Nissan Frontier vs Toyota Tacoma: Which is Right For You?

The Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma are two venerable trucks that are legendary for their simplicity and steadfast reliability.

Common as pennies, durable as a cast iron frying pan, both trucks will keep going long after lesser vehicles have crumbled; there’s a reason post-apocalyptic movies always have an old Tacoma or Frontier somewhere in the background.

In this article, we’ll be comparing the 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder models of both trucks. Let’s get started.

The Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier are both midsize trucks, inhabiting that market space where consumers need a truck to haul some tools or lumber occasionally, but not enough towing capacity to drag a yacht, combined with worse fuel economy than a steel mill.

As such, they are really quite similar, being as the market shapes them to an extent.

The Main Differences Between Toyota Tacoma vs Nissan Frontier

The main differences between Toyota Tacoma vs Nissan Frontier are:

  • The Frontier is a time machine to the early 2000s, whereas the Tacoma has received regular updates and looks relatively modern inside and out. That said, the 2022 Frontier looks much more modern.
  • The Frontier comes with 4 wheel disc brakes and is a little more modern in that regard, whereas the Tacoma has front disc and rear drum brakes. Do not worry; drum brakes last a long time and stop just fine
  • The Frontier also has a fully boxed frame, which is much stronger and stiffer, whereas the Tacoma has a C-channel frame. The Tacoma is not a weak truck, but it is an important distinction.

Nissan Frontier vs Toyota Tacoma (4 cylinder models)

Nissan Frontier

The Nissan Frontier sports a 2.5 liter inline 4 putting out 152 hp and 171 lb-ft, sufficient to propel you and your cargo around town or to the beach. The defending champion Toyota Tacoma is equipped with a 2.7 liter inline 4 producing 159 hp and 181 lb-ft.

These two trucks have power ratings within a rounding error of each other, so if you are choosing based on an engine, flip a coin. Better still, go for either V6 model; the 4 cylinders are quite underpowered for anything beyond hauling the occasional bag of mulch.

Reliability (Tacoma 4 cylinder)

As we all know, the longevity of the Tacoma is second only to that of Betty White, and it’s more durable than an old sledgehammer.

Reliability with the Tacoma 4 cylinder is great; a frequent complaint is that it is underpowered. However, that works in its favor, because it doesn’t produce enough power to break anything.

Reliability issues on the 4 cylinder Tacoma are few; up until 2007, the only reliability issue with the 4 cylinder Tacoma was that the front crankshaft oil seal was bad and would leak, but that was fixed with an updated seal.

This is an iron block, aluminum head motor, and with proper care and maintenance, has been known to run well over 300,000 miles. Still, it does have many complex electrical systems, so make sure to keep up with your maintenance. Aside from the lack of power, this is a great little engine.

Reliability (Frontier 4 cylinder)

Now, the Frontier does not have quite the capacity for old age that the Tacoma does, but it is still a dependable little truck nonetheless.

Reliability issues with the 2.5 liter 4 cylinder are minimal; keep up with your oil changes and don’t skimp on maintenance intervals and you will be fine.

Now, Frontiers, for all their attributes, are not the best trucks in the world. They had transmission problems for a number of years, both on the automatic and manual models.

With the automatics, the issue was that the radiator, which was a combination radiator and transmission cooler, would crack, mixing coolant and transmission fluid.

This got into the transmission and basically created a very expensive boat anchor, along with creating serious engine problems thanks to transmission fluid in the cooling system.

The solution to this is to install a separate, external trans cooler; the one in the radiator can be blocked off. This solves both issues with coolant and transmission fluid mixing.

As for the manual, that had issues with the clutches wearing out very quickly, sometimes within 30,000 miles. The fix for that was to put in a new clutch.

4 cylinder Frontiers, while rather underpowered for anything beside town driving, do not seem to have any serious engine issues; Mainly rust and transmission problems.

Towing/Hauling Capacity (Tacoma & Frontier 4 cylinder)

Toyota Tacoma

When it comes to towing and hauling, neither truck is a champion tractor when equipped with the 4 cylinder option. You’ll be best off leaving them to haul a few bags of mulch or some hockey gear; they’re not meant for hauling heavy loads like their V6 siblings are.

