Buying Guides

2018 Best Light Duty Pickup Trucks

These do-it-all machines are good for work and everyday life

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

In the world of pickups, heavy duty trucks are the powerful kings. These include trucks like the Ford F-250 Super Duty and the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD. As impressive as those vehicles are, they're overkill for most people's needs. That's where light-duty trucks come in. Light duty trucks are classified as such because their gross vehicle weight rating doesn't meet the heavy duty truck requirements. The light-duty truck market comprises both full-size pickups like the Ram 1500 and mid-size pickups like the Chevrolet Colorado. If you don't need the exceptional power and capabilities that a heavy duty truck provides, consider a full- or mid-size truck. Here are the best light duty trucks you can buy in 2018.

2018 Ford F-150

  • PROS: Fantastic lineup of engines, good infotainment system, long list of driver aids and features, best in class towing and payload capacity.
  • CONS: Large enough not to fit in your garage, nicer features push the price high.

Ford’s F-150 received important updates for the 2018 model year, most notably engine upgrades. For the first time in the model’s long history, you can buy the pickup with a 3.0-liter Powerstroke turbodiesel V6. Gasoline engines have been updated, too. You can get everything from a turbocharged V6 to a large V8, and there’s a 10-speed automatic transmission for all engines but the base one. It can haul up to 3,270 lbs and tow up to 13,200 lbs.

The exterior of the truck saw some changes as well to keep it looking modern. Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system continues as one of the best out there and driver-assist technology abounds, including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and several cameras and sensors to make parking easier. The cabin is comfy and inviting and you can get the F-150 in Regular Cab, SuperCab, SuperCrew. There are also three different lengths of bed for you to choose from, depending on the cab you select.

2019 Ram 1500

  • PROS: Smoother ride than basically any other truck, best infotainment system, attractive inside and out, comfortable and capable on and off-road.
  • CONS: Competition can tow more, styling not quite as bold as Ford and Chevy, too big for most garages.

Ram has a new pickup truck for 2019 that’s being sold in 2018, so it’s worth noting on this list because it’s seriously good. Ram offers the truck in Crew Cab and the smaller Quad Cab and two different bed sizes. Engine options are either the 3.6-liter V6 or 5.7-liter V8 both with Ram’s new eTorque technology to assist with torque and smooth out start/stop functions. The 5.7-liter V8 makes the Ram 1500 good for 2,300 lbs. of payload and 12,570 lbs. for max towing. It’s smooth thanks to four-corner coil springs or optional air suspension.

Inside, you get a well-laid-out cabin and Uconnect infotainment system with an optional 12-inch screen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The cabin is large and the seats comfy, with plenty of room in both rows of seating. Advanced safety features and driver aids include blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, and a 360-degree camera. There are six trim levels all with varying standard and optional equipment ranging from the basic Tradesman to the luxurious Limited or the off-road ready Rebel.

2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

  • PROS: Powerful V8 engine, very quiet cabin, long list of optional equipment, and several trim levels.
  • CONS: Rougher ride than top competitors, not fuel thrifty, feels more cumbersome than rivals.

Chevrolet may have a new Silverado 1500 for the 2019 model year, but you can’t buy it yet. That means if you want the bowtie brand’s full-size pickup you need to get the 2018 model, which is still quite good. The Silverado 1500 offers a classy cabin, a bold exterior, a long list of options and features including Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system with a 7 or 8-inch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 4G LTE Wi-Fi. There’s also Chevy’s Teen Driver system and numerous other safety features like optional automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist.

Aside from features, the model offers a V6 as the base engine, a 5.3-liter V8 with an available mild hybrid system, or a big 6.2-liter V8 that makes a best-in-class 420 hp. Two or four-wheel drive is available. When properly equipped, payload capacity reaches 2,250 lbs. and towing capacity tops out at 12,500 lbs. The Silverado is available in Regular Cab, Double Cab, and Crew Cab and with a short bed, standard bed, or long bed. It comes in eight trims, ranging from the basic Work Truck all the way up to the luxurious High Country.

2018 Chevrolet Colorado

  • PROS: Strong engine options, attractive exterior looks, good on-road and off-road performance in the right trim levels.
  • CONS: Crash test ratings not as high as other trucks, diesel could use more top-end power.

If you don’t want to go the full-size truck route, there are some real ringers at the mid-size truck level. The Chevrolet Colorado is one of the best models out there. It comes in either an Extended Cab or Crew Cab, offers two different bed lengths, and three engine options. There’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder, a 2.8-liter Duramax diesel four-cylinder, and a powerful 3.6-liter V6 that makes a class-leading 308 hp. The Colorado comes in five different trim levels, ranging from the base model all the way to the more luxurious Z71 and the off-road icon, the Colorado ZR2. When properly equipped, max payload is 1,548 lbs. and max towing is 7,700 lbs.

The truck offers an excellent Chevy MyLink infotainment system with a 7 or 8-inch screen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and 4GLTE Wi-Fi. The truck’s cabin is well-appointed and there’s enough room for the whole family. Like some of the other trucks on this list, the Colorado comes with advanced safety features like forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and OnStar crash response.

2018 Toyota Tacoma

  • PROS: Excellent off-road and good on-road manners, powerful engine options, bulletproof reliability.
  • CONS: Feels bigger than it actually is, rear seats could use more room, and other midsize trucks can tow more.

The Toyota Tacoma has a cult following due to its can-do attitude and excellent reliability. Tacomas hold their value well and can outperform most pickups when it comes to an off-road trail. The base engine is a 2.7-liter four-pot, but if you want good power, you get the 3.5-liter V6 that makes 278 hp. The V6 also gives you a payload of 1,440 lbs. and a towing capacity of 6,800 lbs. You can get two or four-wheel drive. The Tacoma can be had in a variety of trim levels, from the basic SR to the well-appointed Limited to the off-roading beast that is the TRD Pro. You can get it in the basic Access Cab or the bigger Quad Cab.

The higher trim levels get plenty of upgrades, including a good but not great Entune infotainment system that’s pretty easy to use but still looks a bit dated. New for 2018 is Toyota’s Safety Sense-P as standard equipment. This bundles forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and lane departure warning and makes the Taco safer than previous model years.

What makes a good light duty pickup?

  • Powerful engine options and good towing and payload numbers.
  • Up-to-date technology and features.
  • Comfortable and practical interior.