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A Little Pick-Me-Up

Consider a small truck for all your light-load needs.

Most compact pickup trucks can handle your business's light hauling and towing chores efficiently and inexpensively. Average cargo length is 6 feet; seating ranges from three to six. Benefits include prices starting under $20,000 and better gas mileage than their big brothers. Downsides are limited power and payload capacity. Let's look at three popular small pickups--the Dodge Dakota, Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma.

The rugged $19,585 Dakota is an upscale club cab truck with the only optional V-8 engine in its class. Full-swing rear doors ease entry and exit. The standard engine is a V-6; the transmission, a six-speed manual. The Dakota's safety features include ABS, energy-absorbing steering column, knee bolsters and side-curtain air bags. Payload: 1,700 pounds. Mileage: 16 city/22 highway.

Ford's Ranger has been around for almost two decades. This year's base model is priced at $15,085. The Ranger's regular cab has a 6-foot bed, though its Styleside model has a 7-foot bed. The powertrain on the base pickup is a 2.3-liter I-4, with 143 horsepower and a five-speed manual transmission. The extended-cab version has half-size swing doors and small rear seats with limited knee room. Payload: 1,260 pounds. Mileage: 24 city/29 highway.

For the budget-conscious, Toyota's sturdy Tacoma is priced from $13,980. With a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, the base pickup puts out 159 horsepower. If you visit off-road sites, you'll need the optional suspension package. With ABS standard, another fine option is electronic stability control. Seating is for three. The pricier four-door model won top crash-test scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Toyota offers many practical Tacoma accessories, including cargo dividers, crossbars, racks and bed extenders. Payload: 1,410 pounds. Mileage: 21 city/ 27 highway.

Other compact pickups include Mazda's B-Series, sister to Ford's Ranger; the Chevrolet Colorado; and the GMC Canyon.

Jill Amadio is an award-winning automotive journalist and author.

This story appears in the July 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »