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2012 Nissan Frontier S King Cab (Mike Ditz/Nissan)
2012 Nissan Frontier S King Cab (Mike Ditz/Nissan)

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She wants a small pickup truck. What are her options? Add to ...

I had a fairly stripped down crew cab Ford Ranger for years – then I switched to a hatchback. I want to get back to a truck, as I need to use it for things that just should not be in a hatchback, like lumber and soil. My requirements: a crew cab with easy access to get two dogs into the back of the cab; I prefer a smaller pickup with short box; I’m in the country but go into the city once a week and a smaller vehicle is easier to get around and park; good fuel economy. Suggestions? – Kate in B.C.

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Vaughan: Ah Cato, another victim of the notorious Chicken Tax. Poor Kate is deprived of the little Ford Ranger she desires because a fowl (sic) tariff.

Cato: There you go, clucking about a 50-year-old tariff – an American one that hurts Canadians. Back in the 1960s, the United States slapped a 25-per-cent tariff on a handful of imports, small pickups included. It was retaliation for tariffs on imported American chicken imposed by countries like France and Germany.

Here in 2014, that offensive trade barrier lives on. That’s why we don’t get the latest made-in-Thailand Ford Ranger or any of the other small pickups built outside the NAFTA zone. The Americans have essentially banned imported small pickups, so we don’t get them, either.

Vaughan: Madness. Ford used to sell 20,000 little Rangers a year in Canada, and about 300,000 in North America. Now they’re pushing Kate and the hobby farm crowd into big, full-size, high margin F-Series pickups.

Cato: It’s all about economics. The Chicken Tax makes an imported small pickup too expensive for Americans. If one of the Canadian distributors wants to bring a small pickup here, meeting government rules could run to $1-million dollars. This regulatory cost explains why almost everything sold in Canada is first sold in the U.S.

There is another way, though. The Canadian government could allow the sale of any vehicle that meets safety standards in any developed market – Europe, Japan, the U.S. This is not such a wacky idea. Mexico does.

Vaughan: You’re dreaming, Cato. The civil servants in Ottawa are far too busy with other things.

So for Kate, well, she can get an F-Series with a reasonably fuel-efficient six-cylinder engine. Except it’s too big. The only way for Kate to beat the Chicken Tax is to buy a small pickup from either Nissan, which builds them in Tennessee, or Toyota, which builds them in Texas.

2012 Toyota Tacoma
 

Cato: Kate’s best – no, only – options in a small rig today are the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. Or she can wait for the next-generation Chevrolet Colorado due next summer. Of the two from Japan, I like the Frontier most. It’s a sturdy looking truck and Kate can get a four-door crew cab starting at $27,748. The 4.0-litre V-6 – 261 horsepower – is a bit thirsty, though. That’s a problem for Kate.

Vaughan: Nissan has been building compact pickup trucks since they were called Datsuns and they’ve always been known for their reliability. The crew cab probably provides more room for the dogs in the back seat than for cargo in the bed.

As for the Tacoma, it’s basically the same one that’s been around since 2004 or 2005. Some of them are built in Toyota’s Texas truck plant with all its spare capacity because the full-size Tundra isn’t the big seller Toyota expected. The rest are assembled in Baja, Calif. Either way, it’s in the NAFTA zone.

I don’t have a strong preference for one over the other – take the best deal.

Cato: Hang on. The Tacoma is offered with a four-cylinder, a 2.7-litre engine rated at 159 hp. At $22,350, it’s also the right price. What’s wrong is the cab configuration. That affordable Tacoma is only sold as an extended cab. The double cab Tacoma has a 236-hp V-6, has only four-wheel drive and starts at $29,600.

2014 Honda Ridgeline SE
 

Vaughan: Cato, don’t forget about Honda and the slightly-wired Ridgeline. It looks something like a small pickup, but it’s built on a car body with features like that hidden box under the bed. The current one is being discontinued. That means deals if you can find one – until Honda is rid of them. This comfortable pickup is the one Kate might like best after her hatchback years.

Cato: Yes, but it starts at $34,990, less discounts. Pricey. Comfy, but a hit to Kate’s purse.

Vaughan: Kate, you’ve got three good choices there. If the deal is right, I favour the Frontier because Nissan’s been making compact pickups so damned long.

Cato: I agree with your conclusion, but your premise is flawed. The Frontier is the coolest of the three made-in-America Japanese rigs.

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

HOW THEY COMPARE

 

2014 Nissan Frontier 4x2 Crew Cab

2014 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4x4

2014 Honda Ridgeline DX Crew Cab 4x4

Wheelbase (mm):

3554

3246

3100

Length (mm):

5574

5286

5255

Width (mm):

1850

1895

1976

Height (mm)

1780

1780

1786

Engine:

4.0-litre V-6

4.0-litre V-6

3.5-litre V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

261/281 lb-ft

236/266 lb-ft

250/247 lb-ft

Drive system:

Rear-wheel drive

Part-time four-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

Transmission:

five-speed automatic

Six-speed manual

Five-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)

1995

1781

2051

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

13.1 city/8.6 highway

13.7 city/9.8 highway

13.6 city/9.6 highway

Base price

$27,748

$29,600

$34,990

Source: car manufacturers

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