By on February 22, 2021

We closed out last week with a Buy/Drive/Burn entry that covered the three cheapest sedans available in America this year. Nearly all of you decided you’d buy the most expensive of the three, the Hyundai Accent.

Today’s trio are the least expensive trucks on sale today with plain paint, two driven wheels, and steelies. Think you’ll select the most expensive truck of today’s trio for the Buy? Let’s find out.

Toyota Tacoma

It might surprise you, but the Tacoma is the cheapest new truck you can buy in America. Its six trims start out at SR and end at TRD Pro, with prices starting at $26,250 and ranging to over $44,000. In shorty Access Cab format, it comes with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder good for 159 horsepower, with a six-speed automatic. Five different colors are available for no charge, and all are metallic except the white. All interiors are Cement Gray cloth whether you like it or not. Toyota allows you to select an option that cuts the Tacoma’s price. The Utility Package – available on four-cylinder Access Cab configuration only – removes the rear seats, seatbelts, speakers, and intermittent wiper functions. It adds black door handles, mirror caps, and bumpers, and means you can’t open the rear window. After the $1,095 delivery fee, the super stripped Tacoma asks $25,630.

Chevrolet Colorado

The Colorado is the middle-priced truck here in its basic format. Colorado has four trims in its extended cab, long box guise, and they range from the WT at $26,395 to the ZR2 which starts at $42,795. In WT trim, the base engine is a 2.5-liter inline-four good for 200 horsepower, paired with a six-speed automatic. Only three colors are available with no upcharge, and they’re all greyscale. Interiors are of Jet Black cloth or vinyl, buyer’s choice. Destination charges are $1,195, and though there are temporary incentives (unspecified) of $2,500 we can’t include those today. Final ask for the Colorado is $26,395.

Ford Ranger

The Ford Ranger is the newest model of today’s trio and just edges out the Colorado in terms of pricing. Ranger has only three trims: The XL starts at $24,820, XLT at $28,870, and Lariat enters at $32,910. The XL SuperCab has a six-foot cargo bed and uses the same 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine (270 hp) as the rest of the line, as well as the same 10-speed automatic. There are six no-charge paint colors available, and Ford lets you select Ebony cloth or vinyl at no additional charge. Ford assesses a $1,195 destination charge and a $645 acquisition fee (eyeroll) for a final cost of $26,660.

This may be the first B/D/B entry where we have such a considerable disparity in power among three vehicles of the same price and class. But are the reputation of the Tacoma and Colorado enough for you to ignore the superior power of the new(ish) Ranger? Off to you.

[Images: Chevrolet, Toyota, Ford]

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80 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: The Cheapest Trucks in America for 2021...”


  • avatar
    APaGttH

    This one is hard – really hard.

    The Tacoma is the no-brainer, but it is behind in refinement and the interior is Soviet grade. Which is saying a lot given how the Chevy is….post-Soviet grade?

    The Ford has the most powah, but the Ranger isn’t exactly a quality darling.

    I guess:

    Buy: Taco – going to hold the value the most and it is as reliable as an anvil – I haven’t personally driven one lately but I have read a lot saying it is…unpleasant…by 2021 truck standards
    Drive: Colorado – Haven’t heard a long list of bad things about it and most of the hardware is proven out – and at least the wheels don’t look like they cost $25 each
    Burn: Ranger – only because I’m playing the game and ugh – those rims

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      ah, but the interior will be the same Soviet grade 10 years from now. What will the interior of the Chevy be like? Probably it will make you wish for Soviet grade.

      • 0 avatar
        Peter Gazis

        jalop1991
        10 years?
        Tacoma Rough ride, Flea market reject Entune audio, phone that won’t connect.

        I wouldn’t make it 10 hours in a Tacoma without trying to total it for the insurance money. 10 years in a Tacoma sounds like a prison sentence.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        As someone with a 10-year-old GMT900 in the driveway all I can say is, what are you talking about?

        Outdoor parked, spent 80K miles working Canada mines before I picked it up on the cheap. The only sin of the interior right now at 120K miles is one of the caps to a 12V outlet broke off and I’ve been too lazy to put in the $6 replacement plug.

