Stuart Martin looks at the best of American utes from Performax with the Ford F250, Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram and Toyota Tundra
If ever there was a group of machines designed to look down on all the SUV drivers, it is this lot.
Even LandCruiser drivers will get a crick in their necks talking to the driver of any of these four American behemoths, offering next-level hauling capabilities and distinctive road presence.
All bar the Toyota burn diesel to offer 1000 Nm of torque (the Tundra isn’t lacking at 543 Nm), all offer braked towing potential beyond four tonnes and all are available in Australia – for a price.
The big SUV owners – even the LandCruiser Sahara owner – can start looking a little smug, given the top-spec 200 at $113,600 is in the same ballpark as these imported, RHD-converted Yank tanks.
All four are massive machines, dwarfing regular road users and looking akin to a block of flats on wheels – underground carparks are verboten and many open air carparks aren’t going to be built with these in mind either.
But if you have polo ponies, powerboats or palatial caravans that need moving, or you just want something very different to the norm, then step this way.
All four vehicles were loaded with 400 kg of potting mix (courtesy of the nearby Bunnings), as was the practice for the Ute of the Year Awards, but whereas several contenders with Japanese origins saw fit to lower their tails substantially, the diminutive nature of this test load did little to dent the ride height of this quartet.
What it did was demonstrate some clever features – the Ford’s unkindly monikered “pensioner step” with handhold made tray access easy, as did the built-in corner step on the Chev.
Four-year/100,000 km warranty cover from Performax International stands for all of these vehicles, with the Ford and now Chevrolet being re-engineered for Australia in full-volume status rather than the other pair, which are brought in under the low volume import regulations.
But which one would you choose to tow your tools or your toys?
The best selling vehicle in the US for several decades, the F-Series is available in its home market with a wide variety of powertrains and guises.
The F-Series can be had in cooking petrol or turbodiesel V8 guises, although the horizon is limited in the US – up to the ballistic SVT Lightning that’s more galloper than workhorse and 650 models that are more road train than rural work ute. Ford Australia dabbled with the “Effy” again in the not-too-distant past but couldn’t make the business case work for the big beast.
Performax International brings the F-250 in to Australia powered by a 6.7-litre turbodiesel V8 producing a considerable 328 kW and 1166 Nm of torque – apparently you can’t call that a Newton kilometre but it feels that strong.
With a claimed 4.5 tonnes (at least) of braked towing capacity, the GCM (depending on fitout) is 11.1 tonnes for the single rear wheel models or 14.1 tonnes for the dual-wheel variants. The big US-built Ford has an integrated trailer brake controller, trailer sway control, dual-zone climate control, rear sensors and camera, and heated and auto-dimming mirrors among its features. A strong-sounding V8 that is a little noisier than the remaining trio, it’s not a bad noise but could become tiresome over long periods.
While none are sharp through the helm, the Ford offers more involved steering for the driver, who also gets reach and rake adjustable steering and adjustable pedals – the latter could do with a little more range of adjustment, but it all adds up to a better driving position than the Ram.
The driver also gets integrated trailer brake switchgear and exhaust braking to aid with the heavy towing duties likely to be in the vehicle’s future, although the discs do a decent job on their own.
The view out over the vast bonnet is commanding, but it’s the towing mirrors that are vital on a vehicle of this girth; the rear camera and parking sensors are also well worth the inclusion for manoeuvring.
The cabin layout is roomy and comfortable, front and rear, with the rear bench angled nicely for comfort in the back seat for head and legroom – all four have the angles right for reasonable back-seat comfort.
Dashboard style is a little chunkier and less fussy than the Dodge, with multiple USB and 12-volt inputs and locally-installed instrumentation that’s easy to read, but the 4WD selector has not moved across to the right-hand side for the driver.
The return of the Dodge brand within the Chrysler Jeep stable (pre-Fiat takeover) was limited to the smaller end of the brand’s range, leaving the Ram to the private and low-volume importers.
Also packing a mammoth turbodiesel powerplant, the Ram is regularly seen underneath the front of fifth-wheelers or pulling large aquatic toys.
In this instance, there’s 275 kW and 1085 Nm on tap from the 6.7-litre Cummins turbodiesel V8 via a six-speed auto, showing 13 litres per 100 km (although the long-term average was in the 20s).
While it is not a huge power or torque deficit, the Ram doesn’t have the feel of an irresistible force of nature that sometimes comes with this style of engine.
The big Ram – in this instance a Mexican-built 2500 HD Laramie – is an imposing presence like the Ford.
A mammoth, square-jawed and beefy brute of a ute, it’s the only one that’s not leaf sprung under the rump, but the ride quality difference is not as vast as you’d expect.
