Tiny Pickup Trucks, Slow Honda Turbos and Truck for the Birds? [Ask Nathan]

Will tiny pickup trucks ever return?

Nathan and The Fast Lane Car team are here to answer your (reasonable) questions. Interesting and/or entertaining emails will be posted to this column. If it’s relevant in the automotive universe, there’s a chance we may know something about it. The author’s email address and full name will be omitted – leaving your first name, initials or nickname, your preference.

In this week’s Ask Nathan:

  • Will tiny pickup trucks ever come back?  
  • My Honda Civic turbo is dangerously slow!
  • I need a truck for my birds!

The first question comes from a fan who misses two door tiny pickup trucks.

Hanyang University of South Korea design student Hawon Jang’s “Mini Square” A concept design entered into the Michelin Challenge Design contest.

Q: I’m getting depressed. It looks like the small, two-door pickup has been totally abandoned by automakers.

The latest spy shots for the Santa Cruz, Frontier, and Ford small pickup all show 4 door trucklets. Is there any hope at all for a future in which there is a true two-door small pickup (not a midsize), or am I going to have to drive my 2010 Ranger till it collapses into a heap of rust?

Thanks as always to the TFL crew.

— Scott

A: Scott, I feel your pain.

I hate to say it, but there is no sign of a small, two-door pickup truck making a comeback in our market anytime soon. It’s a combination of things: DOT safety requirements, chicken tax, consumer lack of interest and more. Before Toyota discontinued their Tacoma regular cab, the sales numbers were falling through the floor.

Nissan is able to keep their sales going with the two-door Frontier, based on it still having a back seat. Still, the Toyota and Nissan are “midsize” pickup trucks. The age of smaller trucks may be gone forever.

It’s odd to say this, buy there is a glimmer of hope. If electric pickup trucks take off, we may see a new generation of small trucks built for urban centers and agricultural applications. That may translate into small, personal EV pickup trucks as well.

Small EV pickup trucks could work

One of the reasons I selected this Chevrolet concept “Mini Square” designed by Hawon Jang as an example, is because it illustrates how compact it is. There is no engine, nor do you need a transaxle or any conventional running gear. With motors in the wheels and this cool, rotating-cab design lots of space is left over for cargo. Sure, this is a “one-passenger” setup, but it’s easy to imagine enough room for two in the cab.

This may be a radical example of where we are going with tiny pickup trucks, but I think it’s a logical assumption. I would love to have other options, but the buying public wants massive passenger capacity and lots of toys – all of which require space.

Oh yes, and the Jeep J6 concept you previously asked about? It’s fairly doubtful that it will see production. I recommend creating massive letter writing campaign directed to Jim Morrison Head of Jeep Brand FCA North America and Mike Manley CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.


The next email comes from a fan who has a 2018 Honda Civic EX-T. He does not like this vehicle and he illustrates why.

Q:  (This letter is paraphrased for length) Dear TFL Folks:

You have one feature on your channel that I would have loved to participate in, “Why I Love, or Hate, My Ride.”  However, I no longer have the vehicle that I “hate,” but I want to tell you about it.  My experience may be useful to someone else.  The reason I was looking for a vehicle when I bought the Renegade was a bad experience with the car I had then.  Within a year of purchase, with under 4,000 miles, and still with the new car smell, I really grew to hate it.  And, I wanted to tell others why.  It was a 2018 Honda Civic EX-T, the T for turbo.  Yes, the venerable and highly acclaimed but now accursed Civic.  I don’t miss it a bit.  After driving that car, I will never drive another car with a turbocharged engine.  Nathan will be interested in my reasons, which I will mention shortly.  He always talks about how wonderful turbos are.

Dinan N20 turbocharger
Turbos can be a big issue… (Image: Dinan N20 turbocharger)

There are several reasons why I hated that car, including (1) the dealership buying experience (it didn’t matter that this was our third Honda from them.  They treated us like dirt.  So much for customer loyalty.), (2) the idiotic and complicated infotainment system that took nearly every page of the 600+ page owners manual to decipher (that owner’s manual was so big that I think it exceeded the car’s GVW), (3) the OE tires that literally sounded like a jet engine on paved roads, (4) the car’s looks, (5) the CVT (I know how you guys feel about CVTs and now I know why you feel that way), and (6) the turbo engine. 

