You’ve heard it a million times: The best-selling vehicles in Canada, for pretty much as long as any of us can remember, are pickup trucks. And that’s not just because they’re gobbled up by work fleets, but because a lot of everyday drivers prefer their rides to have a box in back.
That makes the truck segment one of the most difficult for us to judge, because trucks have to be so many things to so many people. While we look at such factors as value, innovation, and performance in every type of vehicle we test, we also have to think about how these trucks must appeal to buyers starting with those who work theirs hard, right to those who drive a truck simply as a luxury “big car.”
Although the Detroit automakers also produce heavy-duty trucks – three-quarter and one-ton – we’re looking at light-duty across the board, the so-called “half-ton” trucks.
Our jury of more than 20 automotive experts from all over the country has considered every truck available in the half-ton segment and have voted on the best ones to arrive at this shortlist. But only one will wear the crown, and our winners will be announced beginning in February 2021.
The Ram 1500 was redesigned into its fifth generation for 2019, and the truck maker has been adding features since then. For 2021, there are new available items such as a head-up display, digital rearview mirror, and power-folding trailer mirrors.
The Ram only comes in Quad Cab or Crew Cab, with a starting price of $44,645. Very few buyers opt for the two-door Regular Cab, and it hasn’t yet been added back to the lineup. It comes with a 3.6L V6, 5.7L V8, or 3.0L “EcoDiesel” that delivers 480 lb-ft of torque, all in 4x2 or 4x4 configuration. Standard on the V6, and optional on the V8, is the eTorque mild hybrid system, which provides extra electric power on acceleration for better fuel economy.
Unique in the full-size segment, the Ram uses rear coil springs instead of leaf springs, and offers a four-corner adjustable air suspension. Other strengths include its handsome cabin, 60/40 opening multifunction tailgate, and excellent Uconnect infotainment system.
These two trucks are separate brands, but they’re mechanical twins under the skin. The Chevy vastly outsells the GMC in the U.S., but they’re pretty much neck and neck in Canada. Both come in Regular Cab, Double Cab, and Crew Cab configuration, in 4x2 and 4x4. The GMC Sierra is more upscale with its features and trims, and goes up to the luxurious Denali.
In Regular Cab in base trim, the Silverado starts at $31,298, and the Sierra at $32,498. Engine choices are a 4.3L V6, 5.3L V8, turbocharged 2.7L four-cylinder, 6.2L V8, and 3.0L inline-six turbodiesel making 460 lb-ft of torque. All but the diesel use cylinder deactivation, which shuts off cylinders under light load for improved fuel economy. Depending on the engine, it’s either Active Fuel Management, which shuts off the same cylinders each time, or Dynamic Fuel Management, which does so in varying patterns.
The Sierra offers a “MultiPro Tailgate” with six functions including two-tier loading and stand-up workbench, and for 2021, it’s available on the Silverado as well. Features on both brands include a mobile trailering app, storage in the rear seatbacks, and brilliantly simple bumper steps on all trims for accessing the bed.
Trucks are Canada’s biggest seller, and Ford leads them all in sales. There’s an all-new F-150 for 2021, and while it rides on the same chassis as before, the styling is more aerodynamic, there is a long list of new features, and there’s a new hybrid model. As before, it comes in Regular Cab, SuperCab, and SuperCrew, starting around $31,000.
The six available powertrains now all share a 10-speed automatic transmission. The non-turbo engine choices are a 3.3L V6 and 5.0L V8, while turbocharged engines, which Ford calls EcoBoost, are a 2.7L V6 and 3.5L V6. There’s also a 3.0L Power Stroke turbodiesel, making 440 lb-ft of torque. The new hybrid uses the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine with 35kW electric motor, lithium-ion battery, and hybrid-specific 10-speed automatic, and it makes up to 570 lb-ft of torque. It’s a full hybrid and can run on gasoline, electricity, or a combination of the two, is self-charging, and is optional on every trim.
The interior has been redesigned, with available split-screen centre touchscreen, over-the-air updates, centre console with stowable work table, and locking rear-seat storage. Every tailgate has tie-downs for long loads, and there’s an available tailgate workbench, on-board generator for running power tools, trailer backup assist, and trailer theft alert.
The Tundra hasn’t changed substantially in several years, but if it ain’t broke, why change it? This is a truck that’s traditionally been known for its reliability and retained value. For 2021, Toyota adds an available Trail Package, with side steps and unique TRD Off-Road wheels.
The Tundra comes in Double Cab or CrewMax, and all models are four-wheel drive only, starting at $46,610. The sole engine choice is a 5.7L V8 with six-speed automatic transmission. It’s not the most fuel-efficient among competitors, but it’s still a stout and smooth performer, making 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque.
There are a lot of standard features across the trim levels, including a towing package with transmission cooler, front tow hooks, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and Toyota Safety Sense. That gives you emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlamps, and lane-departure alert. Depending on the trim level, the Tundra’s features can include a bed rail system, leather upholstery, sunroof, and premium stereo. Unique in the segment, the available fully opening rear glass drops down completely into the rear panel, like a window in a door, for a better open-air experience.