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  • New or Old, the Best HD 4x4: Four Wheeler Network Staff’s Picks

New or Old, the Best HD 4x4: Four Wheeler Network Staff’s Picks

Heavy-hauling 4x4 pickups we can’t help but love.

Christian Hazel
May 1, 2020
For starters, if you're looking to haul the absolute most weight possible, you're giving up payload capacity by selecting the 4x4 option. The transfer case and front drive assembly in any 4x4 truck adds weight over its 4x2 counterpart. And not only weight, but also more spinning and potentially fragile components into the mix. And it's the overall vehicle weight, coupled with any potential inabilities of the 4x4 system to cope with severe loads, that often earns the 4x4 a lower GVWR rating compared with a 4x2. But that said, good luck shifting your 4x2 into low range to really get absurd loads moved around your service yard or worksite. And inclement weather, mud, off-road hauling, logging, or any other myriad factors that would impede traction give the nod to the 4x4 variant of the HD truck. So with all that being surmised, here's the Four Wheeler Network staff's picks for the best HD 4x4s of all time.
 

Ken Brubaker Best NEW HD 4x4: Ford F-350 Super Duty

Photo 2/12   |   02 Best Hd 4x4 F250
Whew, this one was tough. All of the Big Three offer compelling 3/4- and 1-ton options, and each has its own take on a tow rig. Can I take features from each and combine 'em? I didn't think so. In that case, I'll go with the 2020 Ford Super Duty F-350. I've been around Super Dutys a lot, and I have deep respect for 'em. I totally dig the powerhouse 6.7L Power Stroke and its 1,050 lb-ft of torque at only 1,600 rpm. And because I tow and haul a lot, I love the fifth-wheel/gooseneck prep package, standard trailer sway control, built-in trailer brake controller, and integrated engine-exhaust brake on the Power Stroke. I'm less interested in all the trailering electronics, though I have found that useful. If I were going to order a new Super Duty, I'd go full zoot and get an F-350 SuperCab dualie with the Power Stroke and 4.30 gears. That combo would offer up a max tow of 21,200 pounds. Yep, that'll work.

Ken Brubaker Best EVER HD 4x4: Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

Photo 3/12   |   03 Best Hd 4x4 Silverado
Way back in 2001 I reviewed a new Chevy Silverado 2500HD equipped with the then-new Vortec 8100 big-block. And recently I've been trying to find a bone-stock rust-free copy of that truck for a project. That truck was a blast to drive, and I can still remember the rumble and pull of that engine. For some reason I liked the gas engine better than the Duramax 6600 I tested the week prior. The Silverado 2500HD had a number of model-specific features, including a stronger frame that was the same as the 1-ton dualie frame. The truck had a more rigid body structure and a 2-inch-higher body height than the regular-duty Silverado 2500. And the taller hood helped with underhood cooling. There were even some upgrades to the front IFS if I remember correctly.

Jason Gonderman Best NEW HD 4x4: Ford F-250 King Ranch Super Duty

First Drive: 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500HDs

Holy cow, picking the best new tow rig is such a loaded question. I have personally driven all of the current 2020 model HD pickups and can say that they are all great. The answer truly comes down to what you're towing, how often, and who's offering the best deal at the moment. Ford's new Power Stroke engine makes 1,050 lb-ft of torque, while Ram offers a 1,000 lb-ft Cummins option, as well. And all of them have the ability to tow well in excess of 30,000 pounds (meaning a commercial license is required). For the average owner, let's say towing a large toy hauler or a couple 4x4s on a gooseneck, I'd lean toward the 2020 Ford F-250. A crew-cab, short-bed, four-wheel-drive model can tow up to 19,100 pounds. A Ram 2500 would be my second choice, mostly because you can't option the high-output Cummins engine in a 2500 model. The Ram 2500 with a Cummins can tow up to 19,020 pounds. A Chevy Silverado 2500HD would be our third choice, mostly because it's not attractive. The Silverado 2500HD crew-cab with four-wheel drive will tow up to 18,500 pounds. All of these trucks will run between $50,000 and $80,000, depending on trim level. I can almost write a book on this subject, and we haven't even touched on 1-ton or dual-rear-wheel trucks.

