Next-Gen Compact Trucks: Unibody or Body-on-Frame?

Next-Gen Compact Trucks: Unibody or Body-on-Frame?

We've often discussed (and griped about) the lack of compelling small trucks available in the U.S. They're either too big, too old or too expensive.

Hearing that GM may return to its compact truck roots has us excited, but if a reinvented Chevy S-10 or GMC S-15 were to arrive, it has to be firmly differentiated from full-size pickups. That means less all-around capability, significantly better gas mileage and a starting price around $15,000 (or less).

But we're wondering: Should a next-generation compact pickup stick with conventional body-on-frame construction (like the Chevy Colorado), or should it be unibody (like the Honda Ridgeline)? The toughness and towing capability of a BOF small truck might have to be compromised by platform sharing with a small car or crossover to lower manufacturing costs.

What do you think? Future small pickup: unibody or body-on-frame? Tell us your opinion below.


Unibody would be fine, imo, as would front wheel drive. What I'd really like to see is the ability to carry a 4x8 sheet of plywood. I'm thinking a 6ft bed with a tip-out extender.

I have no problem with unibody, if it can still tow a reasonable amount and perform offroad in the 4x4 version (as evident by the new Grand Cherokee, which is unibody, but can still tow over 7,000lbs and perform off-road). However, if it can only tow 3,500lbs and becomes an AWD soft-roader, than I really have no use for it.

With that said, I know there are a lot of people who buy small pickup chassis cabs for various reasons. A unibody design wont have the upfitting ability that a BOF vehicle would. That might be an issue if they hope to gain as many sales as possible.

IMO Unibody would be better, they could really learn how to make a truck efficient (both fuel economy and ruggedness). Those small trucks are mostly used for commuting and trips to the dump on the weekend. Occasionally to help someone move.

Don't need a small pickup with tons of payload and towing if you do buy a bigger truck, that's the whole idea behind a small pickup.

If you want a lower starting price, you have to go with body-on-frame. One reason the Ridgeline is expensive relative to other mid-size trucks is its unibody structure; a unibody structure strong enough to see real truck usage requires more brackets, braces, and welds than a passenger-car unibody structure. If GM can pull off a small unibody truck tough enough to withstand real truck use/abuse and bring it in below $15k, more power to them.

I agree with the fellas prior to my comment. Unibody is awesome on small/medium sized truck, 4cyl and V6 powertrains, FWD/AWD (optional dual-range on latter), and 2- and 4- door configurations.

You wouldn't necessarily have to go BOF to be inexpensive. The problem with the Ridgeline is that its unibody structure was designed specifically for the Ridgeline,not shared with anything else in its lineup. GM has plenty of unibody chassis' that would be ideal for a compact pickup as well as several available drivetrains. Platform sharing will lower manufacturing costs.

A uni body in the spirit of the Jeep Cherokee/Comanche would be cool but a Ridgeline type truck no way .

Body on frame (Or capable rugged unibody) with REAR, all wheel dr. with a option of true 4x4 capability and low range. A 4 cyl diesel and manual tranny with at least 30mpg would do the trick!

Take, say, a VW Jetta TDI and graft an El Camino-style bed to the back and I'd be very interested.

I think it's going to be a small, light, unibody type just for new CAFE standards alone....

Why build another small truck that doesn't really get any better mileage than a 1/ just doesn't make sense.

I'm thinking Ford Transit Connect style, only with a small bed instead of being a micro-cargo van.

Holden's Basic Ute is a Unibody that has a 1800lb payload. The Ford Falcon Utes are more like carbodied BOF's , they can carry 2,700lb.

As long as the pickup maintains a "robust" off-road ability, I would be more than happy with one. I hate the way cars feel when your driving them on the road, I would love to have a commuter scooper truck that gives me 20mpg in the city, 30mpg on the highway with a V6 and four wheel drive

Why stop at 30 mpg? I think it needs to get at least 35.

Unibody compact truck? Seriously? Anyone who truly knows trucks understands that you need a full frame underneath it for towing and or hauling heavy materials. Even if it is a compact truck. Your tow/haul numbers will diminish substantially with unibody construction. You'll also end up with some dubious body flex. Nope, try as u might. Unibody in a truck..even a compact truck isn't gonna cut it. Just may as well buy a car and cut the a** end off of it.

a unibody would be fine but i still want it to be a truck i still want decent power options 4cyl plus a 200+hp v6 a real 6ft bed and fwd is fine as long as it can still have true 4x4 why cant they just make modern version of the lates 80s early 90s pickups they have already proven that they can make powerful v6s with decent gas mileage in cars and the 80s ranger first gen dakota and 80s s10s are light enough not to really lower the gas mileage from those engines in cars its uncomplicated prove techniques and no one would object to the size of those older mini trucks I dont want some modern a bat type thing of the super ugly bed walls of a unibody ridgeline just marry the old school small pickup styling w/ todays modern engines ITS SO SIMPLE

I can't believe all the posts from those who think FWD is fine in a truck.
FWD is NOT OK for a truck.
I'm OK with the unibody (they know how to make them quite rigid nowadays) but not the FWD. No way, no how.