The 2.7 Tacoma can tow 3500 lbs and haul around 1000 lbs, while the 2.5 Frontier can tow 3500 lbs and also haul around 1000 pounds. At this point it really comes down to what you want to do with the truck.

Neither truck is suitable if you are regularly towing more than 2000 lbs, because the lack of torque means you will be working the hard engine and gritting your teeth with every highway merge.

The Nissan also has the transmission problems that plague it. However, the Tacoma is probably the best choice out of these two.

Useability

Both trucks are essentially the same size, both feature the same towing and hauling capacity, and both 4 cylinder variants have the same disdain for rapid movement as a lazy bloodhound.

However, that does raise the question of what the use case for either truck is. Either the Frontier or Tacoma, with the 4 cylinder, will serve you just fine if you need to drive it to work and haul some bicycles or hockey gear once in a while.

In that vein, both trucks work fine but are not necessarily world beaters.

You won’t be getting Prius-level mileage either. Mileage for the 4 cylinder Tacoma is a solid 20 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, while the 4 cylinder Frontier boasts a similar 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway; These figures are for both 2WD models.

4WD models get worse economy thanks to the transfer cases and extra weight.

These trucks are essentially city trucks and nothing more. They can haul supplies for light gardening, they have 4WD for snowy conditions and they are not so large that you need to build an extra shed to keep them in.

Don’t expect these to work like an F150 or Ram 1500 and you will be fine.

Toyota Tacoma 2.7 vs Nissan Frontier 2.5: Which One Should I Buy?

Nissan Frontier 2.5

These two trucks are very similar vehicles. They have different engine sizes, but basically the same dimensions, towing and hauling capacities, so at this point it comes down to personal preference and budget.

The Toyota, as we all know, comes with the unofficial markup of Toyota Tax, imposed by its reputation for longevity and reliability.

As such, the cheapest new 4 cylinder model will still ring you for $26,400, while the 4 cylinder Nissan Frontier is $26,790, although it was discontinued for the 2021 model year.

The final recommendation is to go with the 4 cylinder Toyota Tacoma, if you have to choose between these two. It is much more reliable; unlike the Nissan, it does not suffer from transmission and radiator issues, and the engine is pretty much unkillable.

It is even cheaper, as the base price shows. If this is also something you care about, the Toyota holds its resale value much better than the Frontier-used examples of Tacomas are known to sell for near or over their original asking price. Buy the Tacoma.

Toyota Tacoma vs Nissan Frontier (V6 Models)

Toyota Tacoma V6

If you are choosing between either of these trucks, then the V6 models are the ones to have. They put out nearly double the power of their 4 cylinder siblings, and thus boast significantly more towing and hauling capacity, along with similar gas mileage.

They’re just as durable as the 4 cylinder models, but with the power to do more demanding work that you would expect from a truck. Let’s get started.

Reliability (Tacoma V6)

The venerable Toyota Tacoma V6 is just as reliable as a 4 cylinder model, only with more power and hauling capacity.

It’ll run just as long, while giving you the power to merge with confidence and haul a cord of firewood without worrying you’ll need a new transmission afterward.

Powered by a 3.5 liter V6 putting out a solid 278 hp and 271 lb-ft, the V6 Tacoma is no muscle truck, but it will do just fine.

Long vehicle life comes standard with every new Toyota; keep up with your oil changes and you’ll easily get 250,000 miles out of this engine.

Unfortunately, Tacomas have been plagued with some transmission issues recently, although they have since been addressed and fixed. These issues were harsh 1-2 upshifts, excessive gear hunting at a cruise, and delayed shifts when engaging park or drive.

However, Toyota fixed this with a TCM reflash, and all was well. Other mechanical issues included a leaky rear differential, and some tacomas were recalled due to an issue with the crank sensor having too much anti-sieze coating.

However, these issues mainly affected Tacomas between 2016-2019, and new ones do not have these problems.

Reliability (Frontier V6)

Nissan Frontier V6

Nissan Frontier V6: like Tacoma, but on a budget. Powered by a 3.8 liter V6 churning out 310 hp and 281 lb-ft, the Frontier has the Tacoma beat with a solid 1-2 on horsepower ratings.

