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 is re-entering the category with a revival of its Ranger nameplate this year. Jeep is planning to introduce a pickup version of its recently redesigned Wrangler SUV—this new entry could launch for the 2019 model year. The as-yet-unnamed Jeep pickup will be offered as a four-door, and maybe a two-door as well. 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.
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 full-time 4-wheel-drive system that can be left engaged on dry pavement, and the Honda Ridgeline offers a permanently engaged all-wheel-drive system.
The biggest news in the compact pickup class this year is the long-awaited return of the Ford Ranger. The previous Ranger was discontinued after the 2011 model year; Ford is introducing an all-new version for 2019 that comes only in extended-cab and crew-cab form. At launch, the Ranger’s sole powertrain will be a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, but more choices will likely be added in the future. Among the Ranger’s available features are forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot monitor with trailer coverage, 4G LTE WiFi hotspot capability, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, adaptive cruise control, and Trail Control (essentially a cruise-control system for low speed, rugged terrain).
The Toyota Tacoma gets an SX Package that adds “black-out” exterior-trim elements, and the TRD Pro model gets an available TRD Desert Air Intake—an externally mounted snorkel air intake that runs from the right front fender to the top of the right windshield pillar (this intake pulls in cleaner air in dusty driving conditions). The Nissan Frontier’s 7.0-inch touchscreen audio display is now standard on S and SV models. The Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Honda Ridgeline updates are detailed in their respective Best Buy reviews. The above-mentioned Jeep Wrangler pickup is expected to launch in the first half of the 2019 calendar year.
The Honda Ridgeline is the most atypical member of this class. It’s 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 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 TRO Pro).