    • 0 avatar
      phreshone

      Those rims put it a the top…

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      I took a loaner 4 cyl Taco home one night while Toyota was putting a new fuel tank and sender in my ’20 RAV4hv.
      The powertrain was something I would not want to live with. Ascending out of Denver west on I-70, it could maintain 70 on the up grades, and for the round trip it scored a surprising 25 mpg, driven a bit demandingly. The catch? Throttle response. Zero response and zero increase in speed with throttle application, unless and until a downshift or two occurred. it is the polar opposite of the satisfying instant electric motor throttle response of my RAV4hv.
      No way I could tolerate the Taco drivetrain.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Buy the Toyota. It will last forever.

    As far as I’m concerned, the Colorado and the Ranger are 100% interchangeable. They’re utility vehicles and will be useful until they aren’t.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Enjoy that. I don’t want a truck that lasts forever though. Not if it’s otherwise the worst choice (in its class) (or any class). Life’s too short. Consequences Schmonsequences

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Make it last forever so when I’m done with it there is some resale.

        Maybe this is too obvious but I prefer to keep my older domestic sedan. Put my money elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      eggsalad

      Toyota & Lexus have the highest lease rates in the business. After 3 years, people can’t wait to get rid of them, and buy something else.

      FYI- All Tacoma’s are now Hecho En Mexico.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      Im sure the Chevy and Ford will last forever. “..useful until they aren’t”..that’s some brilliant insight right there.

  • avatar
    Keith_93

    I kinda like these “cheap” trucks, as they are so not the 4 door leather $60,000 truck that seems so oddly common now.

    But I just don’t want any of ’em.

    My 1987 Ford Ranger kicks all these new wheels. Paid $1,500 for it 15 years ago. 6 cyl, 5 speed stick. 250,000 ish miles. Only $ repairs have been tires/mufflers/brakes/stuff that any vehicle goes through, and maybe 40 bucks of Bondo. Zero luxury, but it somehow always starts.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    I’d love to actually want to own the Tacoma but it’s extremely uncomfortable. The cab is made for people under 5’9” tall and the ride is insufferable.
    I’d pay for the Ford and expect a discount. I pleasant to drive. Haven’t driven the Chevy but I’d still take it sight unseen over the Tacoma.

  • avatar
    RHD

    Buy, drive and keep: the Toyota. It will cost about 100/month, spread out over 20 years, and still be useful and worth a respectable amount.

    The Ranger screams “Cheapskate!”. It’s packaged to punish you into spending more.
    The Chevy is 9/10th a full-size truck, and would you ever really want to buy a base model GM anything?

  • avatar
    dal20402

    To use an expression that you might have heard my late step-grandfather use after a few beers: 2WD on a Pacific Northwest truck is about as useful as t!ts on a fish. Burn them all.

    If they were 4WD it’s easy.

    Buy the Toyota because it will last forever under pretty much any abuse.
    Drive the Ranger because the turbo motor is entertaining.
    Burn the Colorado by default.

  • avatar
    Drew8MR

    Burn em all. I have no need for extended cabs or short beds. Those steelies on the Fords are my jam though. If the Taco came in a long bed I guess I could live with the stupid extended cab if it was the only choice I had.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would buy and drive the Tacoma because it will outlast the other 2 and be worth at least 2 times what the other 2 will be in a few short years. I considered both the Colorado and Ranger at one time but the reliability and build quality of both would make me consider not burning them but blowing them up. I don’t care as much about a vehicle lasting forever as it falling apart soon after signing on the dotted line.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      Not sure about that statement. See, the used market tells me a base 2011 Tacoma is about 20-30% more expensive than a 2011 base Ranger/Colorado. And back then, the Tacoma was the much better, more advanced, newer design truck.
      Fast forward to 2021 and that statement no longer holds true. I’m not expecting the Ranger/Colorado to last more than a Tacoma but the resale difference (specially on a base truck) will likely be negligible or minimal while these two will be more capable, specially the Ranger with those 7500 lbs capacity available even on the base trim and you’ll feel those extra 100hp under the hood.

  • avatar
    phreshone

    Is the ford the only one that comes in long bed… because that’s sort of important for a base pick-up

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    The Tacoma is as reliable as a hammer and just as uncomfortable to sit on. I would not buy fleet spec on any of these. The Colorado is more comfortable than the Tacoma.
    If the choice is confined to these I’d buy the Colorado, drive/abuse the Tacoma, and burn the Ranger.

    The fact that these are 4×2 is another reason why I would not want to buy any of them.
    A full-sized truck is 4k more and can be typically found with discounts for much less than any of these penalty boxes on wheels.

  • avatar

    Autodafe. All of them. What a boring day is Monday.

