2021 Ford F-150 vs. Chevy Silverado 1500, Ram 1500: Pickup Truck Comparison

Chevrolet vs. Ford vs. Ram: Who makes the best 2021 full-size pickup truck? This battle has raged since automakers first added open beds to automobile frames, and with the standard for pickup trucks changing constantly, it may never be settled. Nevertheless, we gathered the 2021 versions of Chevrolet’s stalwart Silverado 1500, Ford’s freshly redesigned F-150, and the always-surprising Ram 1500, the most muscular version of which won the 2021 MotorTrend Truck of the Year award. We tested these trucks in 4×4, crew-cab, short-box, big-engine form, to find out who makes the best half-ton-class pickup—for the time being, at least.

Meet the Contenders

Chevy shipped us a 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 done up in RST trim with the Redline Edition appearance package, with red paint on the wheels that looks suspiciously like a Dodge logo. It employs a 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8, and although we’re amazed to say this about a vehicle with an as-tested price of $59,980, it’s the most affordable truck here.

Dearborn delivered a 2021 Ford F-150 with the 400-hp 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 in midlevel Lariat trim, optioned up to $65,305. Ram is represented with a 2021-model-year 1500 Laramie powered by its biggest available engine, a 395-hp 5.7-liter V-8. A nice selection of equipment brings its price up to $64,565.

We brought these three full-size pickup trucks to Breezy Meadows Stables, a horse training and boarding facility in Los Angeles. Owners Tyler and Brittney Burzynksi are experienced truck owners and horse haulers, and they joined our test team to help us figure out which American automaker makes the best full-size pickup truck. So, enough horsing around! Let’s evaluate some trucks.

Full-Size Pickups, From the Inside

The 2021 Chevrolet Silverado’s price undercuts the others here by a significant margin, but that doesn’t excuse its interior, which might be acceptable in a $30,000 work truck but not in this $60,000 looker.

One of our test drivers described the Chevy’s textured-plastic dash as “greasy and sweaty.” Diehard Chevrolet fans could argue the pricier LTZ model would be a better match for the 2021 Ford F-150 Lariat and 2021 Ram 1500 Laramie we put it up against, but even the top-of-the-line Silverado High Country doesn’t feel as upscale as the midlevel Ford and Ram we tested. That’s a shame, because we like the Silverado’s straightforward, everything-in-its-place control layout. Its back seat is better than the Ford’s, and the transmission’s column shifter reminds us that sometimes the old ways are best.

Still, climbing into the 2021 Ford F-150 puts the Chevrolet into perspective. Ford uses higher-grade plastics and fabrics than Chevy does, and the F-150’s digital gauge panel makes the Silverado’s traditional gauges look dated. There was discord among the MotorTrend test team about the graphics on the F-150’s driver- and center-located screens: Some liked the simplicity, but others found the interface bland and boring. We initially dismissed the Ford’s power-folding shifter—which ducks down so the center console lid can unfold to serve as a desk—as a gimmick. But the horse-stable-owning Burzynskis—who use their trucks as mobile offices—gave this feature a positive thumbs-up.

Although the 2021 Ford F-150 has better materials than the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado, it’s a little short on style, and this is where Ram pulls ahead. Aside from criticism of some oddball switch placement (why are the buttons for the lane departure and automatic parking systems grouped with the climate controls?) and a healthy debate about the merits of the pickup’s rotary shifter, all of us liked the 2021 Ram 1500’s cowboy-chic décor and its mix of analog and digital gauges. The Ram has the only head-up display in this group, which proved great for towing as it let us keep our gaze far down the road where it belongs. High-quality materials and switchgear, bigger and better side mirrors, and more comfortable seats in both rows make the Ram 1500 feel like the nicest truck of this trio.

Battle of the Tailgates

In case you haven’t heard, a full-scale pickup tailgate war has broken out. The Chevrolet Silverado’s weapon of choice is the $445 Multi-Flex Tailgate, which opens from the middle for long cargo and forms a staircase for bed access. We found it more useful than Ford’s and Ram’s trick tailgates, but we still wouldn’t buy it: The corner steps cut into the Silverado’s rear bumper provided the best bed access of any truck here, and you don’t have to pay extra for them.

The F-150 featured a $695 power tailgate, which seemed like a nice idea until we opened it with our trailer attached and it tried to power itself into the trailer’s landing gear crank. We caught it before it could hit (it’s supposed to stop itself, but we didn’t want to risk a dent), and rather than simply stopping, the tailgate reversed itself and closed again. Annoying. The Ram 1500’s sprung tailgate had us wondering aloud if power assistance is even necessary, though the Chevy’s heavier gate is a great argument for motorization. The F-150’s tailgate has a deployable step, but it’s narrow and looks rather treacherous when climbing down from the bed.

