Entry Level vs. Top Line
Consistently the best-selling vehicles in America, pickup trucks remain the preferred ride of many drivers — and the foundation of the U.S. auto industry. As a result, pickups are available in many configurations, or trim levels. What are you buying when you move up trim levels? What gets sacrificed when shooting low and buying on the cheap versus the top of the line? We’ve taken prime contenders in the pickup market — from compacts to heavy-hitting tow rigs — and priced the basest of base trims and the most opulent offerings. This snapshot uncovers variants with significant upgrades in power under the hood, higher levels of refinement in the cabin, and more robust off-road suspensions underneath. Does the end result justify the extra cash? Only you (and your accountant) know for sure.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 WT
Entry Trim MSRP: $27,785
Chevy throws eight trim levels at the buying public . . . and that’s only for the 1500 series half-ton trucks. The hierarchy spans the base WT (Work Truck), LS, Custom, LT, LT Z71, LTZ, LTZ Z71 and peak-of-the-summit High Country. Starting in the basement, the WT with a regular cab, 2-wheel drive and a standard box features a 285-horsepower 4.3-liter Ecotec3 V6 engine backed by a 6-speed automatic transmission. This base trim is equipped with desirable amenities such as cruise control, power locks and HID projector headlights, but also comes up short offering painted steel wheels, an AM/FM radio, rubberized-vinyl floor coverings and vinyl seats.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country
Top Trim MSRP: $57,770 ($29,985 more than WT)
The high-and-mighty High Country doubles down on the Work Truck’s sticker price, but delivers the opulence, technological prowess and stature the low-level Chevy can barely imagine. The top-of-the-line Crew Cab 4-wheel-drive variant of the High Country is powered by a 420-horsepower 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V8 engine backed by an 8-speed automatic transmission. This truck comes with a premium Bose sound system, navigation, perforated leather seating, leather trim, adjustable pedals, 20-inch chromed aluminum wheels, and special exterior accents that include power-retractable running boards.
Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD WT
Entry Trim MSRP: $34,710
Got a hankering for towing? Jump up to the heavy-duty 3500 series Silverado. The base regular-cab Work Truck with 2-wheel drive, a long box and single rear wheels can tow up to 14,300 pounds. It is motivated by a 360-horsepower 6.0-liter Vortec V8 engine backed by a heavy-duty 6-speed automatic transmission. Standard features on the 3500HD WT include a trailering equipment package, an automatic locking rear differential, power locks and cruise control. Like the Silverado 1500 WT, the 3500HD WT has painted steel wheels, rubberized vinyl floor coverings and vinyl seats.
Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD High Country
Top Trim MSRP: $68,370 ($33,660 more than WT)
Jump up to High Country status and you get more luxurious accommodations, better looks, dual rear wheels and, in Crew Cab 4×4 configuration with the beastly Duramax 6.6-liter Turbo-Diesel V8, a hefty 23,300 pounds of towing capacity. The diesel generates 445 horsepower and a stump-pulling 910 lb-ft of torque at a low-and-usable 2800 rpm. A stout Allison 6-speed automatic funnels all that power to the wheels. The High Country trim includes a premium Bose sound system, navigation, perforated leather seating, leather trim, adjustable pedals, 18-inch aluminum wheels, and special exterior accents.
Ford F-150 XL
Entry Trim MSRP: $27,110
Ford offers seven trims in its F-150 lineup, and if you get carried away checking option boxes you can go from zero to hero in a hurry. Trim levels are XL, XLT, Lariat, Raptor, King Ranch, Platinum and Limited. Get miserly at a dealership and you could get out the door for a scant $27,110. The base XL regular cab with 2-wheel drive and a 6.5-foot bed is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission. This truck features an open differential, 17-inch steelies, cloth seats, black vinyl flooring, no cruise control, a no-CD AM/FM stereo tuner, and no extras inside or out.
