The Ford F-150 is more profitable than McDonald’s, but the combined numbers for the Chevy Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 actually give GM the crown for 2020 truck sales. There’s no reason to expect that the 2021 Ford F-150 vs 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 showdown will turn out any differently either; while all of the Big 3 pickups are neck and neck, each has its unique style and pursues excellence in its own way. With every manufacturer making frequent tweaks and occasional leaps to advance their product, there’s no end in sight for the pickup truck arms race.
Millions of Americans love their pickup trucks, and brand loyalty is strong in the segment, but there’s plenty of us who look at the segment and wonder, “Why?” What is it that makes one model different from another? The benefits of a truck are obvious – independence when moving large items, utility on worksites of every variety, and even the ability to pull double-duty as full-blown family vehicles. But with all the boasting and blustering that goes on, how do the models actually compare?
To help answer that question, we’re going to look at three uses for the F-150 and Silverado 1500. There’s the bare-bones entry-level work trucks, mid-level do-it-all family haulers, and of course, the fully-loaded luxury rides at the top end. Both models offer endless configurations in between these three, but consider it a place to start for getting a feel for this market segment or yet another bit of fuel for the fire that is the Truck Wars.
A Truck as a Working Vehicle
Every model boasts of its lowest MSRPs, usually without directly acknowledging that the features list included at those prices rivals those of trucks sold in 1982. The entry-level F-150 XL and Silverado 1500 WT are absolutely modern versions of the utilitarian trucks of old. With a 3-seater regular cab, they aren’t meant for moving people, but they offer plenty of towing and hauling capability for a relatively low cost. If you’re looking to get a truck because you need a truck and want to keep it as cheap as you can, this is what you’re after – so would you rather have the Ford or the Chevy?
For 2021, both trucks start at a price of just under $30,000. Ford’s lowest-cost offering has a 6.5′ bed, though the 8′ long box is an inexpensive option with a negligible impact on payload or towing capacity. That’s good since Chevy’s base truck has a standard 8′ box with a total volume 10 cubic feet larger than the Ford’s (this is true for any box length – GM simply has higher volume truck beds). However, the base 6.5′ box gives Ford shoppers the chance to save another buck and some driveway space if they don’t need the long box.
Both trucks come with standard V6 engines making just under 300 hp, although Chevy has a leg up with 305 lb-ft of torque vs Ford’s 265 lb-ft. However, the F-150 has a ten-speed transmission instead of an old six-speed unit, and the Chevy torque advantage doesn’t translate into superior towing performance. While the base model Silverado can haul a solid 7,900 pounds, the shorter bed and lightweight military-grade aluminum construction of the F-150 allows it to tow up to 8,200 pounds with its V6 engine. Ford generally prides itself on having the highest payload and towing capacities, and that remains true at the entry level.
While the 2020 F-150 was lagging behind the 2020 Silverado when it came to technology, the all-new 2021 F-150 has turned the tables. Even the F-150 XL now comes standard with SYNC 4 and an 8″ touchscreen, which is a large step above the aging Infotainment 3 and 7″ touchscreen on the Silverado WT. Automatic emergency braking is also a standard feature (that’s extra on the Chevy), as are automatic high beams (not even an option on the Silverado WT). Ford’s 360-degree camera system is even available at this trim level, while GM’s revolutionary 15-view camera system is not available on the WT.
As a last note, Chevy does score another win or two in the bed department thanks to having twelve tie-downs vs Ford’s four, as well as the corner step bumper that’s a signature of modern GM pickups. Sure, the Silverado 1500 WT will likely get the job done, but from where I’m standing, it sure looks like the F-150 XL is the work truck to get if you’ve got any heavy lifting to do. Even better, the Ford will get that work done in greater style and comfort.
A Truck as a Member of the Family
While no truck can rival the people-moving capacity of full-size SUVs or minivans, a crew cab pickup is spacious enough for any family of four to ride in comfort. Of course, if you plan to travel with passengers, you’ll want some additional features besides “has seats” – which is why we are looking at the mid-level F-150 Lariat and Silverado LT trims. We also threw in the optional V8 engines since most truck drivers aren’t going to be satisfied with a V6. Chevy’s 5.3L V8 is a little bigger, but Ford squeezes over 15% more power out of its 5.0L V8, peaking at 400 hp and 410 lb-ft.
