By Aaron Bragman, Cars.com
Midsize pickup trucks have gotten quite the shot in the arm in the past few years thanks to the red-hot re-entry of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon into the segment. The last time we got all the midsize pickups together was in 2015; now, Honda has the all-new 2017 Ridgeline and Toyota has updated its best-selling Tacoma with a significantly revised model. Because of those changes, it seemed like a good time to see how they all stack up.
The criteria for this test were fairly simple. All the trucks had to have four-wheel drive, had to be crew-cab models and had to have V-6 engines. Our price cap was $37,500 but, as you'll see, the Honda came in significantly over that because lower trim models weren't available in Honda's press fleets. Honda is stacking early builds with fully loaded Ridgelines and, instead of waiting even longer to get a truck in to test, we used the one Honda had available. Given that the powertrain is the same across all Ridgeline trim levels, the real bones of the test wouldn't be materially affected by some fancier interior electronics and upholstery options.
The Ridgeline is utterly unlike the rest of these pickups. They're all rear-wheel drive with a body-on-frame construction with separate cabs over steel chassis rails, while the Ridgeline more closely resembles the crossover-utility Pilot with its front-wheel-drive-biased and integrated unibody design. The Honda's bed is not separate from its body, despite how it looks — it's all one big piece underneath, and we wanted to see if this approach to a midsize pickup really made any difference in how the Ridgeline performed when we threw the same battery of tests at it and its traditional truck competitors.
Here's who came to play in our latest challenge:
- 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Z71
- 2016 GMC Canyon SLE
- 2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E
- 2016 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X
- 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
We put these trucks through five days of testing in Michigan that included a fuel-economy test loop (both empty and loaded up to nearly payload capacity), an off-road romp through the Bundy Hill Offroad park to test four-wheel-drive systems, a day of back-to-back evaluations that included towing box trailers to simulate bringing along a pair of personal watercraft or all-terrain vehicles, a day of drag-strip testing for objective acceleration and braking numbers, and we even took them to a local dynamometer (MotorCity Speed's all-wheel-drive Mustang dyno) to see if they were putting out the kind of power that they're advertised to have.
Judging consisted of zero-to-10-point ratings in 10 different categories:
- Interior quality
- Interior cargo
- Tech & entertainment
- Bed cargo
- Street performance
- Off-road performance
- Worth the money?
As we have done in the past, we calculated the judges' scores to comprise 30 percent of the final tally. The remaining 70 percent was based on empirical data measurements such as fuel economy, acceleration and braking performance.
Judging this go-round was an experienced assortment of reviewers:
- Mark Williams, PickupTrucks.com editor
- Aaron Bragman, Cars.com Detroit bureau chief
- Joe Bruzek, Cars.com senior road test editor
- Andy Mikonis, longtime freelance automotive journalist
- Jennifer Vigas, an in-market shopper who is looking to get into a midsize pickup once the lease is up on her Lincoln MKZ
Here are stats on the trucks we tested, in alphabetical order:
Chevrolet sent us a Colorado with the Z71 off-road suspension package, which includes a G80 automatic locking differential and bigger wheels and tires. The truck featured the 3.6-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission, and it had the long-box bed option. The starting price for all this was $36,035, including an $895 destination fee, but our truck also had the premium Bose audio system for $500, the MyLink multimedia system with an 8-inch touch-screen for $495, a factory spray-on bedliner for $475 and a $250 hitch addition. That brought the total price to $37,755.
For a larger version of the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Monroney, click on the picture above.
GM's companion vehicle to the Colorado is the GMC Canyon, featuring much of the same equipment as the Chevy. It has an identical 3.6-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission — this is the standard truck that still features an automatic locking differential and two-speed transfer case but no off-road suspension or chunky tires. For $35,485 (including destination fee, which is inexplicably $30 more than the Chevrolet's at $925 despite being built in the same factory), you get the midgrade short-box SLE, which has the 8-inch touch-screen and GMC IntelliLink multimedia system as standard. Adding the SLE Convenience Package brought remote start, automatic climate control and a sliding back window for $575. The Driver Alert Package added forward collision and lane departure warning for $395. Adding a trailer hitch cost $250 and Cyber Gray Metallic paint added another $395 for a total of $37,100.
For a larger version of the 2016 GMC Canyon Monroney, click on the picture above.
The newcomer to the test was the Honda Ridgeline, redesigned inside and out for 2017. Powered by a stout 3.5-liter V-6 and a six-speed automatic transmission, it features standard all-wheel drive and unibody construction. Its tailgate is unique in that it opens conventionally and also to the side like a swing gate. The bed had a unique audio system that uses the bed panels as reverberating speakers; it's an uplevel standard feature. Our test model was a loaded RTL-E, which featured a leather interior, power rear sliding window, 10-way power driver's seat, an 8-inch touch-screen display, a full complement of electronic safety systems, a premium audio system with a subwoofer, a power moonroof, LED headlights and more for $42,270, including a $900 destination charge.
For a larger version of the 2017 Honda Ridgeline Monroney, click on the picture above.
On the other end of the newness spectrum was the Nissan Frontier, largely unchanged in almost a decade. It features a big 4.0-liter V-6 and a five-speed automatic transmission with part-time four-wheel drive and a two-speed transfer case. The PRO-4X trim brings Bilstein off-road shock absorbers and the most aggressive off-road tires of the competitors for a starting price of $34,290, including a $900 destination charge. Add the PRO-4X Luxury Package with power leather seats, heated mirrors, power moonroof and roof rack for $2,100, a factory-installed Class III trailer hitch for $533 and some $135 floor mats, and the Frontier's as-tested price was $37,058.
For a larger version of the 2016 Nissan Frontier Monroney, click on the picture above.
Fresh off its update earlier this year, the popular Tacoma arrived in Blazing Blue Pearl in the midgrade TRD Off-Road trim with a 3.5-liter V-6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. The TRD Off-Road trim gives the Tacoma black wheels, some cosmetic changes and an off-road suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers like the Nissan. It also features Toyota's marvelous Multi-Terrain Select four-wheel-drive system with Crawl Control, a sophisticated powertrain that none of the others can quite match. The starting price was $34,990, including a $900 destination fee. A V-6 comprehensive towing package added $650 as well as an automatic transmission fluid cooler, oil cooler, power steering cooler, 130-amp alternator, four- and seven-pin connector, and electronic trailer-sway control. All-weather floor liners and door sills added $218, while a shiny exhaust tip cost $90 and wheel locks added $80, for a grand total of $36,028.
For a larger version of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma Monroney, click on the picture above.
To download a comparison of what these trucks come equipped with, click on our What You Get chart below.