We call this class “compact pickup trucks” because there are no new pickups smaller than these—however, these trucks aren’t nearly as compact as they used to be. The vehicles in this class are almost as large as some full-size pickups were 30 years ago. Most of them are similar in size and “footprint” to a midsize SUV (in fact, the Honda Ridgeline shares its basic platform with the Honda Pilot SUV).
In recent years, the compact pickup class has endured a period of waning popularity. Back in 2009, there were 12 models offered in the class; in 2016, there were only four. However, the segment seems to be heating up again as of late. Honda re-introduced its Ridgeline for 2017, and Ford re-entered the category with a revival of its Ranger nameplate last year. Jeep debuted the Gladiator—a pickup version of its recently redesigned Wrangler SUV—as an early 2020 model. We’ll also mention that both Hyundai and Volkswagen have shown pickups in concept vehicle form at recent auto shows, so it’s possible that one or both of those manufacturers could follow up with a production model in the future.
Save for the 4WD-only Jeep Gladiator, all of the compact pickups currently on the market come standard with rear-wheel drive except for the Honda Ridgeline, which offers front-wheel drive. If you get a 4-wheel-drive model, it will have a part-time system that shouldn’t be left engaged on dry pavement due to the risk of excessive driveline wear. The exceptions are the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, GMC Canyon, and Honda Ridgeline; the specialized ZR2 models of the Colorado lineup and all Canyon models are available with a fulltime 4-wheel-drive system that can be left engaged on dry pavement, and the Honda Ridgeline offers a permanently engaged allwheel-drive system.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2020
As mentioned above, the Jeep Gladiator joins the compact-pickup class for 2020. For now, the Gladiator comes with a 3.6-liter V6 as its only available engine, but a 3.0-liter turbo diesel V6 will likely become available during the 2020 model year. The Ford Ranger gets an FX2 Off-Road Package that adds an electronic locking rear differential and off-road-tuned suspension to the two-wheel-drive Ranger. The Toyota Tacoma’s updates include an available 10-way power driver’s seat, new grille and wheel designs, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, and an available forward- and side-looking camera system for off-road use. The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon’s updates are detailed in their respective Best Buy reports.
Information on the 2020 Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Frontier was unavailable as of this writing. We’re not expecting any significant changes on the Ridgeline; the aged Nissan Frontier will likely carry on with few if any changes for 2020—an all-new Frontier is in the works, and it is expected to launch as a 2021 model.
MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL
The Jeep Gladiator and Honda Ridgeline are the most atypical members of this class. The Gladiator carries over the one-of-a-kind styling and off-road prowess of its Wrangler parent vehicle, and is also the only convertible pickup truck on the market: it has removable doors, a fold-down windshield, and removable (and convertible) tops for an unmatched open-air experience. The Ridgeline is built on a unibody chassis instead of body-on-frame construction, it has an independent rear suspension in place of a solid rear axle, and it offers a number of unique features (such as a lockable “trunk” under the floor of the cargo bed and a dual-action tailgate that can be opened both down and to the left-hand side). The Ridgeline’s architecture means it has better ride quality and all-around on-road refinement than the rest of the class, but it isn’t as suited to really serious off-roading.
All the vehicles in this class offer more off-road capability than most buyers will ever use, but a few models truly stand out in this arena. Shoppers who plan to venture far off the beaten path can look to the Jeep Gladiator or the specially equipped off-road-performance models offered by the Chevrolet Colorado (the ZR2 and new ZR2 Bison) and Toyota Tacoma (the TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro).