Small pickup trucks have a reputation of being fun, sporty, and functional. What can be considered a ‘small’ pickup, though, is somewhat of a debate. Different manufacturers sometimes label their trucks ‘mid-size’ in order to give the impression that it is still fun and sporty, yet big enough to be considered as a serious pickup. For the purposes of this article, I am including only the 12 models deemed ‘small’ by MSN autos. The specs listed here are also from MSN autos. Here are what I believe are the top ten (although I am including all 12) trucks for 2009 in this category.
11 and 12: Dodge Dakota/Mitsubishi Raider. The Dakota is Dodge’s ‘mid-size’ pickup truck, and the Raider is the Mitsubishi equivalent. The Dakota has 14 different trim packages available and retails for an average of a little over $22,000. It comes with a standard 3.7 liter 210 horsepower V6 and earns a somewhat disappointing combined fuel average of around 17 mpg. For 2009, Dodge introduced an optional 4.7 liter V8. Its maximum payload is 1,720 lb. Those are the fairly mediocre specs for the Dakota. When you combine them with a stiff, jerky ride, uninspiring handling, and tight interior space, the Dakota/Raider just plain comes up short.
10: Hummer HT3. Another ‘mid-size’ small truck, the HT3 comes with a 3.7 liter 239 horsepower five-cylinder engine. The ‘Alpha’ version of the HT3 comes with a 300 horsepower 5.3 liter V8. Its average retail price is a somewhat hefty $30,750. The HT3 offers a paltry 1,090 lb. payload and suffers from a combined fuel economy of around 15 mpg. Despite these numbers, Hummers have always been about a perception of ruggedness. Their military heritage and marketing have created a group of buyers looking to capture a true piece of road-domineering metal. As a work truck, the Hummer is definitely a weak entry, but if you’re buying based on perceived toughness and power, the HT3 is clearly the ‘manliest’ entry in the bunch.
9: Ford Explorer Sport Trac. This ‘Explorer with a pickup bed’ is probably the most unusual entry in this list. Its tiny bed (21.2 inches) will carry only the smallest of loads. It can tow, however, 5,310 lb. There are 10 trim options available and the combined fuel economy is around 16 mpg, which is not bad considering the size of the vehicle. The two engines available for the Sport Trac are a 4.0 liter 210 horsepower V6 and a 4.6 liter 292 horsepower V8. Its average price is about $25,400, which is not so bad if you’re buying this for SUV purposes. The Sport Trac has a truck-like ride and average handling, but excels (as most Ford products have of late) in the quality department. Like the HT3, this is not a truck you buy for hauling big loads in the bed. It is marketed more towards the off-roading, SUV crowd, which it is more suitable for.
6, 7, and 8: GMC Canyon/Chevy Colorado/Isuzu Truck. These three trucks are all very similar with a few notable differences. The Canyon and Colorado average a price of about $16,000, while the Isuzu is closer to $18,000. All three trucks come with either a 185 horsepower 2.8 liter V4 or 3.5 liter 242 horsepower V5. For 2009, the Canyon and Colorado also offer a 5.3 liter 300 horsepower V8. These three trucks post a better-than-average combined fuel economy of around 20-21 mpg. When you combine the payload of 1,422 lb. with the fuel economy and price, you end up with a fairly good value, despite the fact that these trucks are somewhat below average in handling. Note: If you want the Isuzu version, you better act quickly. Isuzu is pulling out of the U.S. market in early 2009.
4 and 5: Ford Ranger/Mazda B-Series. With a very good combined fuel economy of around 22-23 mpg and an average list price of $15,835, the Ranger is one of the better values in this category. The Mazda is essentially the same truck as the Ranger. The Ranger comes with a 2.3 liter 143 horsepower V4 or a 4.0 liter 207 horsepower V6. It is a bit weak in the payload department, with 1,180 lb. being the maximum load. While its ride is neither much better nor much worse than others in this class, its fuel economy and low base price give it an edge over some of its competitors.
2 and 3: Nissan Frontier/Suzuki Equator. The Frontier comes with either a 2.5 liter 152 horsepower V4 or a 4.0 liter 261 horsepower V6. The combined fuel economy for the V4 is a respectable 20-21 mpg, while the V6 is somewhat less. Like the Ranger, it is also weak as far as payload goes, managing only 1,002 lb. for a maximum load. Where the Frontier excels, though is in its above average handling and above average reputation for dependability. With an average price starting around $17,460, the Frontier/Equator represents a solid value.
1: Toyota Tacoma. With an average retail price starting around $15,170, the Tacoma boasts the lowest price of any of the trucks in this group. It comes with a 2.7 liter 159 horsepower engine that gets an impressive combined mpg of around 24 mpg, or a 4.0 liter 236 horsepower V6 that still earns a reasonable combined mpg of about 18 mpg. Its payload capacity is about average for this class at 1,370 lb., but it is a pretty tight fit for passengers. The Tacomas top in class ride combined with legendary Toyota reliability and a great price make this small pickup number one in my book.
All these vehicles have limited versatility due to their size, but if your needs are not very demanding, they can be a fun ride that actually adds a little bit of function.