I bought my 2001 Ford F-150 in 2003, becuase I could afford it, and I got a great deal. It has been the best truck I have ever driven. (I have driven a lot of them.) I bought my 2006 in 2006, based on my experience with my 2001, and will probably buy more Fords in the future because I have had great luck with these particular trucks. I am speaking about these individual trucks, not collectively. If I had found a Dodge or a Chevy at the time, (back then thier quad cabs weren't as big as the Ford's, and they couldn't fit my family) and I would have had the good experience with them that I have had with my Fords, I would probably be singing their praises right now, and I wouldn't even know anything about Fords.
If your looking for a smaller truck, the Dodge Dakota is a good one. Mine has been "rode hard, and put away wet" many times, and I haven't had any problems with it either.
I've got to think you can find a pretty good deal on the Nissan Sentra, or a Toyota of similar type. They would probably be the least expensive options on your list, with possibly the exception of a Volkswagon, and their gas mileage and maintenance record would be great.
Let us know what you decide on.