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From the September 1980 issue of Car and Driver.

A time comes in everyone’s life when there’s hauling to be done. Redi-Rents or U-Haul usually fills the bill quite nicely, but if the need persists, one’s thoughts inevitably drift toward capital investment. Like, “Why not trade in the old Guzzler GX for one of those nifty, thrifty little trucks?” A fine line of logic exists here. All seven (eight if you count both Dodge and Plymouth versions of the mini-Mitsubishi) of the small trucks on the market roll through life at 20 mpg or better. And every one of these half-ton haulers packs a pay­load with utmost proficiency. Make enough trips, and you could relocate the District of Columbia.

The fallacy lies in the assumption that any of these pickups could replace a car. To a truck, they’re short on dam­age-resistant bumpers, steering-column locks, back seats, and that commodity we hold so dear in automobiles—fun at the wheel. Which is not to say that driv­ing them is boring. Each and every truckette is amusing in much the same way the nickel bronco keeps junior en­thralled while mommy shops at Kmart. But all seven lack the go, stop, shift, turn satisfaction that comes standard in even a mediocre car.

As with everything else, some are bet­ter than others. Fortunately, the Great Auto Revolution has touched down here and there in the truck field, leaving technological advance in its wake like a benevolent tornado. Every truck in this test comes with an overhead-cam, alu­minum-head engine. Slick-shifting five­-speeds have been common for years. Several interiors match car standards in trim level, if not in roominess. One die­sel-engined front-driver is now in our midst, and more are on the way.

So we’ve stopped the whirlwind for a moment to see who’s done the best job with what. Each has a maximum payload it can safely carry, and this, with a steady hand on the tape measure, will tell you which will accommodate your dirt bikes or nasturtiums. The critical length, width, height, and avoirdupois are listed below. Once you’ve narrowed the field to those trucks with adequate boxes, pay careful attention to our fun-to-drive rankings. We’ve tested these mini-haul­ers unloaded, using our usual accelera­tion, braking, top-speed, sound-level, and skidpad test procedures. We’ve judged them using car fun-to-drive standards because most light-truck own­ers inevitably press their rigs into light-­duty service: for the daily commute to work or as an extra set of wheels.

One last generality before we get down to specifics: most of the price in­formation here is obsolete because it was compiled just before large sticker in­creases. The U.S. Customs Service boosted import tariffs on trucks a few months back from 4 to 25 percent. Pres­ident Carter had the final authority to trim the increase back to 8.5 percent, as he saw fit. In any case, all but the VW are certainly more expensive. All the more reason to pick your pickup wisely.

1st Place: Plymouth Arrow Sport

The name “Plymouth” hardly springs to mind when one thinks “truck,” big or small, new or old. Dodge maybe, as in Power Wagon, but not Plymouth.

Being new to the business is appar­ently to Plymouth’s advantage. It’s made terrific use of car styling, car en­gines and transmissions, car-grade inte­rior appointments, and sporty-car flair whenever appropriate. So the Plymouth Arrow Sport not surprisingly drives more like a car than the other six trucks.

An exclusive power-steering option helps the Arrow change trajectory with ease, and its brawny 2.6-liter motor gives it plenty of punch. There’s also a long accessory list to console car folks new to the wonderful world of trucks. The Arrow’s steering column is up-and­-down adjustable, and its seats are actu­ally comfortable enough for a long drive. What they lack in backrest-angle adjustability they more than make up for in lateral support. And in the true “sport” tradition, the Arrow’s buckets have bolder stripes than a prison suit.

Plymouth and Dodge have eschewed the short-bed rigmarole to offer one 81-inch-long “medium bed” on a 109.4-inch wheelbase. The Arrow’s cargo hold is a bit narrower and shorter in sidewall height than all but the VW’s, but there is some compensation in the fact that the Arrow has a heavier payload rating than any other mini but the LUV. It’s an unwritten rule in this business that what the Lord giveth in payload, He taketh away in ride: the Arrow’s up and down ride motions are a bit too jouncy for our tastes, although impact harshness is well damped.

Under the Arrow’s hood, you’ll find the world’s largest four-cylinder engine, made happy by balance-shaft magic and a high-turbulence, three-valve combus­tion chamber. It neither tingles the palm at idle nor growls back at the 6000-rpm redline. Instead, this engine dutifully pumps out 105 horsepower and 22 miles per gallon.

