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 midsize 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-fullsize pickup. Let's take a look at 5 of the best small trucks on dealer lots and see how they stack up against each other.
Photo Credit: Toyota
2016 Toyota Tacoma
The Toyota Tacoma, which is redesigned for 2016, 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 more than 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. There are also a number of specialized versions of the 2016 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, and extroverted body work, 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 2016 Toyota Tacoma's base 2.7-liter, 4-cylinder engine produces 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, and it returns fuel mileage of 19 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway. Transmission choices for this unit include a 5-speed manual and a 6-speed automatic. Moving up to the Tacoma's 3.5-liter V6 introduces 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque into the equation, and also adds the availability of either a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual gearbox. 4-wheel drive can of course be included with either engine package.
Photo Credit: General Motors
2016 Chevrolet Colorado
The 2016 Chevrolet Colorado is a small truck that, thanks to last year’s redesign, represents a ground-up rethink of GM's midsize 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 4-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 fullsize Silverado sales. Towing is there, though, if you need it: the pickup maxes out at 6,700 lbs. when properly equipped. The 2016 Chevrolet Colorado makes use of a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder as its standard engine, and this unit is rated at 200 horsepower and 191 lb-ft of torque. Also available are a 3.6-liter V6 tuned to provide 305 horses and 269 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 for 369 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board for the Colorado, and 4-wheel drive is optional.
Photo Credit: Nissan USA
2016 Nissan Frontier
The 2016 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 fullsize rear doors and bench seating across the back to improve passenger capacity to 5. The Frontier's 2 available cargo beds measure just over 6 feet, or 5 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 4-wheel drive editions of the truck plus goodies like a locking rear differential, skid plates, and a number of interior amenities. The 2016 Nissan Frontier includes a 2.5-liter, 4-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 4-cylinder Frontier are listed as a 5-speed manual and a 5-speed automatic. The Nissan's 4.0-liter V6 brings with it 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque, as well as the option of 4-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission (the 5-speed auto remains in the mix).
Photo Credit: Honda
2017 Honda Ridgeline
The Honda Ridgeline has always been an oddball small pickup, yet the redesigned 2017 version still offers plenty of unique features. Honda’s holding its plans for the updated Ridgeline close to the vest, but when the new truck arrives in mid-2016, it’s expected to come powered by a 3.5-liter V6 borrowed from other models in the brand’s range, putting out about 300 horsepower. The 2017 Honda Ridgeline features innovative technology such as an audio system integrated in the truck bed, a trunk-like storage area concealed within the bed, and folding rear seats that make the back of the cab much more versatile. Keep an eye out for the new and updated 2017 Ridgeline in the near future.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Hunting
2016 GMC Canyon
The 2016 GMC Canyon is the mechanical twin of the Chevrolet Colorado, which means that it benefits from the same platform as well as the three 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 fullsize 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.