Jason Gonderman Best EVER HD 4x4: 2017 Chrvrolet 2500HD Silverado

Photo 4/12   |   05 Best Hd 4x4 2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500hd 044

First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD
Epitome of Refinement: The 2017 Chevy Silverado HD is as Polished as It's Ever Been

Using the same criteria as with the new truck, assuming an "everyman" situation of needing a crew-cab, four-wheel-drive truck to tow less than 20,000 pounds, I'd lean toward a 2017 to 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD. The L5P Duramax diesel engine produces 445 hp and 910 lb-ft of torque, the most horsepower at the time. Paired with the Allison six-speed transmission, the combination is pretty tough to beat when it comes to towing, especially when compared to similarly aged Ram and Ford trucks. Good used trucks with low miles in this range can be found pretty easily for $40K. For a lesser budget, it's hard to beat a late third-gen Ram 2500, 2007 to 2009 to be specific. With low miles they are worth about $25,000. However, these are the early DPF-only trucks, so fuel economy won't quite be on point with newer SCR trucks or older non-emissions diesels.
 

Christian Hazel Best NEW HD 4x4: Ram 2500

Photo 5/12   |   06 Best Hd 4x4 Ram
New heavy-duty pickup trucks are insane. The interior comfort, amenities, and conveniences are insane. The ride quality, given the weight capabilities, is insane. The levels of power modern diesel engines achieve is insane. The trailer weights they can handle is insane. And the prices are insane. Who knew pickup prices would be scraping $100,000? zyet here we are. That said, if you're gonna plunk down the equivalent of a 1990s vacation home on a new 4x4 pickup, you wanna get your money's worth. I know the Ford Power Stroke has had its share of teething problems over the past few generations, but the new engine seems well sorted. GM's Duramax is a cult classic, offering hot rod-like performance with acceptable durability. But if you wanna talk foam trucker caps and hay baler cult following, there's no arguing the Cummins. Ford gets the nod for interior luxury, but Ram has that wonderful 6.7L inline-six Cummins that shakes its money maker in all the right ways. Make mine a 2500 single-rear-wheel Megacab just because there's nothing on earth heavy enough for me to require the dualie. With two fewer tires to buy and nearly all the power and capability of the dualie, the four-wheel 3500 is just easier to live with on a daily basis around town.

Christian Hazel Best EVER HD 4x4:

Photo 6/12   |   07 Best Hd 4x4 Ford F350
I keep trying to think of the perfect pickup. Unfortunately I don't think it really exists. We used to joke that we'd take a Ford truck and put a Cummins engine in it with a GM transmission, and it'd be the perfect truck. But now the Big Three have sort of waded into this murky, homogeneous water in which a much smaller pool of third-party vendors are supplying major components. Axles, transmissions, turbos, steering: It's all much more similar than in years past. And although newer vehicles have comparably less distinction than their old-school brethren, even though my personal preferences lie in the older models, there's simply no comparison between trucks of today and trucks of yesterday. About the only thing the older vehicles have over their newer counterparts is a lack of complexity. So setting aside the unforeseeable and unpredictable malfunctions that any new vehicle may suffer, I'd have to say the best HD 4x4 ever is a 2003 Ford single-rear-wheel F-350 with the 7.3L Power Stroke turbodiesel. Sure, the long-block isn't going to last a million miles like a 5.9L Cummins will, but there are scores of 7.3L Power Strokes still doing heavy hauling with over 350,000 miles on them. Why 2003? The interiors of these trucks are surprisingly durable and about as trouble-free as any older truck, the transmissions are pretty darn good, and 2003 was the first year the Dana 60 front axle replaced the Dana 50 and the last year of the venerable 7.3L Power Stroke. Beginning in 2003 the 6.0L Power Stroke was introduced alongside the 7.3L engine, and we all know how that went.
 

Jered Korfhage Best NEW HD 4x4: GMC Sierra 3500

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If I wanted to walk away from a dealership with a tow rig today, the GMC Sierra 3500 HD Denali Duramax is a solid choice. With 30,000 pounds of trailer-yanking capacity on the gooseneck and a dual rear wheel setup, it's more than well-suited for a cross-country haul with a travel trailer or flatbed loaded with toys. Also, its performance during Four Wheeler's Pickup Truck of the Year test suggests that it's tolerant of some rugged trails!

Jered Korfhage Best EVER HD 4x4: AM General M35A2

Photo 8/12   |   09 Best Hd 4x4
If given the choice of any heavy-duty truck ever, gimme a deuce and a half. Watching these slog through Midwestern mud pits and drive through floodwaters to rescue stranded neighbors as a kid enthralled me, and the run-forever, go-anywhere (but not in a hurry) quality makes them hard to stop.
 

