2021 Ford F-250 vs. Ram 2500 HD, Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD: Gentler Giants
The heaviest loads and trailers demand a 1-ton diesel dually pickup. But those are unwieldy to maneuver, and their ride quality can be downright punishing when they’re not fully loaded. Plus, to tow more than half of those trucks’ max capacity you need a commercial driving license (CDL). Scale back your towing needs to “operator license” territory (26,000 pounds for the truck and trailer combined), and you’ll find a 3/4-ton diesel pickup with single rear wheels (SRWs) fits the bill much more comfortably. Our MotorTrend Ultimate Car Rankings already assess 1-ton diesel (350 or 3500) pickups and 3/4-ton gasoline-burners, so this 3/4-ton diesel truck comparison explores new territory.
The heavy-duty Rams are currently our picks in both of those categories, having claimed our 2020 Truck of the Year calipers against competition that included then-new competitors from Chevy and GMC. The contest pitted Ram’s high-output Cummins (now rated at 420 hp and 1,075 lb-ft) against GM’s 445-hp, 910-lb-ft Duramax, but in a 3/4-ton Ram, the Cummins produces just 370 hp and 850 lb-ft. Chevy doesn’t downrate its Duramax diesel for 3/4-ton duty, and it’s mated to a 10-speed automatic that tops the Ram’s gearbox by four ratios. Last year’s revised Ford Super Duty trucks competed for our 2021 Truck of the Year laurels, sporting a Power Stroke diesel and 10-speed automatic combo good for a whopping 475 hp and 1,050 lb-ft in everything from the F-250 to the F-450. But the Ford Super Duty failed to capture the calipers, so this contest is truly up for grabs.
The 3/4-Ton Diesel 4WD Crew Cab Short-Box Contenders
Representing General Motors is the new-for-2021 Silverado HD Carhartt special, with yellow pinstripes, Carhartt-brown seat inserts, and more, which adds $3,040 to the price of a top-spec LTZ model with the Z71 off-road package. Including the $9,890 Duramax engine, our truck starts at $73,855 as badged. Adding a few more must- and nice-to-haves such as four heated seats, ventilated front seats, a power tailgate, 15 trailer camera views, a head-up display, and gooseneck/fifth-wheel prep brought the total to $75,875.
Ford sent us its latest Tremor off-road package on a Lariat-grade F-250 Super Duty. This effectively represents Ford’s answer to the Ram Power Wagon, except it’s available with a diesel. This one started at $69,455 (including the $10,495 Power Stroke powertrain) and got optioned up to $75,625 with power running boards, nav, a tailgate step, heated and ventilated power seats with memory, and more.
Representing Ram is our long-term 2020 Laramie, but we’ve re-priced it as if it were a (otherwise identical) 2021 model. That means a base price (including the $9,400 Cummins diesel) of $64,080. Adding a sunroof, rear air suspension, surround-view cameras, the gooseneck/fifth-wheel package, heated and ventilated power seats with memory, and more, we inflated that to $78,055.
How Does Their Performance Compare?
This 3/4-ton diesel truck comparison is a perfect example of why we test and drive vehicles instead of inferring performance by studying their spec sheets. This Ford should be the runaway performance champ, boasting 30 to 105 more horsepower and 140 to 200 more lb-ft of torque than its rivals and weighing 106 to 479 pounds less. And yet the F-250 feels very sluggish off the line and trails both the Ram and Chevy to 50 mph. It only starts to nip at the Chevy’s heels by about 85 mph. We wondered if those knobby 35-inch tires caused a gearing disadvantage. Nope! Overall, the Chevy and Ford gearing is within a percent or two of identical in every ratio, and the Ram’s six-speed gearing pencils out as 28 and 41 percent taller than the Ford’s in the first two gears. Perhaps a lower torque-converter stall speed and/or turbo lag is to blame, or maybe our test truck was having a bad day. In any case, the hefty Chevy is the race winner running away, and the Ram often feels sprightlier than the mighty Ford around town.
How Do They Feel to Drive?
Numbers only tell part of the story, and our editors generally felt Chevy’s Duramax V-8/ Allison 10L1000 transmission pairing was the nicest-shifting, sweetest setup of the bunch. The Ram’s inline-six is inherently smooth and has a pleasant engine note, though it was deemed a bit louder than the Chevy’s V-8. The Ford Power Stroke delivers the most big-rig sound to the cabin, but its 10R140 10-speed automatic was criticized for hunting a bit, feeling rather sluggish to downshift on occasion, and shifting much more harshly under hard acceleration. The Ram really needs a few more gear ratios to help it accelerate more briskly when heavily loaded, but in our previous Davis Dam max-trailering tests, we’ve recorded the lowest transmission temperatures in the Ram, which bodes well for long-term durability.
