Five Small Fuel-Efficient Pickups

Recognizing the five most fuel-efficient pickups is like choosing the bluest Smurf. Rarely are pickups praised for fuel economy. However, Bankrate has decided to highlight five midsized trucks that deliver solid fuel efficiency.

A good rule of thumb: Generally, smaller is more fuel efficient.

Basically, pickups are either midsize or full-size. Falling into the no man's land in between is the Dodge Dakota, usually lumped with the midsize bunch.

There are some exceptions to our rule.

We can't ignore the fuel-efficient, full-size cousins Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid and GMC Sierra Hybrid from General Motors, and the full-sized V-6 flex-fuel Ford F-150 SuperCab that manages to get the same combined fuel economy as two of the midsize trucks on our list.

There isn't a lot of difference between the squad of today's midsize pickups. Using the EPA's definition of combined miles per gallon, which is 55% city and 45% highway driving, all five trucks on this list are within 2 mpg of one another when equipped with a four-cylinder engine.

They are all extended-cab versions, and all but the Ford Ranger have small rear-access doors.

EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers are presented as city mpg, highway mpg and combined mpg and are for manual transmissions, except for the Suzuki Equator. Towing and weight capacities are based on models with automatic transmission.

2011 Ford Ranger SuperCab XLT

Pricing: $20,740
MPG: 22 city/27 highway/24 combined

Not only does the Ford Ranger SuperCab lead this group alphabetically, it also delivers far and away the most fuel efficiency when armed with a five-speed manual transmission. Even when equipped with the $1,000 optional, five-speed automatic transmission, it is still in the top tier of this group.

Ford doesn't expend much energy on this pickup. Except for a tweak here and there, Ranger hasn't undergone a major update in a decade. But it is still a serviceable workhorse for jobs requiring a midsize truck.

When mated to the automatic transmission, its 143-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine can tow 2,020 pounds, and can carry up to 1,420 pounds of passengers and cargo. It also has a 6-foot cargo box.

The extra space in Ranger's extended cab is better suited for cargo than people. Two tiny inward-facing fold-down jump seats won't comfortably accommodate adults.

Standard XLT equipment includes stability control, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel and a four-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary input jack.

2011 GMC Canyon Extended Cab SLE

Pricing: $20,925
MPG: 18 city/25 highway/21 combined

Canyon shares most of its DNA, including fuel economy and other core specifications, with the Chevrolet Colorado.

In its most fuel-efficient version, the Canyon Extended Cab uses a 2.9-liter four-cylinder engine to generate 185 horsepower. Paying the extra $1,095 for the four-speed automatic transmission won't affect the fuel-economy numbers.

Equipped with the automatic transmission, the rear-wheel-drive Canyon Extended Cab can tow up to 3,400 pounds, and haul 1,379 pounds of passengers and cargo. It features a 6-foot cargo box with a bed liner.

Twin fold-down bench seats in the rear of the Extended Cab's cabin boost occupant capacity to five. Legroom in back is a little tight, making the rear seats better suited for children than adults.

SLE is Canyon's midlevel model and offers a healthy list of standard features, such as stability control, full power accessories, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, Bluetooth cellphone connectivity, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, OnStar telecommunications with turn-by-turn navigation, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player and satellite radio.

2011 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab

Pricing: $19,655
MPG: 21 city/25 highway/22 combined

Because its base version comes nicely equipped with air conditioning, power locks and windows, and an audio system -- three features we consider to be must-haves -- the Tacoma is the most affordable member of our list and is fuel efficient as well.

When loaded up, Tacoma can carry up to 1,320 pounds of passengers and cargo. It can tow up to 3,500 pounds, and comes with a 6-foot cargo box with a spray-on bed liner.

Tacoma's get-up-and-go is from a 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine that sends power to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. A $900 premium will substitute a four-speed automatic transmission for the manual.

Tacoma's interior is tidy and user-friendly. Quality materials and good craftsmanship elevate the passenger experience. The front bucket seats are comfortable with adequate support. The flip-down rear seats extend maximum occupancy to four.

Other standard equipment not already mentioned includes stability control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary input jack.

2011 Nissan Frontier King Cab SV

Pricing: $21,380
MPG: 19 city/23 highway/21 combined

For the most part, Nissan left the rear-wheel-drive Frontier pickup alone for 2011. That's OK because it was already pretty good.

Like the other pickups on this list, the Frontier King Cab has a 6-foot cargo box. Up to 932 pounds of people and cargo can be carried in the King Cab with automatic transmission. It can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Under the hood is a 152-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with a five-speed automatic offered as a $1,050 option. Unfortunately, stability control isn't available with the four-cylinder engine.

Dual fold-down rear seats jump the King Cab's occupant count to four in a pinch. Carefully assembled, the cabin's fit-and-finish is top-notch.

Among the King Cab SV's standard features are full power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering wheel and a four-speaker audio system with CD player.

Bundled in the $1,780 utility package are additional features, such as Bluetooth connectivity, a spray-on bedliner, overhead console and an upgraded six-speaker audio system with auxiliary audio input jack and in-dash six-disc CD player.

2011 Suzuki Equator Extended Cab Premium

Pricing: $22,479
MPG: 17 city/22 highway/19 combined

Suzuki decided a couple of years ago that the owners of its motorcycles and ATVs needed a Suzuki pickup truck to round out their Suzuki experience. A deal was struck with Nissan, and the Equator was born. Essentially the same under the skin, the Nissan and Suzuki on this list have the same estimated fuel economy.

The most expensive pickup on our list, the rear-wheel-drive Equator Extended Cab can haul 883 pounds of goods and people while towing up to 3,500 pounds. A 6-foot cargo box is standard on Extended Cab versions.

A 152-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine sends its power to the rear wheels by way of a five-speed automatic transmission. A five-speed manual tranny is only available on the bare-bones base Equator.

Equator's cabin is similar to that of the Frontier, which means it's well-assembled.

We chose the Premium trim because the base Equator doesn't have air conditioning or a radio. With the Premium trim you get full power accessories, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, sliding rear window and a four-speaker audio system with CD player.