Raising the performance bar, the hottest new trucks and SUVs for towing offer more capability than ever.
Trucks and SUVs have officially surpassed sedans as America’s sales leader. Though this fact may confound car-enthusiast magazine editors, the reasons seem pretty clear to us. These vehicles, though perhaps not as fast or as agile as some sedans, offer a higher seating position, better visibility and far more utility. The right SUV or pickup has room for the whole family (providing you don’t run herd over a modern-day Brady Bunch), can haul sheets of plywood and fertilizer on the weekends and still offers an acceptable ride.
But readers of Trailer Life like them for one important reason. They can tow just about any trailer you have in mind. Trucks, in particular, have been raising the bar in this area, with half-tons towing in excess of 12,000 pounds, while heavy-duty models can pull an astronomical 30,000 pounds or more. And for those of you shopping for a new truck or SUV in the coming year, there’s good news: more capability and more choices than ever.
We’ve got a long list to cover, so let’s get started, shall we?
There’s much to talk about here. In case you missed the September issue, the Chevy 2500 and 3500 series heavy-duty trucks are all new, with major drivetrain changes that enable a class-leading tow rating of up to 35,500 pounds, not to mention a rating of at least 30,000 pounds for any diesel-equipped 3500 series dually.
The flagship 6.6-liter Duramax diesel maintains its 445 horsepower and 910 lb-ft of torque rating, but gets a massive 28-inch mechanical fan and a functional hood scoop designed to keep it cooler under heavy loads. It’s backed by a new 10-speed Allison transmission, as well as larger driveshafts, axles and differential ring gear. The fully boxed frame receives additional reinforcements, and the base gas engine swells from 6.0 to 6.6 liters, generates 401 horsepower and 464 lb-ft of torque, and is backed by a six-speed automatic.
See Related Stories:
• Silverado HD
• Silverado 1500 Diesel
Up to six built-in cameras (as well as an accessory rear-trailer camera and trailer-interior camera) provide up to 15 views to make hitching, backing and towing easier. Combined with the ASA Electronics iN-Command control system (which allows owners to monitor and control a range of systems in the trailer such as water-tank levels, HVAC and generator start/stop) and an in-vehicle/mobile trailering app (trailer-light test, electrical diagnostics, tire-pressure/temperature monitoring and predeparture checklist), the 2500 and 3500 trucks promise to provide an effortless towing experience.
On the half-ton front, Chevy has also introduced an all-new 3.0-liter Duramax diesel to compete with the likes of Ford’s 3.0-liter Power Stroke diesel and Ram’s reintroduced 3.0-liter EcoDiesel. Unlike those engines, however, the little ’Max is an inline six cylinder that produces 277 horsepower at 3,750 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm, routed through a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Able to tow up to 9,500 pounds, 3.0-liter Duramax trucks achieve an EPA-estimated 33 mpg/highway and 23 mpg/city in rear-wheel-drive models, and 29 mpg/highway and 23 mpg/city for four-wheel-drive configurations.
Chevy is upping the horsepower ante on its gas-powered half-tons as well. For 2020, more than half of Silverado trim levels will be available with the top-dog 6.2-liter V-8 churning out an SAE-certified 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. In the RST model, that translates to a tow rating of up to 13,400 pounds when properly equipped.
In the weirdness that surrounds model-year introductions these days, there wasn’t any detailed information on the 2019 Chevy Blazer when we were compiling last year’s guide to 2019 trucks, so a little rewind is in order. The Blazer is Chevy’s midsize SUV that forsakes the blocky honesty of its truck-based predecessor for “the most progressive expression of the Chevrolet crossover design theme,” according to GM. With a wide stance, high belt line and athletic styling, the new Blazer certainly is a looker, and is available with a 2.5-liter inline four cylinder or the venerable 3.6-liter V-6, front- or all-wheel drive. Of particular interest to RVers is an available Trailering Package with Hitch Guidance and Hitch View technology on 3.6-liter AWD models, which are rated to tow up to 4,500 pounds.
