Budget Buy: Toyota Tacoma vs Nissan Frontier

Get comparisons between the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. We explore performance, specs, and features of the Nissan Frontier and the Toyota Tacoma.

The Starting Point

usa.nissannews.com | pressroom.toyota.com
usa.nissannews.com | pressroom.toyota.com

Shopping for a used truck on a budget? $20,000 is a good place to start when seeking a preowned truck that will offer the performance you need while not impacting your wallet too much. While the user car marketplace is ever changing, let’s look at what you can get for the money between a used Toyota Tacoma and a Nissan Frontier. We’ll consider their specs, performance, features, and more when looking at mid-size trucks from both brands.

Toyota Tacoma vs Nissan Frontier – Specs

2013 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com
2013 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com

While $20,000 can get you trucks from a variety of years, let’s look at the latter half of Tacoma’s second generation, built for a whole decade between 2005 and 2015. Toyota provided the Tacoma with two engine options that include a 159hp 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine capable of 180 lb-ft of torque. The available 6-cylinder engine provided a significant boost with a 4.0L 6-cylinder engine with 236 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque.

Your $20,000 might afford you a slightly newer Nissan Frontier with a 2013 or later model getting you a truck and cash to spare. The 2013 Nissan Frontier gets to work with a 152 hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine able to pull 171 lb-ft of torque. The optional 6-cylinder engine reaches 261hp and 281 lb-ft of torque.

2013 Nissan Frontier - usa.nissannews.com
2013 Nissan Frontier - usa.nissannews.com

The Tacoma and Frontier provide nearly the same specs with their standard 4-cylinder engines. The Nissan Frontier does offer a bit more power and torque on the higher end 6-cylinder models. We can say that the Nissan 6-cylinder does provide the extra power for anyone towing or simply seeking more acceleration. The Tacoma isn’t a slouch either, though the engine is a little louder than we like under a full load.

Nissan also just released a new generation of Frontier. You should check out what they’ve added from the first generation here.

Toyota Tacoma vs Nissan Frontier – Driving

2013 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com
2013 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com

As a mid-size truck buyer typically seeks a fairly comfortable ride in their everyday truck. The ride on the Tacoma wasn’t all that great in our experience. While we would typically expect off-road models to offer a bit more stiffness, stiffness seems to apply to city driving for the Tacoma too. We can’t say that we felt every pothole or corner, but the handling leaves a little to be desired.

For a lower priced vehicle, the Frontier handles better than expected, with some exceptions. The Frontier drives like a big SUV, which isn’t bad at all. You will, however, notice that the Fronter’s suspension ensures that you know you are driving on bumpy city streets versus the highway.

2013 Nissan Frontier - usa.nissannews.com
2013 Nissan Frontier - usa.nissannews.com

While most mid-size trucks aren’t specifically built to handle city driving, the edge here goes to the Frontier. The value of a truck that isn’t too stiff and still handles well in the city, despite a few bumps, can’t be understated. Driving like an SUV has notable advantages when navigating small streets or even parking.

The Tacoma has been around for a long time and has a storied history including recent improvements. Check out our Tacoma overview here.

Toyota Tacoma vs Nissan Frontier – Comfort and Interior

Toyota provides an interesting blend for their second generation Tacoma, and you should really see it for yourself. While the Tacoma provides enough legroom for the driver, passenger, and even second row, it’s toned the interior down from what used to be a rather bright experience to a cool black and blue. The controls for the radio and comfort are accessible and easy to understand. Overall, their basic trims with cloth seats are comfortable – even for four adults.

For the driver and passenger, the Nissan Frontier is comfortable with padded cloth seats. The controls honestly looked outdated even in 2013, and will feel further outdated – though practical and easy to use. The biggest issue with the Frontier interior comes from the backseat. The seats in the Crew Cab models are excessively upright and have little cushion. The Fronter might not be overly comfortable for a longer trip with four adults.

We have to go with Tacoma for interior comfort here. The dashboard controls are more up to date, and it’s generally more comfortable for both front and rear seat passengers.

We also do a good comparison between a new and used Tacoma here.

Toyota Tacoma vs Nissan Frontier – Features and Trims

2013 Toyota Tacoma SR5 - pressroom.toyota.com
2013 Toyota Tacoma SR5 - pressroom.toyota.com

The extra features and conveniences for a Tacoma under $20,000 are actually quite varied. Toyota produces a wide variety of Tacoma’s including the TRD and SR5 editions. The TRD is wider and offers a more significant payload at about 1,700-lbs. The SR5 offers a higher tow capacity at 3,500-lb. A used car buying could also pick up a Limited edition with heated seats, navigation, upgraded audio and more. The TRD and SR5 editions focus more on suspensions, shocks, and water resistant seats. A standard backup camera is available for trims above the convenience package.

The Nissan Frontier offers a handful of trims but still has some worthy features. The Frontier offers a value package that includes a backup camera, a spray-in bed liner, and a moonroof. The PRO-4X Luxury Package adds Bilstein shocks, a skid plate, and tow hooks for off roading. PRO-4X drivers also have the option of navigation, leather heated seats, and a moonroof. You also get 4WD standard on the PRO-4X.

2013 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X - usa.nissannews.com
2013 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X - usa.nissannews.com

The Tacoma offers a much wider range of trims, and focuses much more on off-road packages. The Frontier makes the options you want on lower trim levels, which is more reflective of their lack of trim levels. It’ll be easier to find something specific that fits your needs within the Tacoma.

You can see more info about new and used Frontier’s here.

Our Pick for 20K: Used Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier?

2013 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com
2013 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com

We would pick the Tacoma for its broad selection of trim options and relative comfort. A good, comfy pickup with multiple engines and capabilities is our pick for a truck under $20,000. The Frontier is a great value option, but the backseat isn’t as comfortable and Nissan’s quality control isn’t as good as Toyota’s.

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Ben Stewart

Ben Stewart knows cars. His passion for vehicles started with racing remote control cars, but evolved into writing articles about them, selling them, and putting his creative mind to use in automotive marketing. The best part about Ben's eight years of dealership experience was connecting people with the details they needed to make informed decisions. He's still keeping up with the specs, prices, and latest features, but now as an author. When it comes to writing, Ben specializes in vehicle history, car reviews, and head-to-head comparisons.

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