In today’s auto market, the pickup truck has to be a little bit of everything. People want trucks that tow like locomotives, accelerate like muscle cars, and drive like luxury sedans. Remarkably, automakers have been delivering on these ambitious goals for a few years – creating a vibrant market of used trucks with compelling attributes. Here are the best used trucks on the market today.
2012 GMC Sierra 1500
Critics of the GMC Sierra 1500 recommend avoiding the lackluster V6 engine in favor of one of the potent V8s. In the 2012 model you could opt for a 4.8-liter that makes 302 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque, a 5.3-liter making 315 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque, or the monster 6.2-liter engine producing 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of axle-twisting power. Those are all good options according to test drivers, who also appreciated the truck’s smooth ride.
Some reviewers found the Sierra 1500’s interior to be plain but well made, with the upper trim levels offering a bit more luxury. Extended cab models can seat up to six on large comfortable seats, though some critics noted that rear legroom was lacking. Overall, the 2012 Sierra 1500 was our top choice for used pickup trucks under $20,000.
2009 Ford F-150
The Ford F-150 has been a mainstay in the American auto market for decades. That’s partly because it can do heavy lifting during the day and still be dressed up for a night on the town. The 2009 model, which tied the Sierra 1500 for No. 1 in our rankings of used pickups under $20,000, offers that same dynamic. With high tow ratings and powerful engine options it is a capable work truck that impressed critics with a refined interior and good safety scores.
This was the first year for a redesigned body on the F-150, but the essence of the pickup was unchanged. Equipped with the 5.4-liter V8, the F-150 can tow up to 11,300 pounds, which is about as good as it gets for a truck this size. That engine makes 310 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque. The smaller V8 produces 248 horsepower. That’s a little underpowered compared to the rest of the class, but critics say the F-150 still handles highway merging and passing just fine.
2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT
On a truck’s spectrum from hard-working to showy, the Cadillac Escalade EXT leans way toward the side fancy – a truck best suited for valet parking. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an actual truck. The Escalade was built on the same platform as GM’s full-size pickups, which means you get a sturdy body-on-frame construction with plenty of power from a big V8 engine.
The Escalade can tow up to 7,500 pounds, which is not as as much as most full-size pickups, but the refinement of its interior and plush Cadillac ride more than make up for any lack of towing capability. It was our No. 1 full-size pickup for more than $25,000. Test drivers say it has more than enough power, but the real raves were dished out for the quiet and elegant interior.
2009-12 Nissan Frontier
Nissan updated the exterior of the Frontier in 2009, refreshing an outdated design. The Frontier starts off with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 155 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque –which is about average for a compact pickup. For drivers who need more power, an optional 4.0-liter V6 delivers 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. That plus a capable off-road suspension makes the Frontier a fun, capable pickup, critics said.
There are only two cabin configurations on Frontiers of this vintage: King Cab, which seats four, or Crew Cab, which seats five. Most reviewers liked the Frontier’s straightforward design, but many believe the abundant use of hard plastics give the Frontier a cheap interior feel. That isn’t unusual for a compact pickup for less than $20,000.
2012 Honda Ridgeline
Here’s the biggest question about the Honda Ridgeline: is it really a truck? After all, you don’t see Ridgelines on many job sites. The Ridgeline is unibody and all-wheel drive (based on a front-wheel drive setup), aimed not so much at truck enthusiasts as people who like Hondas and need to haul cargo only every once in a while.
The car-like ride, big rear seats, and useful cargo features were all a hit with test drivers. With seating for five and a 250-horsepower engine, the Ridgeline is a spacious and utilitarian vehicle. Yet critics point out that it only gets 21 mpg on the highway and has a somewhat cheap interior feel. Those dings were relatively minor for critics, who mostly gave the Ridgeline excellent reviews – earning it a spot at the top of our list of used trucks for more than $20,000.