America’s three largest automakers gave up on the midsize pickup truck segment in the early 2010s. Dodge stopped building the Dakota in 2011, while the Ford Ranger and the Chevrolet Colorado both went out of production the following year. Only Japanese brands like Toyota and Nissan stayed the course, and they reaped the rewards of persistence until the Big Three put their boxing gloves back on.
The hot-selling Toyota Tacoma now faces competition from the rejuvenated Chevrolet Colorado, the born-again Ford Ranger, and the Wrangler-based Jeep Gladiator, which picks up where the Dakota left off — at least until that nameplate makes a comeback. The Jeep is the newest member in the segment, but is it the best? We’re putting the four trucks side-by-side to see how they stack up on paper.
The Gladiator looks like what it is: A Jeep Wrangler with a pickup box. It’s nearly identical to Jeep’s fourth-generation off-roader from the tip of the front bumper to the base of the windshield, but its wheelbase is nearly 20 inches longer, and it rides on a model-specific frame. The square rear lights blend in well with the rest of the design, and it’s certainly one of the more distinctive-looking trucks in its segment. It’s also the only one with a removable roof and doors. That’s right: This truck transforms into a convertible in a matter of minutes. The trade-off is that it’s only available as a four-door truck with a 60-inch cargo box.
Though it’s new on the American market, the Ranger has been on sale overseas since 2011. Stylists gave its front end a crisp design, but it doesn’t look as sharp as the latest version of the hot-selling F-150. At least it’s not a carbon copy of its bigger sibling, though. Buyers can choose between a model called SuperCrew that has two full-size doors, two half doors, and a 72-inch box, and a SuperCab version with four full-size doors and a 60-inch box. Entry-level versions look downright basic with their steel wheels, black front bumper, and cloth upholstery, but more expensive variants benefit from alloy wheels, a color-coded front bumper, and nicer-looking paint schemes. The desert-taming Ranger Raptor sold elsewhere is not available in the United States — yet.
Like the Ranger, the Colorado is loosely related to a model sold in global markets. And like its Ford-badged sibling, it wears a look of its own that draws inspiration from bigger trucks without copying them. You won’t mistake the Colorado for anything other than a Chevrolet; it proudly wears the company’s bow-tie-shaped emblem up front and out back. Chevrolet offers three configurations, including an Extended Cab with a 74-inch box, and a four-door Crew Cab with either a 61-inch or a 74-inch box. Base models wear a humdrum design, but Chevrolet offers several off-road-ready variants (including the ZR2 Bison) that look every bit as capable as they are.
While the current-generation Tacoma has been on sale since 2015, Toyota recently gave it a midcycle face-lift that brought minor design tweaks and more tech features inside. It’s likely not a coincidence that the updates came at about the same time as the Gladiator and the Ranger. Nearly every 2020 Tacoma wears a redesigned grille, and the rear lights also went under the knife, though the changes made to them are minor. All told, it takes a well-trained eye to tell the 2020 Tacoma apart from the 2019 model. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Configuration options include a short cab with a 73-inch box, and a long, four-door cab in front of either a 60-inch or a 73-inch box. Buyers who want to explore the great outdoors can select an off-road-ready model named TRD Pro that receives add-ons like skid plates and a beefier suspension.
Power and towing
At launch, Jeep will offer the Gladiator with a single engine. It’s a familiar, 3.6-liter V6 tuned to make 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission and an eight-speed automatic unit, but the Gladiator is the only truck in its segment to come standard with four-wheel drive. Note that a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine will join the portfolio during the 2020 calendar year. It will make 260 hp and a stout 442 lb.-ft. of torque. There’s no word yet on whether the Gladiator will get the Wrangler’s gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Properly equipped, the Gladiator can tow up to 7,650 pounds and haul 1,600 pounds. Fuel economy is rated at 17 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 19 mpg in a combined cycle.
Shop Ford, and the only engine option available is a turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder. The Blue Oval decided to surf the downsizing wave, but it didn’t skimp on power. The turbo four makes 270 hp and 310 lb.-ft. of torque. Rear-wheel drive and a 10-speed automatic transmission borrowed from the larger F-150 come standard, and four-wheel drive is offered at an extra cost. As of thiswriting, Ford isn’t planning on adding a V6 or a turbodiesel option to the Ranger lineup in the United States.
Ford rates the Ranger’s payload at 1,860 pounds, and claims the truck can tow 7,500 pounds. Fuel economy checks in at 21 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg in a combined cycle with rear-wheel drive. Adding four-wheel drive reduces those figures to 20, 24, and 22 mpg, respectively.
Chevrolet offers more engine options than its rivals. The entry-level Colorado comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that sends 193 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. Chevrolet makes a six-speed stick available on a small handful of configurations, but a majority of the trucks in dealer inventories are equipped with two pedals. Four-wheel drive is offered at an extra cost. Next up in the hierarchy is an optional 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 308 hp. and 275 lb-ft. of torque. It shifts through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Still with us? There’s one more powertrain, and it’s segment exclusive (for now). Buyers can pay extra for a 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel rated at 181 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. It shifts through a six-speed manual transmission.
