Jeff XuCar and Driver
Blending style and substance, pickup trucks are among the best-selling vehicles in America. With unrivaled configurations and unmatched capabilities, the pickup is one of the best transportation tools on the market. Here are our picks for the best pickup trucks on sale for 2021.
Those who are interested in the best pickup trucks from 2020 can refer to last year’s list.
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The only Honda with a cargo bed—the 2021 Ridgeline—is a one-size-fits-all alternative to traditional pickup trucks. While the Ridgeline lineup doesn’t include an off-road-ready model or an optional diesel engine, it does have a standard crew cab that’s roomier and more comfortable than any of its competitors’. Its minivan-based underpinnings and V-6 powertrain don’t allow it to tow more than 5000 pounds, but they do enable the Ridgeline to accelerate quickly, consume fuel efficiently, provide a competitive payload rating, and drive with unrivaled agility and refinement. Its host of standard driver assists and innovative features—including an in-bed trunk and a multifunction tailgate—further bolster the 2021 Ridgeline’s status as the truck equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.
The mid-size 2021 Chevy Colorado pickup and its corporate sibling, the GMC Canyon, provide everyday practicality and broad capabilities, with considerable towing and payload ratings. Plus, they are much easier to maneuver than their full-size offspring. The Colorado boasts three different engines, including a surprisingly quick V-6 and a stump-pulling diesel four-cylinder. While the interior is overrun with cheap plastics, and even the biggest cab size has a small back seat, the truck maintains a pleasant driving position and athletic handling. Chevy ensures every model has a modern infotainment system, but it leaves many contemporary driver-assistance features off the roster. The 2021 Colorado has a good enough resume to suit many pickup shoppers, but it lacks the qualifications to interest a wider audience.
The 2021 GMC Canyon is essentially the more glamorous version of the Chevy Colorado, even though they’re largely identical underneath the surface. While these mid-size pickup trucks are hugely popular, they’re now facing greater competition from alternatives such as the Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator. Unlike every other truck in this class, GMC markets its mid-sizer as a premium pickup, even though its top-of-the-line Denali model fails to meet that expectation. Still, the Canyon can be covered in chrome and fitted with fancy features, such as heated and cooled seats. It’s also available with a trio of engines that include a strong V-6 and a torque-rich diesel four-cylinder. As with the Colorado, the Canyon offers a surprisingly refined ride and athletic handling for truck that’s not based on a crossover. This allows it to best imitate full-size pickups—such as the GMC Sierra 1500—by way of its tremendous towing and hauling capabilities.
Jeep hasn’t offered a model with a cargo bed since the early ’90s, but the 2021 Gladiator finally gives the brand’s fans a cool and useful tool. The mid-size pickup truck is basically a more versatile version of the popular Jeep Wrangler. It tows more (up to 7760 pounds versus 3500) than its SUV counterpart, and its longer wheelbase helps it ride better, too. Still, the truck requires regular steering inputs when cruising on the highway to keep it from straying, and it’s not as easy to maneuver on the trails as the smaller Wrangler. Along with a strong V-6 and a standard stick-shift transmission, the Gladiator offers a torquey diesel engine option with 442 lb-ft. While the 2021 Gladiator can get pricey in a hurry, its removable body panels and rugged persona make it one of the best pickups around.
The 2021 Ram 1500 isn’t the best pickup truck because it has the most “best-in-class” accolades but because it raises expectations for the entire breed. Pickups were once judged based on ruggedness rather than refinement. No longer. And this latest Ram, with its luxury-grade interior and cushy ride quality, easily exceeds even the fanciest versions of the Chevy Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, and Ford F-150. Its innovative air suspension, built-in cargo-bed bins, split-folding tailgate, and giant 12.0-inch touchscreen are all options not offered on its rivals. Along with a frugal and torque-rich diesel six-cylinder engine, the Ram enhances its standard V-6 and optional Hemi V-8 with hybrid systems. They contribute to the pickup’s contemporary vibe, which is also bolstered by its extensive technology and myriad capabilities—which makes the Ram an easy pick for our 2021 10Best list.
Ram 1500 TRX
The battle for the best high-performance pickup truck just got interesting now that the 702-horsepower Ram 1500 TRX has entered the arena. The Hellcat-powered half-ton has the Ford F-150 Raptor squarely in its sights, but until its Blue Oval rival adds more power and steps up its interior game, the Ram rules. Rivalry aside, the TRX is an impressive and intimidating machine, and one that we named to our 2021 10Best list. Its body is 8 inches wider than the regular Ram 1500, and its off-road capabilities have been transformed. This is thanks to a stronger frame, an even more sophisticated suspension, and myriad other enhanced characteristics. The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is also loaded with a seriously luxurious interior and packed with all the latest technology. The only question left is whether the TRX can fly higher over the jumps than the now seemingly obsolete Raptor.
Ford offers the 2021 F-150 with no fewer than six powertrains—including a hybrid for the first time—plus three cab configurations and both long and short bed lengths. Need something to impress the in-laws? Upscale models offer more than just a touch of luxury. Towing something heavy? We expect some of these half-ton trucks will boast a maximum towing capacity of up to 14,000 pounds. An off-road focused Tremor model is available as well and don’t forget the bad-boy F-150 Raptor (reviewed separately), Ford’s performance powerhouse.
Ford F-150 Raptor
The 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor aims to fly higher, pound across the desert faster, and look meaner than its predecessor. This all-new, third-generation Raptor remains a bulkier body double of the regular F-150, which means they share technology and several innovative features. However, Ford’s high-performance pickup truck is also fitted with impressive off-road equipment, such as a sophisticated long-travel suspension and available 37-inch all-terrain tires. Assisting the Raptor’s powerful twin-turbo V-6 is a paddle-shifted 10-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Though its engine should produce at least 450 horsepower, that’s still relatively wimpy compared with the 702-hp Hellcat V-8 in the Ram 1500 TRX. That’s why Ford is developing an even more ferocious Raptor R that should mark the return of a raucous V-8 engine that earns it entry into the 700-hp club.
Ford Super Duty
Heavy-duty trucks are more powerful and capable than ever, and the 2021 Ford Super Duty is one of the most powerful. Its Power Stroke diesel engine develops 1050 lb-ft of torque, and the mightiest model can tow 37,000 pounds. Both those stats are slightly behind the 2021 Ram HD but ahead of heavy-duty versions of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. While those credentials are great for advertisements, the Super Duty succeeds most at being a versatile truck that can be configured as a stripped-down workhouse or a seriously luxurious towing machine and everything in between. Along with the diesel engine option, there’s the standard 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 that makes 430 lb-ft of torque or an optional 7.3-liter gas V-8 that cranks out 475 lb-ft. All of that capability, plus its myriad modern technologies and apartment-sized crew cab, makes it easy to look past its cheap cabin pieces and clumsy highway habits.
Ram 2500 / 3500
In the chess game that is best-in-class ratings, the 2021 Ram 2500 and 3500 rise above rival heavy-duty trucks with their unmatched ride quality and luxury options. The largest Rams boast massive max towing and engine-torque figures—they can pull up to 37,100 pounds, and their Cummins diesel makes up to 1075 lb-ft of torque. Plus, neither the Ford nor the heavy-duty Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra ride as smoothly or are as elegant as the fanciest Rams. That’s because the Rams’ plushest interiors are quiet and covered in rich materials. There’s also no shortage of high-tech options, with myriad driver assists and a huge 12.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Yes, the 2021 Ram 2500 and 3500 are hugely capable and more luxurious than any other HD pickup truck.
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