GET YOUR OFF-ROADERS HERE

The Complete Midsize Truck Buying Guide: Every Model, Explained


October 11, 2019 Cars By

Midsize trucks are the smallest pickup truck class currently sold in the United States. We call them “midsize” because…well, no one wants to buy a “compact” truck.

Midsize trucks use less powerful engines than their full-size peers, and generally offer reduced towing capacity. But they are also nimbler and better-suited for recreational off-roading, which happens to be one of the most popular and profitable trends in the automotive market right now.

After abandoning the midsize market en masse earlier this decade due to poor sales, American manufacturers have jumped back in recently. Ford rejoined just this year with the Ranger, while FCA did so with the Jeep Gladiator. (Toyota, Nissan and Honda, meanwhile, have stuck around the market for years.) As a result, midsize trucks have become the hottest segment in the American automotive industry not involving the words “sport” or “utility.”

Midsize Truck Terminology

Aftermarket: Parts and accessories manufactured by a third party.
Body-on-frame: A traditional truck platform in which the body is mounted onto the chassis. This construction is heavier than unibody building used for cars, and perceived as more durable for off-roading.
Bro Truck: A truck that has been lifted and modified heavily with off-roading gear, for fashion rather than for function.
Crew Cab: A Full four-door cab with sedan-like interior room.
Extended Cab: A four-seater cab, but with smaller rear doors and a reduced back seat.
OEM: Original Equipment Manufacturer. Parts and accessories produced by and for the manufacturer.
Payload: The amount of weight a vehicle can carry, including passengers and cargo.
Snorkel: A device that raises the air intake level to permit traveling through deep water. It performs the same function as a human snorkel. (Mostly, it just looks cool.)
Taco: Nickname for the Tacoma.
Towing Capacity: The amount of weight a vehicle can tow.
Unibody: This is the construction type used by crossovers and cars where the body and chassis are a singular unit. It allows the car to be lighter and improves on-road ride quality.
TRD: A.k.a. “Toyota Racing Development.” This is Toyota’s in-house tuning company. They do off-road tuning on the Tacoma. The “TRD Sport” is more of an appearance package, while the “TRD Off-Road” and “TRD Pro” have off-road upgrades.

Buying Guide

Toyota Tacoma

The Tacoma is the benchmark for the midsize segment, in perception if not performance. With stellar off-road capability, sharp looks and Toyota build quality, the Tacoma is unfailingly popular with off-roaders, outdoors enthusiasts and many others who fall under the loose designation of “bro.” It’s the best-selling midsize truck by far, and it has the best resale value of any vehicle in the U.S.

The drawback for the Tacoma compared to its competitors is its on-road driving character. It handles heavily and its ancient-feeling six-speed automatic shifts slowly and counterintuitively. Fortunately, Toyota still offers a manual in the TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro trims.

Body Styles:

• Access Cab
• Double Cab

Box Lengths:

• 5’1”
• 6’2”

Trims:

• SR
• SR5
• TRD Sport
• TRD Off-Road
• Limited
• TRD Pro

Engines:

• 2.7-liter inline-four (159 hp, 180 lb-ft)
• 3.5-liter (278 hp, 265 lb-ft)

Max Towing Capacity: 6,400 lbs

Max Payload: 1,155 lbs

Base MSRP: $26,050

Chevrolet Colorado

Chevy was the first American manufacturer to return to the midsize segment in 2015 with a revamped Colorado. It was a major hit, winning back-to-back Motor Trend Truck of the Year awards in 2015 and 2016. The best-known version is the halo model ZR2, built to be a badass off-road competitor to the Tacoma and Jeep Gladiator.

What distinguishes Chevy in this segment is its engines. The 3.6-liter V6 with 308 hp is the sportiest powertrain in the segment. The 2.8-liter diesel, with an impressive 369 lb-ft of torque, may be the best for doing, y’know, truck stuff.

Body Styles:
• Crew Cab
• Extended Cab

Box Lengths:
• 5’2”
• 6’2”

Trims:

• WT
• LT
• Z71
• ZR2

Engines:

• 2.5-liter inline-four (200 hp, 191 lb-ft)
• 3.6-liter V6 (308 hp, 275 lb-ft)
• Turbocharged 2.8-liter inline-four diesel (181 hp, 369 lb-ft)

Max Towing Capacity: 7,700 lbs

Max Payload: 1,578 lbs

Base MSRP: $21,300

Ford Ranger

Ford brought the Ranger back to the U.S. in 2019 with a modified version of the truck it had been selling globally for some time. Its platform will be the basis for the new Ford Bronco. The Ranger is off to a slow sales start, despite earning great reviews. The two defining features may be what is absent. Ford offers one engine with the Ranger, a turbocharged four-cylinder. Ford also declined to provide the sweet “Ranger Raptor” version it sells abroad.

