The Most Popular Crew Cab, Extra Cab and Single cab pickups in the market
Prior to the early 1990s, pickup trucks in Costa Rica were almost exclusively for institutions and for agricultural / commercial use. You will see old Toyota and Datsun pickups, plus the classic Land Rovers. These were used by farmers both on the farm and to bring produce to market. The other main use was for work crews and other institutional applications, particularly in rural areas. As such they weren’t very comfortable for the driver or passengers, and either slow or unwieldy on the highway (or both). For the most part they were 2 or 3 passenger trucks, although many fleets did have 4 door (crew cab) versions.
The Extra Cab Innovation
Starting with Extra Cab trucks in the early 1990s, you began to see “civilian” trucks appear on the market and in San Jose. One of the best examples would be the Nissan D21 models, that combined an aggressive look with high level 4×4 capability to become very popular as a combination city / country every day driver. Other popular models in Costa Rica were the Toyota Hilux and also the Isuzu Space Cab, along with the Mazda King Cab.
These trucks were pretty comfortable for the driver and front passenger, but mostly only offer fold up bench type seats for the 3rd and 4th passenger in the back. And being 2 door were difficult to access for adults. Great for kids, or on short trips they offer space for 4 adults and gear or cargo in the rear truck bed. But they were still mainly used for commercial or institutional purposes, or quite often people with rural weekend properties would find them a useful combination vehicle.
The Hybrid Family Workhorse
This situation continued through 2005, when Mitsubishi introduced the redesigned L200, which was followed by the Toyota Hilux in 2007. Both models were designed specifically for Latin America, and both were based on the same size and weight class SUV offered by the brands. They feature many distinctions, that transform the image of the pickup truck from a work vehicle to an alternative to the SUV as an every day vehicle that is multi-functional:
- They ride much better on the highway, improved diesel engines offer much better acceleration at highway speeds.
- The 4 doors and 2nd row seating transform the vehicle from something uncomfortable for everyone but the driver, to vehicle that will work for even long family trips.
- The handling is also greatly improved, and the ground clearance is higher — better for going off-road.
At the same time, they still have durable suspensions for cargo loads and rough roads, and the true 4×4 for difficult situations on the job or on the beach.
SUV or Pickup?
While all of these features are great, they come along with a huge boost in the price of pickup trucks, which even today are similarly priced to comparable SUVs. For example, we received quotes for clients on the Toyota Fortuner and Hilux as brand new vehicles in April 2019:
|2019 Hilux– 2.4 liter 4X4 Crew Cab Manual Transmission This would be the basic work truck, priced at $37,700 (no A/C)||2019 Hilux Limited Edition SRV– 2.8 liter 4X4 Crew Cab Automatic Transmission This has leather seats, 9 airbags, and the VSC stability control system at $58,300|
|2019 Hilux FULL– 2.4 liter 4X4 Crew Cab Automatic Transmission This is with power windows, A/C and other niceties $44,900||2019 Fortuner Sport – 2.8 liter 4×4 Automatic Transmission This options package is similar to the SRV Hilux, and the price too — $54,800|
|2019 Hilux FULL SRV– 2.8 liter 4X4 Crew Cab Automatic Transmission This is the full extras version, but also has the improved 2.8 liter engine with common rail injection, price at $54,400||2019 Fortuner Limited Edition – 2.8 liter 4×4 Automatic Transmission Leather seats, smart entry, cool box, 9 airbags, and more! $63,800|
You can see that the prices for the comparable trim level are pretty similar, even though you might think a pickup should be cheaper than an SUV. Similar pricing holds true among all the brands.
What are the Most Popular Models?
Best in Class — These models are the most popular, they are similar in quality, 4×4 capability, cargo capacity and extra features.
- Toyota Hilux
- Mitsubishi L200
- Nissan Frontier / Navara
- Isuzu D-Max
With any of these models you will get a popular truck that can be easily repaired by any mechanic nationwide. Parts are a good value, the brands that are less expensive are good quality. If parts are more expensive, they are high quality and worth the extra price. You also have the option of buying parts at a regular auto parts store, but if it is an unusual part it’s likely the dealer has it in stock, or arriving shortly.
2nd Tier — These models are less popular, but could be a good value. Parts are not as widely available as for the first tier models, so that sometimes means they are more expensive or harder to find. However, they are high quality and so can have a longer useful life.
- Mazda BT50
- Ford Ranger
As of 2013, these models share the same 5 cylinder / 3.2 liter engine. It is the modern Common Rail Direct Injection (CRDI) engine, so they have superior performance at highway speeds, and also the same or better cargo capacity. The Mazda BT-50 offers a 2.2 liter version that is also CRDI, which can be a good option if your aren’t as concerned with the cargo and towing capacity.
Other Solid Options — If you are looking for a strictly work truck, the Kia Bongo offers a 4×4 crew cab version, it is reasonably priced and actually seats 6, the boxy shape isn’t maybe the coolest, but very practical and if you really have a work crew to accomodate it’s a good choice.
US Versions — Most Costa Ricans prefer the diesel pickup, but you will find some gasoline models that could be viable, if that’s your preference: Toyota Tacoma and Honda Ridgeline. With the gasoline engine you generally expect better acceleration, particularly from a start and at highway speeds. Although some of the latest CRDI diesel engines are very close, it is still generally true. You give up some fuel economy with the gasoline engine, and the price to fill up is higher. But for some people that’s a fair trade-off.
The Dodge Ram is popular in the Central Valley as a work truck, or dual purpose vehicle, and it could be something to consider if you need to really tow something heavy. The size of the vehicle and narrow streets in Costa Rica would be drawbacks for a lot of people, and the lower fuel economy of the bigger engine as well.
The Ford and Chevrolet trucks are not popular, but if you live in the Central Valley or have a specific adaptation you might find them to be the only options. (Food truck, ambulance, camper, etc).
If you own a farm, or will be building, then a 4×4 pickup would be a very good option. As we know from our own experience, your contractor will always need something they forgot to put on the list. While quite often this can be handled with a car or an SUV, the pickup has the advantage in cargo capacity and avoiding wear and tear on the interior. And you will save money on transportation charges, particularly on items that won’t fit in the back of other types of vehicles.
As time goes along, it seems that SUVs have less and less off-road capability, so if you live in a remote area and want something very new, a pickup with 4 doors could be an excellent option. The Toyota Hilux (depending on the version) offers a rear locking differential, which is necessary in extreme conditions and very rare nowadays.
Disadvantages: In slightly older year models the pickup is as expensive or more expensive than the SUV. Also, because the rear suspension is tuned to handle heavy loads, they lack weight and give a rough and bouncy ride on rough roads when not loaded with cargo.
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