Australians have long had love affairs with American full-size rigs. Ever since the late `70s, when the F100s and Chevy C10s were imported into the country and used as the gods intended. That is, by being massively overloaded on a daily basis with tools, equipment or feed and punted all over the Outback and through the urban sprawl without missing a beat.
They were built to take a licking and keep on ticking, and did the job admirably, but as with so many vehicles of the era they eventually succumbed to the mechanical abuse, not to mention the dreaded metal cancer that saw more than a few of the old war horses rot away out the back of the hayshed.
Ford persevered with the F-truck for the next couple decades, but eventually the offerings out of Japan simply became too good and too affordable for American manufacturers to pay the premium to get their vehicles converted to right-hand drive and transported all the way down here from all the way up there.
However, the last few years has seen a resurgence in demand for full-size trucks in this country, with Rams being sold by the bucketload since mid-2018, and Chev joining the party in `21, the Aussie thirst for big-rigs is back and is going hard – Ford’s F150 is landing next year and the Toyota Tundra is being weighed for Aussie delivery too.
What’s the story?
This all makes good sense when you think about it – a full-size ticks a lot of boxes for so many `Strayans who have been force-fed a diet of Hiluxs and Navaras. You can actually fit people in the back seat, you can tow a fair chunk of weight and you can do it in comparative luxury – pretty much none of the other dual-cab options offer all three.
Imagine this: You have a 3-tonne van and you want to be do a big lap around the continent. You could hitch up behind your HiLux, which will do the job, and spend the following months straining the engine, diffs, transmission and probably your back, or you could throw the van behind your full-size and know it’ll handle the task – because it was built for it.
Big engines, big diffs, big chassis’ and big comfort for making big miles across a big brown land. It warms the heart don’t it?
The two big dogs on the market are the Ram Laramie DT and the Silverado ZR2, both of which ring in at around the $130,000 mark. Let’s let them off the chain and find out which of them should be running the yard.
2023 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2
Price: $133,000 (exc. on-roads)
Warranty: 3 years; 100,000km
Engine: 6.2L NA petrol V8; 24V Variable DOHC (premium unleaded)
Driveline: 10-speed auto; dual range transfer case with optional full-time 4X4 on-road; dualk diff locks
Fuel Consumption: 12.2L/100km combined
Fuel Capacity: 91L
Suspension: IFS double A-arm coilover struts; Solid axle rear with leaf springs; Multimatic Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve (DSSV) remote-res shocks all around
Towing Capacity: 4200kg (70mm ball); 3500kg (50mm ball)
Kerb Weight: 2583kg
Interior Appointments: Heated & cooled leather front seats; 13.4in infotainment unit; 6-speaker stereo; 12.3in driver instrument binnacle; Apple Carplay & Android Auto; dual-zone climate control; trailer camera views; electric trailer brakes; trailer lighting test; automatic GCM warning
Safety: 6 airbags; Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection; blind spot monitoring with trailer assist; rear cross-traffic alert; cruise control; 360-deg camera
Tray Dimensions (mm): 1780Lx1490W
Wheelbase (mm): 3748
Overall Dimensions (mm): 5931Lx2074Wx1991H
2023 Ram 1500 DT Laramie
Price: $132,900 (with optional RamBoxes; exc. on-roads)
Warranty: 3 years, 100,000km
Engine: 5.7L NA petrol V8, push-rod 16V, hemispherical heads (regular unleaded)
Driveline: 8sp Auto; dual range transfer case with optional full-time 4X4 on-road
Fuel Consumption: 12.2L/100km combined
Fuel Capacity: 98L
Suspension: IFS double A-arm coil-over-strut front, solid axle 5-link coil spring and twin-tube shocks rear
Towing Capacity: 4500kg (braked)
Kerb Weight: 2550kg
Interior Appointments: 4x cup-holders; leather heated & cooled seats; heated outboard rear seats; USB and 12V sockets; cruise control; 12in touchscreen; Apple Carplay & Android Auto; 19-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system; Bluetooth connectivity; power heated mirrors; dual-zone climate control; power adjustable pedals; TPMS; wireless charging pad
Safety: 6 airbags; traction control; ABS; vehicle stability control; reversing camera; surround view camera; parking sensors
Tray Dimensions (mm): 1705Lx1270W
Wheelbase (mm): 3672
Overall Dimensions (mm): 5916Lx2474Wx1972H
V8 vs V8
Australia is traditionally a diesel-loving nation, but the reality is that petrol-power technology advances in recent years have significantly closed the gap, both in fuel economy and torque production compared to their diesel cousins, and these two prove that even with the long distances between fuel stops in remote areas, you don’t need to run your vehicle on dead dinosaur oil to make the distance. Both the Ram and the Silverado claim 12.2L/100km out of their beefy V8 engines, and while variables like towing, tyre-size, the load on the engine and the nut behind the wheel can all impact that figure, it’s still a far cry from the old carby tree-fiddies of yesteryear that’d be lucky to ever see anything below 30L/100km.
