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Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Trucks for 2012

There’s a Difference Between Most Affordable Truck and Best Affordable Truck

Christian Wardlaw
by Christian Wardlaw
August 24, 2012
4 min. Reading Time

For this list of most affordable trucks for 2012, we’ve elected to do some extra work on your behalf. Rather than consider only the cheapest, most basic work trucks, we figured you’d want something suitable for more than just the worksite. Most likely, you want an affordable 2012 truck that works hard during the week and that you can clean up and drive on the weekend with a sense of pride and dignity.

That’s why we set some basic creature comfort criteria in determining the best affordable trucks of 2012. To make our list of affordable trucks for 2012, each contestant needed to have air conditioning, a four-speaker stereo, Bluetooth hands-free calling capability, cloth seats, power windows, power door locks, power side mirrors, cruise control, and aluminum wheels.

On the pages that follow, you’ll find the five least expensive models that meet these criteria, with the most affordable truck of 2012 displayed on the final page of this article. Also, please note that prices and data are based on information available on the automakers’ consumer websites and through OEM configuration tools, for a Southern California zip code, as of mid-August of 2012.

Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Trucks for 2012

Nissan really blows it with regard to offering value, because the only way to get Bluetooth on a 2012 Frontier is to get a V6 engine and an option package that costs $1,780, bringing the grand total to $25,495. For the same price, you could get a Ram 1500 Tradesman that meets all of our criteria except for the aluminum wheels.

Obviously, the Frontier King Cab SV V6 is better equipped than the equally affordable Ram, even if it is smaller. Its 4.0-liter V6 generates 261 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 281 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. Better yet, this affordable truck for 2012 is equipped with four-wheel vented-disc brakes, a Dana 44 rear axle, a six-speed manual transmission, and can tow up to 6,500 pounds and haul up to 1,524 pounds of payload in its six-foot bed.

Given those accomplishments, maybe we can forgive the lack of a more affordable Bluetooth option.


Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Trucks for 2012

It’s easy to see why the Toyota Tacoma is so popular. Toyota makes it relatively easy to get everything you need, and even some of the things you want, for less than $25,000. Buy a Tacoma Access Cab in PreRunner trim, add the optional SR5 Package, select the dealer-installed Baja 16-inch aluminum wheels, and you’ve got a tall-riding affordable truck for 2012. How affordable? How does $24,915 sound? Plus, it comes with two years or 25,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance.

Granted, this model is equipped with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine making 159 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 180 lb-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm. That’s a far cry from what the Nissan Frontier is putting to the pavement, and it shows in a maximum tow rating of 3,500 lbs. and a maximum payload rating of 1,510 lbs. Plus, the Tacoma has drum rear brakes. Bah. But a standard automatic limited-slip rear differential helps to make best use of the power, and this version of the Tacoma features 9.3 inches of ground clearance combined with greater approach, breakover, and departure angles than the other trucks on this list.


Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Trucks for 2012

The Suzuki Equator is basically a Nissan Frontier with different styling details. Suzuki also makes it much easier to install Bluetooth on its version of this affordable truck for 2012, by making it a stand-alone dealer-installed $260 option on the four-cylinder Premium model. So equipped, the Equator extended cab in Premium trim runs $24,184, and that includes an automatic transmission.

Of course, saving thousands of dollars also means settling for a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 152 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 171 lb-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. These reduced levels of output compared to the Frontier’s V6 also mean that the Equator’s towing capacity is 3,500 lbs. and its payload rating with the automatic transmission is just 883 lbs., nearly half that of the Frontier V6 or Tacoma four-cylinder. Yikes.

You can rectify these deficiencies by springing for the Equator Sport 4WD V6 model, but then you’re also spending more than $27,500 on your pickup, disqualifying it from our list of the most affordable trucks for 2012.


Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Trucks for 2012

If you want a truly affordable 2012 truck equipped with the kinds of features that make it nice to drive on the weekends, you’ve gotta get a regular cab model. And since the only companies that still make a small regular cab pickup are General Motors and Toyota, that means picking a Chevy Colorado, a GMC Canyon or a Toyota Tacoma. But since Toyota evidently doesn’t believe in letting regular cab truck buyers upgrade with our required features, your choice comes down to a Colorado or Canyon.

At $21,265, the GMC Canyon is $85 more expensive than an equivalently outfitted Colorado. We’re sure it’s worth it. In SLE-1 trim, the Canyon regular cab meets all of our criteria, and more. It’s equipped with a 2.9-liter four-cylinder engine generating 185 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 190 lb-ft. of torque at 2,800 rpm, fed to the rear wheels through an automatic transmission. The Canyon SLE-1 can tow 3,400 lbs., and can carry a payload of 1,429 lbs.

If there’s a reason to skip the Canyon, one of the most affordable trucks of 2012, it’s because it gets truly awful crash-test scores in crew cab format, which does not bode well for the smaller and lighter regular cab version.


Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Trucks for 2012

At $21,180, the Chevy Colorado 1LT in regular cab format is the most affordable truck for 2012, based on our requirements around creature comforts and appearance items. That, however, does not mean that the Colorado is among the best affordable trucks for 2012. Given the crash test results of its larger crew cab sibling, the Colorado, which debuted for the 2004 model year and hasn’t changed much since, isn’t a particularly safe vehicle.

That said, the Colorado is equipped with the same 2.9-liter four-cylinder engine that’s found in the GMC Canyon, good for 185 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 190 lb-ft. of torque at 2,800 rpm. An automatic transmission is standard on the Colorado 1LT, and this regular cab model can haul up to 1,429 lbs. of payload and tow as much as 3,400 lbs.

When it comes to the most affordable trucks of 2012, the Chevy Colorado can’t be beat.



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