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How the Best Midsize Trucks Stack Up

Chris Kaiser

With the debuts of the Ranger and Gladiator last year, the midsize truck segment has seen a resurgence of late. We’ll compare the major players from off-road prowess to daily drivability.

The Good, the Bad, & the Roofless

Neither full-size nor pint-size, midsize trucks are the Goldilocks of pickups, just enough without being too much. The re-emergence of the Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator are evidence that car companies see opportunity in the segment. But midsize trucks have a lot of stiff competition from rugged SUVs and increasingly posh and polished full-size trucks. The bar is therefore pretty high for midsize trucks to stand out from the crowd (as we’ll see some do this better than others).

Attracting attention and attracting actual buyers can be two different things, just see the decade on decade success of the humdrum Camry as exhibit A. New kids on the block the Jeep Gladiator and Ford Ranger are opposite ends of the segment spectrum, one leans hard on brand heritage and wow factor, the other appears to exist mainly to fill a hole in Ford’s line-up. We’ll have to wait and see which approach proves more successful in the years to come.

In the meanwhile, we compared the Gladiator, Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, and the Chevrolet Colorado to find out which is the best, most capable, most worthy of your hard-earned dollars. And, spoiler alert, it turns out the answers hinge on exactly what you’re looking for. This small segment has a surprising amount of diversity, and depending on your tastes and interests, has something for just about any truck buyer.

Specs – Making Adequate Seem Admirable

Chevrolet Colorado

The Colorado gets three different engine options, the most in the segment, along with the only diesel option. The base engine is a 2.5L 4-cylinder making 200hp and 191lb.-ft. of torque paired with a 6-speed automatic and gets 20 city/26 highway mpg in RWD and 19/24 with 4WD.

2020 Chevrolet Colorado V6 Engine - Carsforsale.com
2020 Chevrolet Colorado 3.6L V6 Engine - carsforsale.com

The larger 3.6L V6 makes 308hp and 275lb.-ft. comes with an 8-speed automatic. Fuel efficiency brakes down as follows 18 city/25 highway for the RWD, 17/24 for 4WD, and 16/18 for the off-road oriented ZR2 trim.

The diesel option is a 2.8L turbo 4-cylinder making 181hp and 369lb.-ft. with the 6-speed automatic. Miles per gallon for the diesel are 20 city/ 30 highway for RWD, 19/28 for 4WD, and 18/22 for the ZR2 trim. The Colorado’s diesel engine produces that segment best tow rating of 7,700lbs.

Toyota Tacoma

2020 Toyota Tacoma 2.7L I4 engine - carsforsale.com
2020 Toyota Tacoma 2.7L I4 engine - carsforsale.com

The venerable Taco offers two engines. The base is a 2.7L 4-cylinder making 159hp and 180lb.-ft. of torque and mated to a 6-speed automatic. Gas mileage here is 20 city and 23 highway mpg. The upgraded engine is a 3.5L V6 making 278hp and 265lb.-ft. of torque with fuel economy numbers of 20 city and 23 highway mpg. If you get the 4WD version of the 3.5L you can also choose between a 6-speed manual and the 6-speed automatic (we recommend the manual, for reasons we get to in a bit). The Tacoma tows up to 6,500lbs in 4WD and 6,800lbs. with the RWD set up.

Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator 3.6L V6 engine - carsforsale.com
2020 Jeep Gladiator 3.6L V6 engine - carsforsale.com

The Gladiator sports a single engine option, a 3.6L V6 putting out 285hp and 260lb.-ft. of torque, in 4WD only. You will have the option of either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic for a transmission. The Gladiator gets 17 city and 22 highway mpg and comes in a close second with a towing capacity of 7,650lbs.

Ford Ranger

2020 Ford Ranger 2.3L I4 engine - carsforsale.com
2020 Ford Ranger 2.3L I4 engine - carsforsale.com

The Ranger also has only a single engine, in this case a 2.3L EcoBoost turbo 4-cylinder good for 270hp and 310lb.-ft. of torque and paired with a 10-speed automatic. It has an estimated fuel economy of 20 city and 24 highway mpg along with a tow rating of 7,500lbs.

