Need a truck recommendation.
September 26, 2013 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I need a pickup truck that is: a) 4-wheel drive / AWD ; b) is a crew cab (we have a child who needs to ride in a carseat; and c) does not get incredibly crappy gas mileage. What do I want?

We currently have a 2008 Honda CR-V which is 4WD, and a 2004 Ford Ranger which is 2WD. (And a 2002 Ford Focus which I use to commute.) We need 4WD because we live in the mountains, and we need a pickup because we have to haul things sometimes. But it feels dumb to have three vehicles when there are only two of us, so we would like to combine the functionality and good mileage of the CRV ( so no V-8's!) with the utility of the pickup. We also have a child so the truck is going to need to carry all three of us sometimes.

It seems like everything I'm seeing either has an engine that is too big, or the "crewcab" is a couple jump seats in the back (which I don't think you can install a carseat on? or am I wrong?).

Does this combination of features even exist?

Bonus: under $20K. Extra bonus: under $15K.
posted by rabbitrabbit to Shopping (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much all trucks top out around 21mpg combined, in the real world you likely won't even see that.

They are trunks, ergo they eat gas.

If the 2014 Chevrolet Colorado comes with the 4cyl diesel option (AFAIK it hasn't been announced) it would likely be perfect, small engine, tons of power, smaller truck with full sized crew cab, better mpg than likely anything else (I am guessing).
posted by Cosine at 7:58 AM on September 26, 2013

I think you should be looking at a Toyota Tacoma, early 00's, double cab, 4WD, MANUAL transmission. With a manual transmission, you can coax almost double mileage per gallon by being mindful of your clutch usage (coasting as much as possible).

If you look late 90's you can find one definitely under budget. When buying used: look for one owner who has the entire maintenance history, consider as part of your budget how much work you're gonna do on it, and offer accordingly.

I've got a 1996 Extended Cab Mazda B3000 which I have such adoration for, you'd think it was a person, but you're right - the jumpseats are a no-go with the car seat. Runs like a dream though. Put about ~$2,000 of work into it this summer and it'll probably be good for another five years. A good, smaller option, if you wanna downgrade when the time comes.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:21 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well... depends. Do you do more city or highway driving? Do you actually need a pickup bed, or can you use a SUV and a cargo trailer instead?

The new Ram 1500 4x4 gets 16/23mpg (city/highway) with the Pentastar and 8-speed - it's a big, full size truck, too. A Ford F-150 with the EcoBoost6 is in the same range. The Tacoma is smaller, much less powerful, and gets 18/21mpg.

The new Nissan Pathfinder gets 19/26, and has a 5000lb tow rating.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:29 AM on September 26, 2013

I know you said pickup, but you might enjoy a Honda Element. It's utilitarian inside, rubber instead of carpet, and the seats do these wacky things that take it from being an SUV kind of vehicle to being a van!

You get tons of cargo space, and when you want all three of you to go somewhere, you can do that!

You get Honda reliability and it's pretty fun to drive!

They stopped making them, so they're low in price. We sold our 6 year old Element for $10,000 with only 30,000 miles on it.

Plus, it's shaped like a toaster!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:35 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

A first gen Tacoma (95-04) can be had in a crew cab configuration and gets pretty decent mileage. Downside is that they are getting harder to find in good condition and carry a premium.

A second gen Tacoma (05-present) doublecab are much easier to find, and are substantially larger - but hold their value really well so you can expect to pay 20-30k for them used.

No midsize truck is getting amazing mileage. You can realistically expect 15-20mpg from either gen Tacoma depending on how you drive it. My last run through Colorado in mine, loaded with 1300 lbs of crap, I was making 22 MPG overall - it's possible to get OK mileage.

The Nissan Frontier is similar, and a bit less expensive.

