Skip to main content

Updated: 6/15/23

The compact pickup truck segment is having a red-letter year. Models like the Hyundai Santa Cruz and the Ford Maverick are seeing massive success, proving that the market is hungry for the return of small trucks. While most publications don’t always agree on what would make up the top three best compact pickup trucks, U.S. News’ list is pretty hard to argue with. The Honda Ridgeline, Hyundai Santa Cruz, and Jeep Gladiator are a solid trio.

Silver 2023 Jeep Gladiator in the brush
2023 Jeep Gladiator | Stellantis

What are the best compact pickup trucks? 

U.S. News ranked all the 2023 compact pickup trucks it tested. The top three trucks are the 2023 Honda Ridgeline, the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz, and the dark horse, the 2023 Jeep Gladiator. This list offers a pretty wide range of small pickup trucks. The Hyundai Santa Cruz couldn’t be much further away from the Jeep Gladiator, and the Honda Ridgeline remains one of the strangest pickup trucks on the market. Let’s take a closer look at what makes these trucks stand out. 

The 2023 Honda Ridgeline

U.S. News ranked the 2023 Honda Ridgeline No. one for compact pickup trucks. Despite the Honda’s struggle with popularity, the Ridgeline is an undeniably great truck. Sure, it may lack in brawn, but it is reliable, comfortable, friendly, and quick. 

The Honda Ridgeline comes standard with a sizzling 280-hp 3.5-liter V6 and all-wheel drive. While it can only tow 5,000 lbs, for most people, that is plenty. And when you’re not towing, you aren’t paying for the ability to tow. The Honda Ridgeline pulls down 24 mpg on the highway. 

The Honda Ridgeline might not be what most truck owners think of when they go truck shopping, but it is a hard model to deny. The Ridgeline’s practicality, reliability, and comfort allow it to go toe to toe with any comparable pickup in its class and win. 

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Front angle view of blue 2024 Hyundai Santa Cruz small pickup truck
Hyundai Santa Cruz | Hyundai

Hyundai’s new pickup truck is a big departure from Hyundai’s normal offerings. Like the Ridgeline, the Santa Cruz isn’t going to wow you with its strength or toughness. Instead, Hyundai set the brainy little truck loose, hoping it would bring some class to the truck world. 

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz trades in bed space for a spacious, comfortable interior loaded with creature comforts and new tech. U.S. News mentions that the Honda and Hyundai are nearly evenly matched. They both offer the same type of experience, yet the Honda does it a touch better. 

The Hyundai Santa Cruz comes standard with a 191-hp four-pot. For a little extra bread, you can get it with the turbocharged version making a snappy 281 hp. Even in AWD and with the turbocharged engine, the Santa Cruz can still haul a max of 5,000 lbs and, when not towing, get 27 mpg on the highway. 

The 2023 Jeep Gladiator

A red 2023 Jeep Gladiator parked outdoors.
2023 Jeep Gladiator | Stellantis

The Jeep Gladiator makes this list strange but also fun. The Gladiator is a hard truck to rate well if you are totally objective. However, Jeeps aren’t playing under the same rules as the rest of the car market. 

While these other compact pickup trucks are small, light, efficient, smart, and comfortable, the Gladiator is brutish, loud, bouncy, tough, and ill-mannered. This is because this is the Jeep way. Jeep didn’t make the Gladiator for comfort; its purpose is one of conquest and joy. 

U.S. News says that the Gladiator offers all the “perks” of a Wrangler but with the added practicality of a five-foot bed. Unlike the others in the top three, the Jeep Gladiator is a true off-roader. AWD isn’t going to cut it when you need to bounce up and over boulders. The Gladiator also has a proper diesel option. Hell, the roof comes off. 

U.S. News included the Gladiator as one of the best compact pickup trucks on the market because it is; you have to understand that “best” doesn’t always mean the same thing. The Gladiator is uniquely Jeep, and that is no idle thing.