2012 Midsize Shootout: Overview

Group 5a
By Mark Williams; photo by Joe Bruzek

In the past 10 years, the compact-truck segment has all but disappeared. In fact, the term “small truck” now has evolved to include midsize pickup trucks or anything that isn’t a half-ton or heavy-duty full-size pickup. And with fierce competition in the full-size half-ton segment, price wars have continued to punish the smaller counterparts.

Not surprisingly, in some cases you can buy a full-size truck that has more room, more work capability and identical fuel economy for the same price a new midsize pickup. As a result, manufacturers have invested less and less money in the segment, with several manufacturers leaving altogether.

However, these vehicles are interesting and can still provide a window into the engineering and design abilities of their makers. After all, this segment still makes up almost 3 percent of the auto industry. That’s why we decided to round up all the players sold in the U.S. to see where they stand and how they compete against each other. At the time of our test, there were seven players in the small-pickup truck segment (you can download the specs here):

Astute observers will note all the vehicles are 2012 models except for the Ranger, which stopped production in December. We should note that the Ranger was in production at the time of our test, and we wanted to make sure not to leave anyone out. Ford officials said they would not be able to get us a Ranger for our test, but since it is still one of the best-selling vehicles in the segment, we bought one from a broker.

Likewise, some may dispute the Ridgeline’s addition, thinking it would compete better with larger full-size trucks. Let us be clear: We don’t consider the Honda a full-size pickup. The fact it’s only offered with a V-6 and is based off a heavily modified minivan platform with a fully independent suspension does not offset the fact it has a factory payload rating closer to a half-ton pickup. The Ridgeline is a midsize pickup truck, and it deserves to be in our test.

Our GM vehicles have different engines and trim levels, and the Equator (sourced from the Nissan Frontier clone) is fully trimmed out in its RMZ off-road gear. Our Frontier came with the SV Package and was not equipped with its off-road options.

In setting our vehicles up for this Shootout, we made a few requests to the manufacturers. We asked that the vehicles have four-wheel drive, have four doors and include an automatic transmission. They knew our scoring categories ahead of time and understood that fuel economy, value and off-road capability would be important factors.

Our judges in the 2012 Midsize Shootout were:

Dan Sanchez is a veteran automotive journalist with more than 23 years of writing magazine articles and how-to books. He has been editor of several major truck magazines: Truckin’, Sport Truck, Classic Truck and Trucking Times. Dan has written several books (regarding pony cars and pickup trucks) and is a regular contributor to PickupTrucks.com.

Trevor Reed is an energetic truck enthusiast who cut his teeth learning to drive in a 1970 big-block GMC. Trevor is a freelance writer with stories published in Diesel Power Magazine and Four Wheeler. He is now the editor of Work Truck Review and is fast becoming a new-truck comparison test expert.

Chris Woodyard is an auto writer for USA Today, covering all aspects of motoring. He revels in the exhaust note of a Maserati and the sharp creases of a Cadillac CTS, but he assures us he likes pickups as well. Chris tells us he strives to live a Porsche life on a Scion budget.

Mark Williams is the editor of PickupTrucks.com, with close to 25 years of pickup truck automotive journalism under his belt.

We put our test vehicles through three days of testing:

Day 1: We started at K&N’s dyno in the morning, where we got a full curve of torque and horsepower numbers for each pickup, then headed to the Southern California back roads, clocking 203 miles on each truck, with seven editor rotations for our fuel economy loop.

Day 2: We headed to the high desert, where we tested each truck’s four-wheel-drive capabilities in the Johnson Valley Off Highway Vehicle Area, testing each truck on our designated hill climb trail and on our short-course off-road route.

Day 3: We connected each truck to our RaceLogic VBOX data reader and recorded zero-to-60-mph times, 60-to-zero-mph braking distances and full quarter-mile times and speeds. All the tests were conducted with the trucks empty and loaded.


We’ve broken the test into 10 categories, each weighted equally to represent 10 percent of a vehicle’s total score. The only exception is our off-road test; we broke that 10 percent scoring value in half, with the hill climb and the off-road course making up 5 percent each.

Seven of the 10 categories are data-based. The other three — Off-Road, Value and Expert Impressions — are scored based on the judges’ direct observations and experiences during the Shootout. Their individual impressions and results are listed in the scorecards we've created for each truck in the Results section.

We’ve weighted each of the 10 categories (technically 11) equally to allow you to weigh any of the categories with a higher percentage based on your preferences, and then you can recalculate the scores and pick your own winner. If you value fuel economy more, have at it. If you need more carrying capacity from your choice, just recalculate your totals. And if you’re all about off-road prowess, eliminate the category altogether. Our desire is to collect as much of the important data you might be interested in, and then lay it all out on the table for you to use as you see fit. In the meantime, enjoy.

The weighted testing categories are:

  • 10%: 0-60 mph time, unloaded
  • 10%: 0-60 mph time, loaded
  • 10%: 60-0 mph distance, unloaded
  • 10%: 60-0 mph distance, loaded
  • 10%: Maximum horsepower (Dyno)
  • 10%: Fuel economy
  • 10%: Maximum calculated payload
  •  5%: Hill climb
  •  5%: Off-road course
  • 10%: Value
  • 10%: Expert Impressions

2012 Midsize Shootout

Track Day
Dyno Day
Fuel Economy
Off-Road Day
Judgment Day


Why don't they sell? The V-6 models get terrible mileage!! Why does the rest of the world get efficient diesels and we get gas hogs.

Testing each truck at a certain percentage of is gvwr IS NOT a fair comparison!!!!! You MUST add equal amount of weight to each vehicle or you results mean absolutely nothing to the consumer! Let me explain! If I own an ATV that weighs 600 lbs, I want to know how each of those trucks would handle that 600 lbs!! Then, as a consumer, I could decide which one I think would work best for me! If I went by your standards, for one truck I would have to remove one tire from the atv to lower its weight to a certain percentage for that truck, but for another truck I may have to add a sand bag to the bed, just to make it a certain percentage for that truck. No consumer does that, because it is stupid!!!!

Mike Levine, if you still check this website, I hope you know that it is going to @#$& without you!!!

No 6 speed automatics?
Let this segment either catch up to modernity, or let it die.

I know these weren't built for max towing but some data points should have been run with say 3000 or 4000 lbs to show towing capabilities for weekend warriors (ie snowmobiles, jet-skis, landscaping company, etc). I have a feeling some of the results would be identical but some others would have switched spots.

Is there going to be an update in a year or so with the new Colorado, Tacoma with updated motors, the new Frontier and likely whatever Dodge has cooked up? I'd expect to see significant improvements overall with the updated trucks.

@DJD - I disagree. The testing parameters are clearly explained and one can make their own decisions based on that criteria.

I agree with lou here, testing the trucks max shows if their rating is legit or number fumbling.

I stand corrected! They did run each truck close to its max GVWR and NOT at a certain percentage of that. But I still say it doesn't make sense to put a different amount of weight in each truck and call it an apples to apples comparo!

They used identical trailers and weight for the Heavy Duty Hurt Locker, Why can't they do the same here???

I'm sorry but the Manufacture's recommended weight ratings are not exactly a standard we should trust. I read way too much about "Magic Spring Dust!"

All in all though, the Tacoma took a deserving win as it has been the best midsize truck for a long time now.

I love the Nissan frontier pro-4x crew cab.

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