Over the last few years, there have been a lot of changes and improvements to heavy-duty 3/4- and one-ton trucks, as well as to half-tons. What has been the quieter story is that compact trucks have gotten bigger and more capable, too, and many of them are now as big as half-tons used to be, with comparable towing and payload capacities. (This Equator, as equipped, does have a payload of more than 1000 pounds, the reason trucks were originally called "half-tons.")
Why did Suzuki get into the compact-truck market? It manufactures motorcycles, ATVs, and motors for boats and had to watch as other automakers' trucks served as tow vehicles. It made sense for Suzuki to get a pickup, and partnering with Nissan proved cost-effective.
So when the Suzuki Equator arrived for Motor Trend's 2009 Truck of the Year event, we were curious about this compact pickup for a variety of reasons. How does this smaller truck compare with the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, and Chevrolet Colorado? Would it realistically serve the needs of people who want towing and hauling capability, but prefer a truck small enough to fit in the garage? And, the question we all had: How on earth is this truck different from the Nissan Frontier? After all, they're both built on the same lines in Nissan's plant in Smyrna, Tennessee; they look alike; and they have the same engines and transmissions. It was for all those reasons that, after TOTY ended, we requested a Suzuki Equator for a year-long test.
The first thing we noticed about the Equator, as opposed to the Frontier, is that the option packaging is different. The Nissan is available as an XE and SE (King Cab only), PRO-4X and LE trim levels, King or Crew Cabs, I-4 or V-6, manual or automatic transmissions, short or long bed, and rear or four-wheel drive. The Equator offers fewer permutations. Both engines are available with the Extended Cab, but the manual transmission backs the four only. All Crew Cabs are V-6 only, but there is a choice of short or long bed. Extended Cabs come as base, Premium, and Sport variants; and Crew Cabs are equipped as base, Sport, and RMZ-4 Sport. Another big difference is the warranties. Both trucks have a basic 3-year/36,000-mile warranty, but where the Frontier's powertrain warranty covers the vehicle for five years and 60,000 miles, Suzuki's goes further, taking care of the powertrain for seven years and 100,000 miles. There aren't many physical differences in the trucks, but this feature adds value to the Suzuki.