Kelley Blue Book: Five new midsize pickup trucks compared

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  • Midsize pickups appeal to consumers who want a real truck without the full-size bulk
  • Most buyers choose crew cabs, but several models offer an extended-cab version
  • Two- and 4-wheel-drive (2WD, 4WD) configurations are available; most have low-range gearing
  • Towing capacity ranges from 5,000-7,700 pounds on properly equipped trucks

If you’re shopping for a pickup truck with less than a full-size footprint, you have lots of choices. The latest addition to the midsize-truck ranks is the long-awaited 2020 Jeep Gladiator. Like most trucks in this class, the Gladiator is no cuddly crossover SUV, but a tough goat built for serious work. You can drive it to get your morning coffee, but don’t be surprised if some of it splashes on your pants.

In this comparison, we drove Jeep’s new pickup back-to-back with 4-wheel-drive, crew-cab versions of the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma. We also included the all-wheel-drive (AWD) 2020 Honda Ridgeline, which actually is rather cuddly, as midsize trucks go.

Our pick in this field of five is the Chevy Colorado, which offers the best overall combination of utility, performance and comfort. But depending on your priorities, some of the others might hit the mark as well.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

The Jeep Gladiator

It’s tempting to call the 2020 Jeep Gladiator a “Wrangler pickup.” But while it’s based on Jeep’s legendary SUV (and has the signature removable roof and doors), the Gladiator uses the rear suspension from the Ram 1500 to broaden its capabilities.

Towing capacity tops out at 7,650 pounds with the current 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine and 8-speed automatic transmission (a 6-speed manual is also available), and we expect that number to go up once Jeep begins offering its 3.0-liter diesel V6. The 3.6-liter is a fine companion in normal commuting. Passing maneuvers feel pretty effortless.

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Of course, the off-road prowess is there, too. All Jeep Gladiators are 4WD. Our Sport model had a part-time system, but Rubicon versions feature full-time 4WD, plus locking front and rear differentials. Suspension travel is predictably generous, yet the highway ride isn’t bad at all, at least on the Sport, which has all-season tires.

The main knock against the 2020 Gladiator is high pricing. It starts at $35,040 and our test vehicle topped $50,000. There’s no budget 2WD version, no extended cab, just a crew cab with a 5-foot bed. If you won’t make regular use of the Jeep’s specialized abilities, another truck might suit you better.

2020 Ford Ranger

The Ford Ranger

Next up is the 2020 Ford F, -4.06%   Ranger. It has the second lowest base price in this group at $25,605, but that’s for a 2WD SuperCab (extended cab). Our midrange SuperCrew XLT 4WD came in just under $40,000.

You won’t spend much time configuring a Ford Ranger. SuperCabs have a 6-foot bed. SuperCrews have a 5-foot bed. All versions use a 270-horsepower turbocharged, 2.3-liter 4-cylinder with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Fortunately, this is plenty of engine for a midsize truck. The Ranger feels strong in normal driving and is capable of towing up to 7,500 pounds when properly equipped.

The Ford also has the highest payload rating at 1,860 pounds, though that’s for a 2WD SuperCab. A 4WD crew cab tops out at 1,560 pounds, which is on par with other similarly equipped midsize trucks.

Fuel economy is outstanding for this group. Our 4WD Ranger was EPA-rated at 22-mpg combined (20-mpg city/24-mpg highway). Only the Ridgeline came close at 21 combined.

Likewise, it’s tough to beat the Ford on the safety front. It has a standard forward-collision system with automated braking (as do the Honda HMC, -3.73%   and Toyota TM, -3.27%  ), and the XLT adds blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist.

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Alas, you might not like the Ranger’s road manners. “This is a truck built by truck folks,” said one KBB editor, and that translates to a noisy, bouncy ride, especially with an empty bed.

2020 Toyota Tacoma

Toyota Tacoma

For years, the Toyota Tacoma has been an easy pick for a midsize truck. Resale value tops the class. And when equipped with the available TRD hardware, the Toyota is pretty much untouchable off-road, though you’ll certainly want to take a hard look at the Jeep.

