Looking for a new pickup? From upgraded features to more powerful engines and added models, 2016 offers something for every truck buyer
Pickup trucks used to be a lot like wheelbarrows — an essential tool for heavy work but not necessarily something you’d want to ride around town in. They had bench seats, heavy steering and a stiff suspension, and if you wanted air conditioning, well, you rolled down the window. If we could have peered through a porthole into the future back then, we’d be amazed to see what the humble pickup has become — not just an immensely capable machine for work or recreation but one so versatile and good looking it could be used as the sole family vehicle. Heavy-duty or midsize, basic or leather-lined, the pickup has gradually morphed from faithful family friend into a status symbol, and every company that builds a truck is vying for market leadership.
Each model year, almost without fail, we say that the current year is a good one to shop for a new truck. That’s because there are so many new offerings, so many improvements, it seems like things really can’t get much better for truck buyers. And then they do. For 2016, the story is much the same — additional content, more capability, new engines and even some all-new models. So, is this the best year ever to consider a new truck? Probably. Will they be even better next year? We have little doubt. Here’s the latest:
In a sort of model-year mash-up, the Ram 1500 received two midyear 2015 offerings that will continue into the 2016 model year: the Ram 1500 Rebel and the Ram 1500 Limited. The Rebel is an off-road-focused model featuring a new blacked-out grille, skid plate, tow hooks, Bilstein shocks and 33-inch Toyo tires on 17-inch aluminum wheels. Available exclusively as a crew cab model with a 5-foot 7-inch bed length, the Rebel is offered in two- or four-wheel drive with either a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 or a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Billed as a “black tie” luxury alternative to the Southwestern-themed Laramie Longhorn, the Limited offers exterior details like an all-new grille, unique 20-inch wheels, additional chrome accents and a chrome Ram tailgate logo. Inside its sumptuous cab, the big Limited features all-black full-leather seating, Black Argento wood inserts and matching Berber carpet inserts.
Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks are also available with the Limited treatment, but, more importantly, they continue to up the HD ante with a best-in-class tow rating of 32,210 pounds and the most torque at a whopping 900 lb-ft when the high-output 6.7-liter Cummins diesel is specified.
The biggest news at GM comes from its smallest truck, the recently reintroduced Chevy Colorado, and its sibling, the GMC Canyon. Although the truck is essentially unchanged for 2016 (save for some minor interior details), RVers will likely be interested in the new 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder diesel, which should be available by the time you read this. Considering the 2.5-liter gasoline four-cylinder already has an EPA rating of 27 mpg highway, it’s not unreasonable to expect 30-plus mpg from the diesel — and with 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque on tap (100 lb-ft more than the available 3.6-liter gas V-6), it should at least match the truck’s current top tow rating of 7,000 pounds.
The half-ton Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra receive minor exterior updates for 2016, including a more sculpted hood and a contemporary headlight treatment incorporating LED running lights. On the functional side, expect the expanded use of eight-speed automatic transmissions in an effort to further improve fuel economy. The heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 trucks will likewise receive similar updates to the headlights and grille, as well as a couple of welcome RV-specific details — namely, an available fifth-wheel/gooseneck Trailering Prep Package (available later in the year), Active Steering Assist (improves steering feel and reduces pull on crowned roads) and the adoption of SAE J2807 trailering standards. Inside the comfy cabin, the Chevy MyLink/GMC IntelliLink system is offered with a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen and a faster processor, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
With trailer-towing innovations like integrated trailer-brake control, trailer-sway control and dynamic hitch assist, the best-selling F-150 already makes trailering easy — but for 2016, Ford raises the bar yet another notch with its all-new Pro Trailer Backup Assist (PTBA) system. When backing up, the driver simply turns a knob to indicate the direction he or she wishes to go, instead of the often-confusing reverse-steering method we’re all familiar with. The system automatically steers the truck the desired amount and limits vehicle speed to make backing safer and easier. Video demonstrations (search “Pro Trailer Backup Assist” on YouTube) show the driver towing a boat, but it’s not hard to imagine how useful this system could be when backing a trailer into a tight campground space. Ford engineers used advanced camera technology to develop the system’s trailer tracking system strategy and tested PTBA for nearly a decade before its official introduction this year. Otherwise, the F-150 is essentially unchanged, save for some appearance packages on the XLT and Lariat trim levels.
The Ford Super Duty lineup is likewise carryover, but the top dog F-450 now has a fifth-wheel tow rating of 26,500 pounds and a gross combination weight rating of 40,400 pounds.
You’ve been hearing about it for years, and now it’s finally here: the Nissan Titan XD with an available 5.0-liter Cummins turbodiesel V-8 engine. All new for 2016, the Titan XD starts with a fully boxed ladder frame that has been extensively reinforced and strengthened for added stiffness, vertical/lateral bending and torsional rigidity. The suspension is pretty traditional truck stuff, incorporating a double-wishbone arrangement with a stabilizer bar up front and a straight axle out back with leaf springs and twin-tube shock absorbers.