  • avatar
    peeryog

    I don’t think the 4 cyl Tacoma is available in Canada any more. I obviously don’t have lots of experience with trucks as I didn’t think the ride in the Tacoma was too bad.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    ‘Toyota allows you to select an option that cuts the Tacoma’s price’

    Delete options are what turns a fashion accessory truck into a genuine work truck.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Tacoma drivers seem the angriest and show the most aggression. Or is it just me (or my F-150)? I can be doing 10 over the speed limit, and they’ll come up from behind and gotta pass immediately like I’m an old Winnebago on bald tires.

    So I’ll dive out of the way as soon as I can and it appears to be the early 30’s dude, high on Redbull and Axe body spray. If I catch him at the next light and I’m next to him, I’ll give the V8 a good goose so that I know he hears it as I pull away. There’s no way he can keep up.

    He’ll probably catch me at the next light from traffic though. One more time

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    As a point of comparison: in 1960 you could buy a stripped 1/2 ton Studebaker Champ for $1840, or $16,400 in today’s dollars. Of course, it had a 90 HP flathead six and 3 on the tree, no power anything, and no AC available, the side view mirrors were options, a bench seat for three, and an 8-foot bed, with a Studebaker Lark front end on a standard truck chassis.

    How much “roughing it” would you put up with to save ten grand? BTW, a restored 1960 Champ was offered recently for $16,500, for a depreciation rate of zero, inflation adjusted.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      The later 61-64 Studebaker Champ used the Dodge D-series pickup bed. When you look at them you can see how oddly they fit. The folks in South Bend were in full cost cutter mode until the end.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      I know no one wants to think about safety equipment until they need it, but speaking as someone whose wife suffered only minor injuries in a crash that would have killed her in any vehicle made before 1990, and put her in a wheelchair in most vehicles made until around 2010, it’s more than “roughing it” for me to consider actually driving a penalty box like that.

      As little as these three contestants appeal to me, they are infinitely better than anything from that era.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    ok in keeping with the spirt of this here goes
    Buy The Toco, as a investment you will lose the least amount of cash
    Drive the Chevy , it seems ok for what a truck should be
    Burn the Ford for having the Balls to add on acquisition fee, that alone sets it on fire.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Taco is easy. Burn pile. I want to like this. Rear seat delete, which all of these baby cabs should have by default, takes $1,700 of the Toyota tax away. But it’s an ergonomic disaster for anyone over 6′ even in the good trims and driving something that slow in traffic just isn’t fun. The V6 you actually want, which is still fairly meh, can’t get the rear seat delete which makes it a $4,000 bump.

    Ranger is also easy. Base motor to base motor there are upwards of 100 reasons that you want this one. Retail motor to retail motor, 4 < 6 and the rest of the truck isn't very good. Dinky gas tank too. Easy pass.

    Colorado is harder. As offered the I4 is an easy burn just like the Toyota. But the V6 is just $1,500 and with power solved it's the best drive here, and fast enough, and sharp looking, and made of self destructing Chinesium.

    A RCSB F-150 is nicer, cheaper, and more garage friendly than the whole lot of them.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    This one is easy.

    Buy the Taco for resale but it can stay in the garage to appreciate.

    Drive the Ranger because powah

    Burn the Colorado, even though the V6 is actually pretty good. I don’t hate this truck at all. The 4cyl is pretty taxed though.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    I couldn’t get through the comments. All the comments with the term “Taco” was driving me insane. How hard is it to type “Tacoma”? In fact, I wouldn’t be a Tacoma BECAUSE people call it “Taco”. So stupid!

  • avatar
    3SpeedAutomatic

    I’m turbo phobic. Also, these are basic trucks where less is more.
    The only options I would consider essential are A/C and AM/FM radio:

    BUY: Chevy – Easy to own, easy to repair, easy to find parts, etc, etc

    DRIVE: Toyota – More reliable than the others, but the true sweet spot for this vehicle includes multiple upgrades which moves it way out of the “basis” format.

    BURN: As I said in the opening comment, I’m turbo phobic. If I lived high in the mountains like Colorado, the turbo has great advantages. But I live near the Gulf Coast where A/C trumps any other option.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    This Toyota is not all that much more reliable than the other two, but at least the c channel frame won’t rust out from under you like its big brother did.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    They’re all good reliable trucks with the Tacoma getting an edge because of its solid resale value.
    A 2021 Nissan Frontier King Cab comes in at around $27k. There’s probably good deals on them before the all new 2022 comes out.
    If you can live with its basically a 2006 truck with the all new 3.8 motor.