All bar the Tundra have a ruffled ride quality over small bumps, with the Dodge working well on the larger bumps, but it’s the vague in-different steering that lets the Ram down.
You can’t expect anything in this leviathan class to point like a Porsche Macan, but the Ram falls short of the other three here.
Braking is also something that is a little underdone, with the Dodge requiring a solid shove of the brake pedal to bring it to a halt, but its surrounds within the footwell are similarly concerning.
The foot-operated park brake isn’t ideal to start with, but the positioning to the right of the accelerator is far from ideal, but it’s not hard to see why it’s there. The bulge from the bell housing encroaches from the left, meaning the brake pedal leaves little room for the driver’s left foot, let alone a park brake.
The Dodge driver gets tilt-only steering adjustment and a column shifter that gets close to the driver’s door switchgear; the transfer case and trailer brake controls have also not migrated to the right-hand side.
The dash is busy, but full of features and information (including tyre pressure monitoring), and the display for the reversing camera would be better through the centre screen rather than within the centre mirror – it and the rear sensors make up to some extent for the smallish exterior mirrors.
Cabin storage, space and comfort up front are good, with rear headroom not quite as good as the Ford.
Toyota’s Tundra is a more recent production revelation than the big three’s veteran reps here. The big Texas-built Toyota “pickup” is a petrol-only proposition at this point, which makes it a tougher sell to Aussies in the market for something of this ilk. That said, the brand has been known to make some nice V8s, and this one – the larger of the pair of V8s on offer to its home market – is no exception.
It’s an alloy 5.7-litre V8 that produces 284 kW and 543 Nm, breathing through 32 valves with variable timing and driving either the rear or all four wheels via a six-speed automatic.
Braked towing capacity of 4.0 tonnes (within a GCM of 7.2 tonnes) is well down on workhorse bragging rights, but it does have 20 inch alloys, heated and cooled power-adjustable front seats, auto-dimming and power-folding (external) mirror, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, rear sensors, reversing camera, stability and traction control, a sunroof and an powered rear tailgate among the Tundra’s selling points.
Immediately from behind the wheel it’s apparent this is the most refined of this quartet – due in part to the petrol V8, but also because of general cabin quietness and a more composed suspension.
The floor-mounted gated shift is less truck-like, as is the steering and ride quality. It’s not often you’d nominate a Toyota as the sportiest and most accomplished vehicle in the bends – although it’s still very much a HiLux on steroids.
But not everything has worked in the switch from left to right-hand-drive, although it’s not entirely unwarranted. After all, if you and the Speaker of the House are driving somewhere and the Sync button is pushed on the climate control to decide the temperature, it’s more likely to be dictated from the passenger’s side anyway.
The absence of a diesel might mean a nice soundtrack, but the fuel consumption sits in the mid-teens before any towing duties are undertaken, which would likely send the fuel-use numbers skyrocketing.
The Tundra has decent exterior mirrors (it also has blindspot warning) but the mirrors are not up to those of the Ford.
A nice touch if you talk to your dog, or feel the need to put someone else in the tray, is the ability of the rear window to fully retract – perhaps if you added the TRD exhausts from the accessory package the soundtrack might be even better.
Ride quality is not as ruffled as the other three, no mean feat given it has rear leaf springs. The switch to right-hand-drive didn’t extend to the grab handles on the A-pillar and above the door aperture, which have remained for the driver and left the passenger bereft of any access assistance.
Nothing this big has been seen on Aussie roads with a Holden badge (although its Suburban cousin was involved in a brief flirtation with Aussie SUV buyers), but the Chevrolet Silverado is sporadically spied on local roads having been converted to right-hand drive.
With Performax International now granted full volume import status, you can expect to see more on the roads, as the GM monster – which has production in Mexico and the US – unleashes its 6.6-litre turbodiesel V8 offering 296 kW and 1037 Nm via a six-speed automatic.
The Chevy lays claim to a 4.5-tonne braked towing capacity rating, with a GCM of 11.1 tonnes when sitting on single rear wheels, or 13.6 tonnes on dual rear wheels.
Among its arsenal are a damped and lift-assisted rear tailgate, a good-quality Bose USB and Bluetooth-equipped sound system, leather trim, stability and trailer sway control and tyre pressure monitoring.
The surprise packet of this group, the Silverado impresses for its refinement relative to the Ford and Dodge, although it falls short of the Tundra.
With more characterful looks than the Toyota, but not quite up to the chunky truck muscular looks of the Dodge or Ford, it makes up for it from behind the wheel.
