If you’ve been wondering how on Earth the average new vehicle transaction price can be almost $50,000, the answer is “pickup trucks.” Prices on full-sizers quickly haul past the 50 grand mark, and when you consider four of the top 10 best-selling vehicles in 2022 were the four American-brand full-size pickups by an enormous margin … well, the flaws of using a basic average to express such data becomes apparent.
There’s more than just full-size trucks to consider, though, should you find yourself with an imaginary check for exactly $50,000. The No. 8 best-selling vehicle was the Toyota Tacoma, and although I would seriously doubt anyone would choose the current one (the next one is a different story), the Ford Ranger and wildly improved Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon are also on the table from the midsize segment. Oh, and the Nissan Frontier, because I could totally see Stocksdale picking that. Oh, and the Jeep Gladiator, because of Hurd … and possibly Korzeniewski. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of us put our fake money where relatively few people put their real money.
Enough preamble. Here are the rules.
- You must spend every penny of the $50,000 on the truck itself with an MSRP within $1,000 on either side. You cannot spend $36,000 on a Work Truck and spend the rest on guns.
- The truck must be new.
OK, let’s see what everyone chose!
2023 GMC Canyon AT4 with the Sport Bar Package
Senior Editor James Riswick: I started this exercise thinking I’d go with a full-size truck. That didn’t last long. After adding the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine to an F-150 XLT Super Crew, I was left with nothing left to spend on worthwhile options. I could get a well-equipped Ram 1500 Crew Cab with the base V6 (a perfectly cromulent engine), but honestly, I looked at the thing and went “Am I really excited about that?” No, I wasn’t. On the other hand, this GMC Canyon AT4 is really cool! Check out the paint and the off-road frippery and that sweet sweet Sport Bar Package that’ll make me feel like Marty McFly. The interior has heated and ventilated leather seats, a lovely swath of camel-colored pleather on the dash and all the Google-powered tech gizmos I could want. Sure, that Sport Bar Package costs $2,995 and made me sacrifice adaptive cruise control, but it’s really cool. The only Colorado that offers it is the ZR2, but that requires you to get a crazy amount of extra crap that sends the price soaring past $59,000. Of course, I could just get a ZR2 without the Sport Bar, but ah, I’ve made my bed at this point. And it has a ridiculous steel tube thing wrapped around it.
2023 Jeep Gladiator Willys
Associate Editor Byron Hurd: Predictable? Me? Never. It’s no secret here that I’m a Jeep fan, and the Gladiator has been on my short list since it first debuted. Ideally, I’d have a 4xe, but the base V6 with a six-speed manual would be a solid replacement for my ageing JK Wrangler — also a 6MT V6, but of the dreaded 3.8-liter variety. With $50,170, you can get a 2023 Willys in Sarge Green with the three-piece hardtop and cold weather package. I’d have liked to spring for the spray-in bed liner and one of the available tonneau covers but alas, numbers don’t work that way. Still, considering the only option on my JK was air conditioning, this would be a pretty serious upgrade.
Sure, it’s possible to get a decent full-size truck at this price point, but unlike a half-ton, the 19-foot Gladiator will fit into my 95-year-old garage with the door shut. If anything, I’d be more interested in moving down into something like the Maverick, but that only really becomes compelling with a PHEV powertrain. No pressure, Ford.
2022 Ram 2500 Tradesman
Senior Editor, Consumer, Jeremy Korzeniewski: Never mind full-size trucks, turns out you can just barely get a real, fully usable, heavy duty pickup truck in America for just under our make-believe $50,000 price cap. If I were spending my own cash, I’d add a few options that would push it a couple grand over the limit, but for the purposes of this exercise, here’s a brand-new Ram 2500 with a 6.4-liter V8 engine with 410 hp and 429 lb-ft, four-wheel drive, and a six-passenger CrewCab body with a long 8-foot bed. I picked this burnt orange color from Ram’s Low-Volume option list because it looks cool. It’s pretty basic and barebones, but it’ll get just about any job done with a tow rating of around 17,000 pounds and a max payload rating of something near 4,000 pounds.
Now that’s a truck, and it comes in at $50,955. You can indeed do something sorta similar starting with a Chevy or Ford, but I prefer the Ram as a starting point, in part because the big Hemi engine comes standard along with the 8-speed automatic gearbox, and Ram allows buyers to add an option or two without forcing them into a big extra package that bumps the price by several thousands of dollars right off the bat.
In the interest of full disclosure, I wouldn’t literally buy this exact Ram 2500 Tradesman truck as it was specc’d for the purposes of this exercise. I’d add useful things like the off-road package and the spray-in bedliner. I’d also splurge on a few convenience features like the 12-inch touchscreen and the Level 2 Equipment Group that adds an electric sliding rear window and a rear folding seat. That’d put the price closer to $55,000 and is a more realistic scenario for most buyers. Still, even sticking to our $50 grand budget, you can just barely get yourself a workman’s truck to do trucky things.