With a 3,500-pound towing capacity and a 1,440-pound payload, the four-cylinder-equipped Colorado wouldn’t be our first pick for pulling a trailer or hauling. The V6-powered model boasts figures of 7,000 and 1,574, respectively, while the turbodiesel offers best-in-class towing capacity (7,700 pounds) and a respectable 1,513-pound payload. It’s also the most fuel-efficient member the lineup. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates it at 20 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg combined with two-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive lowers those figures to 19, 28, and 22 mpg, respectively.
The Tacoma’s standard engine is a 2.7-liter, four-cylinder rated at 159 hp and 180 lb.-ft. of torque. Buyers in need of extra power can pay more for a tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6 tuned to deliver 278 hp and 265 lb.-ft of torque. Drivetrain options include two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, a six-speed manual transmission, or six-speed automatic transmission.
Order the four-cylinder engine and, at most, you’ll be able to tow 1,620 pounds or haul 3,500 pounds. V6-powered models can tow up to 6,800 pounds, but their payload maxes out at 1,540 pounds, which is less than trucks equipped with the smaller engine. In its most efficient configuration, the four-cylinder-powered Tacoma returns 20 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 21 mpg combined. The six posts 19, 24, and 21 mpg, respectively.
Interior and tech
Inside, the Gladiator again borrows parts from the Wrangler. That’s not a bad thing, because the newest model is more comfortable, more usable, and considerably more high-tech than any of its predecessors. The Gladiator takes usability to new heights thanks in part to its relatively long wheelbase; Digital Trends found it surprisingly spacious for a midsize truck. It comfortably seats four passengers, and Jeep added a lockable storage box under the rear bench to let users secure valuables even if the top is off.
Base models get a 5.0-inch touchscreen for Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment system, while more expensive variants offer either a 7.0- or an 8.4-inch unit. Upmarket Rubicon models gain a cool forward-facing camera that detects obstacles up to two feet in front of the car, and driving aids like adaptive cruise control are offered on select trim levels.
The Ranger’s interior is plain and straightforward, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Every knob, stalk, dial, and screen is right where you expect to find it. We found that interior space is about average for the class.
The entry-level XL model is one of the most bare-bones trucks in its competitive set; even cruise control costs extra. Buyers who want more tech features (like an 8.0-inch touchscreen that runs Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and lane-keeping assist) will need to explore the upper echelons of the trim level hierarchy.
The Colorado’s interior is more crossover-like than truck-like, and that’s intentional. Chevrolet wanted to make it comfortable and ergonomic above all.
Even entry-level models get a 7.0-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth connectivity, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Stepping up to the midrange LT model adds an 8.0-inch screen and Chevrolet’s MyLink software, and range-topping models offer a wireless device charger. Driving aids like forward collision alert and a lane departure warning system are bundled into an option package.
Toyota is following the rest of the truck segment’s shift toward more car-like interiors, and the Tacoma gained an available power-operated driver’s seat during its latest round of updates. The shorter variants seat four, though the rear seats are better used as a parcel shelf, and up to three adults can fit on the rear bench in the longer variants.
The Tacoma comes with a new infotainment system displayed on either a 7.0- or an 8.0-inch touchscreen depending on the trim level selected. It’s finally compatible with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa. That’s a major step forward for the model. Even the cheapest, most basic Tacoma offers standard safety features like a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. They’re bundled into a package called Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P).
Offered only with four doors and four-wheel drive, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator starts at $33,545. That figure doesn’t include a rather hefty $1,495 destination charge. Jeep will begin taking orders for the truck on April 4, and deliveries will start in the spring.
On sale now across America, the 2019 Ford Ranger carries a base price of $24,300 before Ford adds a mandatory $1,195 destination charge. The four-door cab costs an additional $2,220, while four-wheel drive is another $4,160.
Chevrolet charges $21,300 for the entry-level 2019 Colorado, plus a $1,095 destination charge. The four-door model with a short box costs $27,795, while the long box sets buyers back $29,495. Configured with four doors and four-wheel drive, Gladiator-style, the Colorado rings the till at $32,045.
Toyota hasn’t released pricing information for the 2020 Tacoma yet. To add context, the 2019 model starts at $25,700 with a short cab and rear-wheel drive. The cheapest four-door model costs $26,760, while adding four-wheel drive bumps that figure to $32,195. None of those figures include a $1,095 destination charge. We don’t expect the 2020 model will cost significantly more than the outgoing truck when it goes on sale later in 2019.
Are there other options?
If none of the four aforementioned trucks meet your needs, you can take a look at the Honda Ridgeline, the Nissan Frontier, or the GMC Canyon. The Ridgeline ($29,990) is based on the Pilot SUV, so it’s the only model in the segment built on a car-like unibody platform. Its rivals all use rugged body-on-frame construction. The Frontier ($18,990) was introduced in 2004, so it’s a dinosaur, even by truck standards, but it’s more affordable and basic than anything else in the segment. And while the Canyon ($21,500) is identical to the Colorado under the sheet metal, the range-topping Denali trim boasts a luxury sedan-like interior with a long list of creature comforts.
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