SUV or Pickup: Which to Choose?

Comparing drivability, comfort, access, fuel economy, ride, and towing capacity

SUV v pickup truck iStock-908926162 iStock-908857078

About 300,000 SUV shoppers debated whether to buy a pickup truck instead, according to the 2018 New Vehicle Satisfaction Survey from the industry analytics firm AutoPacific. That’s an increase of about 220,000 compared with 10 years earlier. Though SUVs still dominate the market—more than 8 million sold in 2018 vs. just shy of 3 million trucks—the larger, quieter cabins and improved fuel economy of pickups continue to draw interest from families and outdoor-adventure shoppers.


The best way to make an educated choice between the two is to understand exactly what each vehicle type does best—and doesn’t.

To help you, CR’s experts broke out the key decision triggers: drivability (or everyday handling), seating and comfort, access (how easy it is to get in and out of a vehicle), fuel economy, towing capacity, and ride.

Below, we describe how types of SUVs and trucks fared on each of these measures, and we give the nod to the segment winner with a “■.”

Large SUVs vs. Full-Sized Pickup Trucks

midsize suv v truck



Best Choice: Large SUV
It’s a close contest between large SUVs and full-sized pickups, because both of these behemoths are built on similar platforms. That said, large SUVs tend to handle a bit more responsively. “In our testing, these big vehicles struggle through CR’s avoidance-maneuver exercise, which mimics an emergency swerve around an object,” says Gabe Shenhar, CR’s associate director of auto testing. The long wheelbase contributes to their ungainliness. Maneuvering one through a tight parking lot can be harrowing.

Best SUV for drivability: Ford Expedition Max
Best truck for drivability: Ram 1500

Seating & Comfort

Best Choice: Large SUV
If your family must have six seats, an SUV is your answer. While full-sized pickups can be configured for six, the middle front seat is an uncomfortable and less safe perch. Unlike in midsized SUVs, the third-row seats in vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition Max are comfortable even for adults. If five seats are all you need, the abundance of space in crew-cab pickups makes their rear seats livable. “Plus, full-sized crew-cab pickups are some of the easiest vehicles to install a child seat,” says Emily Thomas, CR’s automotive safety engineer.

Best SUV for seating & comfort: Ford Expedition Max
Best truck for seating & comfort: Ram 1500


Tie: Large SUV & full-sized pickup
Full-sized pickups and large SUVs sit higher off the ground than most other vehicles. Regardless of whether it’s a Ford F-150 pickup or a Suburban SUV, it’s a climb to get up into the cabin, and you’re nearly jumping to get back out. Even if the SUV or pickup has running boards, this daily hoist can wear on owners and can be a deal-breaker if you have to transport elderly passengers. Plus, getting at cargo in a truck’s bed is considerably more difficult than reaching cargo in an SUV.

Best SUV for access: Ford Expedition Max
Best truck for access: Ram 1500

Fuel Economy

Best choice: Full-sized pickup
In general, big pickups are slightly more fuel-efficient than big SUVs. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and Ram 1500 come in at 17 mpg overall, while most of the large SUVs, which are significantly heavier than their pickup brethren, average 16 mpg. Truck manufacturers have invested in fuel-saving engines and transmissions, and the payoff is that a full-sized pickup, Ford’s F-150 (with a 2.7-liter turbo V6), gets 19 mpg overall vs. the smaller Chevrolet Colorado’s 18 mpg overall (with a 3.6-liter V6).

Best SUV for fuel economy: Ford Expedition Max
Best truck for fuel economy: Ford F-150

Towing Capacity

Best choice: Full-sized pickup
Towing is a key consideration for a sizable number of families. Dawn McKenzie, a spokeswoman for Ford, told us that about 75 percent of owners with a full-sized Ford pickup use their trucks to tow. “They don’t tow all the time, but at some point they tow,” she says. But it’s not just pickups that can tow. Large SUVs can handle 8,000 pounds or more, with the Expedition Max capable of pulling a burly 9,000 pounds. Still, there’s no trumping a full-sized pickup that can tow in excess of 10,000 pounds.

Best SUV for towing capacity: Ford Expedition Max
Best truck for towing capacity: Ford F-150


Best choice: Large SUV
This is an easy win for large SUVs, which usually receive higher marks in this category in our testing because their suspensions soak up bumps well enough to keep occupants happy. Pickup trucks, on the other hand, deliver a stiff ride unless there’s a heavy load in the bed. This rough and bouncy character is prevalent on back roads, and the jostling can make trucks tiresome to passengers on highway drives, too. The Ram 1500 is the exception to the rule; its unique rear suspension helps it ride as nicely as some cars.

