Towing capability has always defined the players in the full-size heavy-duty pickup truck segment.
In the car wars, it’s horsepower or mpg that moves the metal. But in America’s big truck battlefield, it’s all about big torque and pulling a load up that grade. And torque means diesel.
There aren’t many players in the class. Just five brands from four manufacturers — Nissan, Ford, General Motors and Ram — offer heavy-duty versions of their full-size pickups. Toyota doesn’t offer a big-boy version of the Tundra and the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra are essentially identical in their specs and capabilities.
But which is best for pulling? Which one gets your 42-foot Donzi to the lake or your racecar to the track or your supplies to the job site better, more safely and with less stress than the others? We dived into the specs of seven trucks to find out which is best, studying not just their maximum conventional towing capacities, but also their max payloads, their tow-focused features and technology, their suspension systems, even the size of their brake rotors. And to keep things consistent, we used the crew-cab numbers only because it’s an extremely popular body style.
The truck that came out on top may surprise you.
7. 2017 Nissan Titan XD
Sure it’s built in Canton, Miss., but Nissan’s Titan XD is the only truck on this list that doesn’t come from a domestic manufacturer. The Titan XD is the bigger brother to the Titan. With its standard Cummins 5.0-liter V-8 turbo-diesel engine, rated for 310 horsepower and 555 pound-feet or torque, its maximum towing capacity is 12,310 pounds for the 2WD and its maximum payload is 2,080 pounds. Those numbers are impressive, but they’re not up to the capabilities of the other trucks here, and they drop with the Titan’s optional gas-burning V-8. All Titan XDs use a seven-speed automatic transmission.
Among the Nissan's available towing aids are an integrated trailer brake controller, trailer sway control, Tow/Haul Mode with downhill speed control, a backup camera with trailer guides and an available around-view monitor that provides a virtual “bird's eye” view of the truck and its surrounding area. Another cool feature is Nissan’s trailer light check system that allows you to check turn signals, brake lights and running lights from inside the Titan cab or with the key fob without a helper.
6. 2017 Chevy Silverado 2500HD and GMC Sierra 2500HD
Thanks to its new 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel engine, the GM twins can tow up to 14,500 pounds. The reengineered Duramax makes 445 horsepower, the most in the class, and a whopping 910 pound-feet of torque. That’s 12 percent more horsepower and 19 percent more torque than the previous diesel. Those are big numbers, and this is a fast truck when it’s unladen, but the Ford’s 925 pound-feet of torque still earns bragging rights at happy hour after a double shift.
The new diesel V-8 is equipped with an exhaust brake, and it’s backed by an Allison 100 six-speed automatic. A max payload of 3,233 pounds is also impressive.
Despite their big power and high tow rating, the GM trucks are light on available towing aids. There’s an integrated trailer brake controller and a backup camera. We also like GM’s corner step rear bumper, which is a very helpful design, and we’re big fans of its menacing and functional hood scoop, which has nothing to do with towing — but it sure looks good.
5. 2017 Ram 3500
When you think Ram and towing you think Cummins turbo diesel. And the high-output version of the 6.7-liter inline six-cylinder in the Ram 3500 crew cab dualie produces 385 horsepower and 900 pound-feet of torque. Although that’s less power than you get in the Chevy and the GMC, the Ram is rated to tow more. A crew cab Ram dualie long box with 2WD or 4WD is rated to tow 18,000 pounds. That’ll get your cattle to the auction. Its max payload rating of 6,030 pounds with 2WD is even more impressive.
Unlike Chevy, Ford and Nissan, Ram will sell you a turbo diesel crew cab dualie with a manual six-speed transmission, although power drops to 350 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque. Most are sold with the six-speed automatic. Ram also offers air suspension on the 3500 to smooth out the ride.
Towing aids include an integrated trailer brake controller, trailer sway control and a basic backup camera. We’re also big fans of the Rambox system, which puts lockable, drainable and sizable bins on each side of the bed.
4. 2017 Ram 2500
Aside from the Nissan, this truck has the lowest torque of the bunch. Still, the crew cab Ram 2500 Cummins is rated to tow 17,060 pounds, which is more than many of the other trucks, including the Nissan. Its max payload is much higher than the Nissan’s as well, at 2,540 pounds with a 2WD long box.
