The small-midsize truck segment has nearly doubled in numbers over the last few years.
The Toyota Tacoma is the “oldest” model in the segment.
The Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz are the latest players.
Not that long ago, truck buyers had several options from the ex-Big 3 as well as at least two other import automakers. Between the mid-2000s and early 2010s, their numbers dropped by roughly half but of late, new members have joined the segment. Interestingly, the Toyota Tacoma is the longest continually running nameplate among its colleagues.
It could also claim the title of the most famous of the lot as well. The black ultra-cool 1985 Toyota SR5 Xtra Cab pickup briefly featured in the Back To The Future movie is the Tacoma’s direct ancestor. All kidding aside and truthfully, the “Taco” is the only midsize truck that can claim to be legendary based on its history and current track record.
These are fighting words especially when it comes to typically loyal and devoted truck fans. Let’s consider the segment and who the contenders are:
In no particular order, we have the Ford Ranger, Ford Maverick, Nissan Frontier, GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Colorado, Jeep Gladiator, Honda Ridgeline, and the Hyundai Santa Cruz. In our opinion, this list should be much longer in our market as we’re missing offerings from Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, and Ram to name a few.
Nevertheless, this cast of non-full-size trucks is extremely varied, but they all have something in common: They are vying for your attention.
The following is a summary of our thoughts on each truck and, if available, a link to review. This time, the trucks are in alphabetical order.
Chevrolet Colorado (GMC Canyon):
GM’s duo of trucks offers the widest breadth of configurations. There are three powertrains, two bed lengths, and two cab configurations to select from. GM is in fact one of only two brands to currently offer a diesel engine – for many, this can make or break a deal. The Colorado ZR2 is an impressive piece of kit for both on- and off-road adventures.
These two trucks do lack some level of refinement and would certainly benefit, in my opinion, from some interior upgrades
The Ranger returned to North America after a seven-year hiatus. While it’s lost title as a truly affordable truck, it makes up for it with serious capabilities and power. The standard turbocharged 2.3-litre EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine fears no challenge and until Raptor arrives for the 2023 model year, it will be the only one offered. The Ranger is available in two cab- and two box configurations, so there are options here as well.
Visually, the Ranger isn’t really a stunner even in its more aggressive iterations such as the Tremor. Like the GM trucks, it too would benefit from attention from designers.
This little truck is the one to watch for. Though it might be limited to one cab and one box layout, the available (on “paper” at least) hybrid powertrain makes the Maverick an efficiency champion. With the turbocharged 2.0-litre EcoBoost 4-cylinder, it turns into something of a street-light racer.
Despite its lower entry price, it offers up some extremely novel interior storage solutions as well as what Ford calls the Flexbed. To scoff at the Maverick and dismiss it would be a huge mistake.
The Honda Ridgeline suffers from one thing, and one thing only: Image. For some reason, it’s not taken seriously as a truck despite being able to tow 5,000 lbs and haul quite a haul. Perhaps this is a result of its surprisingly high level of refinement, for a truck, that many may consider to brush off as being “too soft.”
In a realistic world, the Ridgeline is the truck that 75% of daily truck users actually need. Its one true problem is that it is very expensive. It too is only available in one configuration.
Hyundai Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz is a demonstration of Hyundai’s ability to manufacture anything they want. They themselves describe the Santa Cruz as an addition to the Tucson lineup and little more than a lifestyle vehicle. Thing is that it can actually perform truck duties with plenty of capability.
This non-truck truck is a luxurious powerhouse also suited for road trips and daily driving thanks to its tech-packed and decently spacious cabin. Like all the non-domestic brands, the Santa Cruz is only offered with one bed and one cab layout.
The Gladiator is probably not as big a hit as Jeep thought it would be as it seems destined to be more of a leisure truck rather than a working truck. This takes nothing away from it despite also only being available with one body configuration as it can be fitted with a diesel engine as well.
The Jeep Gladiator is also offered in numerous versions including the legendary Rubicon and what’s more, can be ordered with a manual transmission, one of only two in the segment where this is still possible. The Gladiator’s biggest competitor is the Wrangler itself. The bottom line though, it’s a very cool and unique truck.
The recently and seriously overhauled Frontier addresses the previous’ truck’s main failing. The new 2022 Frontier is far more civilized but even so, isn’t as posh as say the Honda Ridgeline. The Nissan is offered in one of two cab configurations and two bed lengths. Unlike the others, the larger crew cab will be available with the longer 6-foot bed.
The Frontier is powered by a single engine-transmission combination, and it happens to be the most powerful in the segment by all of two horsepower. Despite the return of the PRO-4X off-road version, the Nissan truck seems geared more towards polished on-road driving.
And then we have the Tacoma. The lovingly-referred-to-as Taco is the oldest, least-refined, almost backward midsize truck. And for these reasons as well as its legendary robustness, it is universally loved by all including us.
The Toyota’s 3.5-litre V6, at 278 horsepower and 265 lb.-ft. of torque, is one of the least powerful here and the optional 6-speed automatic transmission is down on gears compared to those mated to all the other V6s and boosted 4-cylinder engines. But unlike some of the trucks in this segment, the Tacoma is not compromised.
Out of the box, it is delivered with 9.4 inches of ground clearance or well over a ½ more than some “off-road” versions. And if the Taco needs to work, it can tow up to 6,800 lbs. or carry a payload of up to 1,440 lbs. The ride quality isn’t on par with the Frontier but that’s part of its appeal.
Although the 2022 Toyota Tacoma still behaves on paved surfaces, it prefers the rough stuff. Thanks to numerous TRD options including the nearly-unstoppable TRD Pro, there’s a level of factory-tuned capability for all.
The tested Trail version is fitted with an ORP skid plate, a suspension lift (1.1-in. front and 0.5-in. rear), superb bronze-finished 16-inch wheels wrapped in Goodyear tires, and more for the ideal rugged-value balance.
The Toyota Tacoma’s age surfaces in some of the onboard controls and infotainment system features but importantly, the ergonomics are good, and it all works. The Double cab is just spacious enough for baby seats (as demonstrated in the images) and comfort levels are decent for all onboard. Incidentally, there’s a second Access cab available however both the Double and Access are joined by a 6.1-foot-long bed.
In short, the Taco has character and personality. It’s reliable and only the automatic transmission can be slightly temperamental – let’s say it’s not always smooth. The Toyota also holds its value like no other because of all of the above.
In this segment, non-truck buyers should consider the Honda Ridgeline. For almost everything else, there’s the Tacoma. For serious off-roading, it’s a toss-up between a Taco TRD Pro and a Colorado ZR2. And yes, the Gladiator Rubicon is good but then get the Wrangler.