Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Compact trucks holding strong

Sales of smaller trucks not falling as much as those of full-size trucks

Derek McNaughton, For Canwest News Service

Published: Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No matter what the price of fuel, many people still need pickups.

Trucks haul everything from our vegetables to ATVs and traverse terrain no car could ever cross. For many, the pickup truck is not a matter of choice but one of necessity.

For trades people, it's their livelihood, but not everyone needs a full-sized pickup every day.

While Canadian and U.S. sales charts reveal a sharp migration away from large pickups, the decline in compact trucks is not as drastic.

And with the cost of gasoline likely to rise again in the future, more families are wondering if they still need such a big truck, asking whether now might be the time to look at alternatives that could save them money.

Enter the compact truck, which not many years ago had a limited selection.

Today, the choice of compact trucks has grown to include about a dozen vehicles in the class, some much better than others, most with car-like rides and roomy interiors.

As larger pickups have grown, so too have the smaller models -- many now offering capabilities that mirror those previous-generation large pickups.

Many of the trucks in this segment even borrow styling cues from their larger counterparts, looking more like "real" trucks to attract buyers that otherwise might be turned off by the idea of something less than full-size.

Despite their increased girth, compact trucks still hold an added, but not always obvious, benefit: they're much easier to climb into on a daily basis -- as well as to park and navigate in traffic.

That may not sound like much until you try to parallel park a Tundra Crewmax downtown every day.

Nowhere is the enlargement of compact trucks more evident than the Toyota Tacoma.

Closing in on size to the previous-generation Tundra, the Tacoma is the No. 2 best-selling compact truck in Canada and the No. 1 selling compact truck in the U.S.

In Canada, Ford's Ranger is the best-selling compact truck, followed by the Tacoma, Chevrolet colorado (and Canyon), Honda Ridgeline, Mazda B-Series and Nissan Frontier.

Others in the class include the Dodge dakota and Ford Explorer Sport Trac. New models such as the Suzuki Equator will soon be on the charts too.

Most of these trucks employ V6 engines to do the job, but some offer four cylinders on base models and some offer V8s as an option. Most also come in multiple cab and bed lengths.

Honda's Ridgeline, based on the same platform as the Odyssey and offering a fully independent suspension for a smooth, car-like ride, even has a waterproof trunk built into the bed of its pickup.

While four-cylinder models are geared to light duty and excellent fuel economy, many of these V6-equipped trucks boast payloads and towing capabilities that are more than enough to do the tasks required of them.

The Tacoma, for example, has a maximum payload of 655 kilograms and can tow up to 2,948 kg while returning close to eight litres per 100 km depending on the model.

The Ridgeline can hold 705 kg and tow 2,268 kg while the Dakota with a V8 tops the compacts with a towing capacity of 3,221 kg.

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