It’s no secret that GMC is Chevy’s upscale cousin, so it should come as no surprise
that the GMC Sierra 2500/3500 trucks boast the same mechanical upgrades and towing-
assistance features as the Chevy Silverado heavy-duty trucks highlighted in these pages. There are some differences, however. GMC HD models are available with a 15-inch-
diagonal head-up display that offers vehicle speed, navigation information and an inclinometer that shows the road grade, along with a MultiPro six-function tailgate. Unique styling as well as availability of the luxurious Denali trim level may be other reasons to choose the Sierra HD.
For those who anticipate towing to off-road locales (are you listening, toy hauler owners?), GMC presents the all-new 2020 Sierra Heavy Duty AT4, featuring mechanical upgrades like Rancho shocks, skid plates, locking rear differential, 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin all-terrain tires (20-inchers available), Traction Select with Off-Road mode, hill-descent control and hill-start assist, and HD Surround Vision1 for low-speed view of the vehicle’s surroundings. It looks different, too, with dark chrome exterior finishes and contemporary detailing that includes body-colored front and rear bumpers and grille surround.
Similarly, the GMC Sierra light-duty models will also offer the 3.0-liter Duramax diesel, as well as an available Enhanced ProGrade Trailering system with the same 15-camera-view system as the HD models, plus an available Adaptive Cruise Control camera, new trailer tow mirrors and an 8-inch diagonal infotainment display. A 10-speed automatic transmission is now available on 5.3-liter V-8 models (SLT, AT4 and Denali with 4WD), and the handsome Elevation model is now available in Crew Cab as well.
GMC’s midsize Acadia SUV also gets a major update this year, with new styling, an available 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, new nine-speed automatic transmission, an enhanced infotainment system and a head-up display. And, for the first time, the aggressive-looking, off-road-inspired AT4 trim package available on other GMC products will be offered on the Acadia as well. With the available 310-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 and Trailering Package, the Acadia can tow up to 4,000 pounds.
The Ram Heavy Duty lineup was completely updated for 2019, so we don’t expect any major changes for 2020. In case you missed the review in the May issue, the new Ram HD benefits from a new Cummins High Output (HO) diesel engine that produces a nice, round 400 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque, while the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 gas engine now benefits from an eight-speed TorqueFlite 8HP75 automatic transmission. Chassis and suspension improvements, reduced weight and all-new interiors are just a few of the details that make the Ram HD one of the top choices for 2020 as well.
Ram’s emissions struggles with the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 were well publicized, but the engine is back for 2020 and is better than ever. Completely new for 2020, the EcoDiesel produces a class-leading 480 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm, along with a respectable 260 horsepower — good for a tow rating of up to 12,560 pounds. Available in all models and configurations, including the Ram Rebel, the double-overhead-cam engine features revised intake ports, a 16:1 compression ratio, water-cooled VGT turbocharger and 29,000-psi direct injection.
Most of us associate Jeep with iconic models like the Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, but the brand has a long history of building pickups. With the all-new Gladiator, it is back in the pickup game and is taking no prisoners. As you might expect, the Gladiator offers real off-road capability, with equipment like Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4×4 systems, Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock electric front- and rear-axle lockers, Trac-Lok limited-slip differential, a segment-exclusive electronic sway-bar disconnect and 33-inch off-road tires.
Perhaps more germane to Trailer Life readers, the Gladiator also boasts the highest available towing capacity in its class at up to 7,650 pounds, along with a 1,600-pound payload. And in a nod to its Wrangler cousin, the Gladiator is also the only true open-air pickup, offered with a soft or hard top and dozens of different door, top and windshield combinations. There’s even a fold-down windshield.
Initially, the Gladiator is available with the lauded 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine and a six- or eight-speed automatic transmission, but the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel and eight-speed combination will be available in 2020.
In the spring of 2018, Ford announced that it will stop selling cars in North America with the exception of the Mustang, choosing instead to focus on SUVs and trucks. With that in mind, it introduced a decidedly carlike 2020 Ford Escape one year later, and recently introduced an all-new Ford Explorer.