My wife and I were up the canyon.  We were entering the highway from a side road.  The highway in this location is fairly straight in both directions for a distance of about 450-500 feet each way before it curves (as measured on Google Earth, elevation 8,400 feet).  This was a summer day with no snow around at all.  I looked both ways, and nothing was coming, so I pulled out onto the highway.  Just then, a full-sized pickup came screaming around the curve to the left at a high rate of speed.  I hit the gas, and, because of turbo lag, nothing happened.  The car just sat there with the truck barreling down on us. 

Finally, after about three seconds or so the engine caught and we pulled out of the way just before the truck would have hit us.  A normally aspirated engine would have responded at the instant I hit the accelerator.  This is the reason I will never drive another car with a turbo.  I don’t care how much power the turbo may generate or how well they may work at higher altitudes.  It won’t do a lot of good if you are dead.  And, now Honda is putting that engine in almost everything they sell.  Bad decision; bad, bad decision.  Oh, and I didn’t even get into the fact that turbo engines typically do not last as long as normally aspirated engines.  It is one more thing to break, and it is an expensive thing when it does break.  By the way,  I drive a lot in Utah’s mountains (at 10,000-11,000 feet or higher) and have never had a problem with a regular engine not having power.

This is an older Nissan Altima CVT (Photo: Nissan)
Still, CVTs are not known for high performance… none of them.

Along with my Renegade, I looked at almost every compact and subcompact CUV available.  Your reviews were very helpful as I made a decision.  Thank you for the fine work you do.  You have a lot of fun doing it, and it shows.

I wonder what Nathan would say to my assessment of turbocharged engines.

Thank you,


A: Hi Paul,

You’re correct, I often talk about the virtures of turbocharging. Much of that comes from the fact that we shoot many of our videos at high elevation. Forced induction helps minimize power loss, but you’re absolutely right – “lag” is an issue.

There is another type of lag that you were contending with. The lag of the continuously variable transmission. Simply put, combining the turbo lag and the amount of time it takes the CVT to get the power down can be painfully slow. As you mentioned in your email, it can be downright dangerous.

Hooked up to a manual transmission, getting the power down quicker is easier. Still, even with the best launch, turbocharged cars can bog with a manual transmission and add to the lag. It’s a tricky tradeoff.

I still stand behind the virtues of turbocharging and supercharging. It works brilliantly under the right circumstances. I fully acknowledge their issues and I am sorry you had a sour experience.

Also, you’re not alone about having a terrible experience at your Honda dealer. Several stories have come across my desk regarding terrible dealer experiences with Honda. It makes no sense given their cheery marketing and intense fanbase. Despite that, dealerships from California to Florida have some nasty comments regarding their customer service.

I hope you’re happy in your new Renegade!


Rio 2011 Animated Film
(Image: Blue Sky Studios, Inc.)

The last question comes from a reader who needs a vehicle to transport exotic birds.

Q: Via Twitter (@NathanAdlen): Nathan, do you like exotic birds?

I have a company in Florida and we have to transport exotic birds all the time. I need something more professional than my 2011 Ford F-150 with a shell on it. It bounces a lot and it is hard for me to reach into. I am only 5’1″!!

Please help!


A: Hi!

I think a smart bet would be one of three small, front-wheel drive (FWD) vans. The Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV 200 and the Ram ProMaster City. All three can hold a remarkable amount of cargo, have a car-like ride and are economical to run.

The Nissan NV 200 is the least expensive, the Ford Transit Connect is tops for comfort and convenience while the Ram ProMaster City is the best all-around van. All three are smart choices, but my favorite is the Ram as it tows fairly well and it has reasonable pricing.

Best of luck with the birds!


Speaking of vans…

From day one, The Fast Lane Car has made it our policy to answer as many questions and comments as we can. We get thousands of emails and comments and feel that, as part of a tight-knit automotive community, having an open dialogue with you keeps things fresh and exciting.Got a question for Nathan? Drop him a line at: asknathan@tflcar.com.