The small truck marketplace has been, well, small for the past few years as several major automakers have regrouped to try and figure out how their future mid-size pickup truck strategy should unfold. This is good news for those seeking a small truck, because while class leaders from Toyota and Nissan have stuck around, all-new efforts from General Motors are poised to shake up the status quo and erase the memories of mediocrity that dogged past products. It's a great time to be in the market for a less-than-full-size pickup. Let's take a look at five of the best small trucks on dealer lots and see how they stack up against each other.
1) 2015 Toyota Tacoma
The 2015 Toyota Tacoma has long been at the apex of the small truck scene for several different reasons. The first is longevity - the Toyota Tacoma's has been around for 20 years of continuous production, taking over from the now-departed Ford Ranger as the segment's iron man. It's also a versatile option, coming in Access and Double cab editions, both featuring an additional set of doors to make it easier to enter the rear passenger area. The Regular cab, however, was dropped for the 2015 model year.
There are also a number of specialized versions of the 2015 Toyota Tacoma designed to attract drivers who intend to do more than just daily-drive their trucks. The TRD Sport package adds 17-inch rims, a performance suspension system, extroverted body work (including a hood scoop), and color-keyed trim to the pickup, while the TRD Off-Road package goes in the other direction and grafts on a raised suspension system, adds Bilstein shocks, provides a locking rear differential, and dresses up the Tacoma's interior.
Under the hood, the 2015 Toyota Tacoma's base 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine produces 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, and it returns fuel mileage of 21 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway. Transmission choices for this unit include a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. Moving up to the Tacoma's 4.0-liter V-6 introduces 236 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque into the equation, and also adds the availability of either a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual gearbox. Four-wheel drive can of course be included with either engine package.
2) 2015 Chevrolet Colorado
The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado is an all-new small truck that represents a ground-up rethink of GM's mid-size pickup offering, abandoning the lackluster engines of old and introducing a fresh platform. Starting with its styling, the Colorado manages to shrink Chevrolet's successful single-bar grille down onto a front fascia that's bold without being macho, and the Colorado is also exclusively available in four-door form, meaning either an Extended or a Crew cab. This shows that Chevrolet is making a play for what it terms “lifestyle” buyers, instead of the work-first shoppers that make up a large component of full-size Silverado sales. Towing is there, though, if you need it: the pickup maxes out at 6,700 lbs when properly equipped.
The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado makes use of a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder as its standard engine, and this unit is rated at 193 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Also available are a 3.6-liter V-6 tuned to provide 302 horses and 270 lb-ft of torque, and a class-exclusive (well, almost: see entry #5 on our list) 2.8-liter, turbodiesel four-cylinder engine that is rated to crest 350 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board for the Colorado, and four-wheel drive is optional.
3) 2015 Nissan Frontier
The 2015 Nissan Frontier is another survivor in the small truck universe, having been on sale in one form or another since 1997. Like the Colorado, the Nissan Frontier comes only in King (extended) and Crew cab body styles, with the latter offering full-size rear doors and bench seating across the back to improve passenger capacity to five. The Frontier's two available cargo beds measure just over six feet, or five feet on the nose, and they can also be had with a useful array of cargo management features such as movable tie-downs. The Nissan Frontier might not match the Tacoma when it comes to a “street tuner” trim, but it certainly makes an effort to keep up out on the trail. The PRO-4X trim grafts high-performance off-road features to four-wheel drive editions of the truck plus goodies like a locking rear differential, skid plates, and a number of interior amenities.
The 2015 Nissan Frontier includes a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine free of charge with extended-cab models, and it's good for 152 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque along with fuel mileage of 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. Transmission options for the four-cylinder Frontier are listed as a five-speed manual and a five-speed automatic. The Nissan's 4.0-liter V-6 brings with it 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque, as well as the option of four-wheel rive and a six-speed manual transmission (the five-speed auto remains in the mix).
4) 2014 Honda Ridgeline
First things first: a thoroughly redesigned Ridgeline is in the pipeline for 2016, but Honda’s skipping the 2015 model year. This oddball small pickup offers enough unique features that the outgoing 2014 version still deserves a spot on this list, and buyers who are so inclined can probably still find one, with a bit of effort.
Not quite full-size, and definitely not a traditional design, the Honda Ridgeline makes use of a unibody SUV platform that has been given an open cargo bed to go with its four-door design. The five-passenger Ridgeline also provides a few unique cargo storage options that can't be found on other mid-size trucks, including a “trunk" that's built into the bed itself and which offers hidden, and lockable, storage for up to 8.5 cubic feet of gear. The tailgate also swings out, or drops down, thanks to a dual-hinge design. The order sheet is simple: all-wheel drive is standard, and so is a five-speed automatic transmission. Thanks to a design that prioritizes sending engine output to the front wheels, the Ridgeline's fuel mileage shows as 15 mpg in city driving and 21 mpg on the highway, which is average compared to other six-cylinder mid-size trucks. Its 3.5-liter V-6 can be counted on to produce 250 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque, and the Honda can town up to 5,000 lbs.
5) 2015 GMC Canyon
The 2015 GMC Canyon is the mechanical twin of the upcoming Chevrolet Colorado, which means that it benefits from the same new platform as well as the three new engine options (including the intriguing turbodiesel mill). The biggest difference between the two? Styling. The GMC Canyon is clearly hoping to impress buyers who want to own a 3/4 version of the full-size Sierra's squared-off good looks, which explains the rectangular grille and angle-heavy front end of the smaller truck. There's also the interesting possibility that the Canyon will eventually offer a Denali edition, which is GMC's exclusive luxury trim that can be found on every single other vehicle built by the brand. A premium small truck would be a segment first, and could appeal to a niche of buyer who want to be coddled on their way to the job site.