2015 Midsize Challenge: Overview

V-6 Group track 3 II

It's been a few years since we've tested the compact/midsize pickup truck segment to see which truck stands on top. The last time we tested small pickups (the 2012 Midsize Shootout), we included all seven competitors, but that number has dwindled in recent years; two no longer exist (the Ford Ranger and Suzuki Equator) and another took the 2015 model year off (the Honda Ridgeline). This time around, we have the remaining four in the segment; two are all-new entries, and two others are showing their age.

We thought about postponing this test to wait for the 2016 Toyota Tacoma and Honda Ridgeline, both expected later this year, but in the end we assumed you'd want the testing done as soon as possible. Naturally, we'll be doing more comparison tests when the new trucks debut.

For this test, we told the manufacturers we wanted a 2015 crew-cab, four-wheel-drive V-6 pickup without a price ceiling or floor (although value would be a scored category).

Our 4x4 crew-cab competitors are (in alphabetical order):

  • 2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71
  • 2015 GMC Canyon SLT
  • 2015 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X
  • 2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

We conducted our 2015 Midsize Challenge just outside Phoenix where temperatures and test-track access were ideal in March. We rented the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., to get our empirical test-track results and used its off-road park to get some "dirt time" behind the wheel of each competitor. The Lucas Oil off-road course offers five sweeping curves and more than a few opportunities to fully test suspensions at both higher and lower speeds. Additionally, the inner section of the track allowed us to test the 4-Low range gearing to see how well each truck crawls and navigates off-camber terrain.

The Phoenix area provided us with an excellent urban and highway route to conduct our fuel-economy runs, and we employed Arizona Dyno Chip, a Chandler shop, for comparative engine output. We also implemented a new sound-measurement test. We should note that because our sound-testing format is new, we're using it as a beta event and it is not part of our scoring tallies. (Read about our test procedures and noise-measurement results by clicking here.)

Like we've done in the past, we've broken the tests into two distinct parts: a percentage of points were awarded by our judges for performance, ride quality, off-road aptitude, etc., using a 10-point scale. The judges' points were doubled to make them worth about 20 percent of the total score. The remaining 80 percent were derived from our empirical testing (zero-to-60 mph times, braking, fuel economy, etc.).

The judges scored these categories:

  • Performance
  • Seating and ergonomics
  • Tech and entertainment
  • Ride quality
  • Overall visibility
  • Overall value
  • Off-road aptitude

The Midsize Challenge judges were Aaron Bragman, Cars.com Detroit bureau chief; Joe Bruzek, Cars.com road test editor; and Mark Williams, editor of PickupTrucks.com. Additionally, and new for this test, we invited local in-market consumers Bob Trink and his son, Matt, to spend a day with us and test-drive each of the pickups, giving us their impressions in the same categories in which our judges scored (with the exception of off-road aptitude). We've included their scores as well.

Here are the trucks we tested for our 2015 Midsize Challenge:

 

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71

Colorado V-6 11 II

Our Chevy Colorado had the 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6, six-speed automatic transmission and the Z71 suspension package, which includes a G80 auto-locking differential, and bigger wheels and tires. The base short-box crew cab has a price of $34,115 (not including destination), but our test truck also had the premium audio system ($500), the MyLink multimedia system and an 8-inch color touch-screen ($495), a spray-in bedliner ($475) and a trailering kit ($250). Including destination ($875), our test truck came to $36,710.

2015 Chevy Colorado V-6 (2)

For a larger version of the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado Monroney, click on the picture above.

 

2015 GMC Canyon SLT

Canyon V-6 7 II

Similar to the Colorado, the GMC Canyon has the same powertrain (V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission), but GMC opted to send its volume player, the SLT trim package, instead of the performance-oriented Z71. The Canyon had plenty of chrome accents and a deep Onyx Black paint job along with a Wi-Fi hot spot. The standard price for this trim level is $36,950; however, our test truck also had chrome tube steps ($725), a premium Bose audio system ($500), an 8-inch color navigation system ($495), a spray-in bedliner ($475) and collision alert ($395). Total vehicle price, including destination ($925), came to $40,465.

2015 GMC Canyon V-6 (2)

For a larger version of the 2015 GMC Canyon Monroney, click on the picture.

