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Desk jockey looking for a budget pickup truck

2011 Nissan Frontier

Mike Ditz/Nissan

Greetings Mr. Cato and Mr. Vaughan: I am a big fan of your advice and was wondering if you could help me with a little dilemma. I have been vying for a pickup truck for some time now. I have always looked at the big trucks such as the (Ford) F-150 and the (Chevrolet) Silverado. But, after much persuasion, my girlfriend has convinced me to go for a small truck (mostly due to the fact that I'm a full-time desk jockey and the heaviest thing I crate around is a case of beer).

I recently test-drove a Ford Ranger and was impressed by its drive (fairly decent for a budget truck), its features (satellite radio, auxiliary ports), and most of all its price ($6,000 off the sticker price right off the bat). I have also looked at the Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, and Chevrolet Colorado. I hope you can provide me with any sort of advice. - Paul from Peterborough, Ont.

Cato: Paul, my man, car makers in Canada are giving away their small trucks. For reasons that baffle me, Canadians are not big on compact pickups and thus the discounts are astounding. The car companies have to move the metal somehow.

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Take the Ford Ranger. Ford of Canada has a version listing for $13,999, but ignore that number. With the Employee Pricing discount of $333 and another $1,500 in a factory cash incentive, the real price is just slightly more than $12,000 plus tax.

Vaughan: Ford Ranger? Paulie, are you really going out to buy a truck from 1998? Bill Clinton could have picked up Monica Lewinski in basically the same Ranger back when it was new. Ford's kept this thing going and going with minor tweaks and a new engine or two ever since. This relic can't last much longer. No wonder they're throwing thousands at it.

Cato: You, Vaughan, won't have the Ranger to kick around much longer. Ford has said it is phasing out production this year. If you want the new Ranger, move to Australia. That's where Ford will sell it, and other markets where small trucks still have some cachet.

I think the Ranger is a steal, but it's hardly your only choice. As you mentioned, Paul, you also can shop the Frontier, Colorado and Tacoma, to name three.

Vaughan: Well at least we're getting into the modern era with the Tacoma. This one was new in 2005. It's loaded up with safety features and has won a Top Safety Pick award.

The interior is a lot better than the Ranger's, too. I found the little four-banger has lots of torque and could pull an entire beer truck, not just your two-four.

Cato: For a guy who stuffs his mattress with cash I simply cannot believe you have overlooked the Colorado. GM Canada is throwing all sorts of dollar bills at this one. A nicely equipped extended cab comes with nearly $6,600 in cash discounts up front, and the savvy shopper will squeeze more out of the dealer.

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And then there is the Nissan Frontier. You might have noticed that Nissan brand sales were down 16.5 per cent last month. Guess what? Nissan Canada has launched an Employee Pricing program slated to last until the end of the month. I just priced out a Frontier King Cab with $5,426 in cash discounts from the factory. You, Paul, should also insist on a 50 per cent reduction in freight costs from your dealer.

Vaughan: The Frontier is from Tennessee, like Sam McGee, where the cotton blooms and blows - but that takes us down a different trail altogether.

Cato: You have completely lost the plot. Sam McGee? Paul wrote this letter.

Vaughan: Paul, the U.S.-built Frontier is probably the most stylish on your list - as far as style in a pickup truck goes - and it has a long list of options, so you can dress it up even more. Nissan gets overlooked by a lot of truck buyers and you should certainly take one for a test drive.

Cato: I agree. And I like the deals Nissan Canada is tossing around. The Colorado, though, is cheaper, and does most of what the Frontier can do for thousands less. It deserves a most serious look.

The Ranger is your ultra-ultra-cheapo purchase and by a huge margin. Don't worry about parts or service being a problem, either. Ford will back up old ones and there is that new one being sold in other Ford markets.

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Vaughan: I'm leaning toward the Nissan Frontier and mostly it's because of the styling. But it or the Tacoma would be fine with me.

Cato: Toyota wants too much for the Tacoma, at least for now. But keep in mind Toyota Canada has just announced a raft of new incentives to juice sales. Better Tacoma deals might be in the pipeline. In the meantime, look at the Ranger, Frontier and Colorado.


2011 Ford Ranger XL Super Cab 4x2

2011 Nissan Frontier King Cab 4x2

2011 Chevrolet Colorado LT Extended Cab 4x2

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)




Width (mm)




Height (mm)





2.3-litre four-cylinder

2.5-litre four-cylinder

2.9-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

143/154 lb-ft

152/171 lb-ft

185/190 lb-ft

Drive system

rear-wheel drive

rear-wheel drive

rear-wheel drive


five-speed manual

five-speed manual

five-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)




Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

10.0 city/7.7 highway

10.7 city/8.6 highway

11.3 city/7.8 highway

Base price (MSRP)




Source: car manufacturers

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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