Fans of no-nonsense midsize trucks often turn to the likes of the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. Although it’s had some rough years, the Tacoma is one of the most reliable trucks available. And while the Frontier’s simplicity can understandably drag, that’s why customers buy it. However, it appears rugged utilitarianism can only take the trucks so far. Both the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier are being updated for the 2020 model year. But which Japanese midsize truck is the better buy?
Nissan Frontier specs and features
Truth be told, the 2020 Nissan Frontier isn’t terribly different from the 2019 model.
The biggest change is the new powertrain. 2019 models came with either a 152-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a 261-hp 4.0-liter V6. However, for 2020, the Nissan Frontier gets a 3.8-liter V6 which puts out 310 hp and 281 lb-ft. And while the manual option is no more, Car and Driver reports the 2020 Frontier does get a 9-speed automatic.
The 2020 update brings relatively few upgrades elsewhere. Push-button start is now standard, as are power windows and door locks. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are still not available, nor are any advanced driver-assistance features. However, the Nissan Frontier is available either in rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive trims. The 4WD system is shift-on-the-fly and has a proper two-speed transfer case.
And for off-roaders, there’s the PRO-4X trim. This adds Hankook Dynapro AT-M all-terrain tires, Bilstein shocks, a locking rear differential, and a stronger Dana rear axle. The Nissan Frontier PRO-4X also comes with skid plates covering the fuel tank, transfer case, and engine, Motor Trend reports.
Toyota Tacoma specs and features
The Toyota Tacoma received a few more changes than the Frontier did going from 2019 to 2020.
For one, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are finally standard, as is Amazon’s Alexa. And all trims except the base SR receive LED DRLs. The SR also misses out on the otherwise-standard power-operated driver’s and passenger’s seats, Car and Driver reports. Plus, while the SR’s 7” touchscreen is larger than the 2019’s 6.1” screen, the other trims have an 8” screen.
For 2020, the Toyota Tacoma also gets some extra cameras. One, the Panoramic View Monitor, adds additional viewing angles to the standard backup camera. The Multi-Terrain Monitor, meanwhile, functions similarly to the Land Cruiser’s system, letting the driver spot obstacles on the ground. The SR and SR5, though, can’t get these systems. However, every Tacoma comes standard with Toyota’s ADAS suite, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and forward-collision alert.
In terms of the powertrain, though, the 2020 Tacoma is unchanged. The standard engine is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder, which makes 159 hp and 180 lb-ft. The option on the SR and SR5 is a 3.5-liter V6, rated at 278 hp and 265 lb-ft. The TRD trims and the Limited get the V6 as standard. The TRD trims are also the only ones that can option the 6-speed manual; a 6-speed automatic is standard. RWD is standard, though 4WD with transfer case is optional. TRD trims are all 4WD.
The Toyota Tacoma, unlike the Nissan Frontier, has a few off-road trims to choose from. The TRD Off-Road adds Bilstein shocks and a locking rear differential. If you get it with the automatic, you can also get hill-start assist. The TRD Pro, meanwhile, gets Fox shocks, LED fog lights, a skid plate, Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires, and a 1” lift, MT reports.
Which is the better buy?
If you’re interested in off-roading, Team O’Neil recommends skipping straight past the Tacoma TRD Off-Road for the TRD Pro. And MT found that, despite slightly worse approach and departure angles, the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X is a worthy TRD Pro rival. Although 2020 Frontier pricing is not available as of this writing, the 2019 PRO-4X is about $10,000 cheaper than the TRD Pro.
However, when it comes to the overall design, the Toyota Tacoma is the better midsize truck, Autotrader reports. It has more standard features, especially where safety is concerned, and a better interior. True, the Nissan Frontier is cheaper, but the 2019 SV is only about $3700 cheaper than the Tacoma SR5. And in terms of payload and towing capacities, the Frontier only slightly edges out the Tacoma.
The Nissan Frontier does make a good basic work truck. But the Toyota Tacoma is the more livable one. However, if you can wait for a few months, the more thoroughly-redesigned 2021 Frontier is set to debut. That may end up changing this recommendation.
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