Redesigned from the ground up, this new Explorer uses a rear-wheel-drive architecture (instead of the front- or all-wheel-drive offerings of the past), which the company says allowed for a sportier design, improved on/off-road capability and a 600-pound boost in maximum towing capacity to 5,600 pounds when properly equipped. An Explorer ST model, meanwhile, is the most powerful Explorer ever, with a performance-tuned 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 that produces an impressive 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque.
A Class III Trailer Tow Package is available with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost and new 3.3-liter hybrid engines, and comes standard with the 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine. (See the June issue for an exclusive look at the Explorer Hybrid, paired with an Airstream Nest.)
Trailer sway control, which selectively brakes and adjusts engine power to keep a towable in line, is standard across the board. An available console-mounted Terrain Management System offers up to seven selectable drive modes including normal, trail, deep snow and sand, slippery, sport, tow/haul and a new Eco mode, each with special 3D animated graphics displayed in the available new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
A redesigned interior offers an available 10.1-inch portrait-mounted touch screen with full-screen maps, traffic-sensing Ford Co-Pilot360 driver-assist and features that can help reduce stress, such as available Reverse Brake Assist and Active Park Assist 2.0, which handles all steering, shifting, brake and accelerator controls during a parking maneuver with the touch of a button.
Trucks are Ford’s bread and butter, and with GM and Ram having introduced new heavy-duty models, Ford is answering back with a substantially updated Super Duty lineup. At press time, details are still filtering in, but the company promises the Super Duty will be offered with its highest ever conventional and fifth-wheel towing (and payload) ratings.
In addition to the standard 6.2-liter gas V-8, Ford is introducing a second, more powerful gas option: a 7.3-liter V-8 that promises to be the most powerful in its segment at 430 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque. The 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel will also be updated with a new fuel-injection system, redesigned variable geometry turbocharger and structural enhancements that will allow for higher output, but we don’t have any horsepower or torque figures as of this writing. An all-new, Ford-designed and -built 10-speed TorqShift automatic transmission will be available with all three engines.
Visually, the Super Duty doesn’t change much. An enhanced front end with a redesigned front bumper and air dam help optimize cooling, while the LED headlamps have a new look and improved performance, according to Ford. At the rear, a freshened tailgate design, revised tail lamps and a new bumper convey a bolder Built Ford Tough style.
Both under the same corporate umbrella, Hyundai and Kia have introduced all-new midsize SUVs, the Palisade and Telluride, respectively. Built on the same architecture, both models are powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 producing 291 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque, backed by an eight-speed transmission, with a choiceof front- or all-wheel drive.
Rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, Palisade and Telluride models offer three-row seating for up to seven passengers. So what are the main differences? Aside from appearances, Palisade is built in Korea, and Telluride was designed in California and is assembled in Georgia. There are small differences in overall length, width and interior volume, with the advantage going to Telluride. Which to choose? Honestly, it comes down to which one you like better, as both are similarly priced.
The Tundra full-size and Tacoma midsize pickups get minor upgrades, and the Sequoia full-size SUV is now offered with the off-road-inspired TRD Pro trim level. The biggest news from Toyota this year, however, is an all-new midsize Highlander SUV, built on the company’s Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform. Promising higher levels of comfort, capability and safety, this fourth-generation Highlander comes standard with
a 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 packing 263 lb-ft of torque, matched with a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
When equipped with the available towing package (heavy-duty radiator, engine-oil cooler, improved cooling-fan performance and Trailer Sway Control), the Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Available in front- or all-wheel-drive with seven- or eight-passenger seating, the Highlander comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay/SiriusXM/Waze/Amazon Alexa compatibility and offers a 12.3-inch multimedia display.
A frequent contributor to Trailer Life, Chris Hemer is the former technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome, and has been an RV and automotive journalist for more than 20 years. An outdoor enthusiast who now makes his home in Portland, Oregon, he enjoys camping, motorcycle riding, mountain biking and hiking.