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Best Small Pickup Trucks for 2021

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When it comes to choosing a small pickup truck, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are dozens of different varieties, sizes and price tags.

It gets especially confusing when you remember that the government places pickups into classes based on weight, not length or body style. If you want a truck capable of weekend work with an affordable price, you’re likely looking at what the government calls a light-duty truck and automakers call small or midsize pickups. They tend to be cheaper than their full-size or heavy-duty counterparts and can make the switch from back roads to city streets with ease.

To help you narrow your choices and cut through the noise, here are our picks for the best small and midsize pickups on the market.

Best Small and Midsize Trucks
Model Score Best for
Honda Ridgeline 4.38 Comfort and safety
Jeep Gladiator 4.30 Serious off-road adventure
Toyota Tacoma 4.28 Reliability and resale value
Ford Ranger 4.05 All-purpose, easy driving
GMC Canyon 3.98 Economical power and comfort
Chevrolet Colorado 3.95 Economical work horse
Nissan Frontier 3.85 Base power

How we chose the best small pickup trucks

We evaluated seven available small truck models and ranked them according to how well they performed in expert and consumer reviews from Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and Edmunds. When selecting these models, we also considered each truck’s Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), capabilities and features, including towing capacity.

Honda Ridgeline – #1 best small truck

  • 4.38 out of 5
  • $33,900 starting MSRP
  • 19/26/22 MPG

The 2020 Honda Ridgeline focuses more on comfort than serious off-roading, which might explain the high starting price. Its unibody construction allows the Ridgeline to offer the great ride quality and high safety scores that you might not expect in a pickup. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) both give the Ridgeline strong scores. Creative features like the built-in holders for French fries and cups for rear passengers, and the hidden, lockable trunk under the truck bed, are additional wins. This is not to say that the Ridgeline is all show. It has 280 horsepower and 5,000-pound towing capacity in its all-wheel drive models, trims which tack on about $2,000 on to the base price. It’s worth noting that a redesigned 2021 version is set to hit the streets with interior and exterior changes, so it’s possible you may want to hold off on any purchases before you can compare options.

Jeep Gladiator – #2 best small truck

  • 4.30 out of 5
  • $33,545 starting MSRP
  • 16/23/19 MPG

The Jeep Gladiator was reborn in 2020 and though there’s a 2021 version available — more on that in a minute — the debut year is the one we’ll focus on here. Like a Wrangler with a pickup attached, the Gladiator’s doors, roof and windshield come off, and even its base model has four-wheel-drive capability and a 3.6-liter V6 engine. It comes in one configuration: a crew cab with a five-foot bed. When properly equipped, the Gladiator can tow between 4,000 and 7,650 pounds, but rugged doesn’t come cheap. The Gladiator has one of the highest starting prices on our list. The newer 2021 Jeep Gladiator has a similar base price but introduces a new engine option of a 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 which bumps up the starting price to close to $40,000.

Toyota Tacoma – #3 best small truck

  • 4.28 out of 5
  • $26,050 starting MSRP
  • 20/23/21 MPG

With best-in-class resale value and the Toyota badge of reliability, the 2020 Tacoma has been a mainstay since 2005. It’s the first compact truck on our list that allows for different configurations: double cab or access cab, six-foot bed or five-foot bed. All models come standard with the Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) suite, which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, automatic high beams and more. The 2021 Tacoma is out, including a special Trail Edition, but with few major changes, we stuck with the version with the greatest number of expert and consumer reviews.

Ford Ranger – #4 best small truck

  • 4.05 out of 5
  • $24,410 starting MSRP
  • 21/26/23 MPG

The little brother to the full-size F-150, the best-selling truck in the U.S. for 43 years, the Ford Ranger made a return in 2019 after an eight-year hiatus. The 2020 model provides plenty of options, including available 4×4 on all three trim levels, adding about $4,000 to the base price. Ford’s Co-Pilot360™ technology is standard starting with the XLT trim and optional on the base XL trim with such features as a lane-keeping system and automatic emergency braking. The 2021 Ranger, not available as of press time, will have a new off-road package as well as new appearance packages.

GMC Canyon – #5 best small truck

  • 3.98 out of 5
  • $22,200 starting MSRP
  • 20/26/22 MPG

The 2020 GMC Canyon tows between 3,500 and 7,700 pounds, a high among midsize pickups. However, to get maximum towing capacity, you’ll have to add the available diesel engine and trailering package, to name a couple of requirements, all of which boosts the price.

That said, the Canyon’s starting price is economical for its class, just above $22,000, though it can quickly scale up as you change configurations. Those configurations include six trims and the choice of an extended cab or crew cab, a 5-foot-2-inch bed or a 6-foot-2-inch bed. There are even more choices with the 2021 version thanks to the new AT4 trim level, which is designed for greater off-road capability.

Chevrolet Colorado – #6 best small truck

  • 3.95 out of 5
  • $21,300 starting MSRP
  • 20/26/22 MPG

With the lowest starting MSRP on our list, the Chevrolet Colorado advertises itself as a workhorse rather than a truck meant for off-road adventure or on-road comfort. It won Kelley Blue Book’s Pickup Truck Best Buy of 2020 award. Its engine options include a Duramax Turbo Diesel and a 3.6-liter V6. That power makes it possible to have a max towing capacity of 7,700 pounds, but like most pickups, including its GM cousin, the GMC Canyon, you would need a towing package and upper trim level to get it. You would also need to choose an extended cab, four-wheel-drive with the diesel engine, increasing the price.

The 2021 Chevrolet Colorado has a starting MSRP of $25,200, a price jump that accounts for its redesign. And if you are looking for a Colorado with greater off-road capability, look to the Colorado ZR2, the highest trim available on 2020 and 2021 models.

Nissan Frontier – #7 best small truck

  • 3.85 out of 5
  • $26,790 starting MSRP
  • 18/24/20 MPG

With a standard V6 engine and nine-speed automatic transmission, the Nissan Frontier doesn’t play around with a base four-cylinder engine like others on this list, including the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. But it also means a relatively high starting price. Nissan boosted the power for the 2020 Frontier, offering 310 horsepower and increased fuel efficiency over the previous year. Buyers could choose between a King Cab with a 73-inch bed or a crew cab with a 60-inch or 72-inch bed. But you might want to wait for the anticipated 2021 redesign, the Frontier’s first in 16 years. The 2021 model set to be released is reported to have all new styling inside and out, so some patience may pay off.

Ways to finance the best compact truck

If you decide that a small or mid-size pickup is right for you, it’s important to understand all of your financing options before going into a dealership. While many people finance through the dealer without researching other lenders, doing so can put you at a disadvantage. By contrast, getting your own financing through a bank, credit union or online lender gives you more power at the negotiation table. Best of all, you can compare auto loan offers online from lenders in just a few minutes.

MSRPs and other fees mentioned in this article are accurate as of the date of publishing.

 

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