April 1, 2012 by Bill Roebuck
Have you noticed that pickup truck advertising has become as competitive and aggressive as the market itself? Television, online and print ads boast class-leading horsepower, highest towing capacity, best longevity, biggest payload and top reliability. Who’s right?
If you watched this year’s Superbowl, you might have seen an example of this boasting, in an ad featuring a Chevrolet Silverado pickup. It showed the truck navigating the devastation and destruction predicted to occur this year by the Mayan calendar. A group of friends, who are Silverado owners, make their way to a designated meeting spot but notice one of their buddies is missing. According to the script, the missing friend drives another manufacturer’s truck and doesn’t appear to have made it to the meeting point.
If you narrow down the specs to the nitty-gritty of specific models and configurations, you will probably find each of the major manufacturers—Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Ram Truck and Toyota—can point to a category where one of its models is a winner. The fact is, none of this really matters because you likely want a truck that simply meets the specific needs of your work.
That means payload may be way more important to you than cargo capacity. Torque may outpoint horsepower. Top speed may be meaningless if all your jobs are in urban locations (that’s where things like turning circles and line of sight are more important than pure grunt).
This report highlights what’s new in 2012 full-size pickups from the top five manufacturers (that’s six nameplates, since GM has two). Keep in mind, when it’s time to buy, you’ll probably want to visit a local dealership that has a truck specialist on staff. Pickups are among the most complex and challenging vehicles to specify because of the vast range of body sizes, options, transmissions, cab and bed capacities and configurations that are available.
Key decisions will have to be made about specs such as seating capacity (do you need room for just the driver or a whole crew?), cargo capacity (short or long cargo bed?), payload (just tools or some heavy equipment?), towing capacity (are you hauling construction debris to a dumpsite?), power (torque vs. speed), 2WD
vs. 4WD (paved roads or mucky jobsites?).
Once you’ve found a truck that can handle your workload, you’ll also want to review its standard safety equipment and
overall safety ratings, along with fuel economy.
Here’s our overview, with manufacturers listed in alphabetical order.
For 2012, the Ford F-150 has a new FX appearance package with fancy flat-black accents, and several new technologies and driveline upgrades in this and other models. They include the addition of hill start assist, a new automatic 4×4 system for the Lariat trim level and above, and greatly expanded availability of electronic locking rear axles on 3.5-litre and 5.0-litre engines.
The F-150 also gets upgrades to the drivetrain. These include replacing last year’s electronic shift-on-the-fly with a two-speed automatic 4×4 system for Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum trim levels. The system also offers a 4×4 auto mode. If the truck senses a loss of traction, it immediately transfers torque to the front wheels.
Hill start assist is a new addition that helps keep the truck from rolling backward at a stop, making it easier to pull away when on a slope or hill, especially when towing.
An optional electronic locking rear axle replaces most of the limited-slip offerings on the 3.5-litre EcoBoost and 5.0-litre engines. It is now available in a range of axle ratios, and is also offered on 4×2 models.
Additional updates include a 163-in. wheelbase option on the XL and XLT light-duty SuperCabs, and a heavy-duty-payload crewcab with a 157-in. wheelbase option on the XL, XLT and Lariat models.
Ford’s entire full-size pickup truck line now has six-speed automatic transmissions as standard. Engine choices include a 3.7-litre V6 producing 302 hp and 278 lb.-ft. of torque. Its trailer towing capacity is 6,100 lb. There’s also a 5.0-litre V8 with 360 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque and a trailer towing capacity of 10,000 lb. A 6.2-litre V8 offers 411 hp and 434 lb.-ft. of torque, and tows 11,300 lb. For the fuel-frugal driver, there’s a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 producing 365 hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, with 11,300 lb. of trailer towing capacity.
Need to tow more weight? Ford’s 2012 F-Series Super Duty tow rating is 17,500 lb. with a conventional bumper hitch, and 24,500 lb. with a fifth-wheel hitch. That’s due to a beefed-up frame and hitch. Its heavy-duty 6.7-litre Power Stroke V8 diesel engine produces 400 hp and 800 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine delivers as much as 20 per cent better fuel economy than the 6.4-litre it replaced.
The Super Duty’s standard 6.2-litre V8 gas engine has 15 per cent better fuel economy compared with the previous engine and produces 405 lb.-ft. of torque and 385 hp. It is capable of running on E85 ethanol. New for 2012 is a compressed natural gas/propane prep engine option.
Two makes from General Motors, the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra, make up its line of full-size pickup trucks. Both are nearly identical mechanically, with trim levels and options varying slightly between the two, so we’ve focused on just the GMC versions here.
