Technology is advancing at an incredible rate; constantly evolving and expanding, and the automotive world has grown exponentially in an incredibly short time. A little over 100 years ago, the diesel engine was the first of its kind with a simple 25 horsepower internal combustion engine that was the size of a bedroom.
Now, diesel engines are used in nearly every aspect of our lives, even if you don’t own a diesel truck yourself. With all this change and advancement, Diesel Army decided another “Top 5” list for 2016 was in order. There are also a couple of honorable mentions, mainly because we just really like diesels.
The Ford F-Series is still the top-selling truck in the world. For 39 years, the F-series has been the top dog, and with good reason. Good comfort level, good power, and all-around versatility. It seems that for many years, the Super Duty was the middle ground between comfort and power. GM’s interiors and independent four-wheel-drive front suspension made for a smoother ride, and the Cummins motor in the Ram was the powerhouse. Most people want both, so Ford became the choice between the two. In recent years, most of those old perceptions have gone out the window but the popularity has not changed.
For the 2016 model year, the F-350 Super Duty is pumping 440 horsepower and 860 pound-feet of torque through the 6.7-liter Powerstroke Turbo Diesel. Respectable numbers to motivate the one-ton truck down the road. The manual transmission option is no longer available. Instead, each truck comes with a ToqueShift Six-speed SelectShift Automatic.
Available in four-wheel drive with a straight axle and coil springs up front, the Super Duty also can be purchased in every traditional cab style; standard, extended (the Super Cab), and a crew cab. Super Cabs have small suicide-style rear doors, and the crew cab has full-sized rear doors. There are two-bed length options: the shortbed is six feet, nine inches and the longbed is eight feet. Both are available with any of the cab options.
Ford boasts best in class, which are full-size pickups over 8,500 pounds, gross combination weight rating (GCWR), which is the combined weight of the vehicle and the towing load. For the 2016 F-350, it is 40,400 pounds. Ford also claims the Powerstroke has the best in class fuel economy, using Fuelly to see real world numbers, the 2016 F-350s average 14.2 mpg combined highway and city. The diesel Super Duty starts off at a base MSRP of $32,385. A 4×4 Crew Cab, longbed diesel F-350 through Ford’s Build and Price program starts at $48,360 MSRP.
General Motors: Chevrolet Silverado And GMC Sierra 3500
The Chevy Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD trucks have mostly only cosmetic differences. The 6.6-liter Duramax diesel outputs 397 horsepower and 765 pound-feet of torque. Fairly high numbers, though the GCWR tow rating is a meager 25,100 pounds. The Duramax is not a huge performer, though it shows to have a bit better mileage at 15.5 mpg combined highway and city using Fuelly. GM utilizes an incredibly strong Allison 1,000 six-speed automatic transmission to put the power to the ground.
Where the tow rating lacks, the GM trucks make up for in comfort and style. Soft seats, dual-zone climate control, and many other creature comforts help boost the trucks reputation. The independent front suspension makes lift kits more involved, but it has the potential to ride better than the others.
GM HDs have an available Eaton Automatic Locking Rear Differential, to which they say no other competitor in the class offers. All of the cab and bed options are available, including the Double Cab that has handles on the outside to replace the traditional extended cab suicide doors. Base diesel MSRP starts off at $34,055 and the sample truck, a crew cab, longbed 4×4 starts at $50,385.
General Motors Mid-Size
Full-size diesels dominate in the 3/4 and one-ton markets, and you can see this through all of the pages here at Diesel Army. There is, however, a resurgence in diesels in smaller vehicles. Ignoring the whole Volkswagen fiasco, diesels are efficient and strong. Technology has improved so well that the oil-burners aren’t the loud and clunky tractor engines they used to be. GM stepped up to the plate with its Colorado and Canyon, dropping in a Duramax 2.8-liter turbo diesel. The mid-size truck market has slim pickings; the diesel option makes these little trucks practically a no-brainer.
Best in class torque at 369 pound-feet of torque, best in class towing capacity at 7,700 pounds, and best in class fuel economy. GM states 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. Fuelly shows 24.9 mpg combined highway and city average from 21 vehicles with over 75,000 miles tracked. GM’s claim is that these trucks are the most economical pickups in America. Add in the plush technology-riddled interiors, a soft riding independent front suspension, and an entry MSRP of $31,560 on a diesel powered crew cab 4×4 longbed, and the Colorado and Canyon might be the best bang for the buck in the mid-size market.
Dodge Ram 3500
The iconic Cummins straight six diesel engine is quite possibly the most popular diesel engine of all time. The various improvements of the engine through the years has kept it at the top of the pack when it comes to power numbers. The current configuration of the I-6 motor is a 6.7-liter turbo. Ram says the truck has the best in class tow rating at 31,210, best in class payload at 7,390, and the best in class torque at a whopping 900 pound-feet. Four-wheel drive versions use a straight axle and coil front suspension, a design Dodge has been using in its big trucks for years, with minor changes as time went on.
