It’s all apples to apples, and these six trucks are the compact-truck market. To both show you what’s what in this market and point out the strong and weak points of each vehicle, we gathered together a Chevrolet ZR2, a Dodge Dakota, a Ford Ranger, a Mazda B4000, a Nissan Frontier SE-V6, and a Toyota Tacoma. We then logged just under a thousand miles on each to compare the driving characteristics--something few new-truck shoppers could do on their own. In the process, we noted differences in the vehicles--some drastic, some minute. Even between the Ford and the Mazda (essentially the same truck) there were differences that could only be experienced by taking the trucks on back-to-back runs over similar stretches of ground. All six trucks varied enough from one another that there were no ties in any category.
Each of the trucks tested had the most powerful engine available, and each was an extended-cab model. From there, the field split into various subsegments. Half had more than two doors, four had five-speed stickshifts, and three were equipped with towing packages. Each cost between $22,967 and $25,363 (as tested). Outside of specifying color, we couldn't have made the playing field more even or more real-world for those who are heading to the dealers to clean up at summer sales on these downsized 4x4s. So which is our favorite? We're not going to hand over the answer that easily. Read through the comments we give on each vehicle's page, then flip to the end to see how your pick scored.