Pickup reviews: Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Colorado are home-improvement haulers

We put these all-new trucks to the test

Published: June 23, 2015 06:00 AM

The redesigned Ford F-150 lost 700 lbs.

There is nothing more American than a pickup truck. And the segment has been undergoing a transformation in recent years, with redesigns of the Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra, and soon the Nissan Titan. But the big dog in the group is the Ford F-150, which has been the No. 1-selling truck in America for 33 years. And for those folks for whom size doesn’t always matter, we also tested the Chevrolet Colorado, which is leading a resurgence in the compact pickup segment. Which truck comes out on top in our latest pickup review?

After you read our pickup review, tell us about your experience with the F-150 or the Colorado by leaving a comment below.

Ford F-150

High-tech advances can’t overcome an underwhelming driving experience 

With the launch of the redesigned F-150, Ford broke all of the rules for pickup trucks. From its much-touted aluminum construction—shaving about 700 pounds from the old model—to available small-displacement twin-turbo V6 engines promising the power of a V8 but with better fuel economy, Ford has shaken things up in a category not known for innovation. It has bet the farm on the automaker’s biggest profit center. (Read "How Good Is the Revolutionary 2015 Ford F-150?" for more information.)

The weight-loss program and high-tech wizardry under the hood pay off with an impressive 17 mpg overall fuel economy from the 2.7-liter turbo V6—edging out the 5.3-liter V8 Chevrolet Silverado by one hay-hauling mpg. (The Ram 1500 diesel still leads the class with 20 mpg overall.) The F-150’s 2.7- and beefier 3.5-liter turbo-V6 engines provide plenty of punch even at low revs, with quick acceleration and effortless towing ability. Powerwise, you won’t miss a V8.

Still, old-school truckers can relax because a 385-hp, 5.0-liter V8 is also available. It has a great V8 rumble, but the two turbo V6 engines have more torque. The 3.5 turbo is actually a better choice for towing, with a max rating of 11,500 pounds. Rounding out engine options is the base, nonturbocharged 282-hp, 3.5-liter V6. All powerplants are paired with a six-speed automatic.

The F-150 has several neat features, such as these bed lights.

Inside, our tested crew-cab models had cavernous room front and rear, and both were almost tomb-silent. The driving position is comfy and roomy. A standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and optional power adjustable pedals can accommodate truckers of all shapes and sizes. Large windows and relatively narrow pillars provide better visibility than the competing Silverado or Ram 1500, but a rear camera costs extra. It should be standard equipment, given a pickup’s rear blind zone behind the back bumper.

A wide range of trim levels and option packages let buyers choose anything from a hose-it-out fleet special to a posh, leather-lined interior with luxury-car comforts. Our tested midlevel XLT trim was quite basic in ambiance and not befitting a $46,000 vehicle. Lots of clever features, including a tailgate ladder and side mirror spotlights, make work and play easier.

Despite the revolutionary new structure, the F-150 driving experience falls flat. Bearing in mind that we were testing a truck, the steering was nonetheless vague and slow to respond, and the ride was fidgety and unsettled even on relatively smooth surfaces. That means staying in your lane on rural back roads requires fatiguing focus. A wide turning circle doesn’t help with parking. The Silverado handles better, and the Ram has a plusher, more settled ride. The F-150 also lost points for long stopping distances.

If you’re a Ford loyalist dead set on staying in the family, be aware that new F-150s are currently rolling off the line with Ford’s distracting and irritatingly glitchy MyFord Touch infotainment interface. The system is to be replaced by year’s end with the new Sync 3. Based on our experience, the new display looks more intuitive and easier to use. We think it might be worth the wait.

Read our complete Ford F-150 road test.

Highs Quiet cabin, acceleration, fuel economy, available towing and payload capacities, clever features
Lows Jittery ride, lackluster handling and braking, frustrating MyFord Touch infotainment system
Engines 325-hp, turbocharged 2.7-liter V6; 365-hp, turbocharged 3.5-liter V6; 6-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel drive
Fuel 17 mpg (2.7-liter); 16 mpg (3.5-liter)

Chevrolet Colorado

Don’t need a monster pickup truck? Chevy offers a midsized alternative. 

The world needs more small trucks. They’re easier to park and maneuver, and cost less to feed than the relative behemoths known as the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram 1500. The problem has been that there are only moribund and dated compact models available. And though the Chevrolet Colorado is the first redesign in 11 years, the fact that it tops the class is due more to its newness rather than it being inherently ground-breaking.

How to put this nicely? We really, really want to like this truck. We just can’t. (Watch a video above of the Colorado's twin, the GMC Canyon.)

This Colorado replaces a version that was an also-ran right out of the box. So small-truck buyers were left to choose between the aged Nissan Frontier and the rough-and-tumble ride of the Toyota Tacoma—akin to choosing between poison ivy and wasps on a 10-mile hike. Hence, Chevrolet had Rocky Mountain high hopes for the new Colorado.

The pint-sized dimensions make parking a snap. It’s clearly the most maneuverable truck in the segment, and handling is quite responsive as well. Fuel economy, at 18 mpg overall, is tops. The cabin is quiet and easy to climb into.

As for carrying out normal truck duties, the Colorado boasts a 1,555-pound payload and can tow up to 7,000 pounds. That’s more than the Tacoma or Frontier.

But this is where things start to go badly. Despite its 305 hp, the V6 is rather short on the low-end torque that’s so important for truck owners who actually haul stuff. The ride can be brutal at times, with choppiness and jostling on any road rougher than a velvet Elvis painting.

The damped tailgate is a nice touch, lowering the gate gradually.

To fulfill its trucklike duties, the Colorado offers a damped rear tailgate that opens without sounding like you dropped a box of nails on a metal floor. A standard corner step in the rear bumper and a low loading height make getting your stuff into the bed that much easier.

Expectations for interior quality in this segment are predictably low. The plastic knobs are rubber-ringed, but dials, switches, and panels are hard to the touch.

The real deal-breakers here are the seats and driving position. The standard cloth seats in our tested LT model were universally scorned by our testers for being too stiffly padded and lacking lumbar adjustment. The bottom seat cushion didn’t adjust for tilt, and the recline adjustment is manual. The steering wheel didn’t telescope far enough for many.

From a safety standpoint, we laud the Colorado for being equipped with a standard rear-view camera. We’re also impressed that it’s the only small truck currently available with forward-collision and lane-departure warning—part of the $395 Safety Package.

The as-tested price for our crew-cab four-wheel-drive LT came to an eye-widening $34,300, not far from many full-sized trucks.

Overall, the Colorado is almost a large-truck alternative. But it’s not cheap, and upcoming redesigns of the Tacoma and Honda Ridgeline mean that its elite stature among small trucks could be short-lived.

Read our complete Chevrolet Colorado road test.

Highs Maneuverability, towing and payload capacities, fuel economy, damped tailgate, standard rear camera
Lows Ride, uncomfortable seats and driving position, gets pricey
Engines 305-hp, 3.6-liter V6; 6-speed automatic; part-time four-wheel drive
Fuel 18 mpg
Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.



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