Car Comparison

2018 Toyota Tacoma vs. 2018 Nissan Frontier: Which is Better?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Chris O'Neill July 2018

Midsize pickups like the 2018 Toyota Tacoma and the 2018 Nissan Frontier have undergone a resurgence in popularity lately. The segment that used to serve primarily as an alternative to larger, more expensive full-size trucks now serves an entirely different subset of buyers -- those looking for an expressive, fun vehicle to compliment their active lifestyle. With a number of new and old players on the market, selecting a midsize pickup can be a challenge. Here we compare two of the oldest nameplates on the market: the Toyota Tacoma and the Nissan Frontier.

Overview

The Frontier bills itself as "America's most affordable pickup," which it had better be because it's also America's oldest pickup, last having undergone a major redesign for the 2005 model year. Thirteen years old is an eternity by modern automotive standards. Nonetheless, it should appeal to value shoppers in need of a cheap, reliable, midsize pickup, and the availability of fun off-road trims can make it a compelling option.

The Tacoma was last redesigned for the 2016 model year. While still often criticized for being trucklike and spartan inside, it's generally regarded as one of the tougher, more reliable vehicles on the market, which contributes to its excellent, class-leading resale value. Tacoma buyers are given multiple options with regard to trim level, from the simple SR5 to the TRD Sport and Off-Road and all the way up to the mighty TRD Pro edition.

Powertrains

Both the Tacoma and the Frontier offer entry-level 4-cylinder engines, but the majority sold are equipped with optional V6 power plants. The Tacoma offers either a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual on V6 4x4 models, while Frontier buyers choose from a 5-speed manual on 4-cylinder models, a 6-speed manual on V6 models or a 5-speed automatic that is available on either.

Tacoma engines:

2.7-liter 4-cylinder making 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque

  • 2-wheel drive automatic: 20 miles per gallon city/23 mpg highway/21 mpg combined
  • 4X4 automatic: 19 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined

3.5-liter V6 making 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque

  • 2WD automatic: 19 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined
  • 4X4 manual: 17 mpg city/21 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined
  • 4X4 automatic: 18 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined

Frontier engines:

2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 152 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque

  • 2WD manual: 19 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined
  • 2WD automatic: 17 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined

4.0-liter V6 making 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque

  • 2WD manual: 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined
  • 2WD automatic 16 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined
  • 4X4 manual: 16 mpg city/21 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined
  • 4X4 automatic: 15 mpg city/21 mpg hwy/17 mpg combined

Trim Levels

The Tacoma's trim level hierarchy is a little easier to understand than is the Frontier's. The entry-level SR is more or less a work truck, while the SR5 introduces many creature comforts like fog lights and keyless entry. Step up to the TRD Sport, and you get a sportier suspension, larger alloy wheels and sporty design elements. Level up from that, and you're looking at the TRD Off-Road model, an excellent package for getting off the pavement thanks to its bevy of off-road features, including Bilstein shock absorbers, a locking rear differential and Toyota's Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control modes. Next is the Limited trim level, which offers leather seats, larger wheels, a standard sunroof and other luxury-feel appointments. At the top of the pack is the mighty TRD Pro, which takes the TRD Off-Road trim level and adds an excellent high-performance off-road suspension, TRD exhaust, black TRD wheels, unique fog lights, a front skid plate and TRD Pro design elements inside and out.

The Frontier offers a number of trim levels. The entry level model is the Frontier S, and features are added all the way up to the most luxurious model, the SL, which offers 18-inch wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather seats. They also offer a stylish "Midnight Edition," which consists of an appearance package added on to a Frontier SV. There are two off-road models: the 2WD-only Desert Runner and the top dog PRO-4X model, which is comparable to the TRD Off-Road but lacks the electronic off-road features offered by Toyota. The Frontier doesn't offer a comparable model to the Tacoma TRD Pro.

Reliability

Both the Tacoma and the Frontier should have average to above-average reliability. Given Toyota's reputation for durability, Tacomas tend to hold their value better than just about any other vehicle.

Interior Design & Quality

Given that its based on a design that was released over 13 years ago, the Frontier's interior feels dated and tired. Controls are simple, which many will appreciate, but overall, the Frontier is badly in need of a replacement, and this may not be more evident anywhere than it is on the inside.