Power and torque are slightly higher in the Silverado, and it sports a more modern engine design with its overhead cams vs the old-tech pushrods of the Ram’s Hemi, but in reality, either one is more than capable of towing 3500kg without breaking a sweat, and that’s a thing of beauty if you’re pulling a big van, horse float or plate boat behind you.
Difficult to give either vehicle the clear win in this category, but the Silverado probably just edges the Ram out, if for no other reason than the extra 20-odd killerwasps and fifty-odd Isaac-metres.
Much has been written about how large and ungainly a full-size rig is to pilot as a daily driver, and realistically they’re a very different driving experience to a Rav-4, but they’re also not difficult to get your head around once you realise you’re behind the wheel of a ‘truck’ and not a Mazda MX-5. Half an hour in the saddle and most competent drivers will have mentally accounted for the increased dimensions and sub-consciously adjusted their parameters accordingly.
Once that’s happened, both vehicles really do become nice places to spend some time. Despite their practical nature, they’re not “work trucks” in the traditional sense. Their interiors are more in line with a luxo-sedan than a ute. Both have huge and easily accessible infotainment units that sport the usual nav software, not to mention handy additions like heated and cooled seats, wireless phone charging pads, enough storage room to keep a hoarder happy and power everything.
Hell, the Ram even has electronic pedal adjustment. The American market demands fantastic ergonomics, and these guys deliver. The Australian market demands anything, and car manufacturers laugh. There’s strength in numbers, eh?
The Silverado has been much improved on the inside for 2023. There’s a massive infotainment unit with everything you could need. Leather heated and cooled seating, enough room to have an under-12s match in the back seat and all of the mod-cons you’d expect on a vehicle at this price-point. The cameras are top notch. And make parking and manoeuvring over tight tracks a whole bunch easier than it otherwise would be.
The Ram is largely the same. Big room, big comfort, big on tech – huh, there’s that word again.
Interestingly, the 2023 Ram has inexplicably ditched a lot of its safety gear. Such as autonomous emergency braking, cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. They’re still available as options. But it seems a bit rich to make someone pay extra for safety inclusions on a car that already costs 130 gorillas.
For that reason alone, we have to give the nod to the Silverado here. But there’s a bee’s pinkie in it.
Full-size off-road touring
Both of these utes will handle average touring duties exceptionally well. Yes, you’ll scratch the paint on tighter tracks (which may be a deal-breaker on a six-figure vehicle). And yes, you’ll chew through a fair chunk of fuel. Especially when towing heavy. But for covering big distances off the beaten track with ease and comfort both of these weapons would be nothing short of excellent.
No, I wouldn’t be stoked on tackling Gunshot up the Cape. Or trying my luck on the Canning Stock Route. But for most general touring jobs either of the big Americans would do it happily.
The Silverado ZR2 has the nicer off-road set-up with its 33in rubber (word has it next year’s model will come stock with 35s). Front and rear electronically-actuated diff-locks and desert-race-inspired remote-res variable shocks. These are arguably among the best on a factory 4X4. Giving it legitimate off-road ability straight out of the box.
The Ram is hardly a slouch though. With a bit of lift and some proper rubber, the huge wheelbase and gobs of power make it a contender. Again, these are not purpose-built rockcrawlers, but for the huge majority of folks there are a lot worse options on the market.