Newer (2010+) domestic full size trucks (Ram 1500, F150, etc.) are making decent mileage as well. Ford in particular has really stepped up their game in the past few years. (although, I think the Tacoma is far superior in fit and finish, the Fords are doing well and are larger, too). The Tundra is also very good, but I think you're pushing the limits of your budget on a full size truck. You can get a loaded Tacoma for the price of a basic F150.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:36 AM on September 26, 2013

Nissan Frontier. Less expensive than a Tacoma, just as reliable.
posted by chicxulub at 8:38 AM on September 26, 2013

Given your requirements I wonder if you wouldn't be better off with the set of vehicles you have now. There aren't going to be a lot of crew-cab pickups (that I'm aware of) that get CRV-ish mileage (20/27). So if most of your driving doesn't require the pickup, you might do better to keep the CRV for the 4WD ability and the mileage, and the pickup for the occasional hauling.

I basically went through the same calculus a while back (minus the 4WD requirement) and it turned out to be better to keep the economy car + a truck, putting most miles on the car and only using the truck occasionally, than to try and get some do-it-all vehicle that wouldn't have gotten as good mileage for 90% of my driving.

At least in the 2013 model year, the best full-size pickup truck in terms of mileage is the Chevy Silverado Hybrid, and it only gets 20/23 and you pay a premium for the hybrid engine on top of all the costs associated with acquiring a new vehicle.

From a financial perspective, unless car tax or registration fees are astronomical where you live, or you're paying for parking, it probably doesn't make sense to alter your current arrangement. If you can live without the carseat and the hauling ability in the same vehicle I'd just hang onto the Ranger and drive that sucker into the ground. Maybe by the time it dies they'll have some better high-MPG trucks (diesels or real hybrids) available.

Also: full-size pickup trucks are not especially safe compared to passenger vehicles like the CRV. Even if you found something that worked in terms of mileage you'd be trading down (statistically, anyway) in terms of safety. This would be especially true if you got a used pickup that doesn't have electronic stability control (ESC eliminates some of the safety problems associated with full-size trucks, which is mostly a result of rollover risk).
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:51 AM on September 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

How pickup-y does it need to be? Because if it just needs to be just a little bit of a pickup, you could get a Subaru Baja, which is an Outback with a little pickup bed in back.
posted by akgerber at 9:13 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get down with diesel. The Dodge Ram has a V-6 3.0L diesel engine option that gets 700 miles between fuel stops. It can also work with biodiesel as well. 20/27 city/highway. also, I agree with commenters that Nissan trucks are nearly as good as Toyotas but with a considerable break in price.
posted by caveatz at 9:14 AM on September 26, 2013

If you're buying a new truck, you might really want to look into the workings of the latest traction control and vehicle stability control systems, as an alternative to 4WD. With good snow tires, today's traction control systems are amazing in snow and ice, rain, and even mud. Unless you're going off-road in a big way, going with a modern 2WD/vehicle stability/traction control system is going to save you initial cost, fuel (4WD systems are extra weight and drag, even if you can lockout the front wheels for highway driving), repair costs, and insurance. And the 2WD/vehicle stability/traction control systems are now required by Federal law, and so aren't even optional equipment.
posted by paulsc at 9:25 AM on September 26, 2013

I have an F-150 extended bed crew cab. Four full size doors. I have had one (or another) since my three kids were all (at once) in car seats. I have had 3 car seats across the back section with assorted child gear, bags, toys etc on the floor no problem. Now my 5'5" 104 lb daughter drives it. Obviously, the extended bed is terrific for hauling gear. We take all three upstate for hiking, boating, etc with pack and plays etc in the back.

As for gas mileage, it varies materially between highway and town and between loaded vehicle and not so loaded. Overall, I have tracked my mileage for the past two years on my 2008 F-150. THe newer models get better mileage than what I get. I am averaging 15.27 mpg. If I had to guess at the breakdown, I would guess 12 and 20 town v highway mileage. YMMV.

As for safety and drivability, I (ahem) like to drive at the outer limits of my vehicle and road conditions. It handles best with a small load in the bed, but I can tell you that it is extremely maneuverable and goes real fast. I have not ever come close to a rollover. I have probably come closer to rolling my old BMW 535 than to rolling my trucks. I think that depends on the drivers skill and style.