The 2020 Tacoma also gives you a vast selection of configurations. Extended cabs start at $27,170 and the Double Cab (crew cab) starts at $35,020 and comes with either a 5-foot or 6-foot bed. There are also two engines: a 159-horsepower 2.7-liter 4-cylinder and a 278-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. The 4-cylinder comes only with a 6-speed automatic, but the V6 is available with a 6-speed auto or, on 4WD trucks, a 6-speed manual. Properly equipped trucks can tow up to 6,800 pounds.

In this comparison, though, the Tacoma showed its age. The driving position is uncomfortable for 6-footers and the Double Cab’s rear seat is “ungenerous to people with legs,” wrote one editor. Toyota has added a handy surround-view camera and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality for the 2020 model year, but the new tech can’t disguise the dated control layout.

The KBB editors liked the Tacoma’s quiet ride, but the V6 felt strained during hard acceleration and the steering needed lots of correction around sweeping turns. If you’re looking for a daily driver, the Toyota Tacoma might not be the best fit.  

2020 Honda Ridgeline

The Honda Ridgeline.

It would be very easy to drive to work in a 2020 Honda Ridgeline, though. “The ride is Accord-easy,” one editor wrote. “And the quiet cabin is dreamy after being in the Ranger.”

That same editor conceded, “This is such a good car, but I’m not sure that it’s a great truck.”

Depending on your perspective, the Honda Ridgeline might not qualify as a truck at all. It’s more like a 4-door crossover SUV with an open cargo bed. You can get a 2WD Ridgeline, but that’s front-wheel drive rather than rear-drive like on the other trucks. And there’s no low-range gearing with the available AWD system, though it includes driver-selectable terrain modes.

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The sole powertrain on the Ridgeline is a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission. Honda’s V6 has less torque than other engines in this comparison, and it breaks a sweat during highway passing. The Ridgeline’s tow rating is just 5,000 pounds.

For some people, the Honda’s feature content might offset its lack of utility. It has a dual-action tailgate that can swing down or to the side, along with a lockable 7-cubic-foot storage box in the bed. There are plenty of driver-assistance aids, too, including lane-keeping assist (as on the Ford).

Pricing starts at $34,995 and tops out around $45,000. That’s mid-pack for this test, but you’re sacrificing capability, and the 2020 Ridgeline isn’t likely to hold its value as well as other Hondas.

2020 Chevrolet Colorado

The Chevy Colorado.

If you’re looking for the midsize truck that has it all, the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado comes close. It’s comfortable in normal driving, even if you’re very tall, thanks to abundant seat-track travel. The Colorado also has the highest tow rating at 7,700 pounds when equipped with the optional 2.8-liter diesel 4-cylinder engine (not to mention a 23-mpg combined EPA rating). And if you need three locking differentials, the off-road-oriented ZR2 model has them.

Our truck had Chevy’s 308-horsepower 3.6-liter gasoline V6 and an 8-speed automatic. This combination is good for a 7,000-pound tow rating when properly equipped. There’s also a 200-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder for buyers wanting a budget option.

Pricing starts low at $22,395 for a 2WD extended cab, thanks to that 4-cylinder. Crew cabs start at $27,795, and as on the Toyota, you can get a short or long bed. Our ZR2 test vehicle cost quite a bit more at $46,340 but still undercut the Jeep’s price tag. Equipped with all-terrain tires, it didn’t ride with the compliance of other Chevy Colorados we’ve driven but nonetheless felt like the “most substantial truck in the test” wrote one editor.

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Inside, the Colorado has a simple control layout and lots of storage. Most trims have an 8-inch touch-screen interface with the expected smartphone integration features. If there’s anything to complain about, it’s the skimpy menu of driver-assistance aids. You can get forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems, but only as an option on LT and Z71 models.

Otherwise, the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado is a winner. It’s as satisfying on the freeway as it is on dirt trails. And its resale value looks solid. Go test-drive one.

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