Driving – Get Ready To Rumble

Chevrolet Colorado

2020 Chevrolet Colorado - chevrolet.com
2020 Chevrolet Colorado - chevrolet.com

On-Road: The Colorado offers arguably the best street ride of the segment. Riders are comfortably cushioned from road imperfections and the Colorado is less bouncy, and less truck-like in that respect, than its rivals. The 8-speed automatic’s shifts are smooth and responsive, though the maximum torque is a bit high in the rev range. The steering is also noticeably better than the rest of the pack, neither too light nor too heavy.

2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 - chevrolet.com
2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 - chevrolet.com

Off-Road: The Colorado has 8.3 inches of ground clearance and makes good use of it. The Colorado is already a pretty capable 4×4 but if you’re serious about hitting the trails it’s the ZR2 and ZR2 Bison that you’ll want to check out. With skid plates, descent control, locking differentials, off-road suspension, and a wider stance, the ZR2 trimmed Colorado is GM’s best off-roader and a strong performer in the segment.

Toyota Tacoma

2020 Toyota Tacoma - toyota.com
2020 Toyota Tacoma - toyota.com

On-Road: The ride in the Tacoma comfortable and surprisingly quiet, though bouncier than we’d like when encountering poorly maintained roads. The steering on the Tacoma is noticeably numb and uncommunicative. Braking is another weak point, demanding greater insistence from the driver than feels comfortable. The 6-speed automatic is slow to upshift, which is why we’d recommend the manual option instead.

2020 Toyota Tacoma - toyota.com
2020 Toyota Tacoma - toyota.com

Off-Road: As mediocre as the Tacoma is on the highway, it makes up for it with one of the better rides off-road. The Tacoma deals well with the shocks and insults of unpaved roads and tackles rocky terrain with equal aplomb. It too has plenty of add-ons, including locking diffs, rock crawl mode, skid plates (with cool bright red TRD lettering), and Fox shocks.

Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator - jeep.com
2020 Jeep Gladiator - jeep.com

On-Road: On pavement the Gladiator feels every bit of its roughly 5,000lbs. as the V6, while adequate, doesn’t provide the same responsive acceleration as rivals. As the longest of the bunch, it’s also the most unwieldly in your local supermarket parking lot. Steering here too is a bit vague. But, with the ability to remove the doors, roof, and even fold down the windshield, the Gladiator offers something the rest of the bunch can’t compete with, serious fun factor.

2020 Jeep Gladiator - jeep.com
2020 Jeep Gladiator - jeep.com

Off-Road: This is why you buy the Gladiator and the Jeep with a bed doesn’t disappoint. While it doesn’t have quite the approach and departure angles as the shorter Wrangler, it still relishes a good rock crawl. The most capable Rubicon trim offers the Rock-Trac 4WD system, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, and Dana 44 heavy-duty axels, among other goodies. The Gladiator even boasts the ability to ford up to 30 inches of water.

Ford Ranger

2020 Ford Ranger - ford.com
2020 Ford Ranger - ford.com

On-Road: The first thing you’ll notice when stepping on the throttle of the Ranger is the noise, specifically artificial grows intended to make the small, EcoBoost engine sound like something larger than it is. It’s weird in electric cars and it’s weird here, too. Please, everybody, stop doing this, it’s embarrassing. After that you’ll find the Ranger isn’t as well damped as the Colorado’s ride, but its steering is decently sharp. The 10-speed automatic might be overkill in the Ranger, but its shifts were delivered smoothly, nonetheless.

2020 Ford Ranger - ford.com
2020 Ford Ranger - ford.com

Off-Road: The Ranger lacks a specific off-road trim but does have plenty of add-ons make your truck ready for the rough stuff. Locking differentials, off-road suspension tuning, beefy off-road tires, terrain management, crawl control, and skid plates are all available.

Interior & Features – Refreshingly Truck-like

Chevrolet Colorado

While the mid-size segment lacks the refined interiors of their larger cousins, there are things to like. The Colorado, for its part, finds its strengths in ergonomic simplicity. There are buttons and dials for most of the dash controls and they’re both readable and easily accessed (unlike the less user-friendly layouts in the Ranger and Tacoma). The interior design is a step above that of the competition, but materials are average for the segment, which is to say heavy on hard plastic.

2020 Chevrolet Colorado interior - chevrolet.com
2020 Chevrolet Colorado interior - chevrolet.com

A weak point for the Colorado is the available safety features, especially at the base and lower trim levels. Just a rear-view camera and the Teen Driving system (which automatically adjusts radio volume and sets standard speed limits) come standard. Lane departure, rear parking sensors, and forward collision warnings all cost extra.

