Buy a Camry or Buy This: 2020 Nissan Frontier 4×4

2020 Toyota Camry SE AWD vs. 2020 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab SV 4×4

Why Frontier, and not Tacoma, Ranger, or Colorado?

Why the Frontier and not a more modern, more tech-filled option like the Chevy Colorado or Ford Ranger? Or even Toyota’s own Tacoma? None, really, except the Frontier rarely gets the love it deserves amidst such a strong field, so we decided to give it some recognition. Used as most people use their trucks, all of these are good alternatives; if you’re serious about off-roading, however, the Tacoma and Colorado, especially, have more factory and aftermarket options than the Frontier. But in the end, the Frontier is a whole lot of truck for the money, regardless of the other choices you could make, so let’s see how it stacks up to the Camry.

Camry vs. Frontier: The Setup

The Toyota Camry variant chosen for today’s face-off is the 2020 Camry SE AWD, selected because it’s a mid-range trim level with all-wheel drive for any-climate commuting, a sort of sedan complement to the Frontier Crew Cab SV’s mid-range trim and 4×4 drive. The only option added to the Camry’s base configuration is the Blind Spot Monitor package, a $1,995 requirement to choose any color other than gray. To the Frontier, I’ve added the 18-inch Midnight Edition black wheels (though the configurator doesn’t show them on the truck), and a Class III hitch receiver—that’s it.

2020 Toyota Camry SE AWD Specs

2020 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Specs

PRICE: $30,515 (as configured)PRICE: $33,679 (as configured)
POWER: 202 hp @ 6,600 rpmPOWER: 310 hp @ 6,400 rpm
TORQUE: 184 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpmTORQUE: 281 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
WEIGHT: 3,530 lbWEIGHT: 4,507 lb
L x W x H: 192.7 x 72.4 x 57.1 inL x W x H: 205.5 x 72.8 x 73.9 in
EPA MILEAGE: 25/34 mpg (city/hwy)EPA MILEAGE: 17/23 mpg (city/hwy)

Frontier vs. Camry: The Details

So, there’s a 10 percent difference in price, more or less, but you do get more than a pickup bed for the price differential. For starters, the Nissan Frontier’s 310-horsepower VQ38 engine is one of the best V-6s in a pickup truck today, pulling strong and sounding good in the process. It also makes the ladder-frame Frontier capable of towing up to 6,380 pounds.

Of course, that engine, combined with the truck’s extra half-ton of mass compared to the sedan means gas mileage is considerably worse than the Camry. If you drive 15,000 miles over the course of a year, for example, the Camry’s 29-mpg combined EPA rating means it should use about 517 gallons of gas; the Frontier’s 19-mpg combined rating translates to 789 gallons for a 15,000-mile year. At today’s national average gas price of about $2.20 per gallon, that works out to a difference of about $599 per year, or $50 per month. That’s not nothing, but it’s not a deal-breaker, either.

The only other major feature where the Frontier comes up a bit short of the Camry: the Toyota has standard adaptive cruise control, which isn’t offered on the Nissan, though normal cruise control is included. Both have four doors, though you’re likely to find the Camry’s back seat roomier, with a massive 8.5 inches more legroom.

Frontier vs. Camry: The Advantages

Wait, isn’t this supposed to be an argument for the Frontier?

It is, so let’s get on with it. The Camry has no listed towing capacity, compared to the more than three-ton towing capacity of the Frontier, and while the Toyota does come with all-wheel drive as configured, it’s not the off-road-worthy 4×4 of the Frontier, and it has 3.2 inches less ground clearance than the Nissan. Likewise, the Camry’s trunk, while capacious, is no pickup bed, even if, as we’ve done here, you spec the Frontier with the shorter five-foot box. Even the Frontier’s automatic transmission has an edge, with nine speeds to the Camry’s eight.

But beyond the equipment, only your imagination limits the Frontier’s advantages over the Camry. First of all, if you regularly haul large cargo for work or play, the Frontier’s combination of pickup bed and towing capability are invaluable. And whatever the Camry can do on pavement, the Frontier can, too, though it may do it more noisily, or (somewhat) less comfortably. But the Frontier literally leaves the Camry behind when the pavement ends and the adventure starts.

All of which brings us back to the point of this series of Camry alternatives: The right choice on paper—the “smart choice”—may not be the right choice for you, especially if you have a desire for more than basic, dependable, comfortable transportation. If you have an itch for adventure, especially one that leaves the paved path, then you should break out of the sedan mold altogether and look at a midsize pickup like the Nissan Frontier.

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