Ford F-150 Limited
Top Trim MSRP: $63,625 ($36,515 more than XL)
Rethinking choices for maximum pickup puts us on the far end of the spectrum, and the SuperCrew 4-wheel-drive Limited. It only comes with Ford’s new-for-2017 second-generation 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine backed by an equally new 10-speed automatic transmission with advanced tow/haul and sport modes. This 375-horsepower truck features a 5.5-foot bed that may pose a challenge at the home improvement store, but you’ll roll in style since the Limited includes all the techno-gadgetry that Ford can squeeze in, a twin panel moonroof, heated second-row seats, 22-inch wheels and leather everything.
Ford F-350 XL
Entry Trim MSRP: $33,705
Towing is a pay-to-play sport, and this rig is bringing its A-game. It begins with the base regular cab configuration. Power comes from a 6.2-liter 385-horsepower V8 engine generating 430 lb-ft of torque at 3800 rpm mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Standard amenities include a 40/20/40 split-bench cloth seat, air-conditioning, cruise control and color-coordinated carpet floor mats.
Ford F-350 Platinum
Top Trim MSRP: $73,960 ($40,255 more than XL)
Taking the F-350 to the max starts with a Crew Cab and then selecting the 8-foot bed option. Buyers can also pick one of five wheelbases from 142 inches to 176 inches. We went big and opted for 176 inches and kept rolling, selecting the big-dog 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8. The engine is rated at 440 horsepower and 925 lb-ft of torque at 1800 rpm. The truck also includes a designer series leather interior, voice-activated navigation, powered running boards, a high-end Sony stereo system, and various driving and towing assists. A Platinum Ultimate package adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure and collision warnings, a twin-panel moonroof, a blind spot camera system, and $2,785 to the bottom line. Want more? The F-350 can be outfitted as a snow plow . . .
Ram 1500 Tradesman
Entry Trim MSRP: $26,495
The Ram folks really know how to slice a pie. Its 1500 trim hierarchy spans 12 (yes, a dozen) possibilities, so be ready to weigh some propositions. The list consists of Tradesman, Express, Lone Star, Big Horn, Sport, Night, Tradesman HFE, Lone Star Silver, Laramie, Rebel, Laramie Long Horn, and Limited. Going the bare necessities route with a Tradesman regular cab with 2-wheel drive, a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine and a 6.3-foot box requires a $26,495 investment. But no chrome for you — the Tradesman comes with a blacked-out nose and grille treatment. Want to shine? That’s a $595 appearance package.
Ram 1500 Limited
Top Trim MSRP: $59,495 ($33,000 more than Tradesman)
Going big on the refinement scale leads to a Limited Crew Cab cruiser. The 4-wheel-drive variant with a 5.6-inch box and an 8-speed automatic runs the tab up to $56,375. The base Limited engine is a 395-horse 5.7-liter HEMI V8, but buyers can opt for a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 and pay a $3,120 premium, upping the bottom line to $59,495. The diesel — the only oil burner offered in a half-ton pickup — is rated at 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. Other standard fare in the up-level Limited includes 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, air suspension, chrome trim, leather-trimmed interior with heated front and rear seats, and a 9-speaker multimedia entertainment system with GPS navigation.
Ram 3500 Tradesman
Entry Trim MSRP: $33,245
Like the Ram 1500, the Ram 3500 has multiple trim levels: Tradesman, SLT, Lone Star, Big Horn, Laramie, Laramie Longhorn and Limited. The entry-level Tradesman has a regular cab, rear drive and an 8-foot box. Power comes from a 383-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V8 engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Tradesman has a maximum towing capacity of 10,100 pounds in this configuration. Swapping in the 6.4-liter heave-duty HEMI V8 will cost you $500, and the Tradesman will then be able to haul up to 10,200 pounds. It also has a heavy-duty vinyl 40/20/40 split-bench seat and 18-inch steel wheels.
