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2021 Trucks: The Best of the U.S. Pickup Market

The 7 Best 2021 American Pickup Trucks

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Not a single market in the world showcases the same amount of enthusiasm for the pickup truck as the U.S. market. Pickups have always held a special place in American car buyer’s hearts, and things haven’t changed one bit in more recent years. In fact, sales have been on a more or less constant rise, with this trend expected to continue for a long time. The best 2021 trucks headed our way are just a small part of the bigger U.S. truck marketplace.

The pickup truck segment accounted for a total of almost 3 million vehicle units sold in 2018. Around 2.4 million of which were full-size trucks and a little over 500,000 were mid-size trucks. This translates to year-over-year growth of around 2-percent for the big trucks and almost 16 percent for the revitalized mid-size segment.

The absolute leader is still the Ford F Series with over 900,000 units sold in the U.S. in 2018. It was followed by another two regulars: the Chevy Silverado with around 585,000 units sold and the RAM with around 535,000. On the smaller side of things, which aren’t all that small in the U.S., are the mid-sized trucks. It was the Toyota Tacoma which ended up grabbing up the lion’s share of the market. The Tacoma saw around 245,000 new trucks sold, while the Chevy Colorado recorded around 135,000. No other mid-size truck had managed to breach the six-digit barrier in 2018.

Things are about to get even more interesting in both the full and mid-size segments. In 2019 the RAM found itself in the second spot, stilll a long way behind the F-Series, as it’s finally managed to overtake the sleeping Silverado. Moving forward there are a number of either returning or all-new models on the U.S. market, like the Ford Ranger, the Jeep Gladiator, Tesla Cybertruck, and more. The U.S. truck segment is only heating up!

The Best 2021 Trucks

07. 2021 Jeep Gladiator

The eagerly anticipated Jeep Gladiator has instantly taken place as one of the best and most capable pickup trucks in the mid-size segment. The off-road specialist represents the company’s first foray in the pickup truck segment in almost 30-years and is a welcome addition to the reinvigorated segment it competes in.

Based on the legendary Jeep Wrangler, the Gladiator provides an additional 31-inches of length, almost 20 of which fall off on its wheelbase. This in turn provides a much better towing stability and ride quality. At the moment, the Gladiator can pull up to 7,650 pounds of trailer and has a payload of 1,600 pounds, but these figures will get better once the optional diesel engine arrives. Even now, these figures are the best in class as far as gas-only trucks are concerned.

Starting from $35,000, the entry-level Gladiator is a lot more expensive than its comparable competitors, but then again, there can be no comparison between them. The all-new Jeep Gladiator is in a class of its own. On the other end of the scale, the range-topping Rubicon models cost $45,000, but there’s very little chance that’ll remain the Gladiator’s most expensive iteration for long.

At the moment of its introduction, the Gladiator was exclusively offered with a proven 3.6L V6 engine as its only choice. Capable of providing 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, the Pentastar comes either with a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Further down the line, the 2021 Jeep Gladiator will be available with an optional 3.0L turbo-diesel V6 with 260 horses and 442 pound-feet of torque which, as already mentioned, will further boost the pickup’s already impressive towing rates. What’s more, it’ll also improve its fuel economy. Speaking of which, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the newest truck on the market ends up adopting the Wrangler’s mild-hybrid setup as well, but we’ll probably have to wait for that to happen.

The Jeep Gladiator is currently the most capable of all mid-size trucks in terms of towing and off-roading, and given its sheer size, this will likely remain its domain for the foreseeable future.

Jeep Gladiator is one of the best 2021 trucks

06. 2021 Ford Ranger

Available overseas under the same moniker, the Ford Ranger finally returns to the U.S. after a short break it took after 2012. Although very similar to its overseas counterparts (being based on the Australian-built T6 platform), the U.S.-spec Ford Ranger still sports a number of modifications especially made with the North American market in mind. Fully boxed frame rails are one of these modifications.

