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Pickups

Pickups

Pickups are the utility vehicles of choice at work and at home for those special projects that require hauling.

But what do you look for when buying one? What kind of performance can you expect? How far can you go on a tank of gas? And, most importantly, can you afford the sticker price on a pickup?

Bankrate breaks down the options in this class of car, based on these critical questions, and chooses the best three models in each criteria. It’s up to you to select the pickup that’s best for you.

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Toyota Tacoma

Toyota Tacoma

Starting MSRP: about $15,000

Regardless of your pickup needs, one of five versions of the Toyota Tacoma is likely to suit you. Tacoma features a long list of standard safety equipment, including side-impact and side-curtain air bags, antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist and electronic stability control. A side-curtain air bag inflates the full area of the window to protect your head from hitting the window or frame pillar in a side-impact collision.

For 2009, the rear seat in Access Cab models was redesigned for more space and comfort. A full redesign is expected for the 2012 model year. Tacoma comes in three cab styles — Regular, Access and Double — and five- or six-foot bed lengths, as well as the X-Runner model designed for on-road performance.

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Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger

Starting MSRP: about $18,000

While this is likely the last year the Ford Ranger will be sold, it still provides plenty of bang for the buck. Two cab styles, RegularCab and SuperCab, come with a six-foot bed, while three trim packages are offered on all models — the XL, XLT and Sport. Two engines are offered: a 143-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and a 207-horsepower, 4-liter V-6. Features include a choice of cloth or leather interior, bucket seats or a 60/40 split bench, antilock brakes and an MP3 input jack.

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GMC Canyon

GMC Canyon

Starting MSRP: about $17,000

Corporate twin to the Chevrolet Colorado, the slightly more upscale GMC Canyon is still among the least expensive pickups. However, both pickups are likely to be killed in 2012 since GM will be closing the factory where they are produced.

The Canyon comes in three cab styles — Regular, Extended and Crew Cab — and five- or six-foot beds. Two- or four-wheel drivetrains as well as three trim packages are offered on all models. There’s a choice of three engines: a 185-horsepower four-cylinder, a 242-horsepower five-cylinder and a 320-horsepower V-8. Standard safety features include side-curtain air bags, electronic stability and traction control, and a crash sensor that can send a GPS signal via the OnStar security system.

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Ford F-Series

Ford F-Series

Specs: 390-horsepower, 6.7-liter V-8 diesel

Ford freshened its Super Duty versions of its F-Series pickup for 2011 (about $28,000), updating the front-end styling and adding two new engines: a 385-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 that tows up to 15,000 pounds and a 390-horsepower, 6.7-liter V-8 diesel that tows up to 16,000 pounds. For the first time, it offers a factory-installed fifth wheel and gooseneck-style hitch attached directly to the frame as options.

On the light-duty version F-150, there are four engines available, including a powerful 400-horsepower, 6.5-liter V-8 that tows up to 11,300 pounds. The F-150 comes in three cab styles — Regular Cab, SuperCab and SuperCrew. It offers three bed lengths, two- or four-wheel-drive and a whopping 10 trim packages, so there’s something to suit every need.

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GMC Sierra

GMC Sierra

Specs: 397 horsepower, 6.6-liter, V-8 diesel

GMC has freshened the heavy-duty versions of its Sierra for 2011 (about $28,000) as well as its sibling, the Chevrolet Silverado. Among the changes are a more powerful 397-horsepower, 6.6-liter V-8 diesel that tows up to 14,500 pounds as well as a new frame design that improves towing and hauling capability.

The Denali luxury trim package is also available for the first time on the heavy-duty Sierra. The light-duty Sierra 1500 features a 376-horsepower, 6.2-liter, gasoline V-8 that tows up to 10,600 pounds. It comes in three cab styles. The regular and extended cabs offer a 6-foot-7-inch or 8-foot bed, while a shorter 5-foot-9-inch bed is the only offering on the large crew cab model. All Sierra models are offered in either two-wheel or four-wheel-drive.

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Toyota Tundra

Toyota Tundra

Specs: 381 horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8

While Toyota doesn’t make a heavy-duty pickup, its Tundra (about $23,500) offers top-notch performance in a light-duty, full-sized pickup. With a choice of three engines, the Toyota Tundra offers plenty of towing power with a top-of-the-line 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 engine that has a maximum towing capacity of 10,800 pounds.

There are three cabs offered — Regular Cab, Double Cab and CrewMax. The latter is the largest cab offered in the segment. The two smaller cabs are available with a 6-foot-6-inch or an 8-foot bed, while the CrewMax cab only comes with a 5-foot-6-inch bed. With three trim packages, the Tundra comes in either two-wheel or four-wheel-drive.

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Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger

Fuel economy: 21 city/26 highway mpg

The two-wheel-drive Ford Ranger (about $17,900) logs the best fuel economy in the pickup truck segment — 22 city/27 highway mpg — when it is equipped with the 143-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed, manual transmission. Fuel economy is compromised only slightly — 19 city/24 highway mpg — when the four-cylinder is paired with the five-speed, automatic transmission.

The 207-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 is available in two-wheel or four-wheel-drive. Two-wheel-drive models achieve 15 city/21 highway mpg when equipped with a manual transmission and 16 city/21 highway mpg when paired with an automatic transmission.

Four-wheel-drive models get 15 city/19 highway mpg with a manual transmission and 14 city/18 highway mpg with an automatic transmission. If you need a fuel-efficient pickup, buy a Ranger now. This likely will be its last year of production.

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Nissan Frontier

Nissan Frontier

Fuel economy: 19 city/23 highway mpg

The Nissan Frontier (about $17,500) will please pickup owners interested in fuel efficiency. The 152-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which comes only in two-wheel-drive, gets 19 city/23 highway mpg when paired with a five-speed, manual transmission and 17 city/22 highway mpg when equipped with a five-speed, automatic transmission.

The 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 comes in two- and four-wheel-drive. Two-wheel-drive models get 16 city/20 highway mpg with a six-speed, manual transmission and 15 city/20 highway mpg when equipped with a five-speed automatic. Four-wheel-drive versions achieve 15 city/19 highway mpg when paired with either a manual or automatic transmission.

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Toyota Tacoma

Toyota Tacoma

Fuel economy: 20 city/26 highway mpg

The Toyota Tacoma ($15,300) ranks among the best in fuel efficiency in the pickup truck segment. When equipped with the 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission, two-wheel-drive models get 20 city/26 highway mpg, while four-wheel-drive models get 17 city/22 highway mpg. When the four-cylinder model is paired with a four-speed, automatic transmission, two-wheel-drive models get 19 city/25 highway mpg.

When the 236-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 is paired with a six-speed, manual transmission, two-wheel-drive models get 15 city/18 highway mpg, while four-wheel-drive models get 14 city/18 highway mpg. When the V-6 is mated to a six-speed, automatic transmission, it gets 17 city/21 highway mpg for two-wheel-drive models and 16 city/20 highway mpg for four-wheel-drive models.

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