It’s worth pointing out that the Silverado requires premium unleaded versus the Ram’s happiness to sip on regular, which could be a factor for remote fuel-stops.
Still, the ZR2 edges out the Ram here based on its lockers and slick suspension. Keep in mind on the $5000-cheaper Silverado LTZ Premium models – without the diff-locks, off-road shocks and a few more bells and whistles – there’d be nothing splitting them.
This one is easy, they both tow like absolute champions, it’s what they were built to do after all. Now, it’s worth pointing out that there are a couple of sneaky caveats with both. If you want to tow the maximum 4500kg/4200kg (Ram/Silverado respectively) with either of them, you’ll need a 70mm tow ball. Not an insurmountable problem but worth mentioning. It’s also worth mentioning that if you do want to tow at full capacity, you’re left with four-fifths of bugger-all GVM/GCM to play with. Basically, if you’re routinely towing at max load you’ll want a bigger vehicle, like the Ram/Silverado 2500. Disappointing perhaps but compared to a vehicle with a max towing capacity of 3500kg (pretty much every non-full-size on the market) these rigs will haul that weight without blinking.
To be fair, just about every manufacturer pulls the same underhanded stunt with maximum towing weights and GVM – when towing at max weight with pretty much any vehicle you’re going to want to have a couple litres of fuel in the tank and weigh less than an underfed ten-year old child, or you’ll be overweight and illegal. Sucks, but it’s how the game is played.
Now, with all that out of the way it must be said that both rigs are a pleasure to tow with. The technological aids in both – things like the in-built towing mirrors, blind spot variability for the trailer, hitch-up cams, rear-facing cams that “see-through” the trailer; GCM alerts etc. etc. – make for a hell of a relaxed drive compared to the old-school ways of doing things. Ultimately, it’s a heck of a lot safer too, which is never a bad thing.
This round goes to the Ram, that has a higher max GVM and better overall carrying/hauling capacity.
Silverado and Ram Payload
An area where both utes come up surprisingly short. The Ram’s 779kg is only marginally better than the ZR2’s 717kg, and both fall way short of the 1110kg of, say, the dual-cab LandCruiser or the Ranger Wildtrak’s 985kg. Massive disappointment given the burly nature of these utes and larger than life dimensions. Still, they’re not exactly lightweights and will still be more than up to the task of hauling the tools and apprentices to the jobsite, but again, if you’re towing heavy those payloads shrink dramatically with 350-450kg of ball weight on the towball.
The Ram wins this round as well, purely due to the slightly higher amount it can carry in the back.
Look, you’re unlikely to see rows and rows of these rigs parked out front of your local 4X4 accessory shop, but thankfully we live in the internet age, and anything you can dream of is available for both rigs out of the good old US of A.
Enough suspension to fit 37s, forced induction for both engines, long range tanks (much needed given the paltry 90L factory fitment), barwork – you name it, it can be sourced. Yep, it’ll be more expensive than decking out your HiLux, but you already knew that’d be the case when you bought this rig, right?
Final verdict – Silverado Vs Ram 1500
Realistically, this one is too close to call given the similar nature of these tanks. Take both for a drive and see which of them speaks to you. If you’re going to be heading into some semi-serious off-road territory then the ZR2 is arguably better out of the box, but the Ram could easily catch it with a few bucks spent on aftermarket gear. The Ram is arguably the better tow pig (just), but some better suspension and a GVM upgrade is all it’d take for the Silverado to eclipse it.
Both are big, powerful rigs that’ll tow just about any trailer you can think of – from fifth wheelers to off-road campers – without a worry, while transporting you in style and comfort. Yep, it comes at a price, but what doesn’t?
As mentioned, full-size ‘trucks’ are here to stay. Toyota Australia is seriously considering importing the 5.7L petrol Tundra and the twin-turbo Ecoboost petrol F150 is basically moments away from landing in the country in droves and would have been included in this test were it available at the time of writing.
Regardless, we’re excited for the imminent full-size invasion. Bring it on.