The Ford’s price pulls away from Chevy’s here, with these trims starting at $50,195 and $45,740. However, the F-150 Lariat separates from the Silverado 1500 LT at every turn and more than justifies the higher price. There are standard heated and vented front seats with available heated rear seats for the Ford, while the Chevy only has optional heated front seats with no ventilation or heated rear seats available. Ford has Co-Pilot360 2.0 with advanced features like adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition, and evasive steering assist against Chevy’s more typical safety package. Finally, the F-150 Lariat has a 12″ infotainment screen vs Chevy’s 8″ screen – in every respect, the Lariat simply offers more.
Chevy includes some unique perks with the mid-level Silverado 1500 LT, though. In 2021 this trim offers all 15 of the available camera views GM has prepared, including the revolutionary “transparent trailer.” Also newly available on the Silverado in 2021 is the Multi-Flex tailgate. This 6-function design inherited from GMC further improves ease of access and ease of use for your truck bed. I’ve said it once before, and it only becomes truer here – Chevy wins at truck beds.
However, that’s Chevy’s only real advantage at this market level besides its lower price. Even when it comes to trailing performance, Ford’s more luxurious truck takes the crown. That’s because, with the max trailering packages equipped on these trucks, the V8 crew cab Silverado 1500 taps out at 11,500 lbs trailering, while Ford forges ahead with a 13,000-lb maximum trailer capacity.
These trucks are aimed at those with relatively open budgets and diverse needs. As-built, they’re ready for anything with a full slate of active driver assists, loaded up with all the comforts a family could ask for, and rippling with power to haul whatever trailer you can throw at it. It might be a little over the top if, like me, you possess no trailer and could be satisfied with the more modest amenities offered a trim level below. Or it might be insufficient if your budget is unrestricted and you’re in need of your truck’s maximum capabilities. If you are among the latter folks, you will want to set your sights high on the top trim pickups.
A Truck as a Luxury Vehicle
The 2021 Ford F-150 Limited and 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 High Country represent the pinnacles of their lineups. They wouldn’t be out of place wearing Lincoln or Cadillac badging, as evidenced by the price tags – fully loaded, the trucks price over $81,000 and $75,000, respectively. At that point, the price difference is negligible, but the details are not. Chevy once again wins the truck bed battle, offering a standard 6.5′ bed versus Ford’s 5.5′ bed, but loses the engine battle despite bringing a 6.2L V8 with a 10-speed automatic transmission capable of laying down 460 lb-ft of torque. That’s because the Ford F-150 Limited can be equipped with the incredible EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 with its 500 lb-ft of torque. The F-150, when so equipped, continues to out-perform Chevy’s trailering limits at 14,000 lbs to 11,900 lbs.
And then there are the features. Both interiors are gloriously adorned – the Silverado 1500 High Country has a sumptuous umber leather interior trim option, while the F-150 Limited comes in a striking Admiral Blue and grey palette. Sunroofs, power-retractable running boards, remote start, and wireless everything make it clear that these are not simply “working trucks.” However, when it comes to working, these trucks are more than capable. These are genuine luxury vehicles, with all the brawn and utility of a pickup truck plus upper-class refinement and convenience.
Just the Way You Want
I’ve only touched on half of the trim levels that the 2021 F-150 and Silverado 1500 provide, not counting the off-road-oriented Raptor and Trail Boss. The combinations of trims, drivetrains, body styles, and options are endless. I hope this quick glance at comparable F-150 and Silverado 1500 models – the bare-bones base trucks, maxed-out top trims, and well-equipped mid-trims – gives you a good sense of what each model is all about. Chevy dominates truck bed design and competes with Ford, offering a lower-cost truck with the added benefit of 8 individual cameras and 15 unique camera views. However, Ford charges only a little more for a much longer and more advanced list of standard safety features, higher-grade powertrains, and the best tow ratings in the segment. Competition remains tight for America’s best-selling motor vehicles! But which one sounds right for you?