The Tacoma's interior may rely a little too heavily on the use of hard plastics, but it does do a good job of blending modern aesthetics with trucklike attitude. The front seats aren't overly comfortable, and the back seat doesn't offer a ton of room, but the controls are stylish and intuitively laid out. Overall, the Tacoma definitely doesn't have a luxury-car interior, and Toyota certainly didn't go out of its way to incorporate particularly high-quality materials, but the Tacoma's interior is acceptable for a truck.

Space

Both the Tacoma and the Frontier are available in extended and double cab configurations. Neither offers a traditional single cab configuration. Both also offer two different bed lengths. Extended cab models come with a 6-foot bed, while crew cab models are available with either the 5-ft or the 6-ft bed, which maximize practicality but also increase the vehicle's overall length.

Despite offering very similar configurations, the Tacoma offers considerably more room in the bed. With the 5-ft bed, the Tacoma offers 38 cu ft. of cargo space to the Frontier's 27. Opt for the 6-ft bed, and the Tacoma increases to 47 cu ft., and the Frontier grows to 34.

Tech

The Tacoma has quite the leg up on the Frontier in terms of available technology. In addition to coming standard with Toyota's full suite of driver-safety features, the Tacoma also comes standard with a touchscreen infotainment system, and most are available with a 7-in unit with navigation. While there's still a chance it'll be added for the 2019 model year, the 2018 Toyota Tacoma lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, forcing buyers to live with Toyota's highly mediocre Entune infotainment system. Like in nearly all vehicles today, Bluetooth, an auxiliary port and a USB port are included, while upper trim levels receive a JBL audio system.

Standard on the Frontier is a 5-in non-touch center infotainment screen. Move up a few trim levels, and that becomes a 5.8-in touchscreen with navigation and mobile apps. Despite being a bit antiquated, the Frontier does offer Bluetooth, one USB port and an auxiliary port.

Safety

As of the 2018 model year, all-new Tacomas come with Toyota Safety Sense, Toyota's suite of driver-assistance features. Included are a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert, automatic high beams and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

The Frontier, on the other hand, boasts only a (now federally mandated) backup camera and optional rear parking sensors.

The Tacoma gets good marks all around in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-testing, including in the new small front-overlap test. In the same test, the Frontier earns only a score of Marginal, a reflection of its aging platform.

Overall, the Tacoma is a far safer vehicle than is the Frontier.

Value

When a vehicle is as long in the tooth as is the Frontier, the automaker will usually adjust its price in order to account for its lack of competitiveness, and that is very much the case with the Frontier. A base-model Frontier starts at $18,990, $6,410 below the starting price of the Tacoma. This makes the Frontier appealing to anyone needing a basic pickup and wanting a full manufacturer's warranty. When you factor in pricing, the Frontier's value proposition becomes clear -- this is a reliable, practical, fully-warrantied pickup offering great utility for the same price as most compact sedans.

Autotrader's Advice

Given that its design is more than a decade newer than the Frontier's, the Tacoma is the clear winner in this comparison. Its offering of standard driver-assistance safety features and modern amenities like a large center infotainment system, not to mention a better IIHS crash-test performance, give it the clear leg up over the dinosaur that is the Nissan Frontier. In addition to its lack of available safety features and amenities, the Frontier's design feels quite dated, following an overall design language that the Nissan brand abandoned years ago, causing a new Frontier to feel old the moment you step inside. In a segment popular with "lifestyle" buyers, the Tacoma's offering of capable, stylish high-end off-road models with exciting off-road features only serves to widen the gap with the Frontier. That said, the Frontier has a considerably lower starting price than does the Tacoma, and most trim levels are significantly less expensive than the comparable offering from Toyota, making the Frontier a great value for anyone in the market for a new truck on a tight budget. Still, the Tacoma offers value in a different way, in the form of its much-newer design, modern amenities, safety features and Toyota truck pedigree.

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New 2018 Toyota Tacoma SR
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Used 2018 Toyota Tacoma SR
Used 2018 Toyota Tacoma
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New 2018 Toyota Tacoma w/ TRD Off-Road Package
New 2018 Toyota Tacoma
MSRP $37,837
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New 2018 Toyota Tacoma w/ TRD Off-Road Package
New 2018 Toyota Tacoma
MSRP $37,837
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Toyota Tacoma vs. 2018 Nissan Frontier: Which is Better? - Autotrader