For many, shopping for a pickup truck is more of a necessity than a choice. Whether you're hauling supplies to your worksite or towing a boat to the lake, trucks offer the versatility and significant power to get the job done. While popularity in trucks has waned in recent years in the face of rising gas prices, these workhorses continue to be offered in a number of sizes, cab configurations and levels of luxury.
If you need a vehicle that has a strong engine - and an even stronger work ethic - then check out our 2010 pickup truck buying guide to learn about this year's best trucks and find the one that you should be parking in your driveway.
Narrowing Your Options
When shopping for a truck, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is, "How much truck do I need?" Different trucks offer varying degrees of work capacity. While the smallest options tend to be more affordable and fuel efficient, they simply can't match the bigger engines and hauling capabilities of larger models. Generally speaking, pickup trucks are broken down into two separate categories - compact and full-size. Compact models offer light-duty performance and are great for around-town hauling or weekend warriors. Full-size trucks are better suited for those who want to drag their vehicle through the mud with maximum towing capacity.
As the size of the truck increases, so too does price. As such, you'll also want to keep your budget in mind when narrowing your options. Beyond engine and bed size, interior comfort features can also influence cost. Luxury amenities such as leather seats and high-tech gadgets have become fairly popular in the segment, allowing truck owners to ride in royalty if they so choose.
Variations in trim levels and body styles are also important to consider. Most trucks allow owners to customize the ratio of passenger space to rear cargo space by offering regular cab, extended cab and crew cab configurations. Regular cabs boast a single front bench seat that accommodates up to three passengers. An extended cab squeezes in a small second row of seating by sacrificing a bit of rear cargo area. A crew cab eliminates even more rear cargo footage in favor of a proper second row of seating that won't cramp rear passengers.
Some other factors worth considering while narrowing your options include safety features, gas mileage and insurance costs. Generally speaking, larger trucks require higher insurance premiums and garner lower fuel efficiency ratings.
2010 Compact Trucks
Budget-minded shoppers will be happy to learn that a compact truck can be had for as little as $15,000. However, if you're intent on adding in a few bells and whistles, then your entry fee can quickly climb to as much as $30,000.
Compact trucks are best suited for those who require less than 7,000 lbs. of towing capacity. Rear cargo area also maxes out around 6-and-a-half feet, so if you need more than that you'll need to move up to the full-size category. Also, keep in mind a 3-passenger maximum is the norm for the category. However, crew cab models are available, which will boost your passenger capacity to six, but reduce your truck bed to about five feet.
2010 Compact Truck Lineup
The Toyota Tacoma remains one of our top picks for the year thanks to a low entry fee and all-around solid performance. With a base price of $15,345, the Tacoma undercuts every other compact model. Despite the price, Toyota manages to incorporate a solid list of standard features. For added versatility, shoppers have the option to choose from three cab configurations and two engine sizes. If you plan on off-roading or towing, then go with the upgrade V6 engine.
Some drivers may find the Tacoma to be a little too unfriendly for daily commuting. If such is the case, then you may find a better match in the 2010 Nissan Frontier. For around $17,500, shoppers can upgrade to a truck that provides additional interior comfort and on-road ride quality. Some may also prefer the more rugged styling of the Frontier over the Tacoma.
Those who like the Frontier might also look into its rebadged clone - the Suzuki Equator. Mechanically identical, the Equator may prove a better value thanks to a longer warranty package.
For those who want enough room for six passengers to spread out, the Dodge Dakota is worth looking into. The Dakota is one of the larger compact trucks for the year, and also is one of the few to offer a V8 engine option. As such, the Dakota may be a good choice for those leaning towards a full-size truck, but can make do with a maximum towing capacity of 7,100 lbs. (best in class, by the way). Or, for maximum off-road capability and room for six, check into the 2010 HUMMER H3T.
Solid budget options worth comparing to the Tacoma include the GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Colorado and Ford Ranger. At seven feet, the Ford Ranger offers the longest bed in the class. The GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado are GM twins that may be worth a look if you need a compact truck that can handle a decent amount of towing and hauling. However, unrefined road manners and an MSRP that can approach that of more capable full-size models may turn off many shoppers.