The 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 lineup is wide-ranging, offering everything from job-ready Work Truck models to a luxurious
Sierra Denali. The full line has six-speed automatic transmissions. General Motors also boasts the only hybrid pickup on the market, which is rated at 8.4 L/100 km on the highway, yet it still offers a 6,100-lb. trailering capacity.
The Sierra 1500 is available in several trim packages in crew cab and extended cab configurations, along with 2WD and 4WD setups. The range of body styles and configurations includes three cab styles—regular, extended and crew cab; three cargo box lengths—5 ft. 8 in. (short), 6 ft. 6 in. (standard) and 8 ft. (long); and five trim levels—Work Truck, SL, SLE, XFE and SLT, all available in 2WD and 4WD (except the XFE).
The Sierra XFE incorporates unique aerodynamic enhancements, a 5.3-litre V8 engine and other details to deliver an estimated fuel consumption rating of 9.1 L/100 km on the highway.
New and revised features from GMC for 2012 include a chrome, three-bar grille on SLE and SLT models, electronic trailer sway control and hill start assist features, and a new exterior colour—Quicksilver Metallic. Also, a number of popular features offered on the Work Truck trim level are now standard, including cruise control and a spare tire lock.
Work Truck and SLE trim levels feature larger controls and door handles than other models. They are easier to use with gloves. A stadium-style rear seat with a 60/40-split design and folding centre armrest is standard on crew cab models and available on extended cab models. It can be easily folded to provide an uninterrupted load floor. Alternatively, either section of the split seat can be stowed independently, allowing room for both cargo and a rear-seat passenger.
Several different engines can be ordered to power Sierra models, including three FlexFuel engines with the choice using E85 ethanol, gasoline or a combination of both. The engines include a 4.3-litre V6 rated at 195 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque; a 4.8-litre V8, E85-capable, rated at 302 hp and 305 lb.-ft. of torque; a 5.3-litre FlexFuel V8, E85-capable, rated at 315 hp
and 335 lb.-ft. of torque; and a 6.2-litre V8 with E85 FlexFuel capability, rated at 403 hp and 417 lb.-ft. of torque.
The pickup also is offered with five suspension systems, each tailored to suit specific driving requirements, from a smooth rid
e to enhanced off-road capability to maximum towing capacity.
Also available is the Heavy Duty lineup. There are 10 Sierra 2500HD models, eight 3500HD models and six Sierra Denali HD models. Among them are regular cab, extended cab and crew cab body styles offered in 2WD and 4WD, as well as single-and dual-rear-wheel configurations—all available with either a standard gas V8 or a 6.6-litre turbo-diesel engine. In the HD lineup, hitch-trailering capacity ranges up to 18,000 lb., with towing capability up to 23,000 lb. Maximum payload is up to 7,215 lb.
The 2012 Nissan Titan is offered in king cab and crew cab body styles with a choice of 4×4 and 4×2 drive configurations, along with two wheelbases (139.8 in. and 159.5 in.) and two bed lengths. Crew cab Titans are offered as a standard wheelbase model, with a 5-ft.-6 in. bed, while king cabs feature a 6-ft.-6 in. bed. The Titan bed also includes four standard stake pockets and carries 4×8-ft. plywood sheets between the wheel housings.
There are four models in the Titan lineup—S, SV, PRO-4X and SL. They are available in king cab and crew cab body configurations with a choice of 2WD and 4WD in the S and SV king cab models. All others are available in 4WD only. On its 4WD models, Titan has an advanced shift-on-the-fly 4WD system with 2WD/4HI/4LO modes.
For 2012, options include 20-in. SL aluminum-alloy wheels in dark hyper silver finish, a dark grille treatment, body-coloured front and rear bumpers, black step rails, PRO-4X seats with silver contrasting stitching, a lockable bedside storage compartment, white-faced gauges, fog lights, captain’s chairs and more. Two new colours are offered for 2012 — Airstream and Hematite Grey.
Configuring the powertrain is much easier with Nissan than models from the Detroit Three. The engine is a 5.6-litre DOHC V8 rated at 317 hp and 385 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a standard five-speed automatic transmission that has tow/haul modes. The maximum towing capacity of up to 9,500 lb. for the king cab versions and 9,400 lb. for the crew cab.
A lockable, climate-resistant bedside storage compartment located immediately behind the driver’s side rear wheelwell has
a two-position adjustable tray.
Inside are standard flip-up 60/40 rear seat cushions for added cargo space. The rear floor was designed to be nearly flat. The Crew Cab models feature a standard power down/up rear bed access cab window.
Chrysler’s 2012 Ram 1500 lineup includes a new Tradesman HD model with an 11,500-lb. maximum trailer rating, 3,100-lb. payload and 17,500-lb. gross combined weight rating.
