The Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma could be said to reside at opposite ends of the mid-size pickup truck class even though they lead the rest of the pack in sales. While the Colorado and its GMC Canyon counterpart are, at least for now, the newest entries in a growing class, the Tacoma is the oldest — the nameplate goes back to 1995, and the truck bearing the name has been in production since the 1970s.
Mid-size pickups are an admittedly small class. The only other body-on-frame choice currently available is the Nissan Frontier. But Ford will reenter the fray in late 2018 with a and is also scheduled to enter the mid-size class. Of course, there is also the Honda Ridgeline, which is a fine vehicle, but we're talking about traditional work-first pickups here.
We've spent some time in both the Colorado and Tacoma; below we share how we think they stack up next to each other.
How They're Different
Back-to-back drives in the Colorado ZR2 and Tacoma TRD Pro trim levels illustrate what starting from scratch can do. While both are quite capable off-road, it's in day-to-day road driving that their differences show. While the Tacoma has received regular updates over the years, it remains true to its old-school roots and will feel oddly familiar to anyone who drove a Toyota pickup in the 1980s or '90s. That's a polite way of saying the Tacoma is decidedly "traditional," in spite of a mild refresh in 2016.
The Colorado is quieter and more civilized on the highway, with a relatively smooth ride and good bump absorption even in off-road trim. The steering is more accurate, with decent road feel. The body of the Tacoma, on the other hand, seems to be in constant motion — even on smooth pavement. It jitters and hops over all kinds of roads and the ride is stiffer than the Colorado. Its steering is more vague and lacks feel, and more correction is needed to keep it on course.
The interior of the Colorado benefits from a roomier and more modern-looking cab, with a much better seating position. You sit low to the floor in the Tacoma, particularly for a truck. This feels particularly awkward in the TRD Pro trim, where it's a bit of a step up to get inside. The Colorado's seating position is higher and more upright, and the seats themselves are more supportive with better bolstering. It also has a roomier and more comfortable rear seat.
How They're Similar
Neither cab could be described as luxurious, not that most buyers probably care. Both have plastics and materials that lean more toward utilitarian than fancy, even when compared to some upper-trim full-size pickups. Which is not to say either is commercial-grade spartan, as both include leather seats and plenty of amenities and electronic conveniences. We did prefer the multimedia system in the Colorado with its simpler menus and a tuning knob for easier operation.
In fairness to Toyota though, the Tacoma's ride on- and off-road performance may be improved for 2019 with the addition of new progressive Fox shocks (possibly similar to what's just been introduced on the 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor). And in the meantime, it is far from a bad choice. The Tacoma has a bulletproof reputation for reliability, along with established on- and off-road credibility. Discerning small-truck buyers and a loyal buyer base have kept it a best-seller for decades. But the buyer always wins when competition heats up and more choices are available. And that is just starting to happen with mid-size pickups.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears, Jim Travers