Full-size pickup trucks draw some of the most loyal vehicle shoppers of all. But now that the perennially popular GMC Sierra and Ram 1500 have added new trims and editions, is there reason for the faithful to switch sides?
MORE: Read our reviews of the 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 and 2017 Ram 1500
We’ve changed our ratings scale, so for now this isn’t an even fight. The 2017 Ram 1500 rates as a 6.0 according to our new math (Read more about how we rate cars) and the 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 earns a 8.2 on our old math. We’re still waiting for new information on the Sierra, so stay tuned to get the latest.
At first glance, the styling race is the Ram’s to lose. The latest GMC Sierra has some starch in its sheet metal—more than the Chevy Silverado—and it’s a handsome, broad-shouldered kind of pickup (looking especially well-dressed in top Denali form, of course). The Ram 1500? It’s still the champ at channeling the brute appeal of a tractor-trailer outside, while it softens up the cabin to carlike levels inside. Neither truck suffers any of the hard plastics or cheap finishes from trucks of the past: the Sierra’s swathed in soft-touch and aluminum trim, while the Ram can be a riot in tony brown—or a country-western centerpiece in Longhorn trim.
Most truck buyers look past that fancy stuff when outfitting a truck for hard work, though. At the hardware level, the Sierra and the Ram split off from the full-size benchmarks in some important ways. Both come now with a base V-6/automatic drivetrain that’s strong enough to give shoppers a reason to study their towing and hauling needs carefully; the Ram’s 8-speed automatic gives it an EPA-best 25-mpg highway rating, while GMC’s V-6 sports an excellent 7,200-pound maximum tow rating, with fuel economy info yet to come. A step up brings a pair of V-8s in either direction: Ram’s Hemi gets the 8-speed too, while GMC starts with a 355-hp V-8 with excellent 23-mpg highway ratings—or a 6.2-liter V-8 that claims best-in-class towing of 12,000 pounds.
Four-wheel drive’s a no-brainer, and both the Ram and Silverado have electric power steering that actually improves on the old racks both had in prior generations. The Ram’s suspension scores some versatility points on the road, however: optional air springs have five settings from aero to off-road, while the Sierra totes those heavy loads with leaf springs.
The Ram 1500 and Sierra 1500 both have a trio of bed lengths and body styles, and they pad ’em out with all kinds of nooks, crannies, and conveniences unimaginable to pickup drivers of a generation ago. The Ram has under-seat storage in the middle section of the front bench, under the rear seats, and in the truck bed’s sides. The Sierra? It can sport up to five USB ports, has an iPad tray in its center console, and comes with LED bed lighting and a built-in step bumper.
GMC’s pickup earns five-star scores from the feds and “Good” results from the IIHS, which is a step ahead of the Ram’s already much improved four-star overall scores and “Marginal” roof strength and small overlap rating. Rearview cameras and parking sensors are offered on both, and trailer-sway control is standard.
Finally, when it comes to the world of tomorrow, the Ram takes a final point from the Sierra thanks to its UConnect infotainment system. Most Rams come with the system and with a big 8.4-inch screen, which works with reconfigurable gauges, optional navigation, and tethered Sprint data for on-the-go connectivity. The Sierra’s GMC IntelliLink system is colorful, sharp, and standard on almost all models, and provides many of the same services, with just a touch less user-friendly layout (and dealer-installed data links).
The Ram 1500 and Sierra 1500 may be close after all the numbers are in. The Ram falls shy of the stellar towing and hauling ratings of the Sierra, but takes control when it comes to ride and infotainment. If we pulled a trailer often, and if it were our $40,000 to spend, we could easily spend it on the GMC—but if our day-in, day-out truck needs didn’t always tax its upper limits, the Ram 1500 could get the job.