We asked our editors to outfit their dream pickup for $50,000 or less, and tell us why they specced out what they did, right down to the last option. That's a thick stack of cash, but it's also right in line with the average price of a new truck today.
We've got everything from midsize to fullsize, unibody to body-on-frame, domestic and foreign nameplates.
Click through our gallery and see which Roadshow editor's ideal truck is closest to yours.
My first choice would be the off-road-ready 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor, but that puts me way above our contest's $50,000 limit.
In fact, it was tough even to get the 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel within my price limit.
Since I will definitely use my dream truck off-road, I picked the smaller 5-foot, 7-inch bed for better ground-clearance geometry.
While the 5.7-liter V8 would be a great addition, its $2,645 price tag is too expensive for this exercise. However, the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with the company's new eTorque mild-hybrid system delivers 305 horsepower and can return 24 mpg on the highway. Plus, I can tow over 7,000 pounds with my Ram 1500 -- more than enough to get my enclosed race trailer out to the pits.
I would love to add the RamBox cargo management system and the air suspension, but at $995 and $1,795 respectively, I can't afford them (at least not before dealer discounts!).
The Ram's new 12-inch touchscreen is super cool, but it's part of an option grouping that adds nearly $6,000 to the bottom line. However, selecting the Level One Equipment Group for a more reasonable $2,000 still nets me an 8.4-inch screen running the excellent Uconnect infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Driver's aids, on the other hand, are few and far between. Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist aren't on tap at all. Blind spot detection is an additional $595 and even that is too rich for my blood.
All told, my 2019 Ram Rebel Crew Cab is a nice dinner over $50,000 -- $50,040 (plus $1,695 for destination). That's before discounts, but trucks sure ain't cheap, y'all.
Why? Because it's an honest, no-frills truck that looks wicked in the off-road-focused trim with a raised ride height and special styling touches.
In particular, the pickup really pops painted Super White to contrast nicely with the darker TRD Pro grille and black wheels. That fact that it's a smaller truck is also a selling point because I rarely tow or haul heavy loads.
On the street, it'll be more entertaining to wheel around with a 3.5-liter V6 making 278 horsepower mated to a standard six-speed manual.
For function purposes, I would option bed lighting that comes in handy to load stuff up at night and mudguards. Aluminum running boards are also a must to make getting in and out easier (I'm short) and all-weather floor liners to help keep things neat inside.
All in, my Tacoma TRD Pro would sticker for just over $47,000.
While I would rarely take it off-road to fully exercise the new-for-2019 Fox shocks, it's cool to know that my Tacoma isn't a powder-puff pickup that can't venture off the beaten path and kick some major butt.
That's not to say I would never do anything fun with it. I've become quite fond of sand dune driving, where the TRD Pro's extra ground clearance, underbody skid plates and Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain tires would come in handy.
As someone who lives in the suburbs and spends more time on roads than off, the 2019 Honda Ridgeline is perfect for me. It has the driving dynamics and civility of a crossover, while still offering up an open bed for hauling a dirty mountain bike, used Mazda Miata parts or, once a summer or so, camping gear.
There's just one powertrain choice for the Ridgeline, a 3.5-liter V6 good for 280 horsepower, though buyers can choose between front- and all-wheel drive. I picked the latter because I live somewhere with snow and, incidentally, adding AWD ups the Ridgeline's tow rating from a ho-hum 3,500 pounds to a reasonably useful 5,000 pounds.
I elected the RTL-T trim level because it's the most affordable to get an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, as well as Honda's LaneWatch blind-spot camera. Unfortunately, you need to move up to the even more expensive RLT-E or Black Edition models to score safety tech like precollision braking and lane-departure warning.
As it is, my Ridgeline seems pricey enough at $40,564 -- a price that includes optional heated steering and all-season mats for when things get muddy.
A smaller truck is a boon for someone like me who lives in the city. With a midsize pickup, I'll be struggling less in parking lots or along narrow streets, but because the ZR2 sits so high, people will still feel inclined to get out of the way.
I've spec'd my Colorado ZR2 with the Duramax 2.8-liter, four-cylinder diesel. The fuel-efficient engine (with up to 30 miles per gallon on the highway) may only offer 181 horsepower, but its 369 pound-feet of torque is enough to get the Colorado off the line quickly.
Max towing is 5,000 pounds -- just enough for my project Porsche 911 and its requisite trailer.
Even with a budget cap of $50,000, my ZR2 is pretty much fully loaded at $48,780 plus $995 for destination. At less than $50,000 out the door, I've got leather-trimmed seats with power adjustability and seat heating for the driver and passenger.
In addition, there's an 8-inch touchscreen with embedded navigation as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Bose premium audio system so I can match the ZR2's roaring exterior with a sonorous interior.
I'm not much of a truck guy, but I do find myself renting one a lot. So my ideal pickup is something under $20,000 that can do real pickup work. I never transport a crew, but I often transport sheets of building material.
And I know how to drive a stick.
That points me to a Nissan Frontier S King Cab 4x2 six-speed manual, which has a 6-foot bed. My only options relate to my real work mission: bed liner and mud guards. It may be a truck, but I take care of all my cars.
At $20,610, I just missed my audacious price goal, but that's still $15,132 below the average cost of a new car these days (and far below the $50K threshold of this roundup). For that money, I could buy a 2019 Versa as a tender for the Frontier.
There are no options in the center stack, so I'll need to be satisfied with the worst-in-class head unit: A mediocre interface on a 7-inch display with Bluetooth and Siri Eyes Free (which will do me zero good as an Android user).
Nissan is actually among the first companies to announce it will hand over its cabin to Google, but not until 2021.