Although the next-gen Ranger has already been announced in Australia, the U.S. version will remain intact throughout 2021. The all-new model probably isn’t due until MY 2022. The 2021 Ford Ranger might bring a few insignificant changes and some shuffling among the current trim levels, but that’s all there is to it as far as changes are concerned. Starting from under $24,500 before the mandatory destination fee, the Ranger fits right in with most of the American-made mid-size trucks. Opt for a fully loaded version, and you’ll end up paying around $37,000, however.

As far as its credentials go, an optional towing package helps the Ranger pull up to 7,500 pounds of trailer and boast an 1,860-pound payload. The base Extended Cab models sport a longer 6-foot long bed, while the Crew Cab comes with a one-foot sacrifice in that regard.

Since the Blue Oval is likely biding its time and waiting for the next-gen models to arrive in order to bring out the big guns (new engines and possibly even the Raptor model), the 2021 Ford Ranger retains its 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine as a sole offering. Paired exclusively with a modern 10-speed automatic gearbox, it develops 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque.

Base versions are offered with a rear-wheel-drive setup, but the all-wheel drive is readily available at extra cost across the range. Both configurations are standard with electronically locking rear differentials, while the latter uses an open front diff as well.

Ford Ranger

05. 2021 Ram Dakota

The first true American mid-size pickup is about to return to the market after a decade-long hiatus. The 2021 Ram Dakota thus succeeds the old Dodge Dakota which served the Chrysler brand with diligence for 25 years. It also enters the rapidly growing mid-size pickup truck market which, you’ll remember, was on the ropes just a few short years ago. In other words, unlike the early days when the initial Dakota served as a vanguard in its segment, the all-new models are actually the last to arrive to the party.

It’s still unclear whether the new truck will be built in Mexico on a shortened half-ton Ram 1500 chassis, or alongside the new Jeep Gladiator in Toledo, Ohio. Whichever of these turns out to be true, the all-new Ram Dakota shouldn’t have any trouble blending in with the crowd.

There are also precious few details about the future truck’s design but expect it to resemble the full-size Ram, rather than the mid-size Jeep. It should also be more affordable than its Jeep counterpart, likely starting from around $25,000 – much like its traditional competitors from Ford and GM.

Engine-wise, expect the stalwart 3.6L V6 as its initial choice, but a smaller hybrid-assisted 2.0L turbo four and even a turbo-diesel V6 shouldn’t be excluded just yet. What’s more, they might get offered straight from the get-go given the fact all of Dakota’s competitors will have featured completed powertrain lineups by then. As for the Pentastar V6, it currently develops 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.

The upcoming Ram Dakota is expected to be ready for MY 2021 with the earliest possible arrival in late 2020. We’ll likely know more after one of the upcoming auto shows in late 2019 or early 2020.

Upcoming Ram Dakota should resemble the pictured Ram 1500
Upcoming Ram Dakota should resemble the pictured Ram 1500

04. 2021 Toyota Tacoma

As mentioned in the intro section, Toyota Tacoma is the only import pickup truck (if one can call it that since it’s built in San Antonio, Texas) able to compete with domestic selection from the big three. Known for its reliability, durability, and capability, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Tacoma has earned the U.S. pickup truck buyer’s confidence. Will the 2021 trucks be the best yet?

Available since MY 2016, the second-generation Tacoma underwent a thorough mid-cycle refresh for MY 2020. This means that the 2021 Toyota Tacoma will be basically a carryover without significant changes. The redesigned models aren’t that different from the outgoing ones, but that doesn’t have to be a downside. The off-road-oriented TRD Pro models are especially imposing thanks to their rugged design.

The entry-level Tacoma starts from just under $26,000, but in order to get the aforementioned TRD Pro, you’ll need at least $45,000 or almost $48,000 if the automatic transmission is your preference. If properly equipped, the Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 pounds of trailer and can boast a payload equal to 1,620 pounds. Not exactly class-leading figures, but not far from them either.

