When it comes to pickup trucks, these models prove that, on some occasions, bigger isn’t always better — even in Texas

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

I love cute little cowboys, all dressed up in their western wear for a night at the club. They buy their perfect little boots, perfectly matched to their belts, boleros, and chaps. Of course, they have a hat on their salon locks. Like adorable Trace on Bravo’s Flipping Out, they are almost too cute to do real work, even if they look hot in their tight pants and rippling shirts. If a boy has to have a truck, these look as beautiful as your favorite club queen, but can do marginally more work than a picky boy’s apprentice.

Toyota Tacoma
BACK TO THE FUTURE | The Toyota Tacoma introduces the hardworking Wild West to the Final Frontier with futuristic control options and programming.

Toyota Tacoma

For children of the ’80s, Toyota’s compact pickup still rules the cool — mostly because of its starring role in Back to the Future. Toyota’s Tacoma, the direct descendent of Marty’s fly ride, is one of the best. It comes in enough cab configurations to please quick change artists on America’s Got Talent and projects power from an available 236-HP V6 engine, AWD and a locking rear differential.

A sci-fi electronics barrage that would have stunned Wild West quick shooters includes hill start control, descent control and electronic stability programming. X-Runner models, like a packhorse come thoroughbred, can grip almost a full G in the curves and trot from 0–60 mph in less than seven seconds. Properly equipped, Tacoma can tow up to 6,500 pounds — plenty for a couple of jet skis or your momma’s wardrobe.

If your next truck must last forever, experience the original object of Biff’s labor and affection. Pick a color you like because it as durable as the day is long. Just $16,365 will roll one out the saloon doors in high style.

Nissan Frontier
CREATURE COMFORT | The Nissan Frontier shows its power on the inside as well as the out. Air conditioning and heating are surprising stars after a hot summer day or a chilly autumn morning.

Nissan Frontier

If John Wayne had a scout troop, he might salute the Nissan Frontier like a Rockwell painting. It is ready to haul camping gear with enough space to stuff in three tenderfoots. Modern style sets it apart while the base cloth interior works just fine. While inside, everybody will appreciate freeze-my-nubbins-air-conditioning, roast-your- chestnuts-heating and dual glove boxes sized like saddlebags.

Moving the tough pickup through rough and ramble, is an available 4.0-liter V6 engine that generates 261-HP. A 152-HP 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine conserves hops for fuel economy ratings of 19/23-MPG. Four-wheel-drive models include a shift-on-the-fly system to engage all hooves. Hill Descent Control repels drivers down inclines; Hill Start Assist lets you release the brake and not roll back for up to two seconds while you move your foot to the throttle — just enough time to make a clean lunge at run-away steers or quick-turning Tacomas. That’s a lot of mule for $17,540.

Chevy Colorado
LIKE A ROCK | The Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon may be petite, but function with a lot of muscle.

Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon

Their names sound like wild open adventure, but these similar trucks range from hard working ranch hands to low-riding satin cowpokes. The former takes mulch, sod or anything you need to haul with stout four-wheel-drive while the latter is low-slung and otherwise modified to look right at home on dance row with its bed stuffed full of go-go boys.

Equipped with a four-cylinder engine, these trucks achieve up to 18/25-MPG city/hwy. Most come with the mid-grade 242-HP five-cylinder engine. An available 5.3-liter 300-HP V8 is the best choice if you want to do real work or make a quick gallop away from stoplights. Strong bodies and sure traction would be great companions in any bunkhouse. To keep these petite cowboys in the rodeo, GM needs to prime the pump and birth out a couple of new ones. Until then, a base price of $16,985 is easy to chow.

Ford Ranger
DOUBLE DUTY | Not only does the Ford Ranger maintain the durability and strength for working in the field, its styling can hold up at any upscale function. How’s that for versatile?

Ford Ranger

Ford’s Ranger, while prettied and buffed over the years, rides on a chassis that has been around since Chevy built Chevettes, making it old enough to have sired the latest crop of worker bees. Ranger is available in Regular Cab and SuperCab bodies. Base models are driven by a 143-HP four-cylinder engine; select the 207-HP V6 for more serious bench pressing. The stiff suspension sometimes bucks like Biff’s convertible under a load of manure, but there is no questioning the Ranger’s work ethic.

Ranger is kept current with updated exterior trim and wheels that shine this stone. Interiors are equipped with an iPod jack and Sirius Satellite Radio. Simple controls and durable materials stay true to the truck’s main mission of moving people and stuff over sometimes rough terrain. Its longevity speaks camp tales, but it is starting to look like a curvy mare compared to the younger studs on the ranch. A base price of $17,820 provides enough upside to slam some chrome shoes, body graphics, and bedliner on this cowboy to make him glow under any lights.

Whether you think they are petite cowboys or just the Four Amigos, these compact trucks provide all of the high-hoofed abilities that most city slickers really need with a sense of style that doesn’t make them a social outcast in the Oak Room. If cute little Trace doesn’t get flipped in West Hollywood, he would look suave driving one of these slick shoots.

This article appeared in Dallas Voice’s DRIVE! Supplement November 5, 2010.