The changing of the seasons has brought us a trio of pickup trucks to examine and in at least one case, put through its paces as a heavy-duty hauler. The Chevrolet Silverado got a serious workout, hauling a full load of firewood, while the Honda Ridgeline and Toyota Tacoma handled ordinary commuting duties. For those purposes, we liked the Honda Ridgeline best — mainly for its pleasing driving qualities, superior fuel economy and posh interior.

The 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro 4x4 double cab — be sure to punctuate that with a grunt when you say it out loud — was a whole ’nother animal. Priced about $2,000 higher than the Ridgeline, it’s one of the most rugged vehicles of any kind we’ve driven lately. The basics? Toyota Racing Development-tuned Fox 2.5 internal bypass shocks with rear remote reservoirs, TRD front skid plate, part-time 4-wheel drive with a 2-speed transfer case and automatic limited-slip differential, locking rear differential, multi-terrain-select knob, crawl control, hill-start-assist control, towing package, engine oil cooler and 9.4 inches of ground clearance. This Tacoma will go where Jeeps and Range Rovers go, and it’ll keep up.

The compact Tacoma truck’s ruggedness comes at a high price, starting with the one at the bottom of the window sticker: $44,814. Fuel economy is middling at best: 18 mpg city, 23 highway. We averaged a little better than 20 mpg in mostly highway driving. Then there’s the cab's configuration. The Tacoma looks sleek, compared with major competitors like the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, because the high stance contributes to a low roofline. If you buy a Tacoma, be prepared to raise the tilt-telescoping steering wheel when exiting the vehicle so it isn’t in the way when you climb in later.

Riding quality was pretty good, as was handling, and the noise level was no worse than moderate. We were puzzled, however, by the performance of the 278-horsepower V-6 engine with the 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission. That’s a lot of ponies, but the frequent, obtrusive downshifts gave the false impression the truck was underpowered. Our research indicated this trait may have something to do with boosting fuel economy.

The 5-passenger Tacoma TRD Pro is nicely equipped: remote keyless entry, push-button start, leather-trimmed heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, Entune premium audio system with satellite radio navigation system, 7-inch high-resolution touchscreen and wireless smartphone charging. A handy $300 option on our test truck was a bed extender, which also can be used to keep small items from banging around the Tacoma's bed.

The competition in this segment is limited to the Chevrolet and GMC models, the Nissan Frontier, and the Ridgeline. For those looking for a reliable work truck, the 4-passenger, rear-wheel-drive Toyota SR starts at $24,575.

The Tacoma received four-star ratings (out of a possible five) in every category except rear-seat crash protection — 5 stars — in government crash tests.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro 4x4 Double Cab

Price: $44,814

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 278 horsepower, 265 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: part-time 4-wheel-drive system with 2-speed electronically controlled transfer case, automatic limited-slip differential, locking rear differential, multi-terrain select

Ground clearance: 9.4 in.

Curb weight: 3,500 lb.

Suspension: Coil-spring double-wishbone front suspension and stabilizer bar; leaf spring rear suspension with staggered outboard-mounted gas shock absorbers and stabilizer bar

Wheels: 16-in. TRD black alloy

Tires: P265/70R16

Seating capacity: 5

Maximum payload: 1,120 lb.

Maximum towing capacity: 6,400 lb.

Fuel capacity: 21.1 gal.

Fuel economy: 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.