Best SUV for ride: Chevrolet Suburban Premier
Best truck for ride: Ram 1500

Midsized SUVs vs. Compact Pickup Trucks

large suv v truck



Best choice: Midsized SUV
In general, a top-performing midsized SUV, such as the Subaru Ascent or Toyota Highlander, is going to be far more pleasant to tool around in than a compact pickup, such as a Chevrolet Colorado or Toyota Tacoma. That’s because almost all midsized SUVs are built on a car platform, so they drive a lot like cars. Plus, these SUVs usually have a shorter wheelbase and less overall length, which make them easier to maneuver. Acceleration is similar between them, with 0-60 mph in 7-8 seconds. Most midsized SUVs do a better job squelching road and engine noise than pickups, with the Honda Ridgeline pickup the exception thanks to its SUV-like cabin solitude.
Best SUV for drivability: Chevrolet Traverse
Best truck for drivability: Honda Ridgeline

Seating & Comfort

Best choice: Midsized SUV
If your family auto occasionally needs to carry more than five people, a three-row midsized SUV, such as the Ascent, Highlander, or Honda Pilot, becomes the clear choice because it can seat up to eight people. Compact pickups have room only for five, and the rear seats are more cramped and not as comfortable as the SUV's. (Even the Ridgeline doesn’t score well in rear-seat comfort.) That’s especially true if the SUV has adjustable second-row captain’s chairs. Just remember: Even though the third-row seats in these midsized SUVs can be handy, they’re better-suited for children, not adults.
Best SUV for seating & comfort: Honda Pilot
Best truck for seating & comfort: Honda Ridgeline


Best choice: Midsized SUV
Most compact pickups sit high off the ground, but they don’t have as much headroom as full-sized pickups. That means it’s a climb for people to get into the cabin, and then they have to duck to avoid the roof, making access challenging. The Ridgeline is easier to get into than other pickups, but entry is still not as simple as in most SUVs, especially getting into the backseat. Rear entry is hampered by a short rear door that doesn’t open very wide. It’s simple, by comparison, to get into a midsized SUV. It benefits from good-sized doors, an easy step-in, and seats at a near-perfect height for average-sized adults.
Best SUV for access: Honda Pilot
Best truck for access: Honda Ridgeline

Fuel Economy

Best choice: Midsized SUV
Even though compact pickups are relatively light and small, they aren’t very fuel-efficient. The Colorado, using a 3.6-liter V6, got only 18 mpg overall in our testing, and the Ridgeline wasn’t very impressive, either, at just 20 mpg overall. But the diesel versions of the Colorado and its sibling the GMC Canyon get 24 mpg overall. Midsized SUVs like the Ascent and Highlander get 22 mpg overall, and the Highlander Hybrid gets an impressive 25 mpg overall, although it’s worth noting that the hybrid model is rated to tow only 3,500 pounds.
Best SUV for fuel economy: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Best truck for fuel economy: GMC Canyon Diesel

Towing Capacity

Best choice: Compact pickup
Many midsized SUVs can tow 5,000 pounds, enough to pull smaller RV trailers and boats. But you never want to tow at or near your vehicle’s capacity. It adds stress to the vehicle and raises safety concerns. If more capacity is needed, tougher midsized SUVs such as the Dodge Durango (capable of handling 7,200 pounds) or Jeep Grand Cherokee (also up to 7,200 pounds) could do the trick. Compact pickups have a slight towing edge, with the Tacoma rated up to 6,400 pounds and the Colorado to 7,700 pounds. The Ridgeline’s car-based SUV roots show here: It can tow only 5,000 pounds.
Best SUV for towing capacity: Jeep Grand Cherokee
Best truck for towing capacity: GMC Canyon Diesel


Best choice: Midsized SUV
This is where trucks really falter. Traditional pickups, such as the Colorado and Tacoma, have poor scores for ride quality in our testing, with a stiff and bouncy feel, especially when the bed is completely empty of cargo. That’s a big reason we appreciate the Ridgeline so much. It easily outscores its pickup competitors, delivering a ride that’s about as smooth as the CX-9 and Highlander, if a bit shy of the super-absorbent Ascent.
Best SUV for ride: Subaru Ascent
Best truck for ride: Honda Ridgeline

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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Mike Monticello

After my dad gave me a ride on his Yamaha two-stroke motorcycle when I was 3, I was hooked on anything with an engine. I got a master’s in journalism as a means to an end: To drive cars and get paid for it, which led me to jobs at Road & Track and My most thrilling moment so far has been hurtling down the autobahn at a GPS-timed 217.1 mph in a Ruf Rt12. On weekends you can find me churning dirt on my mountain bike or doing car or motorcycle track days. Follow me on Twitter. (@MikeMonticello)