Few buyers seek out a giant 2500-series diesel crew-cab pickup to tackle Moab or the Rubicon Trail. Rather, these trucks are equipped to cope with muddy roads, farm fields, and the like. The Ford F-250 Tremor has the best tires for traction, the highest ground clearance, and skidplates. Our Silverado’s Z71 package also includes skidplates, but our Ram lacked the $790 off-road bundle that adds skidplates and knobby tires. All three competitors have an electric-locking rear differential, but Chevy alone offers an auto-4WD transfer case that engages the front axle if the rear wheels slip. The Ford and Ram systems are strictly part-time.
Which Truck Can Fit/Carry the Most?
The latest Silverado’s beefed-up body lends it the highest gross vehicle weight rating (11,150 pounds to the Ford’s 10,800 and Ram’s 10,000), but Ford’s aluminum bodywork gives the Super Duty a big curb-weight advantage that endows it with the greatest payload (2,926 pounds to Chevy’s 2,797 and Ram’s 2,020). The Ram’s cargo bed is the shortest, trailing the Chevy’s by 3.9 inches and the Ford’s by 5.6 inches. GM found a way to make its pickup box walls thinner, providing 71.4 inches of max width—4.5 to 5.0 inches wider than the Ford and Ram despite measuring 1.6 inches narrower outside than the Ram. That means you’ll get 12.1 cubic feet more mulch or whatever in a Chevy than you will in a Ram.
Of course, another aspect of hauling is gaining access to the bed, which can be especially challenging in high-rise trucks like these. Chevy’s corner steps in the bumpers and at the front of the box earn points for being standard, but Detroit editor Alisa Priddle declared them “way too high for a short person.” The Ram’s retractable corner step (part of an $845 bed utility group or sold standalone by Mopar for $315) is easier to reach, and Ram’s bed height measures lowest at 36.8 inches. Ford’s tailgate step and handle that pull out of the end of the lowered tailgate are the best choice for anyone needing a place to steady themselves. This option starts at $345 and is vital given the Tremor’s highest-in-test 39.0-inch bed height. Oh, and note that these trucks each include a power tailgate release and torsion-assist for closing, but Chevy alone provides a power-close function (Ford offers this on the F-150 but not yet not on the Super Duty).
Once cargo is loaded, it needs to be tied down and/or covered. All three trucks provide upper and lower tie-down points in each corner, with the uppers being cleats on the Ram and Ford. Ford’s cleats lock in place with a key and can easily be replaced by various Boxlink accessory items (cargo dividers, cargo boxes, etc. ). Our Chevy was the only truck to provide power in the bed—a 400-watt 120-volt outlet. The Chevy and Ram each featured tonneau covers—a reinforced roll-up Carhartt-branded one on the Chevy, and a tri-fold one on the Ram. Ford offers soft, hard, and retracting covers, as well.
Inside, Chevy offers the most front seat room, Ford the most rear seat space, and Ram the least of both, but trust us—nobody will be cramped in any of these trucks in front or in back. They’re all huge. And Ram wins big on in-cab stowage, from the Ram Bins under the rear floor, to the multi-configuration front center console, to the upper glove box, whose lid disappears into the dash instead of flipping up to block your view of its contents. Ford claws back some points with its under-seat fence in back: Erect it to corral loose items, collapse it for a nearly flat cargo floor with the seat bottom cushions folded up.
What About Towing?
Here again, Ford wins the numbers race, with our Tremor model rated to pull 20,000 pounds (22,400 with the optional fifth wheel/gooseneck hitch not fitted here). The Ram is rated for 19,020 pounds, and the Chevy for 18,500. But again, hook 18,000 pounds to any of these four-ton trucks, and you need a CDL. GM and Ford trump Ram on towing tech, with the Silverado’s Transparent Trailer function and F-250’s Trailer Backup Assist.
Transparent Trailer requires mounting a camera on the rear center of your trailer at about the height of the tailgate camera and running wiring to the hitch (you can also mount a camera inside the trailer to monitor horses or whatever). The computer then stitches together an image of everything behind your rig, as if you were seeing through the trailer.
Backup Assist allows you to steer a trailer in reverse by simply twisting a knob in the direction you want to go while a computer twirls the steering wheel for you. It requires some elaborate setup, involving mounting a sticker to the trailer tongue and entering a bunch of measurements, so it doesn’t necessarily help with rented trailers. Oh, and the Super Duty’s 20,000-pound conventional tow rating earns it the group’s only 2.5-inch square Class V hitch receiver (it comes with a sleeve so 2-inch Class IV ball mounts also fit).
Ram’s big trailering trick is its available rear air springs ($1,705) that can lower the rear of the truck enough to limbo under a trailer hitch, then raise it back up, potentially relieving you of some tongue-jack twirling. Ram also automatically adjusts the blind-spot warning for the trailer, whereas others require entering measurements.
GM and Ford offer handy trailer-connection checklists and automated trailer-light check programs. GM lets you control these with a smartphone. Ford asks you to set up a trailer profile first. Ram makes you turn on the parking and hazard lights and check the trailer lights the old-school way. All three offer myriad camera views and direction-line indicators to help align a conventional or gooseneck/fifth-wheel trailer. When you activate a turn signal while towing in the Chevy, the center screen displays a view from the side-view-mirror camera that provides a better view of the trailer wheels coming around the corner than you get in the convex spotter mirrors. Speaking of mirrors, Ford and Chevy mirrors motor outward for trailering; Ram’s pivot from horizontal to vertical, requiring they be re-aimed.