I have not ever crashed a vehicle, so I cannot comment on what happens when one does crash, but I do have a full compliment of airbags. And, with my rudimentary understanding of physics, I would rather be in the heavier, brawnier car if it came down to it.

(If you are using it mostly recreationally, I would recommend getting a shorter bed than my extended bed. Backing and parking can be a challenge. Also, consider getting a Suburban or Explorer which are both built on a pickup platform.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:46 AM on September 26, 2013

Newer (2010+) domestic full size trucks (Ram 1500, F150, etc.) are making decent mileage as well. Ford in particular has really stepped up their game in the past few years

Word of warning, from my own experience and so many others, the new Ford EcoBoost engines are great motors but good luck getting anywhere near their rated MPG, seriously, as in Ford is losing court cases over this.

I've driven a few EcoBoosts, all hilariously far off their rated economy, a recent 2000 mile roadtrip in a new Escape with the 2.0l EcoBoost averaged 22 mpg, a bit far from the claimed 28.
posted by Cosine at 10:18 AM on September 26, 2013

I think you should be looking at a Toyota Tacoma, early 00's, double cab, 4WD, MANUAL transmission. With a manual transmission, you can coax almost double mileage per gallon by being mindful of your clutch usage (coasting as much as possible).

As the owner of a 2002 Double Cab Tacoma, I have to point out that these were never available from the factory with a manual trans. I converted mine to manual (and 4x4), and I am happy to point anyone to instructions about how to do the same, but the first generation Tacoma double cabs were auto trans only.

Also, the first generation double cab Tacomas were only made from 2001-2004, and they hold their value absurdly well. They are still very desirable and you won't find one on the cheap, especially a 4x4. In fact, it was actually several thousand dollars cheaper for me to buy a 2wd first generation Tacoma double cab and convert it to 4x4 AND manual trans than it would have been to buy an OEM auto trans 4x4 double cab.

Fantastic trucks, though, and well worth the money. Mine has been extremely reliable and great in both 2wd and 4wd situations. It gets good mileage, too. These were available with either a 4 cylinder or a V6. Get the V6 if you tow of haul stuff (or just like a powerful vehicle) or the 4cyl if you want a little better mileage and don't tow or haul much.
posted by mosk at 12:30 PM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would say stick with the crv and the ranger pickup for your occasional hauling duties. If you really need to haul more, or bad weather hauling a hitch and small (small) utility trailer for the CRV might work pretty good and get about the same mileage as double cab pickup.

If either of those isn't acceptable look into the Honda Ridgelines or (above mentioned) Subaru baja or maybe the ford explorer sport (its kinda an explorer with a bed instead of a back cargo area).

A full size double cab pickup is going to get sub 15 mpg in mountain driving.

A decent double cab Tacoma is going to be more than 15 and maybe more (lots more) than 20k. These things are pricey and don't devalue fast at all. For a reason, they are great, I am going to buy an extended cab next year when my student loans are paid off and probably a new one because the used ones aren't cheap enough to make it worth the used part until they are 10+ years old and/or beat up pretty good.

on a left field suggestion-look into an AWD minivan. With the rear bench out they can haul an absurb of amount of stuff. With both rows out they can haul plywood flat on the floor. AWD versions aren't real common and I am not sure anyone is making them currently however. I know chrysler did make some and so did toyota for a while.
posted by bartonlong at 6:32 PM on September 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. We ended up getting a Nissan Frontier extended cab. I've discovered that double cabs are really hard to find in our price range, and Tacomas are next to impossible to get. The one and only Tacoma double cab we found in our price range was at a dealership that lowballed our trade-ins to such an extent that we had to walk. We'll just have to use my Focus for family trips. C'est la vie I guess. (Can you tell I'm having a little buyer's remorse about giving up the double cab? But at least my spouse is happy that he finally has a 4WD truck.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:12 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The frontiers are great trucks and don't carry the premium tacomas do (for no real good reason). Enjoy your new truck!
posted by bartonlong at 6:51 PM on September 27, 2013

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