There are two engines available with the smaller of the Toyota trucks, and both come with advantages of their own. The base 2.7L 4-cylinder with 159 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque focuses on fuel economy, while the stronger 3.5L V6 with 278 ho and 265 lb-ft serves as Tacoma’s workhorse. Most Tacoma’s are tied to a 6-speed automatic gearbox, but the TRD line (Sport, Off-road, and Pro) are available with a corresponding manual transmission as well.

Regardless of its shortcomings, the Toyota Tacoma is still one of the best 2021 pickup trucks money can buy.

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro truck

03. 2021 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra

The fourth-generation Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra made their debuts for MY 2019, while the Heavy Duty models arrived a year later. Although recently overtaken by the Ram line of full-size and heavy-duty pickups in terms of sales, the GM twins still represent some of the best trucks 2021 has to offer.

Although both trucks underwent a substantial change in design (especially the HD versions which look quite intimidating now), the Silverado and Sierra are still pretty much the same trucks they were a few years back. They are up to 450 pounds lighter than their predecessors, however, but that doesn’t really change much in the end.  The new versatile tailgate does render them more practical, and boosted towing capacities come in handy as well.

Speaking of which, the Silverado and Sierra 1500 can tow up to 12,200 pounds and boast a payload of 2,200 pounds with the most powerful of engines. On the other hand, the Duramax diesel-fitted Silverado HD 3500 can tow up to 35,500 pounds of trailering capacity which is the new best-in-class figure and surely one of its biggest advantages over the F Series Super Duty and Ram HD trucks.

There are a number of engines available with the fourth-gen Silverado and Sierra. The base models are equipped with a 2.7L turbo-four making 310 hp and 348 lb-ft of torque. The venerable 4.3L V6 provides 285 HP and 305 lb-ft, and the 3.0L Duramax turbo-diesel inline-six provides 277 HP and 460 pound-feet of rotational force. The aging EcoTec V6 is still paired with a 6-speed auto, while the new turbo four and turbo-diesel engines benefit from new 10-speed automatics.

Needless to say, the powerful 5.3L V8 and 6.2L V8 are also there. The former develops 355 HP and 383 lb-ft of torque and comes either with a 6-speed or 8-speed automatics. The latter also works with the new Dynamic Fuel Management that can shut one to six cylinders depending on momentary load. The strongest of half-ton Silverado’s engines cranks out 420 horses and 460 pound-feet of twist and pairs either with an 8-speed or a 10-speed auto.

Finally, the Silverado and Sierra HD trucks get either a 6.6L gasoline or a 6.6L turbo-diesel V8 which return either 401 HP and 464 lb-ft or 445 HP and 910 lb-ft of torque respectively. Although the gasoline engine is exclusively available with a 6-speed transmission, the optional Duramax diesel gets the new Allison 10-speed.

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD truck

02. 2021 Ford F Series

The best-selling vehicle in the world keeps on breaking sales records whilst at the same time providing performance of the highest caliber. The thirteenth-generation half-ton models have already been updated in 2018, and their Super Duty counterparts have just recently received their makeover form MY 2020. Expect the 2021 trucks to be the best examples yet of this American icon.

The redesigned F Series boasts plenty of available tech, but the most advanced systems are still reserved for the top-end trims. What’s more, the entry-level XL models are practically devoid of all non-mandatory safety gear in spite of the fact they start from around $30,000. The most Expensive F-150 Limited, on the other hand, requires almost $70,000.

The F-150’s towing rates vary depending on a myriad of engine and bed combos, but the most eager of Ford’s half-ton workhorses are known to be able to pull a class-leading 13,200 pounds of trailer (3.6L EcoBoost V6) and have a payload capacity of 3,270 pounds (5.0L V8).

Counting the entire F Series range, there’s a total of eight available powertrains which should be able to accommodate all kinds of full-size pickup truck buyers. The F-150 range uses a 3.3L V6 with 290 HP and 265 lb-ft of torque as a base engine, while a 2.7L EcoBoost V6 serves as an upgrade thanks to its 325 HP and 400 lb-ft of torque. Another option is a 3.0L turbo-diesel V6 which generates 250 HP and 440 lb-ft of torque.