RWD with a 4WD option. And keep an available manual transmission. It's the only way to go.

BOF only. It can be done. It is being done with small trucks. The kicker is restraining from going too large and adding in crap that a truck doesn’t need. That just blows the reason for a small truck in the first place. Use the Ford Ranger as a yard stick to not exceed in size, but design it for utility and some cool factor built in – not added on. And it’s got to have tough but efficient engine choices. The designers should go to an off road event to see what enthusiasts take off – not add on. And go to a real construction work site and see what a truck has to go though and around. Those would be a great starting points to see what a truck that is small, tough, cool and capable needs to be. And what it doesn’t need to try to be. Less is more and less is cheaper. And that’s what will get ‘em on the lots and signing on the dotted lines. And the manufacturers have got to get it in their heads that they will NOT compete with the full size trucks. It’s just not the same market at all.

If you make it unibody is it really a truck?

Unibodies are nothing but mallcrawlers. Hell they are nothing more than the minivan with the back cutoff for the soccer dad.

What is offroad mode.. when you park it on the lawn to wash it?

Front wheel drive is solid for commuting but does it really belong in a truck? How is it going to perform on towing? Is it going to have a "truck stance" with decent clearancce or the stance of a car with a couple of different options that caan get high centered on a curb?

Check your balls at the door if you want one of these things. I sure as hell don't

Compact trucks are a dead market segment. Only if they can offer significantly greater fuel economy and a lower purchase price than a full size will that market come back. All the current 'compact' trucks are far too big, expensive, and powerful, and the compete with full size models. Unibody and front wheel drive might be the only way.

I'm ok with FWD but it would never fly with a 7500 towing capacity. Putting all that weight on a rear wheels is going to be taking off the front wheels, which would be making a dangerous situation, so it needs to be RWD.

I'm ok with unibody setups though, they are becoming just as rigid as BOF stuff.

If you take the BOF construction away then it ceases to be a truck in my view. what you end up with is a crossover. Something very close to it. Plenty of those out there. Maybe pick ups as a segment are doomed to extinction? Change them enough and what do you have in the end? Some kind of crossover hybrid thingy. Just a thought.

My definition of a pickup truck is one where the box and cab are seperate, So you would have to have a frame to allow flex.

For a small pickup i would prefer FWD because it would be better in the snow than RWD and save weight to increase MPG.

A 4' x 8' box is the standard, Raise the hight of the bed to remove those anoying fender bump outs, Make it Square!!!

Cab-over or half-cab like the Isuzu NPR or Sprinter. for reduced OAL and better turning radius.

Engine - 4 cyl Diesel........... Please!!!

I suspect it would depend on the design.
A unibody compact would be okay if it has good fuel economy, a body shape that lends itself to adding accesories like cargo racks, canopies, small utility bodies etc. Talk to the aftermarket - ie. modular components. Thats were the Ridgeline blew it. Canopies or any accessories are expensive and/or have to be custom made.
I don't see front wheel drive being an issue. Why would the truck need to tow more than 6,000 lb anyway. Have real 4x4 offroad capability as an option not a softroader ( I liked that term).

Body on frame has it's advantages as well. Unibody is obviously a tough sell to traditional truck guys. The aftermarket probably could come up with work-bodies more cheeply. Rear wheel drive has traditional appeal as well.

Bottom line regardless what they make:
must be much cheeper than a full size 1/2 ton
must be smaller than a full size 1/2 ton (Ranger size)
must get much better fuel economy than a full size 1/2 ton.
regular cab long box 7 - 8 ft. box
(extended cabs are useless for passengers in this class)
crewcab 5.5 - 6.5 ft. box
4x4 option with legitimate offroad capacity
tow 6,000 lb.
carry 1,000 - 1500 lb.
30 mpg combined average

I'm not asking for much ;)

Body on frame only, plus a 4 cyl. diesel engine, 6-speed manual transmission.

The form should follow the function. Body-on-frame is best if the vehicle should double as an off-roader. Unibody is best if it's going to only be on road.

Unibody can also be used off-road, though, if properly made.

So our choices are basically off-road unibody (Jeep Commanche), on-road unibody (upcoming Dodge Dakota), off-road body on-frame (Toyota Tacoma).

I personally live on an awful dirt road, so I'd prefer something with reasonable off-road ability. Choose the lightest and simplest setup that can still be driven in moderate off-road situations.

