A silver 2023 GMC Sierra 2500HD is shown from the front at an angle during a 2023 GMC Sierra 2500 HD vs 2023 Ford F-250 comparison.

Are Heavy-Duty Truck Manufacturers Focusing on the Wrong Things?

The 2023 Ford Super Duty is the latest escalation in the battle of heavy-duty trucks. With its all-new 6.7L High-Output PowerStroke turbo-diesel engine generating a somewhat ridiculous 1,200 lb-ft of torque, the Super Duty has leapfrogged the heavy-duty options from Ram and GM to secure its position as the most powerful truck on the market. However, as we wait for the other members of the big three to concoct their responses to this new level of pickup truck excess, it may be time to take a step back and ask if these sky-high performance figures are really that relevant to the average buyer. As satisfying as it is to brag to your friends about having the biggest and baddest truck around, are those headline numbers really reflected in the trucks people are actually buying? To answer this question, it might be worth comparing the older 2023 GMC Sierra 2500 HD vs 2023 Ford F-250.

An Illusory Advantage

Given that the fourth-generation Sierra HD hit the market for the 2020 model year, it is approaching the end of its lifecycle. In fact, it hasn’t had its Duramax turbo-diesel engine updated since 2017 (although it is getting a power boost for 2024). However, the 2023 GMC Sierra 2500 HD still holds its own, even against brand-new trucks like the 2023 Ford F-250 with its all-new High-Output PowerBoost engine. Looking at the headline numbers alone, you may doubt that claim. After all, how can the GMC, with its 910 lb-ft of torque and 18,510 lbs of towing, possibly compete with the 1,200 lb-ft of torque and 23,000 lbs of towing offered by the new F-250? Well, put simply, those numbers lie and don’t necessarily trickle down to the trucks that drivers are really buying.

To get those headline figures, you have to spec your F-250 with the new High-Output PowerStroke engine, which is a $12,495 option and brings the starting price of the truck up to $56,465––a lot of money for a bare-bones XL regular cab with rear-wheel drive. If you want a mid-trim F-250 Lariat crew cab with High-Output PowerStroke, it will run you at least $76,235. That’s a lot of money for a truck. In fact, for $74,995, you can drive away in a top-tier Sierra 2500 HD Denali crew cab with four-wheel drive, providing you are willing to settle for the base 6.6L V8 gasoline engine.

Needless to say, that sort of price difference means a lot of truck shoppers don’t actually buy the top engine options that the manufacturers advertise so heavily. Even if you have the money to afford it, it usually makes more sense to put that cash towards features that improve your everyday experience on the road rather than performance numbers you will likely never need (especially if you are shopping for a three-quarter-ton truck rather than a one-ton). However, these more affordable models are where even older heavy-duty trucks like the Sierra 2500 HD can shine. In fact, if you put the base gasoline engines of the Sierra 2500 HD and the F-250 side by side, you might be surprised to see that the GMC actually offers more torque and more towing as well as a lower price point.

A grey 2023 Ford F-250 Tremor is shown from the front.

Battle of the Base Engines

For 2023, Ford dropped the anemic 6.2L V8 engine from the Super Duty lineup and replaced it with an all-new 6.8L V8 based on the popular 7.3L Godzilla V8 that was introduced in 2020. However, while the new engine is certainly a step up from the old 6.2L, it still doesn’t compare to GMC’s bulletproof 6.6L gasoline V8. In fact, it’s somewhat puzzling why Ford didn’t just make the 7.3L standard. Even with the smaller 6.8L, the F-250 is still almost $2,000 more expensive than the GMC Sierra 2500 HD, so it’s not like the new engine really helped Ford undercut the competition on price.

While the base 6.8L V8 in the 2023 F-250 is slightly larger than the GMC 6.6L gasoline engine and offers a touch more horsepower, its 445 lb-ft of torque falls short compared to the 464 lb-ft provided by the Sierra 2500 HD. This torque difference translates directly to the GMC truck’s higher max towing capacity of 17,370 lbs with its base engine compared to the F-250’s 17,300 lbs with its 6.8L V8. What was a 4,490 lb towing advantage with the top engines became a 70 lb towing deficit with the base engines! It’s not the biggest difference in the world, but it does go to show that those headline best-in-class figures aren’t always reflected further down the lineup. Even after four years on the market, the GMC Sierra 2500 HD can still hold its own and then some.

Now, you can always equip the 2023 F-250 with the optional 7.3L V8 engine and enjoy 485 lb-ft of torque and up to 19,500 lbs of towing capacity. But again, that’s where price comes into play. In fact, the least expensive F-250 with the 7.3L carries a $53,580 price tag because Ford decided to tie the more capable engine to the STX Appearance Package. That’s over $11,000 more than the starting price for the 2023 Sierra 2500 HD, so you’re paying a lot for that extra capability. In fact, maybe Ford decided not to make the 7.3L standard so it could charge even more for the engine by combining it with other options. While that decision might be good for the Blue Oval’s bottom line, it doesn’t benefit truck shoppers.

A black 2023 GMC Sierra 2500HD is shown from the front while towing a pair of UTVs.

Keeping Things Grounded

As the big three truck manufacturers continue to battle for bragging rights with more and more powerful engine options, it is important that shoppers don’t become entranced by impressive headline figures that aren’t reflected in the trucks they are actually buying. As comparing the 2023 GMC Sierra 2500 HD vs 2023 Ford F-250 shows, just because a brand-new model can claim best-in-class performance doesn’t mean you are benefiting from that performance. In fact, an aging truck that appears to be uncompetitive at first glance may offer more real-world performance as well as more bang for your buck.

Fortunately, GMC seems to have taken this lesson to heart with the upcoming 2024 Sierra 2500 HD. Rather than trying to one-up Ford’s High-Output PowerStroke or Ram’s High-Output Cummins with a flashy new High-Output Duramax that only a handful of drivers would ever buy, GMC has stuck with making small improvements that payoff across the lineup. While the Duramax did get a power boost for 2024, its updated 975 lb-ft of torque is still relatively modest. Instead, the biggest change was the decision to make the legendary Allison ten-speed transmission standard across the lineup, giving every truck shopper a real performance improvement they will feel every day.

Hopefully, more truck manufacturers will follow the same path, making substantial improvements at the lower end of their lineups rather than focusing all of their attention on the high-end headline-making options. This is especially important in the three-quarter-ton market, as fierce competition continues to push half-ton models into what was once heavy-duty truck territory. Small but valuable upgrades like GMC’s decision to make the Allison transmission standard will help set three-quarter-ton trucks apart more than new ultra-powerful and borderline unaffordable engine options.