Nissan is still being coy about capabilities but maintains that the Titan XD will have a payload of more than 2,000 pounds and an SAE J2807-compliant tow rating of more than 12,000 pounds when properly equipped. That’s a lot of weight to bring to a stop, so the XD is outfitted with 14.2-inch discs up front and 14.4-inch rear with ABS. Buyers will have a choice of 17-, 18- or 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels wrapped in LT245/75R17, LT275/65R18 or LT265/60R20 tires, respectively.
Nissan has also been reluctant to release output numbers for the new Cummins powerplant but allows that it is the first commercial application of the new M2 two-stage turbo system, which helps reduce traditional turbo-lag through precision balancing between high-pressure and low-pressure turbos. Utilizing a compacted graphite iron (CGI) block and aluminum cylinder heads, the double overhead cam engine will reportedly produce about 45 percent more torque at cruising speed than similar-size gasoline V-8 engines and 20 percent better fuel economy when towing heavy loads. The engine will be backed by a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission developed and engineered specifically for the Titan XD. The Titan will also be offered with V-8 and V-6 engines, but details on these were not available at press time.
Of particular interest to RVers are an Integrated Trailer Brake Controller, Trailer Sway Control (TSC), Tow/Haul Mode with Downhill Speed Control and a handy Trailer Light Check system that allows one-person to verify the operation of turn signals, brake lights and running/clearance lights from inside the Titan’s cab. The system also includes Moving Object Detection (MOD), designed to help the driver detect moving objects such as vehicles, shopping carts or other large objects when backing out via an on-screen notification and warning chime.
The Titan XD will offer several hitches, including an integrated gooseneck hitch built into the frame, in addition to a suite of available advanced driving aids that include a RearView Monitor and Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, Blind Spot Warning (BSW), front and rear sonar parking system and a tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
The Titan XD’s controversial exterior styling appears to borrow heavily from Ford and Dodge light-duty trucks, and it cribs a few features from its full-size competitors as well, albeit with some unique tweaks. For example, dual lockable in-bed storage boxes are available, but unlike other similar systems, these can be accessed from inside the bed without having to remove a camper shell or tonneau cover. They are also removable when extra bed capacity is required. Other familiar features include a 120-volt AC power outlet in the bed and an easy-lift/lower tailgate, plus Nissan innovations like a factory spray-in bedliner and thoughtful touches like flush-mounted LED bedrail lighting.
Toyota has always led the midsize-pickup pack with its Tacoma, but when the Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon and Dodge Dakota left the party, it was sitting pretty. Even with dated engines/transmissions and lackluster fuel economy, it easily maintained its number one spot against its sole rival, the Nissan Frontier. However, with the impending return of the Colorado/Canyon, Toyota figured it was time for a much-needed update of the Tacoma to keep it on top.
Developed in part by the Toyota engineering team at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the new truck features a high-strength steel frame to enhance overall rigidity and an all-new 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V-6 with VVT-iW (Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake) and Toyota’s D-4S technology, which incorporates both direct and port fuel injection. At 278 horsepower, it trails GM’s top offering (305 horsepower) but offers an increase of 42 horsepower over the previous V-6 along with 265 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm. The 2.7-liter four-cylinder carries on essentially unchanged. Both engines will be paired with a new six-speed automatic transmission, and for those that prefer to row their own, the V-6 also offers a new six-speed manual and a carryover five-speed manual. When equipped with the V-6 Tow Package, the new Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 pounds (per the SAE J2807 tow standard), an increase of 300 pounds over the previous V-6.
As before, the Tacoma is all about choice, offering five model grades (SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off Road and Limited) and 29 configurations in its two cab types, the extended Access Cab and four-door Double Cab. Each cab will be available in 4×2 and 4×4 configurations.
The new exterior is complemented by an all-new, quieter interior that offers an array of available features, including Qi wireless charging, Smart Key with pushbutton start, leather-trimmed seats, power tilt/slide moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, touchscreen audio and blind-spot monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
All Tacoma 4×4 models are equipped with 4WDemand part-time 4WD with an electronically controlled transfer case and an Automatic Limited Slip Differential (Auto LSD), while Tacoma TRD Sport models are equipped with sport-tuned shocks. But if you really plan to travel off the beaten path, the TRD Off-Road grade adds a number of hard-core features borrowed from the legendary Land Cruiser and 4Runner Trail. The Multi-Terrain Select system (automatic transmission only) allows the driver to optimize traction over a variety of surfaces by selecting loose rock, mud or sand; each input regulates wheelspin by adjusting throttle and brake inputs. Additional off-road features include a locking rear differential, Hill Start Assist Control, Active Traction Control and Crawl Control.
Optional on V-6 models is a Class IV hitch receiver with a transmission oil cooler, 130-amp alternator (manual transmission only), four- and seven-pin connector and Trailer-Sway Control.