Mid-size trucks are making a major resurgence most buyers probably weren’t expecting, putting their pricier full-size pickup counterparts on notice. They’re beefier now with stylish looks, loaded with tech, while offering respectable towing abilities.
While long-running compact trucks like the Toyota Tacoma have dominated the market, old nameplates like the Chevy Colorado and Ford Ranger are back. The Nissan Frontier’s redesign was long overdue, with newcomers like the Jeep Gladiator and new Hyundai Santa Cruz hitting the market.
Here’s a closer look at the current small trucks on the market.
Hyundai Santa Cruz
Dubbed a Sport Adventure Vehicle, say hello to the 2022 Santa Cruz you probably weren’t expecting – a mid-size truck with compact crossover agility.
There will be two powertrain options for the US market, including the standard 2.5L direct-injected in-line four-cylinder with an estimated 190+ horsepower and 180+ lb.-ft. of torque. And the optional 2.5L direct-injected turbocharged engine making an estimated 275+ horsepower and 310+ lb.-ft. of torque.
Most mid-size trucks offer around 7,000 lbs. towing capacity on average. Hyundai’s pickup will do a respectable 5,000 lbs. with the more powerful 2.5L turbo powerplant, compared to the non-turbo 2.5L offering 3,500 lbs. towing capacity.
Hyundai did a good job blending ruggedness with style in the cabin, particularly by offering 10.25 inches of visibility coupled with an optional 10.25 inch digital cluster display. A Bose sound system comes standard and extra storage is provided under the rear seats — you don’t get that with a crossover.
Release Date: Expect the 2022 Santa Cruz to hit dealerships sometime this summer 2021. Pricing to be announced closer to the release date.
270+ horsepower turbo engine
Small truck cargo with CUV drivability
Open bed with lockable tonneau cover
Introduced as a 2020 model, the Gladiator brings the off-road prowess and iconic appeal of the Wrangler SUV to the mid-size pickup segment. Check out our full first drive review here.
It’s the third truck in this class to offer a diesel engine, a 3.0L V6 with more power than the four-cylinder in the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models. Along with its big torque potential, it promises thrifty fuel consumption in highway driving and decent towing capacity.
Base power is from a 3.6L gas V6, and transmission choices are a six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic. Naturally, 4WD is standard.
From the Wrangler the Gladiator inherits underpinnings designed primarily for off-road driving, so performance on paved surfaces is less impressive than other trucks in this class. The cargo bed is also shallow compared to that of other pickups.
All in all, the Gladiator is a niche product aimed at a very specific type of truck buyer. Still, it’s the one to buy if you want to make an entrance wherever you go.
Capable four-wheel drive system
Powerful diesel engine option
Removable top panels create a convertible feel
General Motors kicked off the current craze for mid-size pickups with this truck, which proved that a smaller model didn’t have to compromise on comfort compared to a full-size model.
We like the Colorado’s spacious cabin and comfortable seating, which combine to make this a brilliant long-distance vehicle. The Colorado also boasts one of the most comfortable rides in this segment, a trait that helped this model set the tone for the rest of the class to follow.
Engine choices include four-cylinder gas and diesel engines and a V6 that tops the 300-hp mark. The four-cylinder gasser comes with a manual transmission, but the other two motors are standard with an eight-speed automatic.
There is no regular cab version of the Colorado. Instead, the range begins with an extended cab configuration with small back seats, and the option is a Crew Cab body with full-size rear doors and a three-place bench seat.
ZR2 Bison’s skid plates, winch mount and ZR2’s standard locking differentials
Optional four-cylinder diesel engine boasts excellent fuel economy and generous torque
Available HD infotainment screen and leading-edge USB connectivity
One of the best-known names in pickups came back in 2019 after an eight-year hiatus as Ford re-entered the mid-size segment. The Ranger was originally designed for the Australian market and modified for North American production.
Power comes from a turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine (the mid-size pickup segment’s first) that makes 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque and comes with a 10-speed transmission and standard four-wheel drive. The engine is a winner with its combination of aggressive torque delivery and eager high-end power.
Typical for the class, the Ranger starts in a SuperCab configuration with rear seats designed for occasional use only. A larger four-door Crew Cab body is designed to appeal to the bulk of mid-size truck shoppers.
A firm ride projects a feeling of solidity but detracts from the Ranger’s daily driving comfort.