2023 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition w/HPD Package
Road Test Editor Zac Palmer: I rarely need to tow anything or do truck stuff, so if forced to buy a pickup, it’s going to be the Honda Ridgeline. It’s the most car-like truck that money can buy, which is 100% up my alley. To reach the $50,000 threshold, I went all out in every direction (but mostly up). I started with the Black Edition, which is the highest trim level possible with every bell and whistle, then ticked the box for the HPD Bronze Package, because the wheels and revised body that comes with it looks infinitely cooler than what you get on the base truck. Since I’d likely use it for more menial tasks like camping or mild off-road adventures, I went with some roof rails and a basket that’ll increase my carrying capacity should I desire a longer stint off the grid. Sonic Gray Pearl being among the paint options was a pleasant surprise, and it was one I couldn’t say no to — in case you haven’t see it in the light, it has a strong blue/shimmer effect when the sun hits it. All in, I walked out the door with a $50,989 Ridgeline, just slotting me under the maximum budget.
2023 Chevy Colorado ZR2
Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: I had a pretty rad Ford Maverick Tremor (insert) kitted out with an adjustable Yakima bed rack and tent, standalone solar light/speaker, outdoor shower, rear seat entertainment and a ton of other goodies. It was a fun exercise, but I wouldn’t actually go through with that with real money. Instead, I’d go with the new 2023 Chevy Colorado ZR2 in Harvest Bronze with the Convenience and Tech packages and steel driveshaft. $49,935. Done. Now let’s go find some mud and rocks.
2023 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X
News Editor Joel Stocksdale: There’s an awful lot about the Nissan Frontier that I like. It’s still a pretty compact truck for its class, which is nice for maneuvering both on pavement and off. It’s got a velvety-smooth and powerful V6, which is becoming a rare thing in this segment, and the nine-speed auto it’s paired with is just as good. But even more than the powertrain, I really enjoy the steering and handling. It still has a hydraulic power steering system, and it has loads of feedback. It’s a bit heavy, but I’m willing to make that trade. It even corners pretty well for a truck. As such, it’s one of the more engaging pickup trucks to drive. As a bonus, the chunky, square-shouldered shape is handsome. Nissan even has a bunch of great colors available!
As it turns out, $50,000 lets you nearly max out the options Nissan offers. I went with the Pro-4X, since I figured I might as well get the most off-road-capable version of the truck (especially since that helps increase the price tag). I went with the woodsy Tactical Green Metallic and a bit of extra exterior flash with the beadlock-style wheels, rear sport bar (not pictured), hood decal, black Frontier lettering and black exhaust finisher. Inside I opted for the leather interior for easy cleaning. Many of these options mandated the inclusion of option packages that include other handy features such as spray-in bedliner, utility tracks, towing package, remote start, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, surround-view cameras, heated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless device charging, upgraded sound system and sunroof. That still wasn’t enough, so I further added a sliding bed extender, bed step and handle, outdoor Bluetooth speaker, rubber floor mats and illuminated door sills. All-in, including destination, it came to $49,982. All the Frontier I would ever need and then some.
Trucks with a king-size bed
Managing Editor Greg Rasa: Jeremy’s Ram HD is a lot of truck — but it’s also stripped. Stick with a half-ton and you can get a surprising amount of optional equipment for under $50K. You just need to make one tradeoff.
If you want to haul passengers, go buy an SUV. If you want to haul stuff, the working man’s configuration … the truck every farmer I know buys … is a regular cab with an 8-foot bed. Yes, they still make ‘em. Though sadly, no, not with manual transmissions anymore.
The 8-foot box is the top criterion here — that’s the most truck, with a reasonable amount of creature comforts thrown in, for the money. Skipping the crew cab is the key to affordability: There’s a $5,600 delta between a two-door Ford F-150 XLT and a four-door. Even a Super Cab is a $4,395 upcharge.
So, short cab, long box. That’s the ticket. Two examples:
— 2023 Ford F-150 XLT. Starts at $41,800. (The base XL starts at $33,695.) That leaves money to add 4WD; upgrade to the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6; tick the XLT Mid equipment group with power driver’s seat and tons of other niceties (currently no charge for that package); payload package; tow package; FX4 package with skid plates and other off-road kit; spray-in bed liner; Co-Pilot 360 electronic aids. And check it, a two-tone paint job! You’re nicely equipped at $50,140.
— 2023 Chevy Silverado 1500 WT 4WD. Starts at $38,395. Then upgrade to the 5.3-liter V8 and 4WD. Otherwise it’s equipped largely the same as the F-150 by adding several work-truck, trailering, off-road, chrome and interior packages. And still there’s money left over for a Multi-Flex Tailgate, running boards, and even a nifty tent for truck-bed camping – because with an 8-foot box you’ve got lots of room to stretch out. Also: Love those steelies. All in, $49,540.