 

2015 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X

Nissan 11 II

Our Nissan Frontier came to us with an impressive Metallic Blue exterior color scheme; unfortunately, it had one of the oldest-looking interiors of any pickup. The PRO-4X trim has always been a favorite of ours, and suspension engineers have done a great job taking a few available upgrades and making them work together in a way that's greater than the sum of their parts. In midlevel trim, this V-6 crew cab goes for $32,560, but with the upgraded floormats ($135) and the PRO-4X Luxury Package ($2,100) we got leather seats, PRO-4X logos, electric sliding moon roof and a crossbar roof rack for a grand total of $35,680, including destination of $885.

2015 Nissan Frontier Pro4x

For a larger version of the 2015 Nissan Frontier Monroney, click on the picture.

 

2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Toyota 11 II

Toyota will be the first to remind us that it has an all-new Tacoma coming at the end of this year, but for now this is the best truck Toyota offers. The TRD Pro is new for 2015 and includes some spectacular suspension components such as longer and stronger front coils, remote-reservoir high-performance Bilstein shocks, a cool Toyota front grille and black-label TRD logos inside and out. The standard TRD Pro crew-cab short-bed Tacoma lists for $37,415, but our test unit also included a TRD air filter ($90), a rubber bed mat ($120), front-end paint protection film ($395), an upgraded security system ($469) and a custom TRD skid plate ($205); all totaled, including destination ($885), our test Tacoma cost $39,579.

2015 TacomaTRDPro 5TFLU4EN1FX112271 (2)

For a larger version of the 2015 Toyota Tacoma Monroney, click on the picture.

 

To download the comparison specs of these pickups, click on our What You Get chart.

2015_MS_WYG_F (2)

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

Overview | Acceleration | Braking | Mileage Drive | Off-Road | Judges | Results

 

V-6 Group rear wide II

 

Comments

I believe i could buy a f150 ecoboost supercrew 4x4 for $40,000 and get close to 20mpg an do all i need to do with comfort. And at the end of the day be worth more in 5 years.Just saying.

The Colorado is the looker of the bunch but I don't know why it exists if the Canyon is made to be better all around. The Chevrolet becomes redundant, especially at it's high price point.

It's a pity the US doesn't have a decent range of midsizers.

I've never been a fan of the D40 Navara/Frontier. It seems to perform well according to the numbers.

But, how refined is it to live with?

I don't mind the way these tests are carried out. But, I do think it shouldn't be so biased towards the biggest number. This can distort how a vehicle is to live with.

It's a pity the Canyon has that big rig, little tackle grille it seems to be the nicest overall pickup here.........except for the front end, the Colorado has the best looking front end.

The Nissan is hands down the best value. You get WAY more content for less money AND you get a truck that's been on the market for 10 years and has all the bugs worked out and is almost flawless now. You cannot and will not ever be able to say that about the GM trucks.

I think Ford was right when they said mid size pick up doesn`t make a good economic choice. You can get a cheaper full size truck with the same fuel economy or better more space higher capacity etc...

I am impressed with the fuel mileage-overall capability of the colorado. Ill be keeping an eye on it when the diesel comes out. 30 mpg might not be all that difficult to achieve.

JoBlow- You may be right about the bigger trucks being a good economic choice but as the owner of both a full size and a small truck I find myself using the small truck for most errands. It is easier to get myself and my cargo into, plus it handles parking lots a lot better. For people that really don't need a big truck it is about convenience and not just money. As a Ford guy I am really disappointed that Ford chose not to play in this market.

@Mark

Will there be a video posted?

@Walt @Joblow

Ford makes an excellent truck in this segment. They just don't sell it here. It doesn't make business sense for them to do it.

I've written about this before, but Ford made a crew cab truck called the Sport-trac about 10 years ago and it was ahead of its time. It was also expensive and their introduction of the truck to the marketplace was poorly timed. It competed against the Ranger AND the F150.

They learned.

@Walt @Joblow

Ford makes an excellent truck in this segment. They just don't sell it here. It doesn't make business sense for them to do it.

I've written about this before, but Ford also made a crew cab truck called the Sport-trac about 10 years ago and it was ahead of its time. It was also expensive and their introduction of the truck to the marketplace was poorly timed. It competed against the Ranger AND the F150.

They learned.

It's impressive the GM twins get near the HWY EPA mileage in the real world mileage test. Other publications have shown far worse for all of these trucks. It's good to see they can achieve pretty good mileage when you are really trying to do so. I still think the Colorado is the freshest and best looking. Can't wait for some more new "small" trucks to come out in the next couple of years. It's about time.