Still, the 2021 Ram 1500’s $995 Multi-Function Tailgate puzzled us. It hinges at the bottom as well as both sides, and it can be opened horizontally in a 60/40 split, something we struggled to find a use for. This Ram also had a retractable under-bumper bed step, which we found sturdy but tricky to deploy. It also came with the Rambox option, which offers storage in the bed’s walls. This is a nifty idea, but the boxes aren’t large enough to be particularly useful, and they eliminate a lot of open bed space. At $995, the Rambox is an easy option for us to skip.

Big V-8, Little V-8, and Twin-Turbo V-6

Static evaluations done, it was time to drive, and the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado’s powertrain quickly emerged as a favorite. Although it has the most displacement and horsepower here, its 460 lb-ft of torque trails the Ford by 40, something that was only apparent at our test track, where the Silverado’s 5.5-second 0-60 sprint trailed the F-150 by 0.2 second.

We like the Chevy’s throaty V-8 growl, but the 2021 Ford F-150’s EcoBoost V-6 has its own unique soundtrack that isn’t half bad. On public roads, acceleration from both trucks felt comparable, though the Ford exhibited some turbo lag. Still, the Silverado’s transmission won us over. Both the Silverado and the F-150 use a 10-speed automatic developed jointly by Ford and GM, with each company doing its own programming. The latter made all the difference: The Ford subjected us repeatedly to harsh and erratic shifts, though engaging Sport mode seemed to quell the bad behavior. The Silverado’s transmission always behaved with decorum.

The 2021 Ram 1500 featured the lowest horsepower and torque figures (395 and 410) and only eight speeds in its transmission; we expected it to get its tailgate handed to it, but that didn’t happen. While the Ram is significantly slower to 60 mph at 6.6 seconds, out in the real world the 5.7-liter Hemi engine provided all the power we needed and then some. It simply lacks the muscle-truck feel of its rivals. Ram could fix that with its 410-hp 6.4-liter V-8, but for reasons that probably only make sense to a product manager, that engine is reserved for the 2500 HD. Too bad.

Trucks in the Twisties

The 2021 Chevrolet Silverado quickly emerged as the sportiest truck of the group, relatively speaking. It has the best steering feel and response, no surprise given its 20-inch wheels and 60-series tires in place of the Ford and Ram’s 18s. (All three had identical tread width). “Athletic” doesn’t feel like the right word for any full-size pickup truck, but the Silverado was quickest through the curves, followed closely by the F-150 and distantly by the Ram 1500, which doesn’t have very good steering feel and gives up its grip much earlier.

In terms of ride quality, all three full-size pickup trucks we tested are equally tolerable at lower speeds, with the Chevrolet leaning toward firmness while the Ford feels softer and more serene. At higher speeds, especially on sectional freeway pavement, the Chevrolet Silverado’s ride deteriorated. The Ford F-150’s ride deteriorated even more. The Ram 1500, meanwhile, kept its composure and proved to be the most comfortable cruiser. Credit its suspension springs: Ram uses coils at the rear, while the Chevy uses a two-layer leaf spring and the Ford uses a single leaf.

Hauling Horses With Our Full-Size Pickups

For our towing test, we chose a horse trailer because of the unique challenges presented by hauling live animals. (Equine enthusiasts, before you pen an angry note, rest assured that only those of us with lengthy horse-towing experience drove for our towing test.)

Horse trailers have a high profile and require gentle power and braking inputs so the horses can keep their balance. Unlike inanimate cargo, horses move around—quite a lot, sometimes—which causes rather dramatic weight shifts. Because of the hot summer temperatures, we rotated horses between our test loops over California’s steep Santa Susana Pass, so our trailer weights varied from truck to truck. We consulted the manufacturers’ towing charts with the aim of towing 80-85 percent of each truck’s rated capacity, though that didn’t quite work out with the Ford.

The 2021 Chevrolet Silverado boasts the highest tow rating of this group, at 9,300 pounds. Loading the trailer to 7,600 pounds put us at 82 percent of its capacity. The big V-8 had no problem accelerating up the long, steep on-ramp, and both human and equine occupants appreciated the transmission’s smooth shifts.