2010 Full-Size Trucks
Man up to the full-size truck category, and you'll be rewarded with a vehicle that delivers maximum towing, cargo capacity and off-road capabilities. While entry-level models might come standard with a V6, most shoppers choose to go with a V8 option. Towing capacity tends to range between 8,000 and 10,000 lbs, though a few models muster enough muscle to tow as much as 12,000 lbs. Depending on cab configuration and model type, rear cargo beds range between 6-and-a-half and eight feet.
Full-size trucks range in price from $20,000 to $40,000. For easy distinction, these heavy-duty monsters are categorized based on vehicle power - half-ton, Â¾-ton and 1-ton. American automakers have long commanded the market share for the full-size truck category, but new Japanese models have helped make the category one of the most competitive in the industry. Given the fairly even playing field, your final choice may simply be dictated by price or styling preferences.
2010 Full-Size Truck Lineup
Long-time favorites for the full-size truck category include the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram. The Ford F-150 has long been heralded for its solid combination of comfort and functionality. Seven trim levels, three cab styles and three bed lengths ensure there is a Ford F-150 that meets everyone's needs. Recent additions such as versatile exterior storage compartments, an interior file storage system and Wi-Fi capability help this old stalwart stay current.
The Dodge Ram slants a bit more towards comfort and luxury, with a suspension system that makes it a fairly capable family hauler. High-tech work features, interior storage and customization options are similar to that of the F-150. For added versatility and improved fuel efficiency, a diesel and hybrid engine will be added later in the 2010 year.
If you want a hybrid now, look to the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid. This green-friendly model incorporates all the great things found in the regular Chevrolet Silverado - rugged styling, good work capabilities and superior comfort - and adds a fuel efficiency of 21 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. If you're worried about a hybrid truck not meeting your towing and off-roading needs, you shouldn't be - the Silverado hybrid tows up to three tons.
Those interested in the Silverado (hybrid or not) should also test-drive its corporate cousin - the GMC Sierra. The Sierra benefits from a number of customization options, including the ability to choose between a "pure pickup" or SUV-style interior. The SUV-style may be a welcome feature for families and commuters.
Rounding out the 2010 full-size truck lineup are the relatively new Japanese entries - the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan. Though still outliers in the class, both models offer a solid mix of comfort and work performance. The Tundra's base 4.6-liter may serve as a fuel-efficient alternative to larger V8s in the class. The Nissan Titan is a capable truck that competes well in terms of towing and hauling. However, other options tend to offer a better all-around package.
2010 Sport Utility Truck Lineup
Sport utility trucks (SUTs) are a burgeoning sub-category. Combining styling cues of both SUVs and trucks, these models offer a shorter cargo bed in favor of a more comfortable and expanded interior cabin space.
Five vehicles comprise the 2010 SUT vehicle lineup. Three of these models are body variants of SUVs, while the other two boast a unique design. These two stand-alone SUTs - the Chevrolet Avalanche and Honda Ridgeline - benefit from their ground-up construction and remain two of the best options in the category.
With decent towing capacity and a comfortable, roomy interior, the Chevy Avalanche epitomizes the idea of an SUT. For added rear cargo area, a folding midgate and removable rear glass panel allows drivers to use the rear passenger seat for extra hauling as needed.
The Honda Ridgeline offers similar work capabilities and benefits from clever storage options. For more advanced off-road capabilities, check into the HUMMER H2 SUT. Or, for a boost in passenger comfort, take a look at the Ford Explorer Sport Trac.
If you want an SUV that delivers luxury in spades, then you'll likely find a compatible vehicle in the Cadillac Escalade EXT. Luxury features abound, with enough plush accouterments to leave you riding like a king. Of course, for all that luxury, the Escalade EXT requires you to slap down a king's ransom - base MSRP is over $60,000. For added appeal, the EXT boasts the same folding midgate as the Avalanche, which extends rear cargo area to eight feet.