I bought Canyon SLT love the truck hate the transmission, it does not downshift at low speed owner's manual says press gas pedal halfway down to force shift great idea at 20 mph on a residential street. I don't think mine has the torque your tests showed. Does great if you drive aggressively but does not like low speeds or climbing hills.
Have also wondered why you have to almost redline engine to see 305 horsepower. Is this common with the new truck engines?
Drove my sport cars that way but never my trucks.

@Doug40

a little historical perspective from an old geezer may help you.

Until about 10 years ago, the HP ratings on the six cylinder engines found in mid size trucks topped out at around 200hp. The average was a lot closer to 175hp. They have nearly doubled the HP of these engines using VVT and other technical improvements.

Your beef about the shifting is legit. Having had a different GMC model with the same drivetrain I can say that the engineers at GM don't want you to lug that motor but they program the trans in a way that really sucks at parking lot speeds.

Blame CAFE and EPA, not GM.

Wow I love this post on the midsized pickup trucks. This has got to be one of the best sites I found for information on vehicles such as this midsize pickup truck overview. Take the time to bookmark this site like I did to come back often. Whatever pickup truck you choose, be sure to protect your cargo with a truck bed cover such as the one found in this bakflip g2 tonneau cover review video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr-R205MPu8

I'm a Dodge dakota man and have been since 1989 with my current 2006 having 215000 miles. I need a good midsized truck in the work I do but will not tolorate a huge full size in the city driving and in the parking lot. Dodge please help!!! Ford a new Ranger type would work, Chevy and S-10 would be better than the new nearly full size Canyon.. May it is just me.

dodge up-sized the dakota too much back in the day and killed it. now with kids i need a quad cab and both the wife and i hate auto trans. i would love a 4 door "jeep" brute but 40K over cost of the 30k starter jeep is a non starter.
FIL has a 4 door nissan but only get about 16mpg (its an auto ). my 02 dakota with V8 gets that or better avg. in 13 years are you telling me that motors have not got better ? hell dodge 4.7l was not even a great motor more a stop gap from 5.2 to the hemi5.7l.
maybe its just the old man in me i dont care abotu al the extra crap in trucks these days. a full size woudl be cheaper but i have no need to tow10k lb nav that does not work on fire roads and trails is no help wifi hot spot no thanks

i dont need an mobile office i need 4 doors a stick 5-6k towing (yard and a half of mulch in the bed when i have to (also helps hold dead deer )
the talk is jeep new wrangler will have a truck but its a single cab (extended). if i was single and childless i wodul be all over it. i am however not and dont want to buy a 40k truck for my wife to take to work in the snow (i work from home )

oo and i need a contractors rack so i can put wife and i kayaks on top and the kids i the bed. been back and forth on the taco and the nissan but sept for being new offer little more then a 10 year old dakota but at 3x the cost.

Full-size trucks can come in as high as $60K and those same expensive configurations that are high on creature comforts are also the ones that are hard to park; harder to house; and the ones that get the worst fuel economy (in most cases); because those are the big, heavy, most powerful that have features like 20" wheels that keep folks out of regular garages and problems with drivers having the same level of space perception.

But there are a wide range of full-size trucks, so if you're main need is to stay with a smaller footprint/stance, smaller budget and good mpg, then the midsizers are no match for the latest and greatest regular cab, 2wd, short-bed pickups in so far as value, because, just like with the mid-size car line that is so intensely competitive, the full-size truck segment is where the OEMs put forward their best engineering efforts and this is where they also must be the most competitive on price. So if you delve into the truck configurations where price-conscious consumers are shopping (lightly-featured, reg and extended cab 2wds), I found there is much more bang for the buck with an F150, Silverado, Sierra, and Ram, and since all of these have had recent updates; they all can be had in a regular cab; and they all have advanced power trains to achieve good mpg w/o giving up some low-end grunt; this midsize segment, which are not overall smaller trucks than what can be had in a full size; don't stack up.

I needed no more than a midsize, but after doing the shopping, I ended up with an F150, with Ford's most advanced engine (2.7 V6 Ecoboost) that weighs in at only 4200 lbs; is just as short as one of these in an extra cab for under $28K with quite a few important goodies, like power glass and doors, cruise, CD, chrome trim and aluminum wheels. My full size is a little taller and a little wider than what I would prefer, but since the midsizers don't come with a reg cab anymore, it's really not all that much bigger. And an F150 can be optioned with an engine that combines 22 mpg (city/hwy combined) and 375 peak lbs foot of torque at only 3000 RPM; and a starting price at or about $27K. The power train option with auto start/stop is a mere $750. The trucks in this article can't touch it for value, especially if one wants to step up to a V6 engine.

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