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A Luxury Truck Showdown: Ram 1500 vs. GMC Sierra

HEAD-ON COMPARISON In the market for a big, bad luxury truck? Dan Neil drives the new Ram 1500 and GMC Sierra to decide which is worth the price.
HEAD-ON COMPARISON In the market for a big, bad luxury truck? Dan Neil drives the new Ram 1500 and GMC Sierra to decide which is worth the price. Illustration: SEAN MCCABE

IF GLAMOUR CAMPING is glamping, what’s luxury trucking, “lucking”? Well, talk about lucking lucky! I drove two of the newest, techiest, swankiest pickups, back-to-back. Here is my lucking report.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

While Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ’ price-setters should be flogged for profiteering, the redesigned 2019 Ram 1500 does indeed set new benchmarks for pickup-truck refinement, cabin content, efficiency and enormity. Bigger in nearly every dimension than its predecessor, the new Ram dwarfs other traffic like a linebacker in the corps de ballet. You better get some of them Duluth Trading Co. roomy-crotch jeans if you’re going to heft yourself into this thing (our tester kindly provided power running boards).

As with all other truck makers’ half-ton offerings, Ram is a pretty diverse species. The trim walk starts with the vocational model, the 1500 Tradesman Quad Cab 4×2, with the base 3.6-liter, 305-hp V6 ($33,490). It looks good in white. Twenty grand north lives the Laramie Longhorn ($53,385), a frontier fashionista with cattle-colored leather upholstery and rough-sawn wood trim, right off the bunkhouse wall. Who’s your decorator, partner?

A Luxury Truck Showdown: Ram 1500 vs. GMC Sierra
Photo: FCA US LLC

Our tester was the top-shelf Limited Crew Cab 4×4 ($64,515, as tested), powered by the company’s 5.7-liter “Hemi” V8 and what FCA calls its “eTorque” mild hybrid system. This belt-driven motor/generator/starter and small 48-volt battery provide brief but significant boosts of up to 90 hp and 130 lb-ft of torque on the V8.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4×4

A Luxury Truck Showdown: Ram 1500 vs. GMC Sierra
Photo: FCA US LLC
  • Base Price: $56,195
  • Price as Tested: $64,515
  • Powertrain: 5.7-liter V8 with electrical assist; eight-speed automatic transmission; two-speed transfer case and on-demand four-wheel drive; heavy-duty differential
  • Power/Torque: 395 at 5,600 rpm/410 lb-ft at 3,950 rpm
  • 0-60 mph: < 8 seconds
  • Fuel Economy: 17/22/19 mpg, city/highway/combined
  • Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase: 232.9/82.1/77.6/144.6 inches
  • Curb Weight/Max GVWR: 5,380/7,100 pounds
  • Max Trailering/Payload: 11,190/1,720 pounds

While helping the truck in low-speed towing and initial acceleration, eTorque’s primary deliverable is refinement, smoothing out the stop/start engine cycling until it is practically a nonevent.

The newly robust stop/start, combined with the engine cylinder deactivation and some nifty aerodynamics, help this 5,380-pound cowboy codpiece achieve a rated 17 mpg in the city, whereas the comparable GMC Sierra gets 15 mpg.

No big deal? According to the EPA’s pencilers, the Ram will save an owner $450 annually in fuel costs compared with the GMC, or $2,250 over five years. Think of the roomy-crotch jeans you could buy.

Taking the Ram out, I marveled at the slick integration of the electric torque and V8 power. I didn’t feel any seams between them. The package merely responded as if it were a 7-liter V8, not a 5.7. Nice.

The other step-change in pickup refinement comes by way of the Ram’s optional four-corner air suspension, an industry first. If you were hoping your hay-hauling weekend truck could ride like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, kneel down for loading like a city bus, and automatically load-level front and rear, well lookie here.

A Luxury Truck Showdown: Ram 1500 vs. GMC Sierra
Photo: FCA US LLC
2019 Sierra Denali 1500

I think of my dear sainted father standing at the back of his Ford pickup in the driveway, hammering on some part or other, making the rusty tailgate jump and slam. Whang! Whang! Muttered profanity was the soundtrack of my youth.

If I could raise Dad from the dead and show him the GMC Sierra MultiPro tailgate, he would keel over. Folding out in horizontal segments, this tailgate has more positions than a yoga master class, including a workbench position, perfectly elevated at about chest height—which Dad could have used, along with a leather apron. The tailgate’s inner span can fold further to create a full-width step; and there is a swing-out handle to grab, making getting in and out of the truck bed an easy two-step. The inner portion can also flip up as a load stop when the tailgate is lowered.

A Luxury Truck Showdown: Ram 1500 vs. GMC Sierra
Photo: GMC

Of course there is no shortage of clever tailgate solutions among half-ton trucks. The Sierra’s tailgate-forward marketing only proves how competitive this segment is. In other respects, its 2019 book has a lot in common with the Ram.

2019 Sierra Denali 1500 4WD Crew Cab

A Luxury Truck Showdown: Ram 1500 vs. GMC Sierra
Photo: GMC
  • Base Price: $58,000
  • Price as Tested: $67,735
  • Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8 with active fuel management; 10-speed automatic transmission; two-speed transfer case and on-demand four-wheel drive; heavy-duty rear differential
  • Power/Torque: 420 hp at 5,600 rpm/460 lb-ft at 4,100 rpm
  • 0-60 mph: < 8 seconds
  • Fuel Economy: 15/20/17 mpg, city/highway/combined
  • Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase: 231.7/81.2/75.5/147.4 inches
  • Curb Weight/Max GVWR: 5,443/7,100 pounds
  • Max Trailering/Payload: 9,300/1,610 pounds

The GMC is, first of all, way bigger than its predecessor, on a longer wheelbase and a longer cab. On the optional 22-inch polished aluminum rims the Sierra stands even taller, above large and exposed wheel wells, like a boy who has outgrown his pants.

Also like the Ram, the Sierra is comparatively lighter overall (up to 360 pounds) with greater torsional rigidity. The GMC offers not two but three engine options: a 5.3-liter, 355-hp V8; the same engine punched out to 6.2 liters (420 hp and 460 lb-ft or torque); and a 3.0-liter turbodiesel, which I do not recommend. GMC offers two transmissions—eight-speed and 10-speed automatics—and two or four-wheel drive. On-demand four-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case and an auto-locking rear differential round out the Sierra’s bona fides.

The Sierra parts company with the Ram in three critical respects. First, the Sierra lacks the Ram’s mild hybrid, 48-volt system, which contributes to Ram’s advantages in higher rated towing, trailering performance and fuel economy.

Second, the GMC doesn’t have the Ram’s fervor for cabin refinement and ride isolation. In particular, the GMC’s adaptive-damping suspension felt a little behind, failing to contain transient wheel juddering after hitting uneven surface. And really, no coil or leaf-spring configuration can do the magic-carpet thing like air suspension.

And third, GMC charges a bit more for a bit less truck: $58,000 vs. $56,195. That may exceed the tailgate’s load-bearing capacity.

A Luxury Truck Showdown: Ram 1500 vs. GMC Sierra
Photo: GMC

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