Couple that to 9 automatic speed and you have a recipe for a truck that jumps like a goat from stoplights and semis overtakes with confidence.

Reliability with the new Frontiers is pretty good as well; in major mechanical issues, from 2015 onward.

However, you will want to steer clear of 2005-2007 Frontiers, as they had issues with the radiator cracking and sending coolant into the transmission, along with transmission fluid going through the cooling system and creating thousands of dollars in repairs.

2009 Frontiers were relatively reliable, but also had issues with slipping clutches within the first 10,000 miles of ownership. The fix was a $1700 clutch replacement.

All model years of Frontier also suffer from an ineffective differential breather valve that doesn’t vent properly and only causes axle issues; this can be solved by changing the breather valve. 2013-2014 Frontiers had recalls for seatbelt nuts that could break off, but that was swiftly rectified.

They also had issues with a circuit breaker that could cause shorts and turn your truck into a nice pallet bonfire.

Still, while the Frontier cannot hold a candle to the steadfast reliability of the Toyota Tacoma, it is still a perfectly usable truck, if perhaps ancient in design.

Towing/Hauling Capacity (Tacoma & Frontier V6)

Tacoma & Frontier V6

The Tacoma V6 can go up to 6800 pounds and 1440 pounds in the bed, while the V6 Frontier can go up to 6720 pounds and 1460 pounds in the bed.

Their respective towing and hauling capacities are within a rounding error of one another; if you are buying either truck for max towing and hauling capability, you are doing it wrong.

In all seriousness, neither truck enjoys hauling that much weight; attempt to w 6700 pounds with either the Tacoma or Frontier, and both the throttle pedal and your wallet will take a beating.

Useability

The Tacoma and Frontier V6, the midsize trucks that get decent gas mileage, can tow/haul a decent amount and still fit in a normal parking space, are great.

The Toyota gets up to 19mpg city and 24mpg highway, while the Frontier gets 18mpg city and 24mpg highway. Of course, mileage may vary depending on how you drive, but this is about as good as it gets for a V6 pickup truck.

Being that they both sport around 300 hp, both trucks are suitable for decent jobs, like towing a medium sized boat to the lake every weekend or a small camper.

They are also big enough to function as good work trucks to a point. Basically, for the price point, size and available power, these trucks are great.

Tacoma V6 vs Frontier V6: Which One Should I Buy?

This depends on your budget and how long you plan to keep the truck for. The Nissan is great, but it doesn’t have the sheer will to last that the Tacoma possesses.

However, it is cheaper overall, both new and when being resold. It is also more powerful, faster and gets about the same fuel economy.

Now, as for the Toyota, it is more expensive, but if you take care of it, you will be able to sell it for nearly the same money you paid. It is also more reliable than the Nissan and less susceptible to the salt belt rust that plagues the upper half of the USA.

Not only that, it gets slightly better mileage in the city. Therefore, the Toyota Tacoma V6 is the best truck in this comparison.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Which Truck is Better for Modifying, the Frontier or Tacoma?

Answer: Strictly speaking, the trucks have Nearly identical dimensions and power, but the Tacoma has a bigger and more aftermarket Following aftermarket parts available, so I think the Tacoma is the better truck for modifying in this case.

Question: Can I Use Either Truck as a Plow Truck?

Answer: There are plows that are small enough to fit on the front of both trucks, but I wouldn’t; neither truck is heavy duty and you’ll be putting unnecessary wear and tear on the vehicle if you do.

Question: Which Truck is Better for Long-term Ownership?

Answer: Both trucks are reliable and will serve you well over their lifetime. However, the Tacoma, while it is more expensive up front, is the better truck out of the two and will keep going long enough to hand it down through your family if you take care of it.

Question: Should I Buy the Stickshift Model?

Answer: In all honesty, I wouldn’t bother unless you really want a manual pickup truck.

The manual transmissions in both the Nissan and Toyota feel like an afterthought; long throws, vague gear engagement and they are not sold in huge numbers, just getting parts if you need them becomes a hassle.

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