Toyota Tacoma

As with much of the rest of the Tacoma, the interior feels a bit behind the times (or tried and true depending on your perspective). Like the Colorado, materials in the Tacoma come on the cheaper side. Unlike the more spacious Colorado, the ol’ Taco feels cramped.

2020 Toyota Tacoma interior - toyota.com
2020 Toyota Tacoma interior - toyota.com

In a positive contrast with the Colorado, the Tacoma comes standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense that includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

Jeep Gladiator

We liked the interior layout in the Gladiator. There are plenty of knobby knobs for the HVAC, radio, and other controls. The seating position is upright, which is nice for visibility, but the front seat can feel cramped for taller drivers. The seats themselves are quite comfortable, both in front and in the back seat.

2020 Jeep Gladiator interior - jeep.com
2020 Jeep Gladiator interior - jeep.com

The biggest and best feature of the Gladiator is the removeable doors, roof, and folding windshield (though that last one isn’t recommended for anything but leisurely speeds). Open the Gladiator to the air and you’re guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger’s interior is a bit hit and miss. We liked the better than average material quality, though hard plastics are present here too (the plastic molding around the infotainment screen feels notably dated). We weren’t in love with the low positioning of the HVAC controls, which force you to reach down and take your eyes off the road. We did like the well-cushioned and comfortable seats, a clear strong point for the Ranger.

2020 Ford Ranger interior - ford.com
2020 Ford Ranger interior - ford.com

We also liked Ford’s CoPilot360 safety system, pre-collision braking assist, lane keep assist, and an advance blind spot warning system. The blind spot information system (BLIS in Ford’s parlance) is designed to extend and widen its coverage to accommodate a trailer, a class-exclusive feature.

Trims & Prices – Finding a Sweet Spot

Chevrolet Colorado

2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 - chevrolet.com
2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 - chevrolet.com

The base Colorado starts at $21,300 and comes with smaller 4-cylinder engine and a 7-inch infotainment system supporting Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The top trim level ZR2 is also the most off-road capable Colorado featuring locking front and rear differentials and leather seats. The ZR2 tops out at $43,000 before add-ons.

Toyota Tacoma

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - toyota.com
2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - toyota.com

The Tacoma starts at the $26,050 SR trim. It comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense suite, voice recognition software and Amazon Alexa in addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The top trim TRD Pro starts at $43,960 and comes with an off-road tuned suspension, skid plates, and Fox shocks.

Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator North Edition - jeep.com
2020 Jeep Gladiator North Edition - jeep.com

The Gladiator has the highest starting point in the segment with a base price of $33,545 for the Sport trim. It features skid plates, a 5-inch touchscreen, and a rearview camera. The top North Edition trim is also a segment high price at $45,915. It comes with heated seats, heated door mirrors, and remote start.

Ford Ranger

2020 Ford Ranger Lariat - ford.com
2020 Ford Ranger Lariat - ford.com

The Ranger XL starts at $24,410 and offers automatic emergency braking, a rearview camera, and a WiFi hotspot. The FX4 4WD off-road package will cost you an additional $1,295 for skid plates, off-road suspension tuning, off-road tires, and a lock rear differential, which we think is a pretty good deal. The top trim Lariat runs to $32,500 and comes with leather upholstery and heated front seats. An additional $2,005 adds navigation, adaptive cruise, and remote start.

Conclusions – A Mid-Size Fits All

It’s difficult to say which mid-size truck is the “best” choice as each makes a strong case for itself along a different axis. The Colorado combines on and off-road competency with good affordability and the segment’s top tow rating. The Tacoma rests on the laurels of Toyota reliability and a comfortable ride. The Gladiator both looks the part of an off-road king and has the goods to back it up. The Ranger fails to stand out in any single category but provides a lot of bang for your buck.

Each competitor also had detraction we couldn’t ignore. The Gladiator, especially once you’ve added a few of the “must-have” packages, tends to strain most budgets. The Tacoma is beginning to feel it’s age. And the Ranger felt a bit rote and failed to inspire. For our money, the Chevrolet Colorado would be our pick due to it’s better than average interior, multiple engine options, great towing, and composed road manner.

WINNER: 2020 Chevrolet Colorado

2020 Chevrolet Colorado - chevrolet.com

2020 Chevrolet Colorado – chevrolet.com  |  Shop Chevrolet Colorado on Carsforsale.com

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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