6'2" guy looking for used, compact pickup $2000-4000 range. Suggestions?

I am tall, so I know for example older Toyotas are not big enough for me, and I most likely will need an extended cab pickup to fit and not feel cramped. I want an automatic transmission and require AC (I live in a desert), so that obviously rules out getting a very base model truck and getting as much bang for the buck as possible.

Below is my wishlist (if I can fit in them) in the following order based upon preference.

Should I change this order based upon your experiences?

1. Ford Ranger/Mazda - extended cab

a. 2.3L motor

b. 3.0L motor

c. 4.0L motor

2. Toyota Tacoma - extended cab

a. 4cyl

b. 6cyl

3. Nissan - extended cab

a. 4cyl

b. 6cyl

If you’re looking for room as your main criteria, nothing beats a Dakota. Otherwise, I’m your height and though most are different in inseam to total height ratios, I’ve never found a problem sitting in any of these trucks. The newer called"Tacoma" is roomier as is the “Frontier”. But in extended cab, my “old” 89 Toyota was excellent. You’re right, if it’s old enough not to carry these names, their room is suspect in standard cab. Rangers are 1983 technology/design but if extended cab too, it may be your best bet for the money.
An add on…I would consider ease of service whether your doing it yourself of not over perceived reliability which in your case sees secondary. That’s why I vote Ranger/Mazda,

I am also 6’2" tall and I am considering making a Tacoma my next vehicle. If you plan to do any substantial towing or hauling, I would get the V6 Tacoma with the tow package. If you don’t plan to tow with it, I would get the I4 Tacoma. The only thing I plan to tow is my motorcycle, which weighs 500 lbs. with a 350 lb. trailer, so I can get away with an I4 and a class 1 trailer hitch.

Thank you both for your thoughtful replies.

Reliability is a concern for me, which is why I never mentioned any GM products - had too many money pits with a GM badge on them. The reason Ford/Mazda came to be first on my list was in hoping for more bang for the buck given the requirement of AC and desire for AT. (Toyotas always seem to have a premium you pay for the name, no matter how beat they are).

I have no intent to tow things, I loathe towing trailers, and honestly waould prefer fuel efficiency over power any day. I drive a Ford Escort right now for the efficiency, not the looks or sprtiness - it has neither. The 1.9L Mazda motor seems very strong though,and I suspect when my car dies it will be because everything else around th emotor died yet it will still be running strong. This is another contributing factor as to why I was considering Ford/Mazda as the 2.3L of newer Fords/Mazdas is a Mazda motor.

I also live in a smaller town, and figured Ford/Mazda would have more parts availability since I see many more of those than the other listed trucks around here. If they really have serious issues however, I don’t want one - I learned from my S-10 ownership that cheap is not always better! S-10s regularly appear on the local Craigslist for $1000 or less, but I have no desire to even look at them.

Anything imported to the area, even food, is more expensive here than in larger cities. That doesn’t mean a Toy or Nissan wouldn’t be a better investment however, which is why I threw this posting out there…in hopes of seeing what others who have owned Ford/Mazda/Nissan/Toyota pickups would have to say about their experience.

I think you’re right with your initial instincts.
$2000 to $4000 truck prices are not considered much of an investment and it’s all bang for the buck. Brother had Rangers for years. Compared to my Toyotas, they weren’t as powerful overall, as tough off road, or as durable repair wise and he complained frequently about it’s overall performance. But, at the end of their working life, they actually cost him less then mine for similar miles driven to maintain as he didn’t ask them to do as much as I did my Toyotas. When ever we did something off road or towing together, we took mine.
I will say, overall satisfaction ratings are lower for Rangers both objectively from CR and subjectively when listening to Bro’s complaints. But $4k is $4k.

For $2k-$4k you can skip the nissans. The 2005-up Frontiers are very competent, but you’re not getting into one for that amount of money, the older nissan pickups are no great shakes IMO. A 4 cylinder Toyota would probably be your best bet, but I’m not certain which engines have timing belts and which ones have timing chains. If you have to end up replacing the time belt, it you’d been paying about 20%-50% as much as you paid for the truck. The Ranger will be the cheapest option, it’s also the most cramped. I’d look for one with the 3.0 V6. You’ll be giving up some fuel mileage, but the engine is bulletproof.

Hmmm…you are confirming suspicions I had after doing some research.

Do you know how the 3.0 stacks up in matters of reliability with the the newer, Mazda 2.3L they put in the Rangers from 2001 onward?