By Jil McIntosh

The Trucks

  • Dodge Dakota Extended Cab 4×4 SXT, 4.7-litre V8, $34,980
  • GMC Canyon SLE Crew Cab 4×4 SLE, 3.7-litre inline 5-cylinder, $41,105
  • Toyota Tacoma Access Cab 4×2 B Package, 2.7-litre 4-cylinder, $24,310
  • Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4×4 TRD Sport + Towing, 4.0-litre V6, $38,955

The Winners

  • Midsize under V6: Toyota Tacoma Access Cab
  • Midsize V6 and over: Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4×4

Our take

The midsize pickup category was divided into “under V6″, which included the five-cylinder GMC Canyon ($41,105) and the four-cylinder Toyota Tacoma ($24,310), and “V6 and over”, which was the V8-powered Dodge Dakota ($34,980) and V6 Tacoma ($38,955).

Both the Canyon and Tacoma use a four-speed automatic transmission, with the Canyon’s 3.7-litre making 242 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque to the Toyota’s 159 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. Peak torque also comes in 1000 rpm sooner in the GMC, making it a punchy little engine that hauled weight fairly effortlessly. Ride comfort and cabin noise were also better, but that’s understandable, given that the Canyon was outfitted in upscale SLE trim, and the Tacoma was a work truck. Only the Canyon went on the off-road course, since the Tacoma was rear-wheel only; we liked the GMC’s three-button setup for the transfer case, but were not impressed with the truck’s wide turning circle, which often required backing up to get around a tight curve. Most controls proved intuitive and easy to reach, but the crowded multi-purpose stalk was far too busy. Taste is subjective, of course, but we weren’t particularly taken with the Canyon’s looks, especially the heavy front end.

Midsize Pickups  trucks
Midsize Pickups  trucks
2008 Dodge Dakota SXT Extended Cab (top) and 2007 Toyota Tacoma 4X4 Double Cab. Click image to enlarge

The Tacoma had manual locks and windows, but it did come with air conditioning; controls were simple and easy to use, and everything had a solid feel to it. Our impression is that Toyota’s strategy is to add content at the lower end of the scale, to make the vehicles more attractive to fleet buyers. We liked the simplicity of this little workhorse, but questioned why it came with carpet, and light-coloured at that; a rubber floor would be our first choice. Even more questionable was a washer switch that squirted fluid, but then required you to turn on the wipers afterwards, instead of a one-touch wash/wipe function that’s common to every other vehicle we’ve ever driven. After being momentarily blinded on the highway, we checked with Toyota and yes, it’s meant to do that; why this isn’t a safety requirement is beyond us.

All Canyon and Tacoma models come standard with anti-lock brakes; curtain airbags are available at extra cost on Canyon models, but cannot be added to the Tacoma.

Looking at price, we felt the Tacoma’s $24,310 tag was good value for a work vehicle. The GMC had numerous features, but we found it difficult to justify $41,105, and weren’t really sure what market it was targeting; as much as the Canyon was more comfortable, we gave the Tacoma the edge in servicing its intended buyer.

In midsize V6 and over, the challengers were the V8-powered Dodge Dakota ($34,980) and the V6 Toyota Tacoma ($38,995). Both were 4×4 models, and so were taken through all tests.

The Dakota’s V8 produced 290 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque to the Toyota’s 236 hp and 266 lb-ft; it made for better acceleration, but the Toyota’s cabin noise was lower. When both were driven with 600 lbs of weight in the box, the Dakota’s handling felt slightly more confident. Both came with standard anti-lock brakes, but the Dodge’s were on the rear wheels only.

We didn’t care for the Dakota’s angular exterior styling, and while we found most of the controls easy to use, the transfer case dial was set so low on the centre stack that we had to bend down to read the settings. The dash is very plain and plastic-heavy, and we preferred the Toyota’s more handsome metallic inserts. Both Dodge and Toyota had vents that were difficult to open and close, especially with gloves.

The Tacoma came with a TRD Sport package, which made a world of difference on the ride and handling, firming it up and giving it a fun-to-drive attitude. We also liked the aggressive front end and hood scoop.

The Tacoma edged out the Dakota on the off-road course; while we rated them equal on manoeuvrability, the Toyota cleared obstacles that the Dodge’s undercarriage scraped. Both trucks would undoubtedly have suffered damage had we needed to pull them out, but the Tacoma had a separate panel on its fascia that would have minimized repair costs; with the Dakota’s huge front end, we expected that winching it out would have caused considerable damage that might even have included the grille surround.

As for market appeal, both trucks seemed to hit their targets: the Dakota’s throaty V8 engine for the boulevard cruisers, and the Toyota’s TRD handling for the tuner crowd. Both trucks seemed fairly well-priced for their content, although the Tacoma was a tad closer to 40 grand than we’d like it to be.


Overview

Judging the Truck King Challenge

The tests


Half-ton under 5.0-litre

Half-Ton over 5.0-litre

Three-Quarter Ton

One-ton

More from the 2008 Canadian Truck King Challenge….

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