Even high-trim Frontiers eschew CarPlay and Android Auto for 2019, a mark of fossilization. But I'm buying this truck to do work on a budget, not discover podcasts, and I'm confident it will do that quietly and durably.
I actually like the white exterior, black trim and steelies (reminds me of the Ford Super Dutys I rent).
Under the hood is a 2.5-liter inline-four that is overweight on torque (171 pound-feet) versus horsepower (151), though there isn't a lot of either. MPG is uninteresting at 16 miles per gallon city, 22 highway and 19 average, however this is a body-on-frame truck weighing 4,225 pounds.
Driver assists, beyond the required rear camera, are nonexistent. Nissan proudly points out this Frontier has a Dana 44 rear axle, which is kind of like bragging about having a rear axle, period.
I confess I spent a long time pondering this way and almost, almost went with the Honda Ridgeline. It's a really great choice. But, the more I thought about it I eventually talked myself into a 2019 Ford F-150.
Why? Because race car.
The F-150 has the best towing in class, and with the Max Trailering package and the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, it can trailer over 13,000 pounds. That means if I ever go crazy and rip the interior out of my ice racer, I can drag that thing to the lake with ease. Or, should I find some new four-wheeled toy on Craigslist, I wouldn't have to call up every single U-Haul in the area and hope they have a car carrier and something to tow it with.
Sadly, to get the most trailering and keep it under $50,000, I'll need to make do without some of the niceties available on the Lariat, including 360 cameras and other fun toys. But, Sync 3 means I can still roll Android Auto, and the 302A package at least means I get heated seats -- and sadly a bunch of chrome I'd rather leave off. Add in blind-spot monitoring ($590) and LED side-mirror spotlights and the total price is $47,475 out the door.
Fun as it'd be to pick Toyota's off-road-ready Tacoma TRD Pro, truth is, I'd never use that capability. And since I don't need the size and features of a full-size truck, my money's on the midsize Tacoma, in Sport trim with four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission.
I love driving a pickup with a manual transmission, and the Tacoma is just about the only way to get row-your-own engagement in a truck these days.
The 278-horsepower V6 is more than ample for driving around Los Angeles, and its 6,400-pound tow rating is plenty for a lightweight trailer and, say, a $10,000 Craigslist Miata -- after all, with an as-spec'd price of less than $40,000, I've got some cash left in my budget for a fun secondhand runabout.
The TRD Sport is a midgrade Tacoma, but it certainly doesn't lack for features. The Premium Package adds leather upholstery and an Entune infotainment system with navigation, and there's a Technology Package included for advanced driver's aids.
All in, my perfectly equipped Taco costs just $38,740, including $1,045 for destination.
Though most "truck guys" won't admit it, the Honda Ridgeline is enough truck for most people's needs, including stuff like Home Depot runs and light towing.
Between 2017 and 2018, we used one as a long-term vehicle for a year and it proved to be spacious, capable and efficient when hauling all of our gear and crew week after week, whether just down the highway, along dirt trails into the woods or up slippery, snowy mountain roads.
Most trucks have to also serve as daily drivers, which makes the Ridgeline an approachable choice because it drives a lot like a car.
It's also packed with useful and unique features, like a hidden in-bed trunk that improves security (and can be used as a cooler), a trunk-bed audio system that's great for tailgating and lift-up rear seats that free space on the second row, keeping tall or bulky items -- like your new big-screen TV -- safe from the weather during transport.
I went with the top-of-the-line RLT-E AWD model (starting at $42,915 including destination) to get the standard Honda Sensing suite of driver aid features, including lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, which greatly improve safety and comfort during daily driving.
That leaves plenty of room in the $50,000 budget for accessories (like a roof rack), a wheel upgrade or the optional Black Edition styling upgrades, if you like.
I'm not regularly a heavy-duty hauler, so I want the nicest-riding, nicest-driving pickup out there for my $50K.
The answer? The 2019 Ram 1500. While that budget doesn't allow me to stretch for the air ride option, I can get a very smartly equipped Big Horn with a Hemi V8 that rides as well as any other full-size truck. Plus, the new Ram has the nicest interior in its class -- and not by a little.
With the optional 395-hp V8, I've got big-league towing capacity for those few times a year when I need it. Plus, I've got 4WD for Michigan's winters and an antispin differential to better put down those 410 pound-feet of torque.
My blacked-out truck has got plenty of cabin tech with the 8.4-inch touchscreen and power seats. Finally, I've spec'd mine out with LED illumination, fulfilling my personal maxim of always buying the best-possible lighting.
My as-configured price? $49,175 before delivery charges. Even with the $1,695 freight fee, I'm sure with available incentives, this truck can be had for well under $50K at retail.
I don't need to haul plywood or tow big trailers, so, for me, it's more important that a truck is fun. The Tacoma TRD Pro is definitely fun with its manual transmission, great exhaust note, awesome suspension and good looks.
Much of the Tacoma's charm comes from the fact that it's built like a classic Toyota. It's not the fastest or most technologically advanced, but it will get you where you're going, then it will get you home.
The TRD Pro's Fox suspension is surprisingly great around town. It's soft and comfortable, but doesn't wallow when being driven aggressively on pavement.
Off-road, it's absolutely brilliant. The TRD Pro is well equipped for off-road mayhem, but I raided the accessories list, scoring a snarlier performance exhaust, 16-inch black alloy TRD wheels, plus utilitarian goodies for the bed including a step, D-rings, mat and cargo extender.
All in, my as-built truck rings up at $47,778 before $1,045 delivery (and any applicable discounts).