Body Styles:

• Super Cab
• Super Crew

Box Lengths:

• 5 feet
• 6 feet

Trims:

• XL
• XLT
• Lariat

Engines:

• Turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four (270 hp, 310 lb-ft)

Max Towing Capacity: 7,500 lbs

Max Payload: 1,860 lbs

Base MSRP: $24,300

Jeep Gladiator

Jeep launched the Gladiator for the 2020 model year. It’s the marque’s first pickup since discontinuing the Comanche in 1992. Jeep’s mandate was to build, in effect, the Wrangler of mid-size trucks, and that’s what the company did — almost literally. The truck is expected to rival the Tacoma for best resale value.

What the Gladiator offers are the strengths of the Wrangler in a pickup form. You can pop off the roof, remove the doors, and option the heck out of it. You can also get one with a six-speed manual. It’s formidable off-road, though, as Gear Patrol‘s motoring editor notes, the Gladiator’s longer wheelbase hampers it a bit compared to the Wrangler.

Body Styles:

• Crew Cab

Box Length:

• 5 feet

Trims:

• Sport
• Sport S
• Overland
• Rubicon

Engines:

• 3.6-liter V6 (280 hp, 260 lb-ft)

Max Towing Capacity: 7,000 lbs

Max Payload: 1,600 lbs

Base MSRP:$33,545

Nissan Frontier

The Nissan Frontier is the midsize segment’s venerable elder. The second generation has been in production since 2004 and was last facelifted in 2009. The Frontier is outdated compared to competitors and can be lacking in modern style and amenities. What it still offers is value, which has helped it outsell the likes of the Ranger. It’s a reliable, capable truck, and the base model starts under $20,000. And because Nissan is still partying like it’s the early 2000s, you can buy it with a manual transmission.

Body Styles:

• King Cab
• Crew Cab

Box Length:

• 5 feet
• 6’1”

Trims:

• S
• SV
• Midnight Edition
• Desert Runner
• Pro-4X
• SL

Engines:

• 2.5-liter inline-four (152 hp, 171 lb-ft)
• 4.0-liter V6 (261 hp, 281 lb-ft)

Max Towing Capacity: 6,500

Max Payload: 1,505

Base MSRP: $19,090

GMC Canyon

The Canyon is GMC’s version of the Chevy Colorado. It’s more expensive and offers more premium trims and options. The Canyon, like the full-size GMC Sierra, offers the luxurious Denali trim;  a high-end AT4 off-road trim should debut next year.

Body Styles:

• Extended Cab
• Crew Cab

Box Length:

• 5’2”
• 6’2”

Trims:

• SLE
• SLT
• All-Terrain
• Denali

Engines:

• 2.5-liter inline-four (200 hp, 191 lb-ft)
• 3.6-liter V6 (308 hp, 275 lb-ft)
• Turbocharged 2.8-liter inline-four diesel (181 hp, 369 lb-ft)

Max Towing Capacity: 7,700 lbs

Max Payload: 1,470 lbs

Base MSRP: $29,100

Honda Ridgeline

Honda launched the second-generation Ridgeline truck for the 2017 model year. It’s a distinctive (or weird, to some) departure from the rest of the pickup market. Honda builds it on a unibody crossover platform. It has a fully independent suspension and full-time AWD, rather than the usual part-time 4×4 system. It earns praise for its on-road handling, but has significantly less towing capacity than competitors.

Body Styles:

• Crew Cab

Box Length:

• 5’4”

Trims:

• RT
• Sport
• RTL
• RTL-T
• RTL-E
• Black Edition

Engines:

• 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp, 262 lb-ft)

Max Towing Capacity:5,000 lbs

Max Payload: 1,499 lbs

Base MSRP: $29,900

The Complete Full-Size Truck Buying Guide

grey_placeholder

F-150, Ram, or Silverado? Here’s all the info you need to decide in one place. Read the Story

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Tyler Duffy is Gear Patrol's Detroit-based Motoring Staff Writer. He has a black belt in toddler wrangling. He kindly requests that you not bring up Michigan football.

More by Tyler Duffy | Follow on Facebook · Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email
Newsletter Sign-Up
Get the best new products, deals,
and stories in your inbox daily.

By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy to receive email correspondence from us.