Saturday, January 21, 2012
To figure out why they are still around, and which is best, Cars.com's PickupTrucks.com website and
TODAY tested seven models for the Midsize Pickup Truck Shootout. USA
The smallest pickups really have grown into midsize machines, though sometimes they still are called compacts.
Seven trucks were tested, quite a few for a segment so small — and a reason it's hard to make money selling midsize pickups, having to split a modest market so many ways.
All trucks were 2012s, except for the 2011 Ranger. Ford killed it after the 2011 model, but it was in production at the time of the Shootout, so it was included.
The judges were
TODAY's Chris Woodyard; PickupTrucks.com editor Mark Williams; Dan Sanchez, author and editor of a number of truck publications; and Trevor Reed, editor of Work Truck Review and freelancer. USA
Their collective view:
Toyota was the clear winner. Tacoma
is getting better and better," wrote the judges. "There's a lot of truck here for the money." Tacoma
Testers pounded each truck nearly 200 miles over freeways, byways and the steep mountains of Southern California's so-called
Inland Empire. They were tested on dynamometers to verify power, accelerated full-throttle to measure quickness, and braked full-bore for stopping distance.
All performed well overall, and their practicality was obvious. But midsize pickups are not a commodity; the Shootout showed significant differences.
The Chevrolet Colorado,
GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, Suzuki Equator and were four-door crew cabs with four-wheel or all-wheel drive and automatic transmissions. Ranger was a smaller, extended-cab model. Tacoma
There is no Ranger crew cab. Ford, instead, sold something similar as Explorer Sport Trac. Surveys showed that buyers would pay more for the Explorer name.
Ridgeline is unlike the others, very loosely based on Honda's Odyssey van and built with unibody construction. Autodata puts it into a "specialty pickups" category and considers it a full-size. Shootout's experts believe it makes more sense to compare it with midsize models, so included it.
Buyers of these trucks are a mix. "You have families buying them, as well as people involved in construction," says
spokesman Sam Butto. Others "like the utility, but don't need a full-size pickup." Toyota
Test models ranged from $27,890 for the Ranger to $34,635 for
. Full-size trucks aren't much more expensive. Tacoma
Ford says it killed the U.S. Ranger after the 2011 model because of lack of interest from buyers. But it's going ahead with a new Ranger abroad. General Motors is killing the
GMC Canyon and Chevrolet after the 2012 models. But GM had second thoughts and now expects to sell a Colorado replacement in 2013 or so. Colorado
How the midsize models finished:
Toyota 4x4 V-6. The 2012 Tacoma got a new grille and rump and dressed-up interior. It accounted for 38% of midsize pickup sales last year, mostly without help from the updates, which came in the fall. Tacoma plans a Baja version for serious off-roaders. In testing, Toyota had the quickest-stopping brakes. The powerful engine "seems almost to want to carry even more weight," the judges said. But Tacoma is the most expensive. Price:$34,635. MPG: 19.3. Score: 938. Tacoma
•Nissan Frontier SV. It was judged best value, and it scored well in other categories but won no other. Its strong engine (261-hp, 281 pounds-feet of torque) was lauded, but the truck seemed unrefined inside. Overall, judges anointed Frontier the "all-around utility player" of the category. Price: $29,085. MPG: 19.1. Score: 913.
•Honda Ridgeline Sport. Hard-core truckers are dismissive of the unibody, car-like Honda, but it had top payload capacity: 1,550 pounds, better than some full-size crew-cab pickups. Its unibody chassis was smoother, better-handling on pavement, but performed poorly in dirt and over ruts. Price: $30,805. MPG: 20.9. Score: 885.
•Suzuki Equator RMZ-4. The Equator placed only a point behind the Ridgeline, praised for snappy performance and crisp handling. It shares underpinnings with the Nissan Frontier, but Suzuki's RMZ-4 package stood out, with stiffer shocks, a locking rear differential, about 100 lbs. more weight and six more horsepower. Price: $30,849. MPG: 19.4. Score: 884.
LT Z71. Judges loved the 5.3-liter V-8 (300 hp, 320 lbs.-ft.). GM is last to offer a V-8 in a midsize pickup, a $1,300 option. It was quickest off the line, loaded or not. But raw power couldn't trump weaknesses such as sub-par braking and body rattles. Price: $33,875. MPG:17.3. Score: 865. Colorado
SLE Z71. Take away the awesome V-8 in Canyon's corporate cousin GMC Canyon and you're left with an acceptable truck that doesn't really stand out. The five-cylinder engine — yes, five — posted fuel-economy figures that tied it with Colorado 's V-6. Price: $30,310. MPG: 19.1. Score: 838. Tacoma
•Ford Ranger XLT. At the back of the pack, Ranger seemed a "time machine … teleporting back to the early 1990s." Ford's spent little on updates. Before you break out the baggy jeans and tune into Baywatch reruns, consider how older technology affects gas mileage. Ranger's was worst of the bunch. Price: $27,890. MPG: 15.7. 779.