1980 Plymouth Arrow Sport
105-hp inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2760 lb
Base/as-tested price: $5060/$6974
Payload: 1555 lb
Bed, LxWxH (inches): 81 x 54 x 15
60 mph: 12.4 sec
1/4 mile: 18.3 sec @ 74 mph
Top Speed: 97 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 255 ft
Roadholding, 282-ft-dia skidpad: 0.68 g
EPA fuel economy (est.): 22 mpg

2nd Place: Toyota SR5 Long Bed

You might believe Toyota invented the little truck, since it’s dominated the field the last few years. Actually, Datsun was there first, but Toyota certainly did its share to hurry the little haulers on their way once the market took off in the early Seventies. (Mini-pickups currently account for 30 percent of all light-truck sales.)

Toyota did indeed invent the ever-popular long bed, represented here by its top-of-the-line SR5 model. This truck was new in 1979, so it’s packed with all the latest technology: radial tires, a comfy interior, countless permu­tations of bed length and load capacity (all the way up to a 1950-pound payload), and even a high-riding four­-wheel-drive powertrain option for those who take their trucking off-road.

The SR5 has the second-best ride of the trucks in this test and the second-­best ram-around ability. The combina­tion of the two is something you can live with quite handily. Both the engine and the transmission in the SR5 are straight from the Celica, so they’re ready to romp when you press the yes pedal.

The SR5’s instrument panel is not from the Celica, but this truck has all the white-on-black instrumentation, steering-wheel padding, and wood­grain trim it needs to qualify for sports­-coupe duty. We love this truck’s excel­lent ventilation system and the conve­nience of a coin tray, wallet shelf, or map pocket everywhere you look. The seats, however, could be a whole lot better. As in all these trucks, they lack fore-and-aft travel. But they also, unforgivably, lack an adjustable backrest.

Two other deficiencies while we’re on that subject: the floor behind the seats is rudely uncarpeted, even in the SR5, and a small percentage of Toyota trucks (ours was one) have a single-panel-con­struction tailgate. Which means the “TOYOTA” letters that announce your departure will soon be pockmarked with nasty inside-out dents.

1980 Toyota SR5 Long Bed
95-hp inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2520 lb
Base/as-tested price: $5863/$6742
Payload: 1400 lb
Bed, L x W x H (inches): 87 x 56 x 16
60 mph: 13.3 sec
1/4 mile: 18.7 sec @ 71 mph
Top Speed: 90 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 287 ft
Roadholding, 282-ft-dia skidpad: 0.72 g
EPA fuel economy (est.): 20 mpg

3rd Place: Volkswagen

Volkswagen, if you remember, was the firm whose trucks were booted from these shores way back when high import tariffs first descended on fully assem­bled trucks, so it’s only fair play that VW’s on top of the turnabout this time with an assembly plant in Pennsylvania.

Just don’t call it a Rabbit truck. Sure, the front half is a dead ringer for the bunny, and powertrains are swapped back and forth, but no kidding, folks, this is a Volkswagen truck. That’s all.

And it’s not just the first front-drive pickup, or the first mini offering a diesel engine. This is also the very first VW product conceived, designed, devel­oped, and manufactured in America.

While they were at it, no paper-copy­ing was allowed. So the VW pickup is different. It came out more like an El Camino Junior than any of the Japa­nese-built trucks—smaller and more carlike in design. There’s no frame, as is common practice, so the cab section is welded in unit with the bed. The bed itself is substantially shorter and nar­rower than what the competition offers. Even so, the Volkswagen’s 1100-pound payload rating does equal or better a couple of the trucks here.

The VW’s smallness pays off in a few instances. The short, 103.3-inch wheel­base is terrific for maneuverability, and since the load floor is a mere 21 inches high, those fertilizer sacks are bound to cause less pain than with the other trucks’ 24- to 27-inch load heights.

Where you pay the piper is inside. The Volkswagen has the smallest interi­or going. If you’ve seen an all-vinyl, ful­ly color-keyed, U.S.-built Rabbit, you’ve seen the inside of this truck. (But don’t forget to subtract legroom.) There’s also a critical shortage of instrumenta­tion, ventilation, and backrest angle. In compensation, the ride, handling, and braking are excellent. As for the diesel engine, it makes the truck slow, noisy at idle, and a bit more expensive, but 40-mpg fuel-efficient. Pick your pleasures.

