Trucks are great, if you don’t mind keeping your valuable cargo in the unprotected bed and the terrible gas mileage. If you’re running welding equipment on an oil rig, a truck makes sense. But if you’re a plumber/handyman, into direct sales, or just need to keep your tools locked up, here are the real work “trucks” you need, and with better gas mileage too.
With a car-like interior for the driver and a huge flat rear cargo area, the Transit Connect combines the best attributes of sedan, minivan, and station wagon into a fun to drive utilitarian package. It’s based on the Ford Focus, so it handles like an agile small car instead of a work truck. With a whopping 104 cubic feet of cargo space behind the driver, and 127 cu-ft in the redesigned 2019 model, you can stuff a 100 gallon commercial water heater in the back, plus your tools. This is a few more than the huge Ford Expedition, but the Transit Connect scores 24 city, 30 MPG highway, something the Expedition can only manage with the engine off. Need to tow? TC can safely haul 2,000 lbs of your stuff.
If you need more cargo or towing capacity, look to Mercedes-Benz. Seen an Amazon van? That’s a Sprinter. While it seems weird to have a Mercedes work rig, the luxury brand makes everything from economy hatchbacks and minivans, to buses for the EU market, but only brings a few of their utilitarian vehicles to the U.S. The Sprinter is a tall cargo van that can tow up to 5,000 or 7,500 pounds depending on engine and towing options. The cargo area can hold an impressive 5,300 pounds of payload, and swallow a massive 547 cu-ft of cargo. It’s practically a tiny home with Mercedes interior quality. Prior to 2010, you’ll find the same vehicle sold under the Dodge brand, also with the Sprinter name and similar equipment. If you’re a house remodeler similar to the crew of “Good Bones,” then this is your work rig.
Surprisingly, Ram offers a lot more than just pickups. This van comes in two flavors, with the larger Promaster serving as the burly equivalent to the Sprinter above, equipped with a 3.6-liter V6. The Promaster City is the smaller more efficient size like the Transit Connect. Offered in cargo or passenger configurations, the Promaster City has a 2.4-liter four cylinder and nine-speed auto. This efficient combo makes 21 city/29 highway MPG, and can handle towing an additional 2,000 pounds if you need additional capacity. The base model has all the work space you need, but SLT trim adds fog lights, body color bumpers, and aluminum wheels, making it actually look pretty tough. If you own Tough Guy Flowers, this is your rolling billboard and delivery vehicle.
Scion mainly advertised the xB to the (then teenaged) millennials, with edgy advertising, and promoting all the sweet mods and accessories available from the dealer. The Scion average buyer ended up being 46 years old, due to the valuable combination of low price, high efficiency, excellent cargo room, and yes, cool styling. Put the seats down for a full 70 cu-ft of cargo space, and see if you can find all the hidden storage cubbies. The first generation reached 34 MPG highway, while the second gen added horsepower and size, reducing efficiency to a still-acceptable 28 MPG, way ahead of a mid-size work truck like the Chevrolet Colorado. The xB will haul all your essential oils, shakes, coffee, or whatever else you’re selling on Facebook this month.
One of the better “box on wheels” designs that debuted a decade ago, the Nissan Cube says that if you’re going to drive for work, you might as well enjoy it. It only has a 1.8-liter four-cylinder paired to a CVT or six-speed manual, but the small engine and Subaru BRZ-equivalent light weight means great gas mileage at 27 city/31 MPG highway. That combo also makes it rather fun to drive with a stick. The Cube’s suspension is tuned for rider comfort, and there are many creative storage solutions. While it’s not rated for towing, the low load floor makes loading/unloading of big or heavy cargo a cinch. The tailgate swings open like a door, rather than lifting up like a traditional hatch, which can be handy when your hands are full. The Cube sold until 2014, when it was replaced in the subcompact class by the less cargo friendly, but more people friendly, Nissan Juke.
The Kia Soul is a popular seller due to its quirky style, comfy interior, low operating costs, and low insurance. Those last two mean this work ride won’t eat into your profits. The Soul is small and nimble enough for delivery duty in Manhattan, but stable on the highway for long distance cargo hauling. The trunk area is 24 cu-ft, but put the rear seats down for big boxes and you can haul 62 cu-ft of cargo space, a 50 percent increase over the Civic hatchback. It’ll handle deliveries or trade show gear in style, with plenty of room on the boxy sides for advertising. Efficiency looks like 27 city/33 highway MPG, and there’s even an EV version if you only do local runs. That option would dramatically crash your fuel costs.
Subaru seems to build all their vehicles with commercial grade durability, from the flat-four engine design to the capable all-wheel-drive system. On the other end of the work truck spectrum, the Forester delivers a car-like ride thanks to its Subaru Impreza roots, with easy handling. Inside, there’s excellent outward visibility thanks to SUV-like seating and large windows quite the contrast to some panel vans. If you regularly head down gravel country roads, standard AWD lets you get through any weather conditions, mud pits or potholes. Thanks to the wagon-ish profile, the Forester is fairly aerodynamic and efficient, reaching 32 MPG highway. It’s also loaded with safety tech and the highest safety ratings from IIHS and NHTSA, so it would make a great crew transporter.
If you absolutely need a work rig that gets 40+ MPG, Toyota has you covered with the voluminous Prius V. Based on the highly efficient Prius hatchback, the V adds a long wagon roofline, three more inches in wheelbase, and six additional inches in length. If you shop in the Big & Tall section, you’ll still fit in the back seat with excellent headroom. Put the rear seats down and you have 67 cu-ft, equivalent to a Ford Escape. It’s quiet and comfortable for long distances, and the interior layout is pretty high-tech if you can get past the center gauges. It’ll save you money too, as a light foot is rewarded with 44 MPG average, and even Consumer Reports recorded 41 MPG city.