On a recent drive, I started to think about the various vehicles I have owned. For many people a car is just transportation. For others, driving is something to be enjoyed. I knew that I wanted my first car to be a pickup truck with a manual transmission. I was planning to buy my Uncle Charlie’s used Toyota SR5 compact truck when I turned 16. Unfortunately he drifted off a country road and rolled over into an orchard. Fortunately he was not injured but my plans for my first pickup would have to change. My first pickup was a very basic work truck and everything was manual from the windows to transmission. During my junior year in high school, I had to parallel park with no power steering.
Several months ago, while parallel parking my Dodge Dakota, Lisa had to close her eyes as I parked in a spot better sized for her Toyota Camry. It was a tight fit but I succeeded. The other cars were not bumped. As a daily driver, my Dodge is the one I owned the longest at 14 years.
I started to research my next vehicle about four years ago. I have owned six pickups, two utility vehicles (before they added an S and they became popular), and one two-door car. With my Dakota starting to have several ongoing problems, along with some bad memories that were better left in my past, it was time to find my next truck.
My favorite pickup was a midnight blue 1982 Ford F-150 stepside which I drove for about five years. It was also my first new vehicle and was paid in full when I drove off the lot. I knew that my research would not include a full size truck. Washing and waxing my F-150 was an all days job. Having owned a 1986 Ford Bronco II, a Jeep Wrangler was on my list of possibilities. Fiat-Chrysler has been planning a return of the Jeep pickup and Ford was working on a new Ranger. Since my second favorite pickup was a 1997 Ford Ranger, a new version, along with the Jeep pickup, were reasons to wait
In the U.S., the mid-sized pickup truck segment was abandoned by Ford, Chevrolet/GMC, Dodge, and Honda due to decreasing sales. After the 2012 model year, only Toyota and Nissan were supplying vehicles in this segment. Demand has been so low that Nissan has not bothered to updated the Frontier since 2005. The market for mid-sized trucks has changed and the Big Three want a piece of the pie. Chevrolet was the first to rejoin the market in 2014 with Ford and Jeep promising their new mid-sized pickup for the 2019 model year.
Number one on my list of options was a manual transmission. Of my nine vehicles, only two had an automatic transmission. It is a two part equation: I enjoy shift through the gears and the interaction as well as know that a manual transmission is still more efficient than most automatic transmissions. What I found during my research is that automatic transmissions are being programed for fuel efficiency and not performance in most cars and trucks. This programming, unless adjustable like on many high end vehicles, can be frustrating to the driver when the automatic hunts for the correct gear.
In November 2018, the Gladiator (Jeep) and Ranger (Ford) were introduced.
- The Jeep Gladiator would be available with a manual transmission but the starting price of the desired options was north of $45k. For a Rubicon it is even more.
- The Ford Ranger is only offered with Eco-Boost four cylinder mated to a 10 speed automatic. Eco-Boost engines are only efficient with no load and driven with a light foot.
- The Chevrolet Colorado only offers a manual transmission on a base work truck with a four cylinder engine that has a history of burning oil.
- Nissan’s bullet proof V6 has not been updated in 13 years and performed at the bottom of the pack on fuel efficiency. The manual transmission is only available on the Frontier crew cab, short bed model.
- Honda brought back the Ridgeline which is a solid performer with innovative features and is winning many awards. But many pickup truck fans feel it looks and drives more like an SUV/Minivan than a pickup truck. The fact it is a uni-body, as opposed to a body on frame, adds to the great ride quality. The Ridgeline also starts at a higher price point and lacks a manual transmission option. If you don’t opt for AWD, it is the only pickup with front wheel drive and a transverse engine. The Ridgeline has more in common with the Ford Rancho and Chevy El Camino than today’s pickups.
- That leaves the Toyota Tacoma which has a solid history and is known for its reliability. But most important, is it still offered with a manual transmission mated to a V6.
With Toyota’s reputation for building a quality vehicle that lasts, my research was showing what I should buy. About the time Ford and Jeep announced their new mid-sized trucks, I stumbled upon a new 2017 Tacoma with a manual transmission still available in December 2018 (20 months after it rolled off the assembly line). California is about the worst place to sell a vehicle that requires the driver to shift. I suspect that the traffic we endure is the reason nobody wants to drive a manual transmission.
The purchase process was a study in how not to sell a new vehicle. Eventually Toyota Corporate became involved and sideline the problematic negotiator (my salesman was just as frustrated). My old Dodge Dakota (2004) served me well, but in the end, from a repair perspective, it was the most expensive vehicle I’ve ever owned. To some it may be odd, but my old Dakota also has some bad memories. My Uncle Charlie is gone now, but all these years later I finally have a Toyota pickup.
Based on Lisa’s experience with Toyota’s, I am hopeful that expensive repairs will be a thing of the past.