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Which one to buy? Best 2021 pickup trucks

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The pickup truck market is filled with a shocking variety of choices, features, styles and powertrains, which makes narrowing down your choice fairly difficult. So, we wanted to look at the current lineup of trucks, sort them by brand and share thoughts on which ones are the best 2021 pickup trucks.

What makes the best 2021 pickup trucks?

These days it is hard to find fault with many of the 2021 pickup trucks on the market. However, because it is so competitive right now, every brand is making updates and changes at a much faster pace — meaning consumers are getting rewarded with a solid lineup of full-size trucks to choose from on dealer lots.

Here is how I see the market.

best 2021 pickup trucks

Redone in 2019, the 2021 Chevy Silverado offers an impressive lineup of engines. (Photo courtesy General Motors)

Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra

For decades now, GM has offered two different trucks with the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. This has and continues to cause some confusion, so let’s cut to the chase right away. GM has positioned the Silverado as the entry-level pickup and the GMC Sierra as the more premium option.

With this out of the way, the current GM truck lineup is pretty diverse. Right now, they offer a variety of different engines, transmissions and trims levels including the new GMC Sierra AT4 off-road pickup truck.

For engines, GM offers six (6!) different engines for the Silverado and Sierra — although not every truck and trim gets all the different choices. For example, the 4.3-liter V-6 and the 5.3-liter V-8 (L82) are for work trucks. For consumer-level trucks, you have the 2.7-liter turbo, the 5.3-liter V-8 (L84), 6.2-liter V-8 and the 3.0-liter diesel.

Looking at the chart below, the 2.7-liter turbo is best for MPG, and the 6.2-liter V-8 is the worst. However, the large V-8 is great for towing. The sweet spot is the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel mated to the 10-speed transmission for both fuel economy and towing. It is certainly our favorite powertrain.

best 2021 pickup trucks

Image courtesy of GM.

If diesel isn’t your thing, the 6.2-liter V-8 is a lot of fun to drive followed by the 2.7-liter turbo. The 5.3-liter V-8 is the most popular engine choice for the mix of MPG and towing (even with the deletion of active fuel management system due to shortages).

For my money, I’d either go for the Chevy Silverado in the RST trim with the All-Star edition package powered by either the 2.7-liter or the 5.3-liter V-8 — or I’d go for the GMC Sierra AT4 with the 3.0-liter diesel. Why? Those combinations are good for both the price and performance.

best 2021 pickup trucks

The freshest pickup truck on the market, the 2021 Ford F-150 can be had with a new hybrid powertrain. (Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company)

Ford F-150

The perennial top-selling truck maker has grabbed a lot of attention this year by releasing an updated 2021 F-150 model. How much attention? So much that I bought one for this outlet to test for the year.

With exterior updates, new interior features and a host of other changes, the 2021 F-150 has been a hot item to purchase this year.

For me, I went with the PowerBoost hybrid powertrain, the XLT trim with the 302A high package giving me the new 12-inch display and the optional 7.2 kW power on-board generator. I’ve used all these features in this first few months, and I like them all.

Other good choices are the non-hybrid 3.5-liter V-6 twin turbo EcoBoost, the pretty popular 2.7-liter EcoBoost (which gets better highway fuel economy than the hybrid) and the 5.0-liter V-8. Ford also offers a 3.0-liter V-6 diesel, but it isn’t quite as good as Chevy or Ram’s diesel offerings.

Ford offers an astonishing amount of trim levels, packages and buying choices. It can be rather confusing and frustrating at times to get the features you want without the ones you don’t. Popular packages are the 302 for the XLT and the XL with the STX appearance package giving you a less expensive truck that looks more expensive.

best 2021 pickup trucks

The often forgotten 2021 Nissan TITAN is an insider’s secret kind of truck if you can find a dealership near you. (Photo courtesy Nissan)

Nissan Titan

Refreshed in 2020 to add a sunroof, new grille options, updated engine performance with premium fuel as well as updated infotainment screen, the 2021 Nissan Titan is the often overlooked option for truck buyers for really no good reason.

Sure, the Titan offers the least amount of cab/bed combinations and powertrain choices, but their 5.6-liter V-8 mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission is a solid combination.

Plus, you get the best warranty in the business at 5 years as well as some of the best value for the dollar. A fully loaded Nissan Titan in the Platinum Reserve trim starts at $56,140, and can get up into the $60k range. In comparison, the F-150 Limited trim starts at $70,825 and you can’t even get leather seats in the F-150 unless you go Lariat, which might start at $46,890 — but good luck finding one with a crew cab for under $65k.

