Rugged, powerful, and just plain cool, diesel trucks have a reputation of being the hardest-working and some of the longest-lasting vehicles on the road. They’re capable of mind-boggling power numbers with minimal amounts of aftermarket parts and labor. Their fuel mileage can be incredible too, considering how big these beasts are and how much they can move. Some are bare-bones, with nothing more than a manual transmission, an AM/FM radio, and a trailer hitch. Others are basically luxury vehicles on a heavy-duty platform, with heated seats and steering wheels, navigation, adjustable air-ride suspension, and on-board Wi-Fi.
While almost all diesel trucks are pretty cool, we think there have been a few over time that can head to the winner’s circle in their respective niches. Whether it’s an oldie-but-a-goodie, a piece of power equipment, an over-the-road luxury pavement pounder, or a newer high-tech machine, we’ve put together quite an array of the best diesel trucks ever made. We’re going to span a couple of decades here. Our oldest choice was built in the early 1990s, and our newest choice is available today at your local dealership with zero miles on the odometer. Here is our list of the best diesel trucks.
2020’s Best Half-Ton Diesel Truck: Ram 1500 Ecodiesel
Our choice for the 2020’s Best Half-Ton Diesel Truck goes to the 2020 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel. While it may not be the most powerful or possess the newest technology, the Ram Ecodiesel has been doing more than just keeping up with the Joneses. FCA has made sure the Ram isn’t going to fall behind the other half-ton diesel offerings.
The Ecodiesel 3.0 liter turbo engine has been revamped for the 2020 model year. Power numbers are up, from 240 to 260 horsepower. Torque has increased from 420 to around 480 pounds, and that leads the category against Chevrolet and Ford. This is partly due to Ram updating around 80 percent of the engine components from the previous generation Ecodiesel. The power increase allows the Ecodiesel 1500 to tow up to 12,560 pounds, thanks in part to the 8-speed automatic transmission.
This is one of those luxury trucks we were talking about. The Ram 1500 is known for having a very refined interior, and the Ecodiesel is no different. Leather seats, advanced infotainment, and a spacious interior are all available. To add to the luxury flair, Ram has reduced engine noise inside the cabin and out, giving the truck an even more refined feel.
2020’s Best Quarter-Ton Diesel Truck: Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Choices in the quarter-ton category are slim, but that doesn’t mean our pick is any less deserving. The 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is seriously cool. This mid-size pickup ticks all the boxes: it looks awesome, handles itself well off-road, and its 2.8L Duramax has tons of torque.
Duramax has long been a name in diesel aficionado households, and the ZR2 is no different. This Colorado produces 181 horsepower and 369 pounds of torque. Those are big truck torque numbers, which makes the Colorado ZR2 capable of towing 7,700 pounds.
This Colorado isn’t a one-trick-pony, either. While it tows pretty well for a small truck, it really shines off-road. With 31-inch tires and specially designed bumpers, this off-roader is able to do some pretty cool stuff when the terrain gets tough. Add the ZR2’s awesome styling, and you’ve got the total package with a small footprint.
Best Old-School Diesel Truck: 1991-1993 Dodge D250
Choosing the Best Old School Diesel Truck from the last four or five decades wasn’t easy. There are a lot of choices to consider, but our choice is definitely the coolest; the 1991 to 1993 Dodge D250. This truck was definitely the head of its class when it came to diesel trucks from the 1990s. The styling might have been a little dated compared to the three-quarter ton offerings from Ford and Chevy of the day, but that’s part of what makes this truck so cool now.
The D250 from the early ‘90s is no stranger to accolades. Dodge was really doing something right when they built these bad boys. These trucks were workhorses and offered unheard of power and capability for their time. The 5.9 liter Cummins turbo diesel inline-6 that the D250 (and D350) were available with came with 160 horsepower and 400 pounds of torque. That power in a reliable package made this truck a joy to tow with, pulling up to 11,100 pounds. Those are big numbers for the early 1990s.
