatic emergency braking. Automated braking is important because it is so effective at preventing or mitigating crashes.  

2021 nissan titan - 2
The Nissan Titan tilts more towards the luxury end of the spectrum (the high-end Platinum Reserve is pictured), but its base model is fairly affordable and feature-packed. Its biggest downside? Premium fuel is required. Nissan

2. Nissan Titan S (35 points)  

The Nissan Titan came in second. It was second in towing at 9,310 pounds and was tops in power numbers with 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque thanks to its 5.6-liter V8 engine. It has the best warranty–five years or 100,000 miles—and comes with automatic emergency braking. But it has surprisingly poor payload capacity for a big truck and is expensive to drive. It requires premium gasoline ($4.04 per gallon on average as of December 2021), which amounts to $3,350 in fuel bills to drive 12,000 miles annually.  

2021 ram 1500 - 6
The Ram 1500 is one of our favorite trucks, but the lower-end models are a letdown in terms of payload and towing capacity. Ram

3. Ram 1500 Tradesman (32 points)  

The Ram has best-in-class fuel economy and a top range of 506 miles. It has a good payload capacity of 2,000 pounds but the 6,620-pound towing limit was the worst in the class. It also had the smallest bed volume and no automated safety features. With its 3.6-liter V6 engine, the Ram has among the weakest power in the group–305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. 

2021 Ford F-150
The F-150 comes in more than 100 different combinations of trims, body styles and engines. We focused on the base-model XL. We sampled rear-wheel drive models, not the four-wheel drive model pictured here, but the F-150 is heavy on content even if the lower-end models are only average on power, payload and price. Ford

4. Ford F-150 XL (Tied at 30 points) 

The new Ford F-150 comes tied at the bottom. It’s hurt because the base model has the least power. The 3.5-liter V6 engine produces 290 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. Its bed volume also is at the low end. Strong points include good fuel economy and automated safety features. The F-150 is average on price, payload, towing capacity and range.  

2021 toyota tundra 2
A new Tundra for 2022 is in the process of arriving, but buyers are much more likely to be able to get their hands on a 2021 model for now. Unfortunately, the 13-year-old design has some limitations. Toyota

5. Toyota Tundra SR (Tied at 30 points)  

The 2021 Tundra is tops in two categories, towing at 10,100 pounds and automated safety features. The big 5.7-liter V8 engine was the second strongest, providing 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. But it is not efficient. The Tundra is a fuel hog, with a cost of $2,300 to drive 12,000 miles. It is also the worst in the class with a payload of just 1,560 pounds and the smallest range—396 miles. The Tundra’s short bed length also pulled its score down.  

Note, we evaluated a 2021 model year Tundra for this comparison. An all-new 2022 model with vastly improved fuel economy is shortly to reach dealers, but not all of the data is available for it.  

We do know that the 2022 Tundra’s 3.4-liter hybrid V6 returns 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined, a five to six mpg improvement in every measure. Annual fuel cost for the new Tundra is $2,500, which would still place it behind the 2021 F-150 we researched in that category. The new Tundra can also tow more than before, but the highest tow ratings require upgrading from the base trim, which maxes out at 8,300 pounds.