It wasn't too many years ago that the conventional wisdom said that mid-size pickup trucks were dead. Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler (now FCA) tossed their mid-size pickups on the junk heap with the idea that they could compete against the few import trucks that remained with low-cost versions of their full-size trucks. At the same time, many of the import Truck makers that stayed in the market didn't do a whole lot to renew them as the model years passed.
But the last few years have seen a remarkable resurgence in new mid-size pickups. Most recently, the Ford Ranger has returned after a long absence, and the Jeep Gladiator has returned after decades. Let’s go through the best mid-size trucks, and — to add a little spice to the mix — we will also take a quick look at some low-priced full-size pickup alternatives.
2020 Toyota Tacoma
There is something to be said for longevity and perseverance, because both have marked the success of the Toyota Tacoma. When other global automakers were saying goodbye to the mid-size pickup segment, Toyota was not only staying the course but also making its Truck incrementally better. It has justifiably won its reputation as a rock-solid reliable vehicle as evidenced by stellar marks from both vehicle owners and technicians.
Part of the Tacoma's renowned dependability stems from its two durable engines: a 159-horsepower 2.7-liter in-line four-cylinder and a 278-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Each can be equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, and the V6 also offers a six-speed manual transmission option. The Toyota Tacoma is available in Access Cab (with rear-hinged rear doors) and Double Cab (with larger conventional rear doors) with either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The TRD Off-Road and TRD Off-Road Pro versions continue the Tacoma's reputation as a superior off-road truck. The Tacoma has a base price of about $26,000.
2020 Chevrolet Colorado
General Motors pulled out of the mid-size trucks market years ago, but it quickly re-entered and it did so with a bang. The Chevrolet Colorado and its GMC Canyon cousin quickly established themselves as credible competitors to the Tacoma.
The availability of various bed and cab sizes enables the Colorado buyer to pick out a Truck he or she really wants. There are sturdy "work-truck" trims, but many buyers opt for car-like amenities that include leather seats, premium audio systems, alloy wheels, and in-vehicle Wi-Fi. Should you seek to take your truck off the beaten path, the Colorado ZR2 is the Colorado's ultimate expression. When equipped with the available 306-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, the ZR2 has the juice for high-speed desert running. Those seeking high fuel economy might consider the 186-horsepower turbodiesel 2.8-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that delivers 369 lb-ft of torque. The least expensive Colorado costs $21,300.
2020 Ford Ranger
The Ford Ranger was a hot-selling mid-size pickup for years and years, but in 2011 Ford announced it was ending the production of the vehicle. Flash forward to 2019, though, and the Ranger is back, better than ever. It rolls on a new platform and offers a 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine boasting 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque.
The engine is paired to a sophisticated 10-speed automatic transmission, and it's available in rear-drive and four-wheel drive versions. The maximum payload is 1,860 pounds and maximum towing is 7,500 pounds. Available in either SuperCab or SuperCrew configurations, the Ranger also offers an innovative FX2 package that combines off-road-oriented styling and functional upgrades for rear-drive trucks. Included are electronic-locking rear differential, off-road tires, an off-road-tuned suspension, a front underbody guard, and Ford's off-road cluster screen. The base Ranger has an MSRP of about $24,000.
2020 GMC Canyon
The GMC Canyon will feel comfortable to most drivers who are coming out of cars because GMC takes an upscale stance. Notable among the Canyon's trim levels are the All Terrain and Denali versions, the latter being a GMC success story of no small proportions.
The Canyon Denali features exterior niceties that include a chrome grille, 20-inch aluminum wheels, and heated and ventilated leather seats. The Canyon's base powerplant is a 200-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine backed by a six-speed automatic transmission, while the up-level engine is a 308-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 driving through an eight-speed automatic. The pickup's All Terrain package includes a Z71 off-road suspension, automatic locking rear differential, and transfer case skid plate. Both extended cab and crew cab versions are available with 5-foot or 6-foot beds. The least expensive GMC Canyon has an MSRP of about $22,000.
2020 Nissan Frontier
Nissan stuck with the mid-size Truck segment when others were opting out. While no one will say the Frontier is the height of truck technology, its solid conventional design has stood it in good stead through the years.
The Frontier is offered in an absolutely dazzling array of configurations. Its substantial 125.9-inch wheelbase helps enhance ride comfort, while the King Cab and Crew Cabs are a reasonably compact 205.5 inches. The Crew Cab SV model is also available in a long-bed model that is more than 13 inches longer than the standard bed. Both the extended cab and crew cab feature rear doors (rear-hinged on the extended King Cab) for access to the rear seat and cargo area. The Frontier offers a choice of two engines — 152-horsepower 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder and 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V6. The least expensive Nissan Frontier model has a shockingly low suggested price of just slightly over $19,000.
2020 Honda Ridgeline
Today’s Honda Ridgeline is the second generation of the brand’s mid-size pickup came back. And while today’s model sports more conventional exterior styling than the previous version, it is still quirky under the skin. Not that quirky is bad, by the way, just different.
One big example of that is the Ridgeline uses unibody construction instead of separate body-on-frame like most pickups. Another important distinction is the use of all-independent suspension. The combination of independent suspension and a unibody chassis results in a more comfortable, car-like ride. Power comes from a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Ridgeline can be had in front-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations, and it is the one pickup truck that has a trunk under the truck bed. It is a four-door mid-size pickup that can accommodate five passengers who will feel like they’re riding in a roomy SUV rather than a small truck. In base front-drive form, it has a suggested MSRP of just under $30,000.
2020 Jeep Gladiator
For a long time, the Honda Ridgeline was the oddest, most non-traditional of the mid-size trucks, but now there's a new sheriff in that town — the Jeep Gladiator. If you cross the legendary Jeep Wrangler with a Ram pickup, the coupling would result in something very much like the Gladiator. That's good stock to come from.
The 2020 Gladiator has three powertrain options: a 3.6-liter V6 with a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic, and a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V6 with an eight-speed automatic transmission that is coming later this model year. The gasoline V6 produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Thanks to a more open grill design than the Wrangler, which allows for additional air intake to cool the engine, the Gladiator can haul a 1,600-pound payload and tow a 7,650-pound trailer, which compares favorably to its competitors. The automatic transmission Gladiators are rated at 17 mpg in the city and 22 highway, while the manual transmission version gets a 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. The base Gladiator has an MSRP of about $33,500.