Near the top of the range, however, Ford offers a powerful 5.0L V8 which cranks up as much as 395 hp and 400 lb-ft, but even this unit is well-beaten by a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 with 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of twist (450 HP and 510 lb-ft in the off-road-oriented F-150 Raptor). Most engines are paired with a contemporary 10-speed automatics, but the base non-turbocharged V6 mill still clings to a somewhat outdated 6-speed unit.

The F-250 and F-350 Super Duty trucks still rely on the good old 6.2L V8 with 385 HP and 430 lb-ft of twist but they now also utilize a much brawnier 7.3L gasoline V8 with 430 horses and 475 pound-feet of torque. There’s also a 6.7L Power Stroke turbo-diesel which should generate more than 450 horsepower and 935 lb-ft of torque thanks to all-new steel pistons. Only the old gasoline engine will rely on a 6-speed transmission, while the new gasoline and diesel mills are switching to a new 10-speed.

2021 trucks Ford F-250 Tremor

01. 2021 Ram Trucks

The fifth-generation of half-ton Ram pickup trucks made their debut in 2019, while their three-quarter-ton and one-ton siblings bowed down in 2020. Overtaking the Silverado as the second best-selling truck in the U.S. during the Q1 of 2019 – it’s clear what the general population thinks about it. Will the RAM 2021 trucks retain their second place in the market?

Arguably the most beautiful of all full-size pickups, the Ram lineup has finally waved goodbye to the hallmark crosshair grille. The new models might have lost some of their recognition, but they’ve certainly gained the general population’s approval in the process. Furthermore, the entry-level Rams are better equipped than their competitors and that doesn’t necessarily come at a price.

The base Ram 1500 Tradesman starts from a little over $31,000 but at around $53,000, the range-topping Ram Limited isn’t nearly as expensive as its Ford counterpart. The half-ton Rams are also capable haulers able to tow up to 12,750 pounds and carry a payload of up to 2,320 pounds. The heavy-duty Ram 3500 maxes out at 35,100 pounds, on the other hand.

There’s a wide selection of available powertrains in the fifth-gen Ram pickups, but it’s still not as deep as it is the case with Ford. It’s versatility that counts in FCA’s opinion, and that’s exactly what they’ve delivered. A 3.6L V6 with eTorque assist serves as an entry-level engine, and makes 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. A more powerful 5.7L V8 also uses a mild-hybrid assist, but can be ordered without one as well. In both cases, it produces 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque.

The half-ton Ram 1500 can also be ordered with a 3.0L turbo-diesel V6 which now produces 260 ponies and 480 pound-feet of twist. Regardless of a chosen engine, an 8-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board, and so is rear-wheel drive with all-wheel drive being readily available in all models.

The HD versions of FCA’s largest truck add two more brawny engines to the mix. A 6.4L gasoline V8 with 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque, and a powerful 6.7L Cummins turbo-diesel straight-six with as much as 400 ponies and 1,000 pound-feet of rotational force with the optional high-output package. Otherwise, it generates still more than respectable 370 hp and 850 lb-ft. While the gasoline engine also uses an 8-speed automatic gearbox, the oil burner relies on the new Aisin 6-speed auto.

Although more down-to-earth in terms of available powertrain choices, Ram pickups are still among the best 2021 trucks on the market.

best of 2021 trucks Ram 1500

Nikola Potrebić
About Nikola Potrebić

Despite driving a piece of junk, Nikola still manages to survive the harrowing experience called "A road trip in a Yugo," day in, day out. On the other hand, precious few things move him as muscle cars do. Especially those from the bygone golden era, which makes him wonder why wasn't he born a few decades earlier? Well, at least he's been given the opportunity to enjoy the likes of the Pontiak Aztek, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Fiat Multipla, and other lovely millennials, right? Come to think of it, I'll stick with my Yugo. Thank you very much!