I always thought that a unibody pickup was...well...just wrong. That is until I got my 1987 Jeep Comanche MJ about 12 years ago.

Maybe the towing capacity is not so great, but it sure performs as well as any body-on-frame pickup I ever owned in the past.

The towing weakness is more in the high differential gearing (low numbers ratio).

And since it is also (solid axles) 4-wheel drive...I have no trouble keeping up with any other 4x4 on the trails.


To get proper the chassis dynamics where they need to be it would probably have to be unibody. BOF would be too heavy and would cost more give a stand alone chassis.

As long as it is RWD and looks like a truck (not a ridgeline) than nobody would really care if its unibody.

I think BOF is the best setup for a pickup. I wonder if unibody with removable bed would work? thats for flexibility and aftermarket outfitters. Whatever you do, it should be RWD and 4WD and deffinately have solid rear axle. Even BOF Expedition's wheels tilt in about 70 degrees with 7 passengers and a boat, since it's IRS.

FWD, are you kidding. not only could you not haul anything, but you could not tow anything either.
I see the future of compact trucks as going back to basics, body on frame, solid axles front and rear with a possible coil spring or coil over setup front and rear. It would not have to built as heavy duty as the present Ford Ranger, but they should not too light weight either. I see a supercab as extra storage and would hope to see a crewcab option. I hope Ford Motor Company is listening, there are just times when a compact truck fits the situation better than a full size truck. Solid axles front and rear yea thats the ticket!

4 cylinder, direct injected, turbo with 200 hp and 250 lb-ft with a
6 speed manual and auto tranny would be perfect.
A diesel should be a high-end option....possibly sourced from VW.

The best small truck was the first gen. ranger and s10. They got good gas mileage and got the job done.

I bought a 97 S10 LS 4 cylinder 5 speed new in jan 97 for $13,500. I still love the truck as much as the day I bought it. Nothing out there appeals to me as much as what this 13 yo truck has. 1st it gets 25.5-26.5 mpg around town and 32-35 highway. 2nd it is simplistic and don't have a bunch of crap that will tear up over time and still has a very comfortable 60/40 seat (driven over 10 hours nonstop (other than fillup) and stayed comfortable whole time. 3rd it is small enough to park anywhere but still plenty big enough interior and I'm 5' 10" average guy. 4th perfect size bed at 6' and I've hauled some heavy stuff in there before with no problems. GM really needs to just come out with another small truck like this with a 4 cylinder ecotec with 5 speed manual and keep everything simple tough as nails approach with the S10 name. I know better than anyone what I want in a small truck and I know these would sell like hotcakes. They need to be traditional truck with RWD, frame, cab, bed otherwise it will just be a elcamino no matter how you cut it. To me nothing is as fun to drive as a small 4 cyclinder manual tranny truck. GM was dumb to let the S10 segment go the way of the dodo but they can correct their mistakes if they just repeat history of the 80s and 90s S10.

Take the Ranger put the Frontier front suspension under it, a high tourqe diesel in it, locker in the rear and you would have the perfect compact. Unibody construction is for cars and minivans!

a light weight truck should be a comfortable ride (maybe have air bags for heavy loaded conditions ) and big enough interior for a big guy (6'2") -FWD is fine as long as it's bullet proof .Unibody would be good but make the body good for for 25 years without structual rust up north. The motor and trans should be able to take abuse without needing anything done other than routine maint. for at least 100,000 mi, Have a basic no frills version but keep singular options available (like a/c ) instaed of package options

A unibody truck sounds good to me. Has anyone noticed how much better GMs new cars are? If you take one of the new mid or compact size platform then extend the back end and you will have a good small truck. I agree it should be no larger then the current ranger, AWD or 4WD, and pull 3,500.

Body on frame, RWD/4WD only if you still want it to work as a truck- imho FWD and a unibody compromises that ability. I owned a couple of VW diesel pickups. Extremely economical to run, a great runabout but as a work truck they were lacking. With a heavy load and FWD steering and traction is compromised (imagine 52hp spinning the tires in the rain)and the unibody limits payload. The Jeep Comanche MJ previous mentioned used iirc a subframe under the cargo box- why not put a full frame under it to begin with? The current Ford Ranger is the right size and given the smaller profit margins on compact trucks I think an updated Ranger or reworked Canyon/Colorado is the way to go. The Ranger needs a modern V-6/six speed tranny combo to boost mpg.

@Steve: Totally agree. 3,500# (maybe 4,000) max towing.

Yup 4,000 to handle most boats would be all they need.

Great post guys.
The key is that a compact truck is just that - compact. Keep it well away from the realm of 1/2 tons.