Steering that’s not vague, and with almost enough weight and suspension that feels planted and composed, it needs much of its long-travel throttle involved before there’s serious action, but it does do the job once summoned.
Fuel use in the 12s was down on the other pickups, with the bonus of reduced emissions by way of the SCR system using AdBlue to clean up the exhaust.
A 2500HD Z71 Off Road model, it rides on leaf springs under the rump with torsion bar front end, but it combines to good effect, demonstrating that rear coils aren’t always a better option for such machinery.
All of these vehicles do deliver a body-on-frame “jiggle” over smaller road imperfections, and, while the Toyota is the most refined, the Chev does an admirable job of covering ground without feeling completely disconnected from the road.
The cabin is commodious, and overall is one of the more cohesive interior packages, although the otherwise-comfortable (if low-set) rear seating is let down by the absence of rear vents.
Tech-heads have access to three USBs and two 12-volt inputs plus a domestic plug (not converted to an Australian pattern), with the driver getting better-placed 4WD switchgear in a better spot – sadly, the Chev also suffers from the RHD-converted column shift encroaching too near the door switchgear for my liking, but if I had to pick one I’d take the Chev.
PRICE: from $142,490
DRIVETRAIN: 328 kW/1166 Nm 6.7-litre turbodiesel V8, six-speed automatic, part-time 4WD, 15 l/100 km
TOWING CAPACITY: 5.0 tonnes tongue supplied, max towing 14.1 tonnes.
PAYLOAD: up to 1.9 tonnes.
PRICE: from $142,950
DRIVETRAIN: 275 kW/1085 Nm 6.7-litre Cummins turbodiesel V8, six-speed auto, 13 l/100 km
TOWING CAPACITY: 5.0 tongue supplied, max towing 11.4 tonnes.
PAYLOAD: 1.4 tonnes
PRICE: from $125,950
DRIVETRAIN: 284 kW/543 Nm 5.7-litre V8, six-speed auto, part-time 4WD, 15 l/100 km
TOWING CAPACITY: 4.0 tonnes, 7.2 tonne GCM
PAYLOAD: 690 kg
PRICE: from $142,490
DRIVETRAIN: 296 kW/1037 Nm 6.6-litre turbodiesel V8, six-speed automatic, part-time 4WD
TOWING CAPACITY: towing 4.5 tonnes, max 13.6 tonnes
PAYLOAD: 1500 kg
It’s not the vehicle that I was expecting to like the most, but the Silverado came through to the end as the least vague, most efficient and well-sorted of the vehicles on offer.
The Toyota would be well-served by a decent diesel, but as it stands it’s a competent, composed and commodious ute, but it falls short of the bulge’n’brawn attributes of the larger diesel trio here.
The Dodge is feeling its age but has unmistakable road presence and some clever features, but the compromised driving position puts it bottom of my list.
The Ford too seems overdue for the all-new model, but it’s certainly ahead of the Ram in most respects. Like the Dodge, it has machismo and road presence in mammoth numbers and an interior that feels less dated.
But, if my trusty LandCruiser had to be pensioned off heavy-duty towing duties for one of this quartet, the Chevrolet Silverado would be the weapon of choice.
In joining Stuart on this four-vehicle comparison, I had good memories of my own F250, bought to tow horses around the country for my daughter. I had the expectation that the Dodge Ram was going to become my favourite, but this was soon replaced by the Chevrolet Silverado because of the Chevy’s all-round better experience.
Shifting the steering wheel to the right-hand-side of the vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean that both footwell spaces are equal, and with the Dodge there’s a lack of space for the driver’s left foot around the pedals that becomes both annoying and uncomfortable. Remember with all these big towing attributes, that when the laden weight of the trailer rises above 4.5 tonnes it’s the end to towing with a 50 mm ball and you need to go for a larger-sized towing package.
Toyota’s Tundra shows that Japanese fit and finish outweighs American production standards, but, with just a 700 kg payload despite the excellent V8 petrol performance, it’s a player from a lower league. My choice, like Stuart, is for the Chevy Silverado. (Chris Mullett Editor)
In towing terms, there are few vehicles on the Australian market that can come close to the utes represented here.
Some of the larger SUVs are rated to 3.5 tonnes braked towing capacity, but that’s an absolute maximum and needs to be tempered by what’s in the seats or the load area.
Perhaps the more important figure is the gross combined mass – once the trailer and its load is in place – and if you are closing in on the maximum load for the towball and the vehicle, you can’t then fill up all the seats or the load area and expect no consequences.
Payload/towing compared to their US cousins:
Toyota HiLux dual-cab 1100 kg/2500 kg
Ford Ranger 1041 kg/3500 kg
Holden Colorado 875 kg/3500 kg