News

All the Midsize Pickup Truck Changes Since 2012

Blowing the Segment Cobwebs Away with the Chevy Colorado

Blowing the Segment Cobwebs Away with the Chevy Colorado

Motor Trend‘s 2004 Truck of the Year soiree hosted the products of unbridled optimism par for the times.

The Nissan Titan, the brand’s founding full-size pickup, was present (and still is largely the same as when it debuted). The Chevrolet SSR was there because who were you if you weren’t doing a modern-retro something in this slice of the millennium? (A nobody, that’s who.) Toyota threw its hat into the ring with the Double Cab version of the original generation/2000 Truck of the Year Tundra, its first full-size crew cab offering. The 500-hp, V-10-thrusted Dodge Ram SRT-10 entranced judges with its 4.8-second 0-60 mph acceleration and “bolt-action smooth” six-speed manual shifter. But the winner was the 11th-gen Ford F-150, busting ahead of the GMT355-platform Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Another indication of post-dot-com recession, “We finance anyone!” confidence: The GM twins succeeded two well-worn nameplates (S-10 since ’82, Sonoma since ’91).

Fast-forward to the 2015 Truck of the Year proceedings, and the tables have turned. Ford and GM possessed the only eligible contenders, and the fight for first came down to two familiar trucks. At one end, the 13th-generation, forward-thinking F-150 in all its aluminum-intensive construction and turbocharged-V-6 glory. At the other, the Colorado, unretired after a scheduled three-year hiatus, returning with a new chassis, new engines, new design, new everything. And GM would be raising the Golden Calipers this year.

Revitalizing the Colorado was a breath of clean, crisp air. We’ve all heard the sob story behind the “small truck” (the colloquial descriptor for today’s midsizers) segment where Chevy dwells once again. U.S. automakers don’t care about it. There isn’t much to cross-shop. It’s stagnant. The existing trucks aren’t small enough. If some company sold a diesel-powered regular-cab small truck with a manual transmission, one or two buyers might show. Prices have crept up too far. (In reality, the base $20,995 ’15 Colorado holds a cost-of-entry advantage over the ’04 Colorado extended cab, which at $18,545 pencils out to a little over $23,000 in 2014 cash.)

It wasn’t until we did our research that we fully realized how bleak the condition of small pickups was. Since the Colorado’s first withdrawal following the 2012 model year, Chevrolet has replaced the horrid Aveo with the outstanding Sonic and canned the Avalanche. It’s launched a new Malibu, Silverado, Impala, Suburban, Tahoe, SS, Spark, Corvette Stingray, Corvette Z06, and our 2014 Best Driver’s Car, Camaro Z/28. It also updated the Traverse, Cruze, Volt, and the very Malibu that had just been released. What’s happened with all midsize trucks in the same stretch?

Honda Ridgeline

Our 2006 Truck of the Year’s (its first model year) true competitors — uniquely focused “sporty” trucks such as the Subaru Baja, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Chevy Avalanche, and Hummer H3T — have completely vanished. So too will the current Ridgeline after dealers unload their stock, as 2014 is the final model year.

For 2012, a Sport model with black 18-inch wheels and black exterior accenting was the latest addition to the family. Changes to the aerodynamics and reduced engine friction found an extra mpg on EPA rollers for all Ridgelines, bumping the truck’s highway fuel economy from 20 to 21 mpg.

For 2013, a backup camera was made standard across the board. This safety feature was previously restricted to the topline RTL trim.

For 2014, a new range-topping Special Edition model with unique wheels and the Sport’s black trim package marks the truck’s final hurrah. It carries the same MSRP ($38,355) as the RTL with navigation.

Nissan Frontier

Remodeled for 2005, Nissan’s old boy (second-oldest behind its full-size Titan) can still be found kicking on dealer lots.

For 2012, trucks with the standard 2.5-liter inline-four were equipped with stability control and brake-controlled 2-Wheel Brake Limited Slip. Nissan made a Sport Appearance package with 18-inch wheels, silver front grille, and sport cloth seats available for the SV trim. New paint colors included Metallic Blue, Lava Red, and Brilliant Silver.

For 2013, the Desert Runner model (the rear-drive interpretation of the Pro-4X and Toyota PreRunner opponent) hit the pavement … err, dirt. Engine friction reduction and aero improvements pulled the EPA fuel-economy ratings higher, from 2012’s series of 14-16/19-20 mpg city/highway to 2013’s 15-16/21-22. The three new paints were Glacier White, Cayenne Red, and Graphite Blue. The Pro-4X, SV, and SL trims received content updates. A Value Truck package superseded the SV Premium Utility package.

