Top-Rated 2012 Pickups: Performance & Design

The annual J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout StudySM (APEAL) measures consumer satisfaction with the design and performance of new vehicles. Survey respondents must have purchased a new vehicle and owned it for at least 90 days prior to completing the survey, which asks them to share thoughts about how their new vehicle performs, how it looks and feels, how comfortable it is, how the features and controls work, and more. This 2012 Pickups buyer's guide lists, in alphabetical order, those trucks receiving the highest overall APEAL ratings.


2012 Chevrolet Avalanche

Offered in LS, LT, and LTZ trim levels, the 2012 Chevy Avalanche is a cross between a pickup truck and an SUV, and is among the top-rated 2012 pickups for performance and design. Built on the same platform as the big Chevy Suburban, the Avalanche is equipped with 5-passenger seating and a short cargo bed that can be expanded by removing the vehicle's rear cab wall and folding the back seat down.

For 2012, Chevrolet adds hill-start assist and trailer sway control to the standard equipment list, the LT trim level is equipped with standard heated front seats, and the LTZ gains a standard heated steering wheel. A new navigation radio system debuts, along with Silver Ice and Topaz Blue paint colors.

An E85-compatible 5.3-liter V-8 engine is standard, delivering 320 horsepower. The engine features Active Fuel Management, which operates the engine on 4 cylinders under certain driving conditions to maximize fuel economy. The EPA says this truck gets up to 21 mpg on the highway, and Chevrolet claims the Avalanche tows up to 8,100 pounds of weight.

2012 Ford F-150

Offered in three different cab styles with three different bed lengths, the 2012 Ford F-150 is sold in a choice between 10 different trim levels, ranging from a basic XL work truck to a luxurious Platinum model and a Baja-ready SVT Raptor sport truck.

This year, hill-start assist is standard equipment, models with 4-wheel-drive (4WD) can be flat-towed thanks to new Neutral-tow capability, and the more expensive models offer a new automatic 4WD system. Ford also expands the number of long-bed models, increases payload ratings for certain short-bed models, adds a new FX Appearance package, and offers additional options for the SVT Raptor model. A Harley-Davidson variant also returns, complete with snakeskin leather interior accents and 22-inch wheels.

Variety is also the name of the game when it comes to the F-150's powertrain lineup, which includes a turbocharged, 3.5-liter V-6; 3.7-liter V-6; 5.0-liter V-8; and a 6.2-liter V-8. Fuel economy as rated by the EPA ranges from a low of 11 mpg in the city for the SVT Raptor to a high of 22 mpg on the highway with the turbocharged V-6, dubbed "EcoBoost" by Ford. Maximum towing capacity of 11,300 pounds comes courtesy of the EcoBoost engine and the 6.2-liter V-8.

2012 Honda Ridgeline

Similar to the Chevy Avalanche, the 2012 Honda Ridgeline is a crew-cab, short-bed pickup built on an SUV platform, in this case the previous-generation Honda Pilot's underpinnings. This year, a new Ridgeline Sport trim level debuts, and all Ridgelines receive slight styling modifications to improve aerodynamics as well as drivetrain friction reductions to help it achieve a highway fuel economy rating of 21 mpg, according to the EPA.

A 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine is standard, and the Ridgeline is equipped with a Variable Torque Management 4WD system. Under normal driving conditions, the Ridgeline operates as a front-wheel-drive vehicle, but up to 70% of engine power can transfer to the rear as is necessary.

Maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds, and the Ridgeline is equipped with a dual-action tailgate that swings to the side or drops down, depending on cargo requirements. A unique locking trunk is installed under the cargo bed, complete with a drainage hole in the event an owner chooses to use it as an ice chest for beverages.

2012 Nissan Frontier

A traditional compact pickup, the 2012 Nissan Frontier is offered in extended- and crew-cab styles with a 4-cylinder or V-6 engine and 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive, and is among the top-rated 2012 trucks for performance and design. The Frontier can be decked out in S, SV, or SL trim. People heading off-road will want to consider the PRO-4X model. For 2012, Nissan adds stability control as standard equipment, a new Sport Appearance package debuts, and new colors are available.

A 152-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard, with a 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 available. Each can be paired with a manual or an automatic transmission, but 4WD is offered only with the V-6 engine. Fuel economy ranges between 14 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, depending on powertrain configuration, and a Frontier tows up to 6,500 pounds.