Our experience towing with these trucks’ 3500 dually brethren has shown the extra transmission ratios to pay off with more effortless acceleration in the Chevy and Ford (the Chevy ranking as quietest and smoothest). The Ram’s lighter, quicker steering reduces the workload in maneuvering these rigs, and its two-stage exhaust-brake system works better than the single-stage Chevy and Ford “Jake brakes” for managing downhill speed.
Ride and Handling
The ride category goes unequivocally to Ram, especially when equipped with the rear air springs. Their load-leveling capability permits a softer unladen spring rate that firms up as compressed air is added. Ford ranked last for ride, probably because its front coil and rear leaf springs are rated for the highest payload and towing, and because its aluminum bodywork doesn’t burden said springs enough when empty. We wondered if the choppy, jiggly ride was the inspiration for the “Tremor” name. Chevy ranked in the middle but should have done better given its higher curb weight and independent front control-arm and torsion-bar suspension (the others both employ live axles front and rear). Many bumps induced shudders throughout the Chevy’s body that sometimes caused the doors to shuffle within their openings.
Those control arms endow the Chevrolet with superior suspension geometry that results in the best steering feel, despite having the slowest (numerically highest) steering ratio. This plus the best performing brakes and powertrain gave Chevy an easy victory in the figure-eight test. All editors found the Silverado to require the least “shepherding” down a freeway lane. With the quickest steering ratio and ample power assist, the Ram is the easiest to maneuver at low speeds. Our Laramie was also the only truck to feature lane keep assist, which reduces the driver’s workload despite the Ram’s diminished sense of straight ahead. Our Super Duty Tremor’s many concessions to off-road capability—knobbier, imprecise tires and greater body lean in corners—resulted in the worst lateral-g and braking performance among this trio. Then again, nobody’s autocrossing trucks like this.
Comfort and Convenience
A couple generations ago, Ram figured the best way to grow its sales in the fiercely loyal pickup truck segment was to snag new buyers trading up from cars or SUVs. So the brand prioritized comfort and convenience, spending big on interior design, color options, materials, features, and amenities. The plan seems to be working. Truck sales have generally risen for all brands, but Ram has gained more market share. In this contest, our Laramie boasts the plushest, best equipped, most inviting interior by far. Yes, it’s the most expensive, though if we subtract $1,095 for the sunroof Chevy and Ford lack, the prices are within 2 percent. If we then add adaptive cruise control to the Ford for $740, those two are about even. (Chevy does not yet offer adaptive cruise on the Silverado 2500.)
The Ram interior seems way more expensive, however, featuring more convincing stitching on the dash, suede inserts on the seats, and pricier-looking grain and gloss on the plastic parts. We all found the Ford and Ram seats to be far more comfortable than the Chevy’s, which Priddle noted feel “harder the longer you’re in them. Not my first choice for a long journey.” Ram also had the quietest cabin in terms of road and wind noise. Throw in adaptive cruise, low-effort steering, and lane keep assist, and Ram ranks as the low-fatigue road-trip machine of these three.
How Do the 2500 Diesel Pickups Rank?
After poring over our 3/4-ton diesel truck comparison spec charts, rereading the Truck of the Year notes on each model, and then driving each truck back to back under a wide variety of different driving conditions, our judges unanimously agreed that the Ram 2500 Cummins is the one we would choose to live and work with day in and day out, burdened or unburdened. Chevrolet’s powertrain, steering, and towing tech make a strong case for the Silverado, but its firm seats, inferior interior materials and storage solutions, rougher ride, high curb weight, and lowest observed fuel economy prevented it from surpassing the Ram. And our jiggly-riding, poor-handling Ford F-250 Tremor as configured just couldn’t equal the number-two ranking spot earned by its 7.3-liter gas-powered sibling. We suspect that an F-250 Super Duty King Ranch model optioned more in line with our Laramie and riding on highway tires (and with its diesel powertrain having a better day) might potentially change the order. But we play the cards we’re dealt.
To back up our impressions, we fed all the objective test and measurement data from these 3/4-ton diesels into the MotorTrend Ultimate Car Rankings formula and revised the subjective assessments to reflect these specific trucks. Sure enough, the Silverado’s score surged by 3.4 percent, while the Ram and Ford ratings fell by 5.0 and 1.6 percent relative to the mainstream gas models we rank, but that resulted in precisely the finishing order we chose.
3rd Place: Ford F-250 Super Duty Lariat Tremor 6.7L Power Stroke
Concessions to off-road ability compromise ride, and the underperforming powertrain lacks smoothness.
2nd Place: Chevrolet Silverado Z71 LTZ Carhartt
A killer powertrain and clever towing technology are let down by a dour interior and hard seats.
1st Place: Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Laramie 4×4 Cummins Turbo Diesel
If your truck is your office, this one is the quietest, comfiest, and best furnished available.
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