1980 Volkswagen
48-hp diesel inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2160 lb
Base/as-tested price: $6355/$7255
Payload: 1100 lb
Bed, L x W x H (inches): 72 x 51 x 16
60 mph: 21.1 sec
1/4 mile: 21.7 sec @ 61 mph
Top Speed: 75 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 200 ft
Roadholding, 282-ft-dia skidpad: 0.71 g
EPA fuel economy (est.): 40 mpg

4th Place: Datsun King Cab

Datsun’s gift to the world of mini­-trucks is the King Cab. Essentially, this is nothing more than a long-wheelbase chassis carrying a short bed behind a long cab. And also the debut of opera­-window styling on small pickups.

The extra interior room goes to ad­justable-backrest buckets and a pair of jump seats. There is mixed goodness here. Since the back perches have no seatbelts and since you have to ride them sidesaddle, they’re really accept­able only for kids. And while we dearly appreciate the room to swing the seat­backs rearward, we were a bit surprised to find no additional legroom. The rear area is handy at times as a secure stor­age space, however. And ventilation is definitely improved by the flip-out op­era windows.

Datsun has other bed-length, cab-­size, and wheelbase combinations, but we’re adamant about our recommenda­tion to buy the biggest front-to-rear-­axle span you can afford, in order to get a decent ride. Unfortunately, ride quali­ty was one of our disappointments in the Datsun. Up and down motions felt well-damped, but even so, plenty of jounce gets through to bottom your bottom in the seat now and then.

1980 datsun king cab pickup

Aaron Kiley|Car and Driver

We were even more disappointed in the Datsun’s powertrain. The engine died from fuel starvation in left-hand turns, it suffered miserably from an emissions-control device that desperate­ly defied deceleration, and the other­wise excellent transmission had the longest shift pattern in the free world. For driving, this thing is strictly a truck.

Inside, however, it’s almost an LTD. A comprehensive set of instrumentation is bordered by the square-cornered, shiny trim Dearborn loves so much. And the seats have no detectable lateral support whatsoever. The ultra-contem­porary, two-spoke steering wheel would do a Z proud. This little Datsun is defi­nitely trying to be a car, but unfortu­nately the wrong kind.

1980 Datsun King Cab
92-hp inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2740 lb
Base/as-tested price: $5839/$6889
Payload: 1100 lb
Bed, L x W x H (inches): 74 x 62 x 16
60 mph: 15.5 sec
1/4 mile: 19.8 sec @ 69 mph
Top Speed: 91 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 241 ft
Roadholding, 282-ft-dia skidpad: 0.59 g
EPA fuel economy (est.): 25 mpg

5th Place: Mazda B2000 Sundowner Sport

This is where we get into the old school, where trucks were trucks and only modest attempts were made to help them look and act like cars.

The mini-Mazda has a noisy, growly, long-stroke engine that never really set­tles until you get it out on the highway. There it kind of lies down and falls asleep. The B2000 turns in mid-pack performance in all respects except fuel economy, where this little truck excels (with 27 mpg).

Inside, the luxury seems pasted on. The wood-grain windowsill trim is strictly Kmart contact paper. The burl surrounding the instrumentation is of much higher quality, but it has only three dials (speed, fuel, and water tem­perature) to surround. A few pieces do look suspiciously RX-7–like—such as the armrests and steering wheel—but things go downhill fast from there. This truck has a ventilation system no more sophisticated than a fifteen-cent fan. There’s not a vent register in sight, so don’t be caught without air conditioning in a Mazda (or its badge­-engineered twin, the Courier, either).

The B2000 does enjoy a nice set of bucket seats. They’re upholstered in a breathable, woven vinyl, and the back­rest is—praise thee, Lord—adjustable. This at least offers you the chance to trade lower-back distress for cramped legs now and then, something you’re al­lowed only in the King Cab Datsun and this Mazda.

As in most of these little trucks, im­pact harshness is not a problem, but the Mazda is at the low end of the totem pole for ride plushness. It knows it’s a truck and wants you to know too. The Mazda’s bed is competitive for volume and payload capacity, but we’re a bit concerned about the single-wall side construction of the box. Anything you don’t tie down back there will leave its mark on the outside of the truck as soon as you attempt tracking with car traffic around a few corners.

