- Nissan Frontier is redesigned and has an aggressive new look.
- Ranger, Canyon and Tacoma each take different paths to earn tough chops.
- Body-on-frame midsize trucks pack a lot of tech and utility.
It seemed fitting for our full evaluation of the redesigned 2022 Nissan Frontier to assemble its three competitors and see which midsize truck comes out on top. Frontier versus 2021 Ford Ranger versus 2021 Toyota Tacoma versus 2022 GMC Canyon — take a seat on the nearest tailgate and gather round to read all about our results.
The Ranger is available with just one powertrain, but it's a good one. The turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder (270 horsepower, 310 lb-ft of torque) is both punchy and economical compared with the rest of the class. In Edmunds' testing the Ranger accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in a quick 6.8 seconds. We also like its EPA-estimated 22 mpg combined on four-wheel-drive models.
Beyond that, however, the Ranger is lacking. It simply isn't very comfortable, whether in terms of the outdated cabin design or its springy suspension that gets old quickly on a curvy road. The controls are difficult to use, there isn't much storage space inside, and the simple steel bed doesn't make any effort to impress.
If you're looking for a saving grace, you could point to strong towing and payload ratings, or a good selection of driver assistance aids that are standard on the XLT and Lariat trims. But the Ranger isn't our top choice for an everyday pickup that will suit the majority of shoppers. If you're considering one, we may even advise that you wait for a true small pickup truck like the Ford Maverick, scheduled to arrive in fall 2021.
2021 Ford Ranger.
One big change for the new Frontier is that the standard four-cylinder engine on previous generations is now gone. In its place is a standard 3.8-liter V6 (310 hp, 281 lb-ft) paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain has the most power in the class and it pulls hard, with a consistent muscle that is more steady than speedy.
But this means the Frontier no longer has an extra-affordable engine option that kept the cost low on earlier versions. The base price of an extended-cab Frontier is now more than $29,000 with destination, and crew cabs are more than $30,000. We found that this is an improved truck over its predecessor, but the Frontier still has a rougher ride and lots of plastic inside the cabin compared to rivals. That makes it harder to swallow the new pricing structure.
There is a certain charisma to the 2022 Frontier. It now comes standard with more comfortable seats than before, plus an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Ride comfort has improved to more credibly challenge the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, and a damped tailgate is a nice touch for those who will be lowering it often. The Frontier is not a perfect truck, but there's no question it's improved.
2022 Nissan Frontier
The GMC Canyon takes a distinctive approach. This model is heavily based on the Chevrolet Colorado; GMC gussies it up with flashy exterior design and a more premium interior in order to appeal to luxury-minded buyers. The Colorado already has a pleasant ride over various types of road surfaces, so the upgraded leathers and metals in the Canyon make it a treat to drive — especially in the top Denali trim.
The Canyon feels the nicest on the road out of these four pickups. Sure, its 3.6-liter V6 engine (308 hp, 275 lb-ft) is powerful and smooth, but the real advantage is the deft steering and handling that make the Canyon drive more like a car than a traditional rough-and-tumble truck. Finally, another strength is the truck's available technology. High points include good smartphone integration, plenty of charge ports for various devices, and an infotainment system that's straightforward to use.
So what's keeping it from the No. 1 spot? Well, the Canyon doesn't have the most convenient storage space in the rear of its cabin, and the bed sides are high, which makes loading difficult. Also, the V6 can be thirsty around town. Most of all, the Canyon is priced like a luxury truck, but it falls short of meeting that promise especially compared with the cheaper yet nearly-as-comfortable Colorado. We expect a little more payoff for the extra cash. The Canyon is an appealing option, and with a little more personality to separate it from its sibling, we would be sold.
2021 GMC Canyon
The Toyota Tacoma is a versatile all-around midsize pickup to fit a variety of budgets. There's a base 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine (159 hp, 180 lb-ft) on more affordable versions and a 3.5-liter V6 (278 hp, 265 lb-ft) for those who need more muscle. Neither engine feels particularly exciting from behind the wheel, but the Tacoma feels easy to drive with responsive steering and brakes for a truck of this size.
The Tacoma has grown more mature and civilized in recent years. But there are still a few quibbles you should know about. It can be a little bit difficult to get comfortable in the driver's seat because it's a tall step up to get inside, and the steering wheel does not telescope much to adjust to your reach. The interior also feels dated and includes a lot of hard plastic. The good news is that the controls are easy to locate and should be well within reach. There's no question the Tacoma is utilitarian, but the upside of that is that everything's easy to use.
Aside from that, the Tacoma is simply convenient. The bed has shorter walls than rivals, so it's easy to grab and lift things inside without going around to the tailgate. And all Tacomas come with a composite bed, which means it can handle scuffs and scratches, and there's no need to add a protective bedliner. This is one truck that clearly intends to be used, which is when the Tacoma is at its best. That, combined with impressive off-road capability and towing figures, elevates it to the No. 1 position in this comparison test.
2022 Toyota Tacoma.
Pretty soon, the hot items on the market will be small pickup trucks like the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz. So where do midsize pickups fit in? We think buyers will still have a need for trucks with higher maximum capability than the Maverick and Santa Cruz, but not so much that they need a full-size pickup. That leaves plenty of demand for the vehicles we're covering here.
With its recent redesign, the Nissan Frontier does a good job of meeting modern standards for a truck of this size. Its interior comfort and driving characteristics are greatly improved over the previous model, and it offers a unique look and some cool features such as a surround-view camera and nifty grab handles for off-roading. The Frontier is a good effort but it doesn't break enough new ground.
We certainly find the Frontier a better overall package than the Ford Ranger. We remain disappointed in the quality of its ride comfort on the road, and the truck simply isn't as convenient or usable as it needs to be. The Ranger boasts high payload and towing figures and still manages good fuel economy ratings. Lower trims of the Ranger are also available at attractive prices for the class. But it's simply too difficult to overlook the faults in this truck.
When it comes to comfort in this group, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon are the undisputed champions. Driving either often feels more like driving a car than a truck, and this agreeable nature makes them a winner for those who do everything from daily commuting to loading and hauling. These trucks are both modern and tough. In the Canyon we tested for this comparison, we would have preferred to lose the off-road AT4 model in favor of the top-level Denali trim. That's the one to get if you're looking for luxury. Otherwise, a Colorado works great.
We wouldn't blame you for wanting a Colorado or a Canyon or especially a Toyota Tacoma. It remains our overall favorite of the models in this article. Standard equipment including a composite bed and several driver assistance aids go a long way, and improvements made over the years have made the Tacoma a more passable daily driver in nearly every way. The trim levels make sense, and there's one that works for everyone. In a class that sometimes feels lost, the Tacoma is the closest thing to a true North Star.
2022 Toyota Tacoma