Compared to today’s trucks, the D250 may not quite stack up in towing capacity or creature comforts, but in the early 90’s, this truck was something special. Dodge and Cummins worked together to build a reliable truck that towed well but also wore its old-school swagger like a boss.
Best Diesel Truck to Modify: 2008-2010 Ford F250 Super Duty
Diesel truck people are known for modifying their trucks. We’ll assume this started because haulers wanted to get better gas mileage or get paid more for hauling heavier loads, but it’s now way past that. Diesels today are capable of producing horsepower and torque numbers in the four-figure range. Our choice for Best Diesel Truck to Modify starts from the factory as a great truck, but benefits from an incredible supportive aftermarket. That truck? None other than the 2008-2010 Ford Super Duty.
The Ford Super Duty Powerstroke 6.4 liter turbo diesel was already a snarling beast from the factory, but tuning it really lit a fire. The already powerful 350 horsepower and 650 pounds of torque can be eclipsed with a minimal investment. For less than $1,000, you can buy a stage 1 kit with an intake and tuner and get up to 450 horsepower, plus your torque value jumps close to 900. Stage 2 usually includes a massive 4-inch or 5-inch exhaust system and possibly an intercooler. From stage 2 on, the numbers will climb off the chart.
Most turbo diesels are easily tuned, but this particular Ford is known for responding so well to minimal mods. These trucks are tunable to make loads of power at the flip of a switch with a minimal investment. The difference between a factory and a stage 2 upgrade kit feels like two completely different trucks.
Best Workhorse Diesel Truck: 2006-2007 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and GMC Sierra 2500HD
In the realm of diesel trucks, holding the crown for Best Workhorse really says something. These trucks are built to work. The king of the category has to haul well, be reliable, make lots of power, and garner respect from the men and women who use it on a daily basis. There were a lot of good choices, but the 2006-2007 Chevrolet Silverado (and GMC Sierra) 2500HD Duramax is our choice for the Best Workhorse Diesel Truck.
There are a few reasons to love the 2006-2007 Chevy Silverado 2500HD Duramax or the GMC Sierra that shares its platform. First off, these were the first GM pickups to be available with the 6-speed automatic Allison transmission, which could handle more power and torque. On top of that, the Duramax diesel engine was producing 360 horsepower and 650 pounds of torque. Those numbers were higher than the same year Super Duties and Rams. That’s an important point because this was right before the emissions crunch, which seriously reduced fuel mileage, performance, and towing capability. That means these trucks were the kings of the hill in the golden age of turbo-diesel pickups.
So what made them such good workhorses? For one, these trucks were capable of towing almost 16,000 pounds. The payload was impressive as well, with a weight limit of nearly 4,000 pounds in the bed. This was ideal for anyone who needed a heavy-duty truck for work, whether it be to haul a work trailer or to deliver a pallet of concrete mix. These trucks could do it all.
There are a few trucks that very easily could’ve made this list, and it was difficult to sort through them all and choose the best. Some trucks that deserve an honorable mention are the brand-new Nissan XD, the 2003 to 2004 Ram 2500 and 3500, the 1999 to 2000 Ford Super Duty, and the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500.
It’s difficult to put a list like this together because every truck has its pros and cons. The all-you-can-eat buffets of diesel truck forums on the internet are loaded with information, and they also have their pros and cons. There are heated debates and jovial discussions, but one thing is for sure: everyone has an opinion as to what truck is the best.
Trucks like these garner that type of cult following because people love them. You put enough seat-time in any vehicle and you’ll get to know how you feel about it. Most people buying diesel trucks are putting their livings and lifestyles on the line, so you can bet they’ll have an opinion about which heavy hauler is the best.
We said it in the beginning of this piece: diesel trucks are cool. Whether it’s a luxurious beast of burden or a smoking four-wheel-drive freight train, our list of the best diesel trucks should have you headed in the right direction.