2019 might go down as Year of the Small Truck

New entries, special editions and tried and true names dominate small truck segment

During leaner times for the automotive industry, small trucks were practically extinct. It seemed most major manufacturers “cut bait” on their small truck offering, except for Toyota, who continued to produce the Tacoma. So, for this week, let’s take a look at this now re-emerging small truck segment as I had back-to-back-to-back seat time behind three different offerings from three different companies.

One is a stalwart of the segment, one is a once-popular brand that has been resurrected and one is a special edition with a cool partnership and even cooler name.

Toyota Tacoma

My tester was the rugged and off-road capable TRD trim. With this you get a higher-performance engine and an off-road package that can rival any other truck in this segment. The 3.5-liter V6 engine way outperforms the other engine offering for the Tacoma (a paltry 157-horsepower 2.7-liter 4-cylinder). As such, my tester made ample power with 278 hp. The six-speed automatic transmission felt restrained and underperformed.

My tester was the TRD Sport with four-wheel drive. The TRD version makes the Tacoma one of the best-performing off-road trucks on the market today. It comes with a skid plate, crawl control, multi-terrain selection knob, traction control and locking differential. This is a true 4WD truck and can easily handle itself in variable road conditions and also through creek beds, thanks to 9.4 inches of ground clearance.

Inside, the TRD Sport is comfortable, but is far from lavish. The 2019 version lacks updates this model year and as such, feels somewhat dated. However, since the Tacoma is a popular offering in this segment and has been around for a long time, it has a strong following that accepts it for what it is. Plus, the TRD Sport does have somewhat of a youthful, sporty vibe inside. While the seats are comfortable, there is very little wow factor inside. The rear seat has good legroom for a small truck.

The Tacoma has a maximum towing capacity of 6,800 pounds; however, the TRD trim offers slightly less at 6,400 pounds, which is better than most in this segment. The Tacoma TRD has a payload of 1,540 pounds which is impressive when compared to other similar competitors.

The infotainment system is simple to use with a responsive 7-inch touchscreen. But, there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration which is hard to forgive in today’s tech-driven world.

Fuel economy for my tester was 18 mpg/city and 22 mpg/highway. Manufacturer’s suggest retails price was $36,465. As tested, this Tacoma TRD had a final MSRP of $41,200.

Ford Ranger

The Ford Ranger was a popular, smaller truck offering by Ford for many years. Eight years ago, during the big economic downturn, Ford discontinued the Ranger and focused solely on making crossovers, SUVs and of course their oh-so-popular F-Series truck. For 2019, the Ranger makes a valiant return. It arrives into the compact truck segment a little late, with General Motors having re-engaged there a couple years earlier.

On looks, the Ranger is quite handsome. Styling is big, so it resembles the F-150. In fact, at first glance, the Ranger barely looks smaller than the F-150. But a closer look at the dimensions and you realize it’s the F-150’s little sibling. At 17 feet and 7 inches in length and five feet 11 inches in height, you quickly see it offers less space than the F-150.

Ford has been very successful recently with their Ecoboost technology. For the Ranger, there’s a 2.3-liter turbocharged Ecoboost 4-cylinder engine. It makes an impressive amount of power – 270 hp – and 310 lbs.-ft. of torque. Plus, unlike the Tacoma, the 10-speed automatic transmission is absolutely outstanding. There’s no turbo lag. The Ranger’s overall driving performance is one of the best in the segment.

Rear-wheel drive is standard, but 4WD is available. As such, the Ranger has a segment-leading towing ability of 7,500 pounds.

The interior was disappointing. It’s important to note that my tester was the base model and was more aimed at businesses as a work truck than as a daily driver. But the bare-bone seats and lack of quality of touchpoints really disappointed for a vehicle that was brand new for this model year. Sadly, this Ranger felt like it hadn’t been improved from the last time it was on the road almost a decade ago.

Ford enthusiasts who want a truck but can’t afford the hefty price tag of an F-150 will look to Ranger’s various trims and options. I think Ford missed a golden opportunity to give the Ranger the F-150 treatment, meaning, making the interior special and high-quality. It may look like an F-150 on the outside, but it doesn’t feel like one inside.

The Ranger starts at less than $25,000, making it incredibly affordable. It has an EPA rating of 21 mpg/city and 26 mpg/highway making it again, the clear economical choice for this segment.

Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

The Chevy Colorado has been a solid, capable compact pickup truck for several years. For the 2019 model year, Chevy brings a special edition with cool looks, a special partnership and a great name. The Colorado ZR2 Bison is an off-road stud, as rugged as the legendary American animal it’s named after.

The Bison isn’t mind-blowingly powerful like Ford’s Raptor, but it can handle any road conditions and easily go off the road thanks to the partnership with American Expedition Vehicles.

The specially designed AEV 17-inch tires and wheel moldings with rugged AEV bumpers give this truck an aggressive look. With its tall posture, it certainly doesn’t look like a compact pickup. The skid plates show it can climb down a mountainside or go through a creek bed with ease. It will rival the Tacoma TRD and/or the Ford Raptor in its off-road ability. That’s really why you would buy this small truck. The MSRP is $42,900 for that niche buyer.

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