  • avatar
    JMII

    When I replace my 20 year Dodge Dakota Quad Cab SLT 4.7 V8 2WD later this year it likely be with a Ranger.

    However I’m on the opposite end of this article as I will be getting the most loaded version possible. The Toyota is outdated and the GM twins have transmission issues. The Ford has the most power and tech. It’s main mission is towing my boat where low end torque rules. I’ve owned several turbos, including a VW that went 100k with no problems. I do my own oil changes and keep a close eye on things so I don’t live in fear of turbos.

    My Dakota only manages 11 MPG when towing, so if the Ranger can get 15 I would be happy. Sadly it is fitted with a small gas tank in comparison, but that is really the only downside I see. I’ve heard good things about the 10 speed it shares with the F150. A buddy has an Ecoboost engine in a truck and so do my parents – once again no issues, strong, smooth power.

  • avatar
    EX35

    What’s the point of something lasting a long time if it’s uncomfortable to drive? I’ve driven the taco and ranger. It’s a night and day difference. The taco feels like a 1980s pickup, and not in a good way. Also, I found it poorly screwed together and actually felt cheaply made, which I was surprised about. Other than reliability and resale, I can’t think of a single reason to own one and wouldn’t want to spend an hour in one let alone 10 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Brumus

      This.

      I wonder how many people advocating the Tacoma as a “buy” have sat in or driven this thing with the four banger, especially with eight 66-lbs. bags of concrete mix in the bed.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The rules of the game don’t say this has to be the only thing you own for time eternal.
      If I was buying the *absolute cheapest* truck possible then it isn’t going to be my daily driver or road trip car, it’ll be used to carry tools and garbage and other stuff I wouldn’t want dirtying my better car. For me at that point resale and reliability become a bigger asset over comfort and speed.

      • 0 avatar
        eng_alvarado90

        Is reliability an asset if this isn’t going to be your daily? I can hardly think of an scenario where one of these 3 will break down within 100K miles. Not being a daily driver grants low miles over the ownership period.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “Is reliability an asset if this isn’t going to be your daily?”

          Yes, I don’t want to have to ever think about my hairshirt haul truck.

          “I can hardly think of an scenario where one of these 3 will break down within 100K miles.”

          Maybe. But unless a genie tells me that will be the case I’ll stick with the Toyota.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Most would not consider a brand new vehicle for dump runs, fetching compose, etc, and otherwise gathering dust most of the time, especially when their daily is paid for.

          If they’re that middle class, they don’t care so much about absolute best reliability and resale in its class. They likely hire/contract out the dirty jobs anyway.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            That’s cool. However, this is all a fully fictional scenario from the post’s author. Given the parameters we were told here I’d buy a Tacoma.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Yeah you got me there. Except for an awful lot of us here, it’s a daily reality. So we’d like to keep it the least awful.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “Except for an awful lot of us here, it’s a daily reality.”

            An awful lot of people on TTAC are choosing between brand new zero option versions of these vehicles? I’m guessing almost every TTAC truck owner bought something they actually liked instead.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            That’s true, except the options and gadgetry only masks the pain. Temporary. And they ain’t free.

            I’m sure most of us would more likely buy the mild or midrange stripper of the best truck for them, than lipstick on a pig. The STX and Tradesman are excellent examples.

            Once in the game, the aftermarket plus salvage-yard Lariat, Laramie, Limited, Longhorn, Etc, “upgrades” do the rest.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Every review I have read says the same thing – the Taco is uncomfortable… yet people keep buying them. I don’t get it either. While I don’t drive my truck often (just weekends) when I do its for long trips, for example a 2 hour haul to go fishing. So there is no way I am spending that much seat time in a penalty box.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I think they are all uncomfortable and driving any of these options would be a joyless chore that I’d only do when absolutely necessary.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Does anyone buy midsize pickups unless they absolutely have to? Due to very constricted parking or they’re so spatially inept that they would run into everything with fullsize trucks, or it’s an irrational fear of?

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Buy – Ranger
    Drive – Tacoma
    Burn – Colorado/Canyon

    Ranger has best powertrain, best interior, best handling, most towing. Drive all three trucks and this is the one you will buy. XL equipped with FX2 package is available for just under $25K after discounts if your a savvy buyer. It includes a lot of options including locking rear differential. Ranger is the winner by a mile for price/value/quality/performance for entry level truck.

