2018 Half-Ton Shootout: F-150 vs Silverado vs Ram 1500

Stock half-tons battle off-road

Mar. 29, 2018 By Stephen Elmer. Photos by Stephen Elmer. Video by Brett Colpitts and Alex Beare.

Pickup trucks are huge business in the US and having decent off-road credentials has to be part of every single truck's skillset. While trucks like the Colorado ZR2, Ford Raptor and Ram Power Wagon exist to ferry hard core off-road drivers over ruts and rocks, stock half-tons are expected to at least handle dirt trails and rough roads. But which handles them best?

We gathered together the half-ton pickups from the big three American automakers to see which is the best when you take it off-road. Each is a 2018 model, crew cab trimmed in top luxury duds, save the Silverado Z71 LTZ which could have been made slightly nicer with the High Country trim.

We also put 7,000-pounds behind each of the trucks and drove them extensively empty, but at the end of our comparison, we're simply looking for the truck that will take you the furthest off-road.

For the full story, watch the video embedded below. Read on for our thoughts on the highlights of each truck.

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2018 Chevy Silverado

  • Fast Facts
  • Engine: 5.3-liter V8
  • Output: 355 horsepower, 383 lb-ft of torque
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
  • Fuel economy (MPG) 15 city, 20 highway, 17 combined
  • Estimated as-tested price: $56,340

The 2018 Silverado simply offers nothing that its main competitors don't have. Its 5.3-liter V8 feels the weakest in the bunch and 8.9-inches of standard ground clearance doesn't do much for it's off-road prowess. Neither does a front plastic airdam, though that can be removed.

READ MORE: 2019 Chevy Silverado Gets 3.0L Diesel, Loses 400 Pounds

Empty, driving the Silverado is pleasant enough, with a quiet cabin and soft ride. Loaded with our test trailer, the suspension in the Chevy stiffened up the most of the three, making the back end of the truck feel busy. It handled the weight fine, but it felt the most taxed between engine and chassis.

An 18.1 degree approach angle and the low ground clearance resulted in the Chevy being the only truck that buried its face in a shallow water pit we ran through, and even with the Z71 upgraded suspension, the Chevy beats up its passengers the most.

Chevy gets some credit for it's internal off-road screen, which shows both your steering wheel angle and which tire is slipping, two pieces of information that can be helpful when you're driving alone.

We don't want to make the 2018 Silverado sound like a bad truck. It cruises comfortably, handles weight alright and has an ergonomically friendly interior. But of the three gathered here, it simply does nothing better than the competition.

2018 Ford F-150

  • Fast Facts
  • Engine: 3.5-liter turbocharged V6
  • Output: 375 horsepower, 470 lb-ft of torque
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic
  • Fuel Economy (MPG): 17 city, 23 highway, 19 combined
  • Estimated as-tested price: $65,830

With the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine, the F-150 accelerates hardest of this group, also providing the most torque with 470 lb-ft. That, combined with a responsive 10-speed automatic make the powertrain in the Ford excellent for just about everything. Cruising empty, the F-150 feels light on its feet, translating into a comfortable ride with little unnecessary fatigue on the driver.

Hooking up a trailer did little to phase the F-150, as the wave of low-end torque that washes over the truck as the accelerator is depressed gets things moving with authority. The suspension under load softens up nicely, providing a smooth ride, leaving trailering feeling simple.

The only really issue we found with the Ford is a crippling problem, although it's easy to fix. Our testing was done after an early, unexpected snowstorm, making the tires more important than ever. While the trucks from Chevy and Ram both had Goodyear Wrangler SRAs that performed admirably in the snow, the stock Pirelli Scorpions found on the F-150 performed quite poorly in the white stuff.  Since most F-150s won't live in the snow most of the time, we can't fault the truck too hard here, though if you live in a cold climate, get winter tires.

Inside, it's hard to argue with the gorgeous blue leather found in our Limited model, coating the curved seats that contour nicely to the driver's body. Some of the black plastic buttons on the center stack look a little cheap all clustered together, but mostly, the F-150 feels upscale and luxurious.

When it comes time to head off-road, the F-150 has some favorable numbers. With its 9.4-inches of ground clearance an 25.5 degree approach angle, the Ford was clearing the snow the easiest and scraping its front end the least on our trail. But the suspension isn't exactly off-road ready. The F-150 felt quite stiff and the frame liked to chatter as we picked up speed off-road. Good clearances will help you get places off the beaten path, but this truck is setup to pull 10,500 pounds, so it won't get you there in absolute comfort.

Overall, the F-150 is impressive in just about every area, with small drawbacks in the way it handles at the limits in different situations.

2018 Ram 1500

  • Fast Facts
  • Engine: 5.7-liter Hemi V8
  • Output: 395 horsepower, 410 lb-ft of torque
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
  • Fuel Economy (MPG): 15 city, 21 highway, 17 combined
  • Estimated as-tested price: $59,045

    Ram's 2018 1500 offers suspension choices that you can't find at its crosstown rival and it remains one of the biggest difference between this truck and the others. While coilspring rear suspension is standard on most Ram trucks, our Limited model arrived with the optional four-corner air suspension.

    The result is a system that helps to keep the truck flat when towing, offers a smooth ride and most importantly for our comparison, can lift the body by up to two inches to get out of a jam off-road.

  • READ MORE: 2019 Ram 1500 First Drive - Review

    Though the lack of leaf springs in the back gives the Ram the lowest tow rating of the three trucks here, the air springs offer the smoothest ride of the three. Under load with a trailer on the back the suspension stiffens up marginally, but the Ram continues to have the smoothest, calmest ride.

    Heavy steering wheel feel accents the Ram's tendency to drive heavy, pushing wide through every corner you take.

    Take it off-road and the suspension that makes it so good on road also helps it off. First of all, the Ram offers the smoothest ride off-road, allowing you to take obstacles faster with little punishment to the occupants. This planted, smooth feeling also means that the tires are staying in contact with the ground at all times, an important aspect to off-roading.

    At the axle, the Ram is just slightly worse than the F-150 with 9.3-inches of ground clearance, but this truck has a special trick. In off-road 1 mode, the Ram lifts its body up to 10.6-inches, while off-road 2 mode gives you 11.4-inches of body ground clearance. While it might not sound like much, that two inches could be the difference between digging out or driving out.

    The standard approach angle on the Ram is 19.8 degrees, though it can be boost up to 23.9 degrees in off-road mode.

    The Verdict

    The Chevy Silverado is a competent pickup truck package, though it offers no unique features in its segment and poor off-road statistics.

    In the Ford F-150, things are considerably better with the most power, a nice interior and the most standard axle ground clearance. In an overall truck comparison, the F-150 would take the win. But since we're looking specifically at off-roading, the F-150's stiff, choppy suspension lets it down.

    On the flip side, it's the airbag suspension that propels the 2018 Ram 1500 Limited to the win in this shootout. Combined with a powerful V8, comfortable ride and great interior, the Ram's ability to lift itself when you get off-road is enough for this stock half-ton to be named the best 2018 pickup by Off-Road.com. Not to mention, when the road gets rough, the Ram stays planted to the ground and keeps its passengers the most comfortable while doing it.

    As you probably already know, new versions of the Ram 1500 and Chevy Silverado were recently revealed for the 2019 model year, so come back to off-road.com in a few months and we'll re-create this comparison and see which redesigned half-ton is the off-road champion.

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