Maybe I'm dwelling on this compact-truck thing too much, but what's wrong with offering a bit of fun to go along with all these conservative, efficient trucks? At SEMA a couple years ago, Toyota showed the X-Runner, a concept Tacoma powered by a supercharged 4.0-liter V-6. It had 400 horsepower, a six-speed manual transmission, lowered suspension, and bigger brakes. We didn't get to drive it, but I've heard that truck handles as well as a sports car.
Now that's clearly more extreme than a truckmaker needs to go, but how many performance-biased little trucks can you think of? I don't even mean a V-8 crammed into a compact -- I mean something with sport-tuned handling or more juice under the hood. There was a time when Mazda had a rotary-engine pickup on the market. While it wasn't identical to the RX-7 engine, it was in the same family. The fuel crisis of the 1970s killed the Rotary Pickup, but I'm sure that would've been great fun to drive (and if you've driven one, we'd love to hear your experiences): sports-car power in a lightweight truck. And no one would know from looking at it -- that's a sleeper that could shock the *** out of someone at a green light. Imagine if Mazda conducted that same experiment today, with a Wankel from an RX-8 in a regular-cab two-wheel-drive B-Series with a manual transmission. Power to weight probably wouldn't compare with the trucks of the 1970s, but it could make a great way to scream around town while hauling cargo.
Imagine if Honda had a compact truck -- couldn't you see the 197-horse engine from the Civic Si under the hood of a small, lightweight Ranger competitor? Or a pickup from Mitsubishi (smaller and lighter than the Raider) with the Lancer Evo engine? The trucks have gotten so heavy that even the addition of more horsepower and torque doesn't have much of an impact. Add horsepower, make the truck lighter, and you could have a pickup that may not carry as much, but you'd still have some utility and a lot more fun.
Little trucks simply aren't as capable as full-size ones, and manufacturers have made compacts too expensive to sell well in the face of bigger (and sometimes better) offerings. Also, not everyone who buys a small truck uses it to tow -- some will haul a bike or ATV in the bed and may want something that's fun to drive around town. So what's wrong with giving buyers more choices? Why not offer high-performance versions? Instead of appealing to those people who have to buy a small truck, make them want to buy one. Bring in new blood. What's nice about these high-horsepower four-cylinders is that, even though they'd be a blast to drive, they'd still get decent fuel economy (it wouldn't be as good in the rotary, but I have to believe that, like the RX-8, you wouldn't care once you drove one), and you could have the fun of driving a sporty car with the versatility of a compact truck.
What Happened to Compacts?