  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    Buy: Tacoma, because somebody is stupid enough to buy this roached out, horrifically uncomfortable and de-contented, decade-old truck for near full whack just because of it’s emblem.

    Drive: Ranger, best interior, best ride, proper 6′ bed, best towing, most refined yet still a truck.

    Burn: Colorado, 4 generations of my family without a single happy GM ownership experience. Their reputation precedes them, and the Ranger outshines all aspects of this truck.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    Buy: Tacoma bEcAuSe of ThE ReEesaleee! (pun intended).

    Drive: the Ranger. This econobox is the sleeper of the midsize segment. No one would expect to be beat by a WT. 0-60 in the low 6s are achievable in stock configuration.

    Burn: Colorado. The truck looks old, the “refresh” does nothing to me, the least exterior colors available, 200hp that feel like 180hp… enough said

    Reality is, you don’t want to keep such an underpowered product for the long term. But hey, the Toyota advocates will say it’ll be worth twice the other in 10 years. QUestion is, does anyone want to keep this for 10 years? Second, used market tells me a base 2011 Ranger or Colorado costs about 75%-80% of a Tacoma so the big resale gains ain’t there.

  • avatar

    Buy the Toyota. Best resale old school dependable components. Plus I like the fact that it’s a throw back to 1987, but I’m a bit weird.

    The other two it’s a toss up. The ranger gets a better engine, but Ford’s and me don’t get along (and their recent QC issues does little to disuade that view). The Colorado drives and handles well but I would need a Canyon as the styling on the Chevy is a bridge too far.

  • avatar
    wolfwagen

    Oh to think what this B/D/B would have been if Mahindra had gotten its act together!

    TBH I wouldnt buy any of these with a four banger. I would try and find a leftover Nissan with 4.0 V6. But that just me.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Between the last sponsored post and the comments here, this site may as well be a Toyota fan club.

    “The Utility Package…intermittent wiper functions”

    Does it really save Toyota that much money to install more basic wiper stalks?

    Otherwise I’d buy the Chevy, drive the Ford, burn the Taco. Lifes too short to endure bad ergonomics.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Then the wipers are just an ON/OFF deal. More punishment from the Yoda gods, even if they lose money in doing so. There used be aftermarket add-on intermittent splicers, but I’m sure they disappeared at some point.

      Otherwise leasing the base model is the best defense against tyrannical automakers that think their sh!t is Gold. Except get the biggest engine, longest bed and 4×4. Especially if you might keep it. Just the things that are hardest to add later.

  • avatar
    neebme

    I drove a Tacoma v6 for work for several years and recently changed to a new ranger. I did really like my Tacoma but it I really like the new ranger as well. Both have pros and cons. My Tacoma felt powerful with the V6 but the eco boost in the Ranger definately feels quicker. The Tacoma does have a smoother ride than my new ranger. Some better shocks for the ranger I think would help. My Tacoma lacked Intermitent wipers and decent phone connectivity. My new ranger has the base stereo but it does exactly what I need. Has pretty fast Bluetooth so I can listen to Spotify and the calls are clear. Stereo sounds good for a base system. A work truck doesn’t need a huge screen. The biggest con for me on the Tacoma is the seats. The seating position is terrible and there was no adjustment. It felt like I was sitting on the floor. Getting rear ended in the Tacoma didn’t help me either as I developed back problems and sitting in it made the pain worse. My Ranger xl has standard height and lumbar support so the seats are so much more comfortable for me.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    The Taco gets the burn due to it’s cheap interior, old school driving dynamics, inferior lowest power drivetrain of the bunch and these things rust bad in Upstate, NY which kind of defeats the supposed better reliability that it offers. Add in the barely adjustable seats and that seals it’s fate

    The buy goes to the Ford as it’s styling, powertrain and similar price to the Colorado make it a standout to me. I like it’s seats the best too.

    The Colorado has adequate power, decent looks, decent interior and a solid ride and handling but not enough of any one thing to cost basically the same as the Ranger.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    As configured for this article, none of them, but if I had to pick one, it would be the Ranger, at least it could get onto the freeway without drama. I drove a neighbor’s 2.7 manual Tacoma, it’s pretty close to bare bones and it hits the penalty truck target dead center. Slow, uncomfortable, and I don’t understand why anyone would buy something like it.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would buy the stripped Tacoma since it would more than meet my needs and wants. The Ranger would have the most zip and be a little more fun to drive but with the turbo it would not last as long. I could live with any of these trucks.

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