The motor can be backed by a six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic 68RFE transmission, or the option and ultra heavy-duty AISIN six-speed automatic. Ram is the only vehicle in this class that has a manual transmission option. Cab options include standard, Quad, Crew, and MegaCab. The Quad cabs are the size of an extended cab with a handle on the outside, crew cabs are a traditional-sized crew cab, and the Mega cab has a long rear door with an extra bit of space behind the rear seats.
A downfall of the Ram 3500 however, is the fuel economy. There have been 31 vehicle owners that have tracked more than 200,000 miles on their 2016 trucks using Fuelly averaging 13.7 mpg combined highway and city. Base MSRP comes in at $38,975 with the Cummins motor. Our sample truck begins at $46,365.
Because this is America and we always want bigger and badder stuff, we’re including the Freightliner M2 106 in this Top5 as well. Mini-semi trucks are a whole different class than the majority of what we are covering, but are gaining popularity. They’re expensive and huge, the perfect thing someone might want to use to make sure their presence is known, or they have a want and need to tow ridiculous amounts of weight.
There are several different motor options, all from Cummins. The ISB and ISL engines are full-on medium-duty engines. The biggest power monster available for this model pumps out 1,000 pound-feet of torque. The ISL9 features an after-treatment system, a Selective Catalytic Reduction system, cooled EGR, and the Cummins Particulate Filter system; all of these come together to create near-zero emissions. Manual, automatic, and automated manual transmissions are available, ranging from five to 13 speeds.
Available in standard, extended, and crew cabs, the Freightliner does not come straight out of the factory with a pickup bed on it. Aftermarket companies take a chassis cab and add either a custom built pickup bed or an existing bed from a light-duty truck manufacturer. Freightliner builds the trucks in both two- and four-wheel drive. Load carrying capacity is up to 20,000 pounds, if optioned correctly and with the Hendrickson suspension, and tow rating can be up to 65,000 pounds.
With being so much truck, it is obvious these won’t be cheap. Prices range wildly, going from $60,000 to $100,000, depending on options and upgrades. Economy is not generally something these are known for, though some forum chatter puts them not that far below the smaller trucks.
Diesel is becoming more popular and options are continually expanding.So far, we covered the big players in the game, but there are a couple of other trucks worth looking at as honorable mentions that might fit your needs.
Dodge Ram 1500
Leading the way in the half-ton market diesels is the Ram 1500 with the available 3.0-liter Ecodiesel V6. The baby diesel puts out 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. Backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission, it is enough to squeeze out a tow rating of 9,210 pounds and a payload of 1,600 pounds. Ram 1500s come with a coil and link rear suspension and independent front suspension (regardless of two or four-wheel drive), giving this truck the potential to be the best riding full-size in our list. The motor is available in nearly every configuration of the truck except the standard cab shortbed model.
The Ecodiesel utilizes a particulate filter, oxidation catalyst, and a selective catalyst reduction — all of which gives it emissions compliance in all 50 U.S. states. Ram boasts 21 city mpg and 29 highway mpg according to Fuelly, which shows just under 550,000 miles were tracked on 97 vehicles with a real world average of 21.8 mpg combined highway and city. Pricing starts out at $29,860 MSRP, however, our sample model starts off at $39,965.
Newcomers to the non-commercial diesel market, Nissan jumped in head first. The Titan XD is considered a luxury truck and touts an available 5.0-liter Cummins V8 diesel. Rated at 310 horsepower, 555 pound-feet of torque, it has an impressive 12,300-pound tow rating. Standard, they come with a six-speed automatic transmission, though a seven-speed is optional as well as a two- or four-wheel drive.
Available in crew cab only, with one bed length option, the Titan XD has a starting MSRP of $40,290. So far, only nine Fuelly users are logging miles with the new Nissan diesel. Those nine have tracked more than 32,000 miles and are averaging 15.2 mpg combined highway and city.
Wrap It Up
There is so much noise in the automotive manufacturer world, with nearly all of them boasting some sort of “best-in-class” for something (usually semantics), so pay close attention to the words used. Many of the trucks offer wildly different options and configurations, which is great in that a buyer can find exactly what he or she is looking for, but a real pain when trying to straight-line compare them.
None of these trucks are cheaply built or inexpensive. They are all built by quality manufacturers that put a lot into the designs and believe they offer the best trucks to consumers. When buying one in today’s information age, utilize the internet and dig deep. The assumption is that the truck you purchase will be in your life for many years, so just make sure you get the right one for your needs. The entry cost is the only real downfall as diesel engines generally have lower fuel costs, higher tow ratings, and longer life expectancy versus gasoline counterparts. Enjoy it.