Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept Crossover at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show ・ Photo by Megan Green
Thanks to GM’s introduction of its next-gen midsize pickups—the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon—the segment itself has gained extra attention from both customers and automakers alike: In fact, high demand here has led to a nice revision of the Toyota Tacoma, a commitment from Honda to continue its Ridgeline, and a likely new entry from Hyundai. On the other hand, that vehicle, a production version of the well-received Santa Cruz concept, would be a couple of years away from its debut, as is a next generation of the only other choice in this category right now, the Nissan Frontier. That’s the short story, but let’s take a closer look at the state of the segment today, so customers can help find the best midsize pickup to meet their needs.
The Bowtie brand had claimed right from the start that its new midsize pickup would be available with a diesel engine, and it’s the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado that carries out that promise. More specifically, the truck’s 2.8-liter, four-cylinder turbo-diesel will be the most powerful—and most efficient—engine in the Colorado lineup for 2016, serving up 369 lb.-ft. of torque and raising the truck’s maximum tow rating to a hardy 7,700s lbs. Yet even as the engine also produces 181 hp, Chevy projects it will “top the already segment-leading efficiency of the gas models,” which means bettering a line of 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. One of the industry’s best midsize pickups also boosts its tech levels for 2016, with Apple CarPlay smartphone integration that takes advantage of OnStar’s 4G LTE connectivity and mobile wi-fi capability. A blacked-out Midnight Edition and an outback-friendly Z71 Trail Boss model also are available.
Although the current model is far and away today’s best-selling mid-size pickup, shoppers should keep in mind that the 2016 Toyota Tacoma, due in dealerships later this year, has gotten a comprehensive makeover. Among the highlights: a fresh, bold design that was inspired by the style of the full-size Toyota Tundra, as well as an advanced V6 with the company’s D-4S injection technology, an extra 42 hp as compared to the 2015 V6, total outputs of 278 hp and 265 lb.-ft. of torque, and a max tow rating that climbs 300 lbs. (to a new limit of 6,800 lbs.). On the tech front, important new features for the Tacoma range from its enhanced Entune infotainment system—bolstered by JBL audio, navigation, smartphone-style app access and Qi wireless device charging—along with safety measures such as a rearview camera, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert. Fan-favorite SR5 and TRD off-road models return as well.
As a mid-size, unibody pickup with relatively car-like handling, the original Honda Ridgeline might have been just a bit ahead of its time. However, as current customers have become more accepting of both crossover-style SUVs and the growing crop of “smaller” trucks from other brands, Honda has decided to re-invent the Ridgeline for another go. Details are still scarce at this time, but the brand did have a design study of the new vehicle at this year’s Chicago Auto Show, where Jeff Conrad, Honda division senior vice president and general manager, said: “The new Ridgeline brings more traditional truck proportions and styling than the previous generation, while retaining the space efficiency, ride comfort and flexible utility that made the original Ridgeline both the “Motor Trend” Truck of the Year and the North American Truck of the Year.” Stay tuned for a calendar-year 2016 debut for the next-gen Ridgeline.
Much the same can be said about the 2016 GMC Canyon as for the Chevy Colorado, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, it’s a very good thing, because it means the Canyon also qualifies as one of the industry’s best midsize pickups, right down to shared-with-Chevy upgrades like its upcoming Duramax turbodiesel engine and Apple CarPlay capability. The Canyon caters to a somewhat more premium clientele, however, relying on a plethora of Professional Grade design cues to capture the “Autoweek” Best of the Best Truck title for 2015, then also earning a 10 Best Interiors recognition this year from Ward’s. The Canyon and Colorado additionally share two other powerplants: a standard four-cylinder engine that combines 200 hp and 27 mpg, and a 305-hp V6 that can tow 7,000 lbs.—but still see 26 mpg. Naturally, like most of GM’s newer products, the Canyon further features 4G LTE connectivity and a mobile wi-fi hotspot, too.
The 2016 Nissan Frontier may not be the freshest fruit at the marketplace, but as one of just four “true” trucks in the segment, it’s one of the best midsize pickups almost by default. Also, while the Frontier does furnish a distinctly old-school ownership experience, the brand has continued to boost content levels, most noticeably by launching NissanConnect with Navigation and Mobile Apps for the Frontier for the 2015 model year. For 2016, custom-look models like the PRO-4X and Desert Runner return, of course, while Sunset Orange, Gun Metallic and Magnetic Black all premiere as exterior colors, and a moonroof becomes standard in the Frontier Crew Cab SV. Finally, looking into the Frontier’s future, Nissan is expected to introduce a next-generation truck as a 2017 model, with that vehicle also serving as the platform for Mercedes-Benz(!) and Renault pickups.
It’s not quite confirmed for production, but the autosphere is abuzz with rumors about the Hyundai Santa Cruz—the “crossover truck” concept that first took the stage at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Indeed, a recent report in “Car and Driver” claims “the U.S. Hyundai team expects the Santa Cruz to be approved by the Korean mothership this November.” If that happens, shoppers will soon have an interesting alternative to the best midsize pickups from the traditional brands, since the Santa Cruz is a front-wheel-drive vehicle, built on the same underpinnings as the Santa Fe crossover, but boasting an open bed and—at this point—a concept-style appearance that’s unlike anything else on the road. Moreover, the compact length of the Santa Cruz can be extended by its innovative tailgate, enabling a cargo bed that’s about the same size as that in a midsize pickup.
Photo by Megan Green