In 1925, Henry Ford began producing the Model T Runabout. What differentiated it from other motor vehicle models of that time was that, on top of having a passenger cabin, this car also features an elongated flat open-air cargo space in the back. Essentially, it was the world’s first pickup truck. Since that time, pickup trucks have become the gold standard for workman’s vehicles around the world because they are generally tough and excellent for transporting any manner of gear, power tools, and more.
Nowadays most pickups fall within the full-sized range – For reference, the Ford F-150 (America’s most popular truck) is over 17′ in length and over 6′ tall. But a massive motor vehicle isn’t practical or necessary for everyone that wants a bedded truck. Luckily, those folks don’t have compromise, because full-sized trucks have smaller counterparts, known as mid-size pickups. If you’re looking for a truck with a bed, but you definitely don’t have the need or desire for a hulking behemoth, these little laborers are an excellent, nimble, and often more economical option. So get ready for work because these are the five best mid-size pickup trucks available right now.
The Silverado is undoubtedly Chevrolet’s most well known and popular pickup truck, but that doesn’t mean that its little brother – the Colorado – isn’t worth a look. In fact, the Colorado still boasts an impressive range of features to pair with its smaller format, including optional 4G LTE WiFi connectivity, driver assistance safety features like collision alert and lane departure warning, and a best-in-class tow capacity of up to 7,700 pounds. With the Colorado, you can choose between a host of personalized options, as well as one of three different engines: a 2.5L 4-cylinder with 200 horsepower; a Duramax 2.8L turbodiesel with best-in-class torque, towing, and fuel economy; or a 3.6L DOHC V6 with 308 horsepower and 275 foot-pounds of torque. Of course, if you’re not interested in going through all the trouble to customize your ride but you still want something that can handle the job, you can rest easy knowing that the ZR2 sub-model is Chevy’s most capable midsize truck ever.
Towing: 3,500-7,700 LBS
Horsepower: Up to 308
MPG: Up to 30 w/ 2.8L Turbodiesel
GMC advertises the Canyon as “the only premium midsize pickup.” Whether that can be disputed or not, there’s no denying that the Canyon is an impressive machine in the midsize class. Much of its specs are on par with the Chevrolet Colorado, including its maximum tow capacity and MPG rating, but the aggressive Sierra-like styling is a bit more visually appealing. The base model comes with an inline 2.5-liter with 200 horsepower and 191 foot-pounds of torque, but it can also be upgraded to a V6 that bumps the ponies up to 308 and torque to 275 ft-lbs. It also comes with the option for an inline 4-cylinder diesel with 181 horsepower and an insane 369 ft-lbs of torque – so, if you want to tow a camper, that’s your best option. This pickup also doubles as a 4G WiFi hotspot, offers collision and lane departure alerts, and comes standard with an 8″ touchscreen control interface to satisfy your high-tech needs. If you think it seems like a pretty even tossup between the Colorado and the Canyon, you’d be right.
Towing: 3,500-7,700 LBS
MPG: Up to 30
At first glance, you might think that the Honda Ridgeline looks like they just slapped a bed onto the back end of a Pilot. But, they’ve done a much more comprehensive rework than that. For starters, the bed features a built-in hideaway trunk for extra storage (maybe some grilling gear). It also features a dual-opening rear gate, so you can choose to swing it open like a door or drop it down like a traditional pickup gate. The bed is also designed to be free of those annoying wheel-well humps and has the option for a power outlet (perhaps to plug in a TV while you tailgate) and/or an in-bed speaker system. You can even choose between all-wheel drive or two wheel drive to pair with the standard 3.5L V6 engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission. As an added bonus, this pickup got a 5-star NHTSA safety rating and was a 2017 IIHS top safety pick.
Towing: 3,500-5,000 LBS
Horsepower: Up to 280
MPG: Up to 26
Let’s start with the obvious: Nissan’s Frontier has the lowest starting MSRP of any pickup truck in its class by a margin of nearly $2,000. And while that might not seem like a huge gap, the money saved could go toward some optional upgrades, making this truck a pretty stellar contender. The standard version of this truck comes with a 152 horsepower 4-cylinder engine with a 5-speed manual transmission, but you can also opt for a much better 4-liter V6 engine with 261 horsepower and 281 foot-pounds of torque, as well. And, if you’re especially particular, you can choose from a myriad of upgrades including a bed extender, step rails, or even a bed-mounted tent that will allow you to take car camping trips to the next level. Just be sure that you adhere to a budget when putting together a custom package of the Frontier, because Nissan operates a bit of a nickel-and-dime upgrade scheme that can easily skyrocket your price.
Towing: 3,500-6,500 LBS
MPG: Up to 23
The Toyota Tacoma – and its varying iterations – could be one of the greatest pickup trucks of all time for its long-term reliability, overall performance and capabilities, and genuine good looks. And that’s not even with a sub-class consideration. Toyota just has a reputation for building really good pickups – it was, after all, a pair of Toyotas that the guys at Top Gear both drove to the North Pole and tried and failed to destroy. The Tacoma comes with your choice of a 2.7-liter four-cylinder offering 180 foot-pounds of torque or an upgrade to a 3.5-liter V-6 with 265 foot-pounds of torque and either a manual or automatic transmission. And, if you’re keen on the idea of taking your vehicle adventuring, the TRD Pro trim comes with a heavy duty suspension, 4-wheel drive with an automatic limited-slip differential, and skid plates to help you get all four wheels wherever you’re planning to go. Oh, and if you expect that you might resell somewhere down the line, the Tacoma is an excellent option because they retain their value rather well.
Towing: 3,500-6,800 LBS
MPG: Up to 24
Best Vehicles Under $50,000
If you’re not quite ready to go all-in on a pickup, but you still need a new car, check out our list of the best vehicles under $50,000.