Full-size pickup trucks have been some of the best-selling vehicles in North America for years now, dominating with huge sales that reflect how a vehicle type once reserved for utilitarian purposes has crossed over into the mainstream.
However, the 2015 model year saw the beginning of a shift toward the mid-size pickup segment. That was when Chevrolet and GMC redesigned their mid-size models into more spacious trucks that added refinement and capability. A year later, Toyota redid its Tacoma model with a similar goal in mind; 2019 saw Ford revive the Ranger name for its latest mid-size truck; and in 2020 Jeep returned to the pickup segment after a long hiatus with the Gladiator.
Time will tell which of the domestic automakers will find the most success in the mid-size truck segment. Read on to find out what’s waiting for shoppers in this burgeoning corner of the new-vehicle marketplace. Trucks highlighted here include:
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
- The go-anywhere, do-anything diesel Gladiator for the hardcore overlanders
- New diesel-powered Gladiator will give Colorado & Canyon run for its money
- Closer Look Inside the New Jeep Gladiator Mid-Size Pickup
- 2020 Jeep Gladiator North Edition
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
Latest Colorado news & reviews:
- 2019 Colorado ZR2 Bison Tray Bed Concept
- Chevy Reveals 2 Special Edition Colorados Including 2019 Z71 Trail Runner
- Chevy Builds the Ultimate Colorado ZR2 with the Off-Road AEV Concept
- Teased: 2018 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Midnight and Dusk Editions Before SEMA
- 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Review
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
Latest Ranger news & reviews:
- New Ranger with badass Tremor Off-Road Package is a Raptor in disguise
- ROUSH’s upgraded Ranger XLT isn’t a Raptor equivalent (and that’s ok)
- New Off-Road Upgrade Package Transforms The Ford Ranger Into a True Performance Beast
- Ranger’s New Winch-Capable Bumper is Exactly What Overlanders Need
- 2019 Ford Ranger Lariat Review
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
Latest Tacoma news & reviews:
- 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road Review
- Closer Look at the Updated Tacoma’s Towing Capacity & Payload Specs
- 2020 Toyota Tacoma’s New Price Increase Offset by Worthy Updates
- New 2020 Toyota Tacoma Debuts at Chicago Auto Show with Big Updates
- Tacoma lineup adds the TRD Off-Road Edition to the pack
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
Early in 2020, Nissan announced a long-awaited redesign for its Frontier pickup, which will debut as a 2021 model. This new truck promises to bring Nissan into the modern age of mid-size trucks after years of attempting to compete with a design dating from the mid-2000s.
If you buy a 2020 model Frontier, you’ll have to make do with the old look, but you will get a taste of the new truck thanks to an all-new 3.8L, 310-hp V6 and nine-speed transmission that will be carried over to the 2021 Frontier.
Nissan had originally set the 2021 Frontier’s arrival for September of 2020, but that timeline was taken before the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt. Nissan has yet to confirm whether the new Frontier will be delayed. So far, Nissan has only teased the new look, highlighting LED daytime running lights, but not showing much else.
All-new, more powerful drivetrain
No regular cab body style
A familiar, time-tested design
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.
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