Most “compact” pickup trucks aren’t nearly as compact as they used to be. Save for a couple new-for-2022 entrants, the vehicles in this class are almost as large as some full-size pickups were 30-some 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 endured a period of waning popularity. Back in 2009, there were 12 models in the class; in 2016, there were only four. However, the segment has been 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 for 2019. Jeep introduced the Gladiator—a pickup version of its iconic Wrangler SUV—as a 2020 model, and two more contenders—the “extra-compact” Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz—debut for 2022.
Most of the compact pickups currently on the market use truck-type body-on-frame construction and come standard with rear-wheel drive; the Jeep Gladiator comes solely with 4-wheel drive. The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, GMC Canyon, and Jeep Gladiator offer full-time 4WD systems; the Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier, and Toyota Tacoma use part-time 4WD systems that shouldn’t be left engaged on dry pavement due to the risk of excessive driveline wear. The Ford Maverick, Honda Ridgeline, and Hyundai Santa Cruz use a unibody chassis instead of body-on-frame construction, with independent rear suspension in place of a solid rear axle. The Ridgeline comes standard with a permanently engaged all-wheel-drive system, and the Maverick and Santa Cruz offer AWD as an option to front-wheel drive.
HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2022
As mentioned above, the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz debut for 2022. Both of these vehicles expand the scope of the small-pickup segment; They have an urban “lifestyle/adventure-vehicle” feel, and they’re notably smaller than the rest of the class (the Maverick’s basic chassis is shared with the Ford Bronco Sport compact SUV, and the Santa Cruz shares its underpinnings with the Hyundai Tucson). They’re more affordable too (the Maverick’s base price sneaks in just under $20K), but also expectedly stingier in terms of cabin space and pickup-bed size.
The Nissan Frontier is redesigned, gaining crisp new styling, an up-to-date interior, and new technology features, while sharing its basic underpinnings with the previous-generation Frontier. The Chevrolet Colorado gets an off-road-oriented Trail Boss package that includes a 1-inch suspension-leveling kit, underbody skid plates, red tow hooks, and ZR2-style 17-inch wheels. The Ford Ranger gets a Splash Package appearance group and Splash Limited Edition appearance models, along with other minor updates. The GMC Canyon adds a Black Edition version of its top-line Denali model—it includes blackout body trim and low-gloss-black 20-inch wheels. The Toyota Tacoma’s TRD Pro and Trail Edition models get further-raised ride height and some minor cosmetic updates.
MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL
The Jeep 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 Ford Maverick offers the only hybrid powertrain in the class—a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder paired with an electric motor comes standard on front-wheel-drive Mavericks. The Honda Ridgeline and Hyundai Santa Cruz boast a lockable “trunk” under the floor of the cargo bed, and the Ridgeline has a dual-action tailgate that can be opened both down and to the left-hand side. The unibody architecture of the Maverick, Ridgeline, and Santa Cruz means they offer better ride quality and all-around on-road refinement than the rest of the class, but they aren’t as suited to really serious off-roading.