Not everyone needs a full-size, testosterone-infused truck. If functionality and maneuverability are higher on your priority list than payload, a compact truck may be for you. There aren’t many competitors in the compact truck market, but Frontier and Tacoma are two major contenders. In today’s Monday Vehicle Matchup, we are comparing the Nissan Frontier vs Toyota Tacoma to find out which compact truck will best fit your needs.
Nissan Frontier (base)
Engine: 2.5L 4-cylinder
Fuel Economy: 19 City / 23 Hwy
MSRP: From $17,990
2015 Nissan Frontier
From the back and side of the vehicle, the 2015 Nissan Frontier follows fairly standard small truck design cues. From the front, the Frontier has a stylish 3-part grill with chrome outlines that is distinctly Nissan. It’s a rugged-looking exterior that will be appealing to most in the market for a compact truck.
On the inside, this year’s Frontier puts practicality ahead of beauty. Interior design has remained largely unchanged for the past few years. The layout of buttons and gauges is simple and easy to understand. There are some seemingly hard, cheap plastics on the dash and doors.
Front seats are spacious and comfortable. Rear seats in the King Cab (2-door) option can flip up or down, and are best suited for children. The Crew Cab (4-door) option has more room in the rear that smaller adults will find comfortable. The truck bed can be up to 6 feet in length.
This truck excels in maneuverability, making it a joy to drive in tight quarters. The base 4-cylinder engine drives like that of a small car, rather than a truck. It is adequate for commuting, but may not be enough if you plan on hauling larger loads. The optional V-6 engine is rated at up to 6,500 pounds of towing capacity. It will pack a significant amount of power above the base engine. 4×2 and 4×4 options are both available.
The 2015 Nissan Frontier has 17 city mpg and 23 highway mpg with the 4-cylinder engine. The upgraded V6, surprisingly, only drops those numbers by 1 mpg for city and 1 mph for highway. These numbers are comparable for this segment, but there are a number of full-size trucks achieving this level of efficiency in 2015.
The IIHS has not completed all standard crash testing of the 2015 Nissan Frontier, but it received a “Good” rating in roof strength, a “Good” rating in the frontal overlap test, and an “Acceptable” rating in the rear crash protection test. Backup camera and sonar parking sensors are available upgrades, and 6 airbags and anti-lock brakes come standard.
Base Frontiers are equipped with virtually nothing above the basics. There are plenty of upgrades available including keyless entry, leather seats, step rails, skid plates, locking rear differential, tie-down cleats in the bed, NissanConnect, sliding bed extender and more. The PRO-4x trim is the most expensive trim, and it is equipped with all the necessities for a great off-road experience.
Toyota Tacoma (base)
Engine: 2.7L 4-cylinder
Fuel Economy: 21 City / 25 Hwy
2015 Toyota Tacoma Review
The 2015 Toyota Tacoma has maintained a similar exterior design for the last 10 years. It’s a standard looking small truck, with some modern flair on the high-set front grille. Some upgraded trims have a redesigned grill with the word “TOYOTA” in place of the logo, and a sporty looking hood scoop.
Step inside the Tacoma, and you’ll be welcomed by a simple and clean layout that feels more modern than some competitors. This year, this truck has cool blue colored lighting inside. Overall, the presentation is functional and straight-forward without erring on the side of bland or cheap.
Comfort isn’t a focus of the 2015 Tacoma. Head room is minimal, and adults over 6 feet will probably feel crammed. The 4-door option has decent space for 4 average to small sized adults, but the rear seats of the 2-door option will only be comfortable for children. The bed of the Tacoma has about 6 feet in length for the 2-door option. Four-door Tacomas have a 5 foot bed.
A 2.7L 4-cylinder engine comes at the base price. This engine feels best suited for commuting, rather than hauling. The optional 4.0L V6 is much more powerful, working well for those who want to haul heavy loads. With a tow rating up to 6,500 pounds, the Tacoma fares well for a compact truck. On the pavement, the ride can be loud and rough. The Tacoma is known better for its off-road ability. Steering is responsive; however, overall truck maneuverability isn’t as nimble as you would expect from a small truck.
With the base engine setup, the Tacoma achieves 17 city mpg and 25 highway mpg. These numbers drop significantly as you upgrade the engine. The V6 with four-wheel drive only achieves 17 city mpg and 21 highway mpg. The base fuel economy is above average for the segment, but is still disappointing in comparison to full-size trucks achieving similar numbers.
The NHTSA has only tested the four-door Tacoma Double Cab, and it earned a 4-star rating. The IIHS gave the Tacoma “good” in all categories except one. In the roof strength category, it only achieved a “marginal” rating. Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, six airbags, stability control, and brake assist.
Every Tacoma will have a few perks like Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port. Upgraded Tacomas can be equipped with Toyota Entune, rearview camera, navigation, bed extender, roof rack, bike rack, and more. The list of available off-road features is much more extensive than comfort and tech features. Off-road suspension, sport-tuned suspension, additional skid plating, X-braced frame, locking rear differential, Bilstein shocks, and much more are available to fulfill your off-roading needs.
Nissan Frontier vs Toyota Tacoma Winner:
Base model: Nissan Frontier
The Frontier, although minimally equipped, is an inexpensive small-truck option that will work great as a commuter and small-job work horse. It handles better in the city than the Tacoma, and comes in at a lower price point.
Upgrades: Toyota Tacoma
The fully-loaded V6 Tacoma is ready for the toughest jobs and roughest trails. If you’re willing to pay for it, the little Tacoma can be equipped to handle some of the biggest projects or adventures. The Tacoma is also frequently praised for high resale value.
Overall winner: 2015 Nissan Frontier
When comparing the Nissan Frontier vs Toyota Tacoma, the Frontier provides a greater amount of flexibility than Toyota. Most drivers spend the majority of their time on pavement, and the Frontier handles pavement quite well. It will serve you as a commuter, but still has the off-road and towing capabilities you would expect from a small truck.
Do you prefer the Toyota Tacoma or the Nissan Frontier? Let us know in the comments below.