Aaron Turpen: Compact Pickups Are Like Mullets

Automotive writer Aaron Turpen writes: "Tiny, compact trucks are definitely making a comeback. And like mullets, they’re popping up everywhere and only gaining in popularity again."

Aaron Turpen

April 10, 20234 min read

Compact Truck Mullets 1

Business up front, party in the back, and they’re making a comeback. Compact trucks and mullets have a lot in common.

Right now, there are two compact truck models available for buyers. Both are car-based “crucks” and both are selling really, really well. Ford has the Maverick, which is based on the Edge crossover. Hyundai has the Santa Cruz, which is based on the Tucson crossover. Both have small utility beds behind four-door cabins with seating for five. Both are front-wheel drive by default and have all-wheel drive as an option. And both are powered by small four-cylinder engines. 

Interestingly, both of these currently-available models also have similar towing and hauling numbers. The Maverick can tow up to 4,000 pounds and carry about 1,500 pounds. The Santa Cruz can tow up to 5,000 pounds and carry about 1,700 pounds. And both trucks are about half the footprint size of a standard half-ton pickup truck.

These two models are what’s currently available on the market. Coming soon, however, will be more. Like the mid-sized pickup segment suddenly exploded a few years ago, the compact segment is about to follow suit. But for different reasons. 

A decade ago, the only mid-sized pickup trucks available were the Toyota Tacoma and the Nissan Frontier. Neither had especially good fuel economy when compared to a full-sized truck and neither was nearly as capable. Both sold best in their four-wheel drive models and both went for long periods with no serious updates to design.

Honda then jumped in with the unibody Ridgeline, based on the best-selling Pilot. Then came General Motors with two competing trucks, the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon. These made a big splash and were soon followed by the Jeep Gladiator. Currently, mid-sized pickup trucks are a hot market with good competition and a lot of buyers.

Their appeal is mainly styling and a more park-able size for city and suburban dwellers. They’re also often more off-road capable than full-sized options.

With compact pickups, the appeal is more about style and practicality. Compact trucks like the Maverick are easier to park and maneuver in crowded spaces. The Santa Cruz is arguably far better looking than most other truck options thanks to its sportier design and car-like interior. Both can do a lot more “truck work” than most would expect. 

These two are starting the return to compacts, but others are on the way. GM will likely be coming out with a compact pickup in the next year or so–rumor is that it’s a two-door electric model, probably under the Chevrolet brand. 

Ram Truck, though cagey about their plans, will likely also have a compact option soon. Either through Ram itself or via the Jeep line. A revival of the Dakota model name is certainly a possibility here. 

Toyota hasn’t said much, but it would make sense for Toyota to do something here. The TNGA platform upon which crossover-SUVs like the RAV4 are based would be a great fit and a hybrid or plug-in hybrid model would also be a shoe-in for Toyota. Rumors have Toyota unveiling a compact pickup for North America sometime this year. 

Given that neither Hyundai nor Ford can keep their compact trucks on dealer lots, the demand is clearly there. 

So tiny, compact trucks are definitely making a comeback. And like mullets, they’re popping up everywhere and only gaining in popularity again. Here’s to hoping station wagons with wrong-facing rear seats and other great things of the 80s also see revivals.

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Aaron Turpen