Frankly, the Nissan Titan is neither the flashiest pickup truck choice nor does it have all the bells and whistles like the F-150 or Ram 1500, but it is a solid truck to, you know, use for truck jobs.

A consistent winner of awards, the Ram 1500 starts at this Tradesman trim and ends up with an interior that rivals high-end sports cars. (Photo courtesy Ram)

Ram 1500

Without a doubt, the Ram 1500 is the best looking half-ton truck on the market inside and out. In the higher trims, there are more similarities with a European luxury car than a traditional truck interior. If guys like Henry Ford sat in a Ram 1500, they would literally be stunned.

Besides the style, the Ram 1500 offers a great diesel option in the EcoDiesel rivaling GM’s 3.0-liter Duramax and their 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 has been a stalwart engine choice even with what people say on the forums.

They also offer a mild-hybrid system with their eTorque system, allowing for better fuel economy in the V-6 and V-8 engines.

Plus, the 5-link coil suspension makes this one of the smoothest trucks to drive — even compared to the smooth-driving F-150. Plus, the available air suspension can help improve the ride even further.

Then, you have the TRX.

Beast doesn’t even begin to describe this truck and if you want to turn heads, this is simply the model to get. Sorry, Ford Raptor fans.

For my money, I’d go with the Ram 1500 Laramie, which gives you the leather interior, two-tone exterior paint options and I’d opt for the 12-inch vertical display.

Although, I’d be sure to keep my eye out for deals. Ram seems to offer more incentives than other brands when I’ve been out shopping, and the Limited trims are simply amazing. If I could get a deal on one of those, I’d be one happy truck buyer.

One of the many ways Toyota keeps its really reliable Tundra updated is through different exterior colors like this grayish Lunar Rock color. (Photo courtesy Toyota)

Toyota Tundra

Last, but not least, is the Toyota Tundra. It is the oldest truck on the market with the worst fuel economy, but I don’t care about that one bit nor do buyers of this truck. What continually makes it a 10k-truck-a-month seller for Toyota? Reliability, the big 5.7-liter V-8 and the exterior style.

Like Nissan, Toyota doesn’t offer a full variety of cab and bed combinations or different engine options like the others. Instead, it focuses on really what sells: extended and crew cab trucks with a V-8 engine.

Towing, hauling and everyday driving, the 5.7-liter V-8 mated to a 6-speed transmission are a great option, albeit with aforementioned need to hit the gas station more often. However, without the turbos, you’ll see a more consistent fuel economy number. Plus, you’ll have less engine parts to fail.

While Toyota has made some changes over the years like adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as push-button start standard on more models, the Texas-built pickup exterior and interior has been largely untouched since 2014. Again, pro and con with other trucks offering nicer interior styling and features, yet more fancy stuff equals more stuff to break.

Frankly, if I had to choose one truck to own for the next 20 years from this list, I’d go with the Toyota Tundra. It is just built to last.

For my money, I’d go crew cab SR5 trim with the SX package. This package provides front bucket seats with a power-adjustable driver’s seat and leather seating surfaces for less money.

The bottom line on the best 2021 pickup trucks

With supply shortages causing low inventories, finding a truck is a challenge at the moment, but that doesn’t mean good ones and good deals aren’t out there. Each manufacturer is doing everything it can to get trucks on dealer lots, so patience is the key.

Plus, this also means you will see a higher resale value in the coming years for your pickup truck, making it even a better financial decision to buy a new truck.

Let me know in the comments below what truck stands out to you and why!

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Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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2 Comments

  1. Nick Kirchner October 22, 2021

    Hey Tim, just wanted to let you know that your videos on the F-150 powerboost and the new Tundra helped me make a decision on what truck to by. This was my first ever pickup truck purchase after considering them for years. I initially wanted to go with a 2022 Tundra (and I still really like the redesign), but I didn’t want to wait as long as it was going to take to get one. Their interior dimensions are also a little smaller than the Ford’s, important for me with three kids. I also think the propower onboard capability is really cool. What sealed it for me was finding a Ford dealer who gave us a pretty decent discount off MSRP despite the market conditions, and we took advantage of a 0% financing offer. Proud owner of a brand new F150 Lariat Powerboost, and can’t thank you enough for your extremely helpful videos that helped me make a decision.

    Reply
    1. Tim Esterdahl October 22, 2021

      Congrats! Send an email to tim@pickuptrucktalk.com with some photos!

      Reply

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