Ram 3500 Limited
Top Trim MSRP: $72,910 ($39,665 more than Tradesman)
Take a built-to-the-hilt Limited, which includes the Mega Cab and a 6.3-foot box and 4-wheel-drive, and you’re all-in for well over $60,000. This price line includes the base 395-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI, or you can opt for the 410-horse 6.4-liter HD HEMI, which is a zero-dollar upgrade. Going down the diesel road with the optional 6.7-liter Cummins Diesel V8 for $8,700 and an Aisin 6-speed automatic at $2,695 delivers 385 horsepower and 865 lb-ft of torque. Pushing it to dual rear wheels adds $1,295 to the tally.
Chevrolet Colorado Base
Entry Trim MSRP: $20,000
The Base trim is the entry-level Colorado pickup. It is followed up by WT (Work Truck), LT, Z71, and ZR2 trims. The party starts with an extended cab; Chevy does not offer a regular cab and the Base comes with a long box. The Base features a 200-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, 2-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission. Its standard equipment list doesn’t impress. It features an AM/FM stereo, halogen headlights, a locking tailgate and black beltline moldings — your basic bare-bones items. It’s like saying the truck has wheels . . . minimalists will love it.
Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Top Trim MSRP: $45,125 ($25,125 more than Base)
Jumping to a crew cab, adding 4-wheel drive, and upgrading from the standard 308-horse 3.6-liter V6 ($41,625) to the 181-horsepower 2.8-liter Duramax diesel four cylinder with 369-lb-ft of torque pushes the bottom line past the $45,000 mark. The ZR2 has all the goodies . . . Off-Road Appearance Package, off-road suspension, enhanced bodywork including fender flares, off-road-worthy wheels and tires, a leather-appointed interior and the best of Chevy’s audio/visual tech gadgetry.
Toyota Tacoma SR
Entry Trim MSRP: $24,575
The Tacoma comes in six flavors: SR, SR5, TRD Off-Road, TRD Sport, Limited and TRD Pro. There is no regular cab — the model line starts with an Access Cab. The SR has a 6-foot bed, 2-wheel drive and the bottom-of the barrel 159-horsepower 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine — for $24,575. The entire Tacoma line, save the TRD Pro, features 6-speed automatic transmissions, but the SR only offers cruise control and keyless entry as part of an option package.
Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
Top Trim MSRP: $43,215 ($18,640 more than SR)
Swinging for the fences with the Double Cab, 5-foot bed TRD Pro powered by the up-level 278-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, a 6-speed automatic transmission, and 4WDemand part-time 4-wheel drive bumps the needle to $43,215. You get one rugged rig; the TRD Pro delivers Fox internal bypass shocks tuned by TRD, Rigid Industries LED fog lights, a TRD skidplate, stainless steel TRD cat-back exhaust, and a musclebound body. The TRD Pro is one of the more performance off-road-oriented pickups in the compact truck class.
Nissan Frontier S
Starting MSRP; $18,390
Nissan’s small pickup is the cheapest date on this list. The trims are broken down into S, SV 4, SV 6, SL, Desert Runner and Pro 4X. Buyers may hope to feel like royalty since all Frontiers start as King Cabs, but with the low price comes lowly accommodations. The base 2-wheel-drive trim has no cruise control, no stereo, no air-conditioning and no floor mats. It rolls off the production line with a 152-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, a 5-speed manual transmission and a 6.1-foot box. Tacking on the S Preferred package for $1,300 keeps the total under $20,000 and still retains the truck’s bargain status on this list. Doing so adds an audio system, cruise control and air-conditioning, as well as Bluetooth connectivity and a 5.0-inch color information display.
Nissan Frontier Pro 4X
Top Trim MSRP: $35,490 ($17,100 more than S)
This trim level includes a 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine, 4-wheel drive and has a $32,580 ante, but start clicking on the conveniences and the price doesn’t climb as much as one would expect. The Pro-X includes Bilstein shocks, a locking limited-slip differential, exclusive alloy wheels, beefy tires, skidplates, a rearview camera and a Rockford Fosgate audio system. Upgrading to a Crew Cab and a 5-speed automatic transmission takes the bottom line to $33,390. The only option package is a $2,100 Luxury package that delivers a full leather interior with model-specific embroidery, a moonroof, a roof rack and more but that only moves the needle to $35,490. The Pro 4X isn’t as bold nor as feature laden as the TRD Pro Tacoma, but it costs about $7,400 less than the Toyota. The question is, does it have enough off-road attitude?
