If you have ever seen a truck commercial, you know you can fill it with muddy ranch hands, or drive up a flaming bridge, or even tow a space shuttle. But if you’re looking to do lighter work, say driving from the ‘burbs, staying on streets, and occasionally hitting Home Depot, then you have a different set of needs from a truck. If you don’t need military grade equipment in commercial use, consider these four best everyday trucks for the average driver.
The mid-size truck market took a beating over the last 20 years, seeing the Ford Ranger, Mazda B2300, Isuzu Hombre, and Dodge Dakota all calling it quits. The segment kept shrinking, right up until Chevy decided to reinvent the class with the 2015 Colorado. Engine options include an economical 200 horsepower 2.5-liter four cylinder, a 308 horsepower 3.6-liter V6, and a 2.8-liter diesel four-cylinder making 181 horsepower. Only the base 2.5-liter offers a manual transmission, with the other engines attached to either a six-speed or eight-speed auto. Gas mileage varies too, with a low of 24 MPG highway for the 3.6-liter with four-wheel drive, and a high of 30 MPG highway for the diesel with rear-wheel drive. Depending on the cab, engine, and transmission, the Colorado can haul 1,500 in the bed, or over tow over 7,000 pounds.
Packing full-size features into a mid-size, the Colorado has surprising agility and comfort, with a solid steering feel and nimble street handling. The IIHS gave it the highest “Good” rating in all categories, but has not performed the front overlap test as of this writing. The NHTSA rated it four out of five stars. While the Colorado is a safe truck, it is lacking active collision avoidance technology. However, it does offer Teen Driver Technology, which badgers teenage drivers to wear their seatbelts, and limits the top speed and music volume. Consider the Colorado if you want a real “do everything” truck, but aren’t impressed by the outsized full-size pickups.
The best-selling truck in the U.S. is the top choice of buyers for several reasons. Ford tries to reach every conceivable buyer with this model, from the basic XL work truck rolling on steelies, to the high-end Limited trim that can be loaded out to over $70,000 MSRP. A breakdown of F150 variants could fill this page, so here’s a brief look. The base model engine since 2015 is the 3.5-liter V6, with a 3.3-liter for 2018. Depending on the year, you’ll have either 282 or 290 horsepower, and reach 24 or 25 MPG highway. The smaller 2.7-liter V6 is actually a step up in XLT trim, with 325 horsepower and 26 MPG it has quickness and economy. The higher end sees the 5.0-liter V8, with 385 horsepower, 22 MPG, and that great V8 rumble. Surprisingly, top of the line is a V6, but the 3.5-liter EcoBoost punches out 375 horsepower and a class leading 470 lb-ft of torque.
Speaking of best in class, Ford likes to point out that the F150 has the highest payload capacity at nearly 3,300 pounds, and highest towing rating at 13,200 pounds. Have a huge boat you tow once a year? This is your truck. Ford makes sure to cover all the potential bases for every buyer, from basic cloth bench seats, all the way to LED projector headlights, twin moon roofs, and genuine wood trim. No matter how you are looking to use a truck, Ford has built the truck for you.
Unlike Ford, building a truck with all the options, Honda does the opposite and builds a truck with very few options. Here’s why that works for the Ridgeline. Instead of the traditional truck body-on-frame design, the Ridgeline is built like a car with a single unibody chassis design. This saves weight and allows a car-like suspension setup. If you prefer the driving dynamics of the Honda Accord, you won’t have to give that up with this truck. There is one body style (crew cab), one bed size (short), and one engine (a 3.5-liter V6). Power varies by the year, with the V6 generating between 247 and 280 horsepower, attached to a five- or six-speed auto. That power goes to the front wheels, or all four, depending on the options list. The Ridgeline is capable too, with all-wheel drive, a cargo capacity of 1,580 pounds, a 7.3 cubic foot trunk cleverly hidden under the bed, and a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. That’s enough for your Type R race car, its trailer, and extra tires. Or your fishing boat.
The second generation truck, the 2017+ model years, delivers lots of safety too. Honda’s Sensing package includes lane departure warning, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning with collision mitigation braking, and LED projector headlights with auto dimming high-beams. Overall, the Ridgeline earns a “Good” score in every category from the IIHS. Car and Driver pointed out the Ridgeline’s best-in-class fuel economy, handling, quiet cabin, visibility, and safety features as its most attractive options. The Ridgeline is for buyers that demand a car-like ride, but need more capability than an Accord. For the occasional truck owner, Honda has all the truck you need.
The Tacoma might be the most quietly conservative pickup on this list. Despite not trying to overreach for every market, this truck has a cult-like following among “Taco” owners. The base SR trim offers a frugal 2.7-liter four-cylinder, making 159 horsepower. Get the V6, as the 3.5-liter offered on Limited and TRD trim levels delivers a solid 278 horsepower. In rear-wheel drive trim, the Tacoma is easily the lightest truck here, weighing in right at 4,000 pounds. Surprisingly, that doesn’t translate to class-leading gas mileage, as the four-cylinder Tacoma ekes out 23 MPG highway, and the V6 right behind it at 22. You can throw 1,600 pounds in the bed, or tow an impressive 6,800 pounds.
So why consider a Taco? The Tacoma is praised for its off-road manners and legendary durability. If you live down a gravel or dirt road, go camping, fishing, or hiking, this is the truck that will get you there with minimal effort, and it’ll survive your daily adventures too. It’s also loaded with the most active safety features in the compact truck class, including automated emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, and sonar guided parking assist. While the Ridgeline has an Accord-inspired interior, the Tacoma sports a stylish cabin that seems lifted from the more expensive 4Runner, but it tops out well below the luxury of the top F150 level. Unlike the Ridgeline, you can get a long bed here, and different cabin and drivetrain configurations make this an excellent small work truck for the tradesman. The Tacoma also wins with unbelievable resale value, and low cost of ownership.