1980 Mazda B2000 Sundowner Sport
77-hp inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2600 lb
Base/as-tested price: $5795/$5795
Payload: 1400 lb
Bed, L x W x H (inches): 87 x 61 x 16
60 mph: 14.1 sec
1/4 mile: 19.2 sec @ 71 mph
Top Speed: 89 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 255 ft
Roadholding, 282-ft-dia skidpad: 0.68 g
EPA fuel economy (est.): 27 mpg

6th Place: Ford Courier

The Courier is not a Mazda B2000, even though Toyo Kogyo builds both these little trucks. For one thing, Ford supplies some engines (our tester had a 2.3-liter SOHC four-cylinder built in Lima, Ohio, and shared with Mustangs and Fairmonts). And there are also various trim, styling, and option differences be­tween the two. At least Ford has the good sense to offer radial tires (Mazda doesn’t yet), even though it chose not to install them on this particular unit.

The Courier is the only short-wheel­base truck in the test, which further con­firms our philosophy that you need all the span you can get between the wheels in these little critters to help you over the bumps in life. What ride quality the Courier gains with its special “soft­-ride” package, it more than loses in this short-bed configuration. So go long, even if you don’t necessarily need the space. The so-called soft-ride option re­duces the payload rating from 1400 to 900 pounds, by the way, in both long­- and short-bed Couriers.

1980 ford courier pickup

Aaron Kiley|Car and Driver

The performance of the optional 2.3-liter engine (a 2.0-liter is standard) is disap­pointing. There is plenty of torque for around-town hauling, but little sign of enthusiasm once the revs are up on the highway. This engine is also noisier and more rattly-sounding than most.

Inside, the Courier offers a much broader range of trim choices than the Mazda and a few other trucks as well. We had a Sport group, which includes various black upholstery, carpeting, and trim pieces, as well as bucket seats in­stead of a bench. There’s also a Decor package (shiny exterior trim), an XLT group (color-keyed interior trim, more complete instrumentation, and lots of bright exterior moldings), and a couple of Free Wheeling packages (aluminum wheels, white-letter tires, a black cow­catcher, and enough accent tape to blind a used-car salesman). Only the Mazda’s adjustable-seatback mechanism has been left out.

1980 Ford Courier
82-hp inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2600 lb
Base/as-tested price: $5126/$6306
Payload: 900 lb
Bed, L x W x H (inches): 75 x 61 x 16
60 mph: 12.5 sec
1/4 mile: 18.5 sec @ 73 mph
Top Speed: 91 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 239 ft
Roadholding, 282-ft-dia skidpad: 0.73 g
EPA fuel economy (est.): 22 mpg

7th Place: Chevrolet LUV

If this is love, what could be the mat­ter? Actually, we’d rate the Mazda, the Courier, and the LUV together near the bottom of the heap, with only a few par­ticular personality quirks to separate them. The LUV loses points, first of all, because it has no radial-tire option, and secondly, because the particular one we tested was forced to bear a millstone about its neck in the form of an auto­matic transmission.

We couldn’t recommend such a de­vice—except perhaps in the powerful Arrow—but the experience here was at least educational. The LUV has no ex­cess of horsepower to begin with, and it seems to fight its hydraulic transmission every step of the way because of it. Acceleration is down, fuel economy is lost forever, top speed is a mere 80 mph, and all fun-to-drive hope is tossed out the window. As if this weren’t enough, the LUV came equipped with a bench seat (albeit one covered in luxurious cloth upholstery), partly because the high-zoot Mikado interior-trim package permits bucket seats with only three of the five available exterior colors. (The seats are red and harmonize only with red, white, or black exteriors. This op­tion is not coded Catch-22.)

1980 chevrolet luv pickup

Aaron Kiley|Car and Driver

Worse yet, the 1.8-liter engine (no al­ternative), matched to an automatic transmission, set up a horrible boom during 70-mph cruising, registering an annoying 86 dBA on our sound meter. Furthermore, the LUV has one of the crudest rides this side of a farm wagon, partly due to its bias-belted tires. And its interior volume lies at the low end of this class. Ventilation is only fair.

But wait. The day is saved. The LUV does have one redeeming feature: the biggest bed and heaviest payload going. The cargo hold is four inches longer than the second-longest bed, and the LUV’s 1635-pound payload beats them all—the Arrow Sport by 80 pounds and the soft-ride Courier by a whopping 735 pounds.

1980 Chevrolet LUV
80-hp inline-4, 3-speed automatic, 2640 lb
Base/as-tested price: $4787/$6345
Payload: 1635 lb
Bed, L x W x H (inches): 91 x 62 x 16
60 mph: 19.0 sec
1/4 mile: 21.6 sec @ 64 mph
Top Speed: 80 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 286 ft
Roadholding, 282-ft-dia skidpad: 0.59 g
EPA fuel economy (est.): 22 mpg

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