Verne Simons Best NEW HD 4x4: Ram 3500 4x4

Photo 9/12   |   10 Best Hd 4x4 Heavy Hauling Ram 3500
It just so happens that the past two years I've been involved in towing a very, very long distance with a pretty large load. Once from Arizona to Maine and back for Ultimate Adventure 2018 and once from Arizona to Alaska and back for Ultimate Adventure 2019. Now, I'm not sure how well any GM or Ford trucks would have done on these multiday trips—they might have done fine, but I do know—and I know well how new Ram trucks did on these trips because that's what we were driving. Both times we had a new 1-ton dualie from Ram, and although I would not enjoy making payments on either truck (they were both loaded with all kinds of gee-gaws, and I like stripped-down trucks), they both towed our 30-foot trailer with two rigs on it like all of it wasn't there. The trucks did everything we asked without so much as a hiccup. The fuel economy wasn't great, but who would expect it to be? There is nothing like cruising at 65 with a big load in a truck that doesn't seem to care.

Verne Simons Best EVER HD 4x4: 1998 Dodge 2500 4x4

Photo 10/12   |   11 Best Hd 4x4 Ram
I know some will accuse me of being a one-trick pony, and that's fine. This is my experience, albeit skewed by well my experiences. My first 3/4-ton truck and personal preferred tow rig for the foreseeable future is a 1998 Dodge 2500 4x4 quad cab with a 12-valve Cummins engine and an NV4500 transmission. The truck used to be a ranch truck and has seen its fair share of use and abuse. The truck is exactly as I would have chosen from the dealer if I would have been in any position to buy a new truck in 1998 (I was still in college). It has a manual transmission, long bed, vinyl interior (cloth seats), A/C, 4x4, and more. It was tuned a little at Diesel Power Products in Spokane, Washington, and it hums. I love the truck, it's nearly perfect for me. I just wish it had a crew cab for just a little more interior space. The truck is rough, tough, and hammer reliable with a few quirks that remind me that it's a 22- year-old truck. Would I replace it? If it died I would, but it would probably be with a very similar truck.

Jeremy Cook Best NEW HD 4x4: 2020 GMC Sierra Denali 3500HD

Photo 11/12   |   12 Best Hd 4x4 2020 Gmc Sierra Denali 3500hd
I have a go to for an "ultimate tow rig". It's the same one I've had for years. I'm a GM guy, and my pick is basically one of the biggest, most expensive GM truck there is at the moment. I went online and built myself a 2020 GMC Sierra 3500 HD Denali 4WD Crew Cab, Standard Bed Single Rear Wheel Denali. It has a 6.6L Duramax Turbo-Diesel V8 engine, of course, and an Allison 10-speed automatic transmission as well as a total of 12,100 lbs. GVWR. I added all of the factory options and packages I wanted, but I didn't add a single one of the over 100 dealer-installed accessories that are offered. The price tag ended up being $85,230. So for the foreseeable future my dream tow rig will have to live only in hypothetical situations like this.

Jeremy Cook Best EVER HD 4x4: 1989 GMC 2500LD

Photo 12/12   |   13 Best Hd 4x4 1989 Gmc 2500ld
This coincides nicely with an old project we're getting ready to start working on again. It is what they called a "light -ton" It included the 14 bolt rear end, heavier rear springs and larger rear brakes. Everything else was half-ton. I'm not estimating whether or not this would be a great tow vehicle. It has been a reliable tow vehicle for me and the family since we bought it from a fire chief when it was just a few years old. The 350 is still going strong, and we replaced the 700R4 transmission with a fully-built TH400 years ago. In around 2007 we painted it, lifted it, and added a whole host of other aftermarket love. It is way past due for us to bring it back in the shop and give it the updates to make sure it can tow our other projects for another 30 years.
 
And just in case all that isn't enough, here's some good new-HD 4x4 truck reading from Jason Gonderman and the gang from Truck Trend and Four Wheeler staffs.

New Trucks That Tow 20,000 Pounds or More
New Trucks That Tow 30,000 Pounds or More
2020 Ford F-250 & F-350 Super Duty Tremor First Drive
First Drive: 2019 Ram Power Wagon
2020 Ford F-250, F-350, and F-450 First Drive
First Drive: 2019 Ram Heavy Duty

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