Nissan Titan S
Entry Trim MSRP: $31,590
Nissan bills the Titan as a premium driving experience that happens to be a pickup truck. The big rig has the goods: a well-developed 390-horsepower 5.6-liter V8 powerplant backed by an all-new 7-speed automatic transmission, a well-proportioned body, and a well-appointed interior. The base S is a single-cab proposition with rudimentary AM/FM/CD audio, air-conditioning and bare basics styling. If you plan to haul a lot of gear, its 8.2-foot box will come in handy.
Nissan Titan XD Platinum Reserve
Top Trim MSRP: $63,160 ($31,570 more than S)
The big pull for this Nissan is diesel power. The truck’s 310-horsepower 5.0-liter Cummins V8 with 555 lb-ft of torque gives Nissan the grunt and grind to compete with larger frame tow-oriented pickups. The S trim Crew Cab 4-wheel-drive version with the diesel starts at $44,570. Jump up to the mega-posh Platinum Reserve trim at $63,160 and get the best of the best . . . and pay double the base price. Living large gets you a 2-tone leather interior with “climate controlled” front seats, voice-activated audio and navigation, 20-inch alloy wheels, and a long list of amenities that includes such niceties as mood lighting, remote start and a removable front spoiler.
Honda Ridgeline RT
Entry Trim MSRP: $29,475
The Ridgeline is Honda’s only chip in the pickup truck game, and it’s back at the table after being discontinued a couple years ago. Available in RT, RTS, Sport, RTL, RTL-T, and RTL-E trims, the Ridgeline has no big half-ton or heavy-duty tow rigs. The base 2-wheel-drive RT features a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Going all-wheel drive costs $1,900. The RT includes power windows and locks, cruise control, pushbutton start, a 200-watt 7-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity and Honda’s famous lockable in-bed trunk.
Honda Ridgeline RTL-E
Top Trim MSRP: $41,470 ($11,995 more than RT)
Although powered by the same V6, the top-of-the line Ridgeline includes many model-specific upgrades not offered on lower trims and no options — all you do is pick a color. The RTL-E includes Honda’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management AWD System, the prerequisite leather-trimmed interior and other expected upgrades. Exclusive equipment consists of LED headlights, a power sliding rear window, voice recognition navigation, a 540-watt full-tilt boogie stereo setup with a truck bed audio system, adaptive cruise control, and all manner of driver-assist technologies.
Toyota Tundra SR
Entry Trim MSRP: $33,170
The lowly SR trim can be configured in nine different ways depending on cab style, bed length and engine choice. The cheapest way to go is a Double Cab standard bed with the base 310-horse 4.6-liter V8 engine. Next up the pecking order are regular cab long beds with two different V8s. You choose between flex fuel and straight gasoline. The SR delivers cruise control, a backup camera, standard air-conditioning, and Toyota’s Entune touchscreen AM/FM/CD with MP3, USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth wireless technology. No moonroof or sliding rear window are available, and you can have any front seating arrangement you like — as long as it’s a bench seat.
Toyota Tundra Platinum / 1794 Edition
Top Trim MSRP: $50,130 ($16,960 more than SR)
Although a TRD Pro version of the Tundra exists, it’s the Platinum and 1794 Edition trims that are most expensive, starting at $50,130 for 2-wheel-drive variants. The big difference between the two offerings is their theme: the 1794 has trim and accents with a more western cowboy flair. It features saddle brown leather and wood accents. Both versions come in CrewMax cab configuration, and when you add 4-wheel drive they cost $50,130. You’ll be sitting high-and-mighty in the most decked-out model in the Tundra lineup . . . The big question is, do you want to sit on a throne or a saddle?