Still it ranks ahead of the larger Ram 3500, as well as the 2500 Chevy and GMC, because of its unique rear suspension. The 2500 uses a five-link coil spring rear suspension like the brand’s 1-ton truck, while the Ram 3500 continues to utilize the rear leaf spring system. The resulting ride quality is much better. The Ram 2500 also rides more smoothly than the big Chevys, GMCs, Nissan and Fords that also use leaf springs. Ram also offers an optional air suspension setup on the 2500. Oddly, the Ram is the only truck on the list with solid axles front and rear.
Power comes from the same 6.7-liter inline six-cylinder Cummins turbo diesel used in the 3500. With the six-speed manual it’s rated 350 horsepower with 660 pound-feet of torque. With the more popular six-speed automatic, it produces 370 horsepower and 800 pound-feet. These are low numbers for the segment.
Towing aids only include an integrated trailer brake controller, trailer sway control and a basic backup camera.
3. 2017 Chevy Silverado 3500HD and GMC Sierra 3500HD
GM also uses its fantastic all-new 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel V-8 engine and Allison six-speed automatic in the larger 3500HD Chevy and GMC. With 445 horsepower and a mammoth torque rating of 910 pound-feet, it’s GM’s most-powerful diesel ever, so it’s more than up to the task. GM is also quick to point out the improved fuel economy of the Duramax as well as its quieter operation, especially at idle.
Although Chevy and GMC will sell you a 3500HD with single rear wheels, the dualies tow significantly more. A crew cab with an 8-foot bed, with either 2WD or 4WD, is rated to tow 20,000 pounds. That’s 2,000 pounds more than the Ram 3500. And it has an extraordinary max payload of 5,381 pounds with 2WD.
But even the biggest and most-expensive GM trucks are light on available towing aids compared with the Fords. The new diesel V-8 is equipped with an exhaust brake, and there’s a backup camera, trailer sway control and a standard Integrated trailer brake controller. On the GMC there’s an optional dealer-installed trailering camera system, which adds three cameras to the truck — two on the exterior side mirrors and one to the tailgate focused on the hitch ball. This helps when backing and hooking up.
2. 2017 Ford F-250
The Ford Super Duty F-250 and F-350 are the only trucks on this list with aluminum bodies and beds, which help reduce weight. Completely redesigned for 2017, the Fords also received a new stronger fully boxed steel frame, and when combined with the optional 440 horsepower 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbo- diesel V-8, they pack the most torque, a class leading 925 pound-feet. That engine is backed by a six-speed automatic transmission.
In the crew cab 4×2 configuration, it’s a combination rated for a massive 18,000 pounds of towing and an awesome max payload of 3,910 pounds. These numbers crush the competition in the 2500 class.
Ford’s Super Duty is also the first truck to offer adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support for heavy trailers, allowing drivers to climb steep grades while maintaining speed. And it offers a trailer tow camera system that uses four cameras that offer a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the truck, as well as a trailer reverse guidance system that provides visual cues and tips to help ease backing up a trailer. Other tech includes the industry’s first-ever factory-available trailer camera that can be custom-placed on a trailer to improve visibility backing up and an in-cab trailer tire pressure monitoring system. Even the truck’s blind-spot information system has been optimized to include the length of the trailer up to 33 feet long.
1. 2017 Ford F-350
But the ultimate tow rig is the 2017 Ford F-350, which also features an aluminum body and bed and a new for 2017 steel frame. Powered by the same 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbo-diesel V-8 with 925 pound-feet of torque and 440 horsepower, the crew cab dualie 4×2 doesn’t just lead the class in both max towing and payload, it dominates. The truck’s maximum conventional tow rating is an incredible 21,000 pounds, and its max payload is 7,200 pounds. Both numbers leave the competition sucking wind.
All of that cool new towing tech available on the F-250 is also available on the F-350, including the collision warning with brake support, the trailer tow camera system and the trailer reverse guidance system.
When it comes to towing, Ford’s first complete redesign of its Super Duty pickups since 1999 has produced the class leader.