Unfortunately, the Chevy’s stability wasn’t as good as the other trucks’. We could feel the horses moving and the trailer trying to shove the truck around on steep downgrades, and the brakes felt severely taxed. While this Silverado didn’t porpoise like previous-generation GM trucks we’ve towed with, the ride was bouncier than the other full-size pickups here. The Chevrolet reminded us there is more to towing ability than power, and our test drivers agree unanimously we’d be unlikely to choose the 2021 Silverado for a trip with live animals.

Lost in the Fine Print

According to our initial reading of the towing chart, the 2021 Ford F-150 we tested was rated to tow 11,300 pounds, and we didn’t have three horses well-fed enough to hit our 80 percent goal. It wasn’t until after our towing test that an eagle-eyed staffer found the fine print: Lacking a certain option package, this spec of F-150 is in fact limited to just 7,000 pounds—which happened to be the weight of our trailer as we left Breezy Meadows. In other words, that’s 100 percent of the Ford’s capacity. Yikes! We could have just as easily left the barn with the 7,600-pound load from the Chevy Silverado, putting ourselves and the horses in danger. Make sure you know your truck’s official limits, folks.

Despite being up against its own limits, the F-150 acquitted itself better than the Chevy. Its twin-turbo V-6 did just as well as the Silverado’s big V-8 did in muscling the horses up the hill, though even in Tow/Haul mode we experienced some of the rough upshifts that plagued the truck while running light. The transmission was a star on steep downgrades, selecting lower gears automatically to give us more engine braking. Slowing the trailer was noticeably easier than in the Chevrolet. Stability was better, too, though we could still feel trailer movement, particularly on the downhill sections of our run.

The 2021 Ram 1500 we tested was configured to tow 8,100 pounds, and a 6,800-pound load put it at 84 percent of its towing capacity. Right away, we decided the Ram was the only way to travel: It felt the most stable and settled, with the truck firmly in charge rather than the trailer. We felt the expected power deficit; the Ram needed wide-open throttle to accelerate on our long, steep on-ramp, while the other trucks did it without the accelerator hitting the carpet. But the Ram 1500 hit 60 mph in time for the merge, and it pulled up the steepest grades with relatively little drama. We again found ourselves wishing for the 6.4-liter V-8 from the Ram 2500 HD, but even with the smaller engine, we agreed unanimously that the 2021 Ram 1500 is our choice for a long-distance horse haul.

Who Makes the Best Full-Size Pickup Truck?

With our driving done and the horses returned to their stalls, it’s time to pick a winner. We needed little time to deliberate: All of us came away from our testing with the same final ranking in mind.

Third place goes to the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado. We like its looks and its powertrain, and it has the best handling of these three trucks, but its interior design and towing behavior simply aren’t in the same herd as the Ford and the Ram. It’s a nice enough truck in a vacuum, but comparison does not flatter it. This Silverado feels like it was designed for the 850,000 people who buy GM pickups each year, but it ignores the 1.4 million people who buy Fords and Rams.

In second place is the 2021 Ford F-150. Ford likes to brag it knows truck owners best, and that’s obvious from what we found in the F-150: lots of helpful touches and technology geared toward doing things pickup owners actually use their trucks for in real life. The transmission tuning and high-speed ride were negatives, but not enough to put the F-150 last in this comparison test. The Ford is very good, but it’s not quite the best.

The 2021 Ram 1500 wins this comparison. Yes, it trails the others in power and cornering agility, but we’re not testing hot hatchbacks here. These are full-size pickup trucks, and whether you consider them as family cars or work trucks, everything the Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150 do well, the Ram 1500 does better. It has the nicest interior, the most accommodating back seat, significantly better highway ride quality, and superior towing behavior. By the numbers, the Ram is neither the most expensive nor the most capable truck amongst our test vehicles, but in practice it sure felt like it was. The 2021 Ram 1500 is the best full-size pickup truck you can buy—for now.

3rd Place: 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 RST

Pros

  • Excellent handling
  • Affordably priced
  • Good looks and solid towing capacity

Cons

  • Interior needs improvement
  • Towing behavior not as stable as it could be
  • Nice powertrain but could still use more power

2nd Place: 2021 Ford F-150 Lariat EcoBoost

Pros

  • Plenty of thoughtful, useful details
  • Good-looking and clever interior
  • Turbo V-6 is up to the task

Cons

  • Transmission programming needs a rethink
  • Make sure to read the fine print about towing capacity
  • Freeway ride/cruising behavior

1st Place: 2021 Ram 1500 Laramie

Pros

  • Good-looking, high-quality interior
  • Excellent towing behavior
  • Best ride quality of the bunch

Cons

  • Competent engine, but we wish the 6.4L V-8 was available
  • On-road handling/cornering
  • Steering feel

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