For 2014, even more small upgrades came into the picture. To maintain the truck’s shelf life, the navigation system’s functionality was improved, and heated front seats became more widely obtainable. The base S model added more features, and a manual sliding rear window was installed on all non-S crew cab Frontiers. Keen eyes would spot the new alloy wheels on SV (16-inch), Pro-4X (16), and SL (18) trims.

For 2015, Arctic Blue Metallic hits the palette selection. NissanConnect connectivity comes standard with the 5-inch touchscreen on SV and Desert Runner models, and NissanConnect with navigation is standard with the Pro-4X. A moonroof now comes with every long-wheelbase SL model.

Toyota Tacoma

<a href="http://www.motortrend.com/oftheyear/truck/112_0502_totywin/" title="Motor Trend‘s 2005 Truck of the Year” target=”_blank”>Motor Trend<a href="http://www.motortrend.com/oftheyear/truck/112_0502_totywin/" title="Motor Trend‘s 2005 Truck of the Year” target=”_blank”>’s 2005 Truck of the Year (the second generation’s debut model year) retained staying power in the midsize truck segment by continuously tweaking its content.

For 2012, the exterior and interior were given once-overs. New sheetmetal included a new hood and restyled front end. A different instrument panel, steering wheel, center stack, and center console decked out the cabin. A tremendous increase in versatility and functionality that year included a comprehensive redo of both seat fabric (SR5, TRD Sport and Off-Road Packages) and sound systems along with a larger backup camera display (now 3.3 inches) and Access Cab rear console bin.

For 2013, a Limited package classed up the then-8-year-old midsizer with chrome 18-inch wheels, chrome front grille frame, chrome door handles, synthetic leather seats, and metallic cabin trim. 2013 is the X-Runner’s final year in the U.S.

For 2014, the backup camera display moved down to the center screen off the rearview mirror, a byproduct of Toyota’s Entune upgrade. (There are four levels of Entune offered.) A new SR Appearance package added a sportier flair, and the ST package came with a different 16-inch wheel.

For 2015, a new TRD Pro model focused on off-roading joins the fray. A B-Max Grade package for the four-cylinder Access Cab (netting a $1,440 credit) deletes the two rear jump seats — convenient, as the Regular Cab body style had been abandoned for this year.

What’s Next

Honda Ridgeline: A completely redesigned Ridgeline will be revealed in 2015 and will likely have the quirky yet practical features we’ve come to expect from Honda. A teaser image from last year hints at a more traditional pickup silhouette than the truck it’s replacing.

Nissan Frontier: The global NP300 Navara hints at the next-generation Frontier’s design direction, and it looks terrific compared to what’s currently on offer. We’ll hopefully see the next and much-needed new Frontier next year, possibly with rumored hybrid and diesel powertrains as hinted by Nissan sales and marketing VP Fred Diaz earlier this year.

Toyota Tacoma: An overhauled — or possibly just refreshed — Tacoma is on the way. Our man Mike Connor speculates the impending changes might be more cosmetic than substantial (a la the 2014 Tundra), which would be rather unfortunate for a truck with such a loyal following. Honestly, any new competition for the new Colorado and Canyon would be welcome.

Ford Ranger? The Blue Oval has loudly and clearly stated the global Ranger does not have a great business case for the U.S. What would work? A smaller truck, one that’d probably have a footprint close to our final Ranger’s.

The other guys: Hyundai and Volkswagen are two other names frequently tossed around with mentions of future small trucks, but their efforts for the U.S. remain to be seen. We can’t forget Jeep, either. Since the Comanche’s demise in the early 1990s, there’s been no stoppage to speculation on the next Jeep pickup truck.

A Nod to Past Players

Dodge Dakota: The fates of future Ram (nee Dodge) and Jeep small pickups remain in limbo beneath the enormous Fiat Chrysler Automobiles umbrella.The Dakota also spawned the Mitsubishi Raider for a brief moment in history.

Ford Ranger: The former Ranger and its sister Mazda B-Series were probably the last of the truly compact trucks. The Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota, where it was last built, no longer exists.

Suzuki Equator: The Suzukied Nissan Frontier had all the charm of a Frontier, except with a more generous warranty period and different badges.

Bonus: Remember the past decade’s Mahindra saga that seemed so promising before imploding all over itself and the prospective dealers that laid down deposits? It seemed like the surest way we’d get a diesel engine into a small pickup at the time, a coup that’ll now be claimed by the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado and the 2.8-liter Duramax I-4.