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A pickup truck for off-road adventures

The Nissan Frontier is cheaper, but the Toyota Tacoma is more popular

I'm looking for a truck to take me off the beaten path for camping and fishing. I'm choosing a truck over an SUV for the bed space and ease of cleaning. Automatics will not be considered. I've narrowed my choices down to the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. They're the only "small" trucks that come with a manual in 4x4 form (the "Canyonado" twins don't). With new truck prices the way they are, I'll probably buy one that's a year or two old. Tacoma or Frontier? – Ryan

The winner between Tacoma vs. Frontier is probably the Chevy Colorado. At least if we're talking about most modern.

"The Colorado infuses us with optimism that there's still life to be found in the mid-size truck realm," Motor Trend said. "If Chevy can assemble an exceptionally contemporary interior, replete with four USB ports (two for backseat dwellers) and OnStar with 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, who's to say Toyota and Nissan, and maybe even Ford and Ram in the future, can't do the same?"

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"Not modern" is the biggest beef reviewers have against the Frontier. And, although the Tacoma was redesigned for 2016, it doesn't have a cushy interior or drive more like a car than its previous version.

But if you're looking for a mid-sized truck for going on camping trips or hauling dirt, do you really need state-of-the-truck?

The Frontier is cheaper – but the Tacoma's more popular. In 2016, Toyota sold 12,618 of them in Canada. Compare that to the Chevy Colorado (6,569), GMC Canyon (6,083) and Nissan Frontier (4,127).

While the Tacoma has three 4x4 versions with standards, the Frontier only has one – the PRO-4X. Let's compare the Nissan to the Toyota that's most similar.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road extended cab

Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road.

  • Third Generation: 2016-present
  • Average asking price: $39,650 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual/Four-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 13.8 city, 11.7 highway

The dash no longer looks like it was built with leftover buttons from a 2000 Tercel. But the all-new 2016 Tacoma is a lot like the 2005-2015 Tacoma.

And that's apparently just how Taco fans like it.

"Today's modern full-sized trucks feature a quiet cabin, a semblance of handling responsiveness, and a tolerable ride." Consumer Reports said. "But the compact Tacoma has none of that."

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What does it have? A "tough-as-nails" chassis, a durable plastic bed and better off-road capabilities than its mid-sized rivals.

The crew cab TRD Sport ($39,550) also offers the six-speed manual. And the four-cylinder SR+ ($35,275) offers a five-speed manual.

The Tacoma keeps its value. Brand new, the sticker price was $38,170 before freight and taxes. The pre-redesign 2015 Off-Road goes for $36,525.

Review site Edmunds said the 2016 Tacoma's 3.5-litre V6 is "noticeably smoother and quieter" than its predecessor and peppy enough in normal driving.

One thing the Tacoma lost in the redesign was reliability. Consumer Reports scored the 2016 Tacoma one out of five for reliability, compared to five out of five for the 2015.

There were three recalls, including a warning for a potential short in dealer-installed block heaters.

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2016 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X extended cab

Nissan Frontier PRO-4X.

  • Second generation: 2005-present
  • Average asking price: $28,925
  • Engine: 4.0-litre V-6
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual/Four-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 15.0 city, 11.2 highway

It's been a long time since the Frontier was on, or close to, the cutting edge. In fact, Car and Driver calls it the "'I'm still here!' truck."

"Antiquated controls, lacklustre materials quality and booming noise levels give the Frontier a bare-bones look and feel that competing models have risen above," Edmunds said. "The Frontier also shows its age with its unrefined V-6 engine, cumbersome handling, slow steering and spongy brake pedal."

But the Frontier is cheaper than the Tacoma, whether new or used. The PRO-4X, with off-road shocks and tires, a locking rear differential, skid plates and plenty of bells and whistles, started at $33,359 new.

"The ride is surprisingly good and the off-road-oriented PRO-4X model performs well when you decide to leave the pavement behind," Edmunds said. "A number of functional details like adjustable cargo tie-downs, a spray-in bedliner and a sliding bed extender add to the practicality that most buyers expect in a pickup."

Consumer Reports gives the 2016 Frontier three out of five for reliability.

There was one recall for a potential electrical short in 126 trucks.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.


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