The world's best off-roader and toughest pickup trucks are body-on-frame, so where's the problem?! Can't they make the frame only lighter? They can make some small passenger car based unibody trucks, but they always lose when it comes to work harder... FWD in trucks - no way, thx!

The Ideal Compact truck for me would need in proiority:
1. Get Good gas mileage - 25+
2. Compact size for daily use (easy parking size).
- Less than 200 inches long (ideally similar to mid size suvs)
3. Good utility - bed should be engineered to carry 2 off road motorcycles.
4. Comfortable well constructed interior - 4 door, 5 passenger.
5. Decent engine power. (V6)
6. A smaller better looking Honda Ridgleine would be awesome.
7. The Toyota Abat has lots of potential.
Unibody or BOF is fine just make it a killer daily driver with the utility for the weekend warrior.

No to the ABat and no to the thing in the pic at the top of this story.
Make it look and act and perform and sound like a truck. If it's a truck make it a truck. Just make it smaller and cheaper. What an idea.

Body-on-frame or Unibody, I don't think it matters too much. The idea is to hit a certain price-point and lifestyle segment with this truck and sell lots of them.

There should be a clear black and white difference between what truck a consumer needs to buy. Obviously the Canyon/Colorado didn't look like a good deal price vs. performance so consumers were upsold into the full-size models. The segments need to be distinct this time or risk the same thing happening.

I believe Ford has the best shot, using the C-segment platform that underpins the next generation Transit Connect (TC). Payload of the TC is 1600 lbs, which compares favorably to many 1/2 tons. GVWR is 5000 lbs, and I assume it weighs around 3000 lbs, putting unloaded towing at 2000. The next generation platform is spawning larger vehicles - I think it is reasonable to expect 3000 lbs towing from it, to allow small boats, jet skis, snowmobiles, utility trailers, small campers, etc.
It would likely be available with a 1.6 EcoBoost and dual-clutch transmission hitting 40 mpg highway. I assume the main hurdle is engineering it to be stiff enough to have the back of the cab fairly vertical - flying buttress pillars make a bed that short a lot less useful. I don't think this vehicle would be used commercially for any towing - but with nearly 2000 lbs payload capacity it could be a hot seller for urban contractors, maintenance crews, etc.

GM though once Euro 6 hits could bring a 1.9L diesel over apparently, as it would then exceed US standards

I don't think anyone can justify the cost of a body on frame truck below the Ranger size now.

Even if it was FWD, advanced traction control could make up for it. It won't be a towing-oriented vehicle - think utility. I'd love to a little Eaton E-locker in there.

Body-on-frame, rear drvie, 4x4 optional, 4 cyl ecotech, diesel option, 6 cyl option, 6 speed stick or auto. 2 and 4 door.

Ford? Are you listening? Don't ditch the Ranger.

Some of you guys are hilarious and need to check the current capabilities of the Ranger and Colorado. 1,500lbs payload? 6,000lbs towing? LMAO! You are making Ford's point about killing the Ranger and going to a lower powered more efficient F150. Tow 6,000lbs with a Ranger and you will be all over the road. Make it handle 1500lbs payload and the engines that would give it fuel efficiency wouldn't move it. Compact trucks are bought by people who want a truck bed without the truck. High mpg dump and Home Depot runners. When you start trying to make the the equal of a fullsized 1/2 ton is where you get off track and kill the whole ppoint of a compact truck. Look around. That is what has already been happening.

Make it minimal - not in capability, but in package. Then keep it utility like cheap.

Body on frame. Maybe the issue is the motor used not the frame. For example look what the 3.7 v-6 did for the new mustang as compared to the old 4.0. Not only did it provide more power but there was a sizable increase in mileage. The old sport-trac with a new 3.7 and a six speed might just be what we need.

Think Subaru Baja, but not as ugly. AWD, eco 4 cyl, good towing and resonable load ability....just not so ugly.

Many good points made, but few can agree. Unibody or body on frame, both are possible to work. With improvements in engines and transmissions, efficiency should be improved considerably without diminishing capabilities of the earlier versions of these trucks.
The Subaru Baja, if many remember was originally a two door model called "Brat", not a four door like the recent failed model. Volkswagen also had a version based off of the Rabbit and Dodge had one too called the Ramage. These worked well for what they were intended to be; and models like this could still work for very light duty chores. For those looking for more capability small pick-ups could easily fit their needs as well.
There's room for more than one answer to be the correct one. Perhaps modified sub compacts could be viable for small delivery fleets and household chores, while small pick-ups could haul your fishing boat and snowmobiles, or handle Home Depot runs.
The choice should be left to what the consumers demand, both of these types of trucks flourished for a time when economy and flexibility ruled. If they keep their eyes on what customers are willing to pay for the product, and kept their eyes on providing simple things like a fun-to-drive ratio, cost, content, and styling; they could be profitable products again.

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