The 2012 Ram 1500 comes in regular cab, quad cab and crew cab models, with three box lengths: 8-ft. (regular cab), 6-ft.-4-in. (regular cab and quad cab), and 5-ft.-7-in. (Ram 1500 crew cab). In all, there are 11 Ram 1500 models, including Tradesman, Express, Outdoorsman, ST, SLT, Sport, Sport R/T, Lone Star, Big Horn, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn. The Ram Express line expands this year to include crew cab and quad cab versions.
The line’s RamBox cargo management system, which includes weatherproof, lockable, illuminated and drainable storage bins built into bed rails, is now available for quad and crew cab models, and the short bed regular cab.
Regarding the powertrain, there’s a new six-speed automatic transmission calibration with Electronic Range Select.
Other additions for 2012 include a new steering wheel with cruise control buttons, and six new colours. Inside, there are ‘store in the floor’ storage bins with removable liners. The Ram 1500 provides more than 30 safety features, including hill start assist and trailer sway control.
This year, the truck’s 5.7-litre HEMI V8 gets more horsepower (390 hp) and torque (407 lb.-ft.). Also available is a flex-fuel-
capable 4.7-litre V8 providing 310 hp and 330 lb.-ft. of torque, and a 3.7-litre V6 generating 215 hp and 235 lb.-ft. of torque.
The 2012 Ram 2500/3500 Heavy Duty lineup gets a new six-speed automatic transmission that can be mated to a choice of diesel- and gasoline-fuelled powerplants. The HD models are available in eight trim levels. Ram Truck and Cummins have developed an enhanced High Output Turbo Diesel offering 800 lb.-ft. of torque. Additionally, there is a Max Tow option for the Ram 3500 with a 22,750-lb. maximum trailer weight and up to 30,000 lb. gross combined weight rating.
The 2012 Ram 2500 and 3500 Mega Cab models offer best-in-class interior room in the segment, including the largest, longest cab (143.2 cu. ft., 111.1 in. long), the largest interior cargo volume (72.2 cu. ft.), the largest cargo volume behind the rear seat (7.7 cu. ft.) and the largest flat-floor load area (16.8 sq. ft.).
The Toyota Tundra full-size pickup offers simplified option package selections for 2012, as well as various enhancements for its models. For example, the Limited grade and available TRD Rock Warrior package both include a standard back-up camera
The Tundra offers three engine choices, a 270-hp 4.0-litre V6, a 310-hp 4.6-litre V8 and a 5.7-litre V8 with 381 hp. For 2012, all Tundras have as standard: a heavy-duty battery, a heavy-duty starter, windshield wiper de-icer and heated, power, outside
mirrors, along with new styled steel wheels.
The 2012 Tundra is offered in two grades (Tundra and Limited), three cab styles (regular, double cab and CrewMax), three wheelbase lengths (126.8, 145.7 and 164.6 in) and three bed lengths (78.7, 97.6 and for CrewMax only, 66.7-in.).
Tundra grade double cab and CrewMax models now offer four streamlined options: Convenience Package, Convenience Package with Bucket Seats, Upgrade Package and SR5 Package. Regular cab offers four redesigned packages: SR5 Package, SR5 Upgrade Package, TRD Off-Road Package, and Colour-Keyed Bumper Package.
A Tundra Work Truck Package is aimed at those who need a no-frills truck. It features heavy-duty, vinyl-trimmed seating surfaces and heavy-duty all-weather flooring; it is available in regular and double cab configurations. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Platinum Package, available for the Tundra CrewMax Limited model, offers numerous luxury features.
The 4.0-litre V6 engine that is standard in Tundra regular and double cab models produces 270 hp and 278 lb.-ft. of torque. It is paired with a five-speed automatic transmission with uphill/downhill shift logic. An available 4.6-litre V8 offers 310 hp and 327 lb.-ft. of torque, and a 5.7-litre V8 produces 381 hp and 401 lb.-ft. of torque. An available tow package on all V8 models helps increase towing capacity up to 10,400 lb.
Both V8 engines are teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. A warming unit quickly brings the transmission fluid up to operating temperature to optimize cold-weather performance.
Inside, large door handles and easy-to-turn control knobs can be operated even while wearing work gloves. The centre console in bucket-seat models can hold a laptop computer or hanging file folder storage. A built-in toolbox behind the rear seat in all models provides storage for the jack, handle and lug wrench.
As you can see, options abound when it comes to choosing the right pickup for your needs.
Bill Roebuck is a voting member of the Automobile Journalists
Association of Canada (AJAC).