FX4 models get Trail Control, which functions like cruise control for off-roading
Ford’s blind spot monitor will cover the entire length of a truck and trailer
First mid-size truck with a 10-speed transmission
Despite its maker being best known for building hyper-reliable cars, the Tacoma garners a good amount of attention in the mid-size truck segment. Base model power is from a 3.5L V6 that makes 278 hp and comes matched with standard four-wheel drive; it falls a bit short in the towing capacity department compared to the other small trucks.
You’ll either love or hate the Tacoma’s driving position, which feels more like that of a car than what other trucks offer.
Off-roaders will gravitate toward Tacoma’s TRD trims, which can be had with features like remote reservoir shocks and a camera-based multi-terrain monitor.
Furthermore, if you’re a keen off-roader and manual-shift driver, you’ll appreciate the ability to disable the Tacoma’s clutch interlock, which allows the engine starter to operate with the truck in gear. So equipped, you can actually use the starter to crawl the truck up steep inclines.
Standard active safety features like pedestrian detection/automatic braking and lane departure alert
TRD Pro trims get a high-mount desert engine air intake
Other off-road ready kit includes remote reservoir shocks and a multi-terrain monitor
Since its arrival in 2005, the Honda Ridgeline has endured all kinds of criticism from know-it-alls who say this is not a “real” truck because it’s based on a front-wheel drive platform and lacks truckish features like low-range 4WD gearing. The truth is, however, that the Ridgeline is enough for most drivers’ everyday needs with its 280-hp V6 and a tow rating approaching 2,300 kg.
Here’s our review of the top-trim Ridgeline Black Edition model.
Ridgeline comes standard with advanced safety items like automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. Couple those features with the Ridgeline’s SUV underpinnings and you get a truck that’s remarkably well-suited to daily driving.
Among the Ridgeline’s most useful features are a multi-function tailgate that opens two ways, and a trunk built into the cargo bed that protects whatever’s inside from the elements.
side- and bottom-hinged tailgate
weatherproof cargo compartment in cargo bed
optional cargo bed “exciters” that turn the truck into one big speaker
General Motors’ other mid-size truck comes from GMC, whose Canyon wears more assertive styling than its Chevrolet cousin, but is otherwise a mechanical twin to the Colorado. The key difference is GMC’s upscale Denali trim, which includes features that are optional in the Colorado, like ventilated front seats, navigation, and a full suite of driver assists.
Like the Chevy, engine choices are four-cylinder gas and diesel and a gas V6, and body styles include extended and Crew Cab configurations. Here’s our review of the GMC Canyon SLT Diesel.
The Canyon’s styling is more rugged looking than that of its Colorado sibling, but it offers similar performance and comfort; this is the truck we’d choose for long-distance driving.
If you’re into roughing it, the All-Terrain model gets an off-road suspension, skid plates, and a hill descent control system. The Canyon’s maximum towing capacity is 3,493 kg (7,700 lbs).
Denali trim includes niceties like heated and ventilated front seats and a Bose stereo
More rugged styling than the softer-edged Colorado
Available smartphone integration
After being sold on our market unchanged for over a decade, the Nissan Frontier finally gets a full model redesign for the 2022 model year. While it still rides on the same architecture as before, it houses an all-new 3.8-liter V6 good for 310 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to an equally new nine-speed automatic gearbox. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder and six-speed manual transmission are now things of the past. The Frontier also retains a hydraulic power steering setup for improved feel and precision during off-roading.
New Pro-4X includes off-road specific gear like a rear-locking limited-slip differential, Bilstein performance shocks, off-road tires and skid plates to protect its oil pan and transfer case. While the US market will have a choice of two-wheel or 4-wheel drive configurations, Canada gets standard 4-wheel drive across the lineup. King and Crew cab configurations are back, with available five or six-foot beds.
Changes were also applied inside, where the new Frontier gets a much more modern and refined interior. Pro-4X models get unique colour combinations, while the entire lineup receives an all-new infotainment system with 8- and 9-inch screens. The system will incorporate a slew of off-road specific apps as well a Wi-Fi hotspot and Android / Apple CarPlay connectivity. The towing rating however drops from 6,720 to 6,490 pounds.
Full model redesign with rugged looks
New Pro-4X and off-road performance
New infotainment system with 8- and 9-inch screens
There you have it, all the latest mid-size trucks available right now. They may be smaller than their full-size counterparts, but with beefier styling, impressive performance and towing capacities, and the latest tech these once diminutive, better-than-a-small-car pickups have definitely gained ground in recent years. Visit our Truck page here for the latest reviews and news.