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:
- 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
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.
For a larger version of the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado Monroney, click on the picture above.
2015 GMC Canyon SLT
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.
For a larger version of the 2015 GMC Canyon Monroney, click on the picture.
2015 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X
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.
For a larger version of the 2015 Nissan Frontier Monroney, click on the picture.
2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
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.
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.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears