The midsize pickup segment has seen a resurgence in recent years and now sports a diverse, competitive lineup. Every model has its own pros and cons, so comparisons come down to identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each. While unique designs like the Jeep Gladiator or Honda Ridgeline may get more press, two solid designs to compare are the 2020 GMC Canyon vs 2020 Nissan Frontier. Let’s delve into these two trucks and find their merits and bragging rights.
The Canyon is well-established as a jack-of-all-trades with classier styling than most, while the Frontier is generally inexpensive and utilitarian. Both boast excellent power but suffer from a dearth of driver assistance technology. With best-in-class towing capabilities, an interior that actually belongs to this decade, and an excellent infotainment system, the 2020 GMC Canyon is undoubtedly the better truck in our eyes. The 2020 Nissan Frontier is a stiff-framed, budget-friendly no-frills truck for sure, but that doesn’t make up for its lack of towing capacity or its noisy and ancient interior.
A Can-Do Attitude
One of the 2020 GMC Canyon’s standout features is an incredible combination of towing capacity and fuel efficiency. The 2.8L Duramax engine option is the only diesel engine in the segment; it makes 181 hp and a best-in-class 369 lb-ft of torque. That’s good for a class-leading 7,700 lbs of towing while still providing 20 MPG city and 30 MPG highway thanks to the diesel’s efficiency. It’s an expensive upgrade, but there’s no better choice for somebody shopping in this segment with serious towing demands.
The base 2.5L 4-cylinder engine makes a respectable 20 MPG city and 26 MPG highway and helps the Canyon achieve a seriously low $22,200 MSRP. But the base engine can only pull 3,500 lbs and is not available on the more spacious and upscale configurations. For these, the Canyon offers a third engine choice, a 3.6L V6 that makes 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque and is available in all configurations.
This engine is a direct competitor to Nissan’s new 3.8L V6, which provides 310 hp and 281 lb-ft with virtually identical gas mileage of 20 MPG combined. But despite being technically less powerful, the Canyon’s V6 can tow 7,000 lbs against the 6,720 lbs of the Frontier. In fact, the only midsize pickup with a lower tow rating than the Nissan Frontier is the unibody Honda Ridgeline. The Canyon can also handle more in the box and cabin – payload is 1,620 lbs against only 1,460 lbs for the Frontier.
Many people shopping in this segment won’t be put off by the performance gaps, but those looking for a real truck in a compact package should only have eyes for the Canyon. The range of engine options also makes the Canyon a better budget choice, if one is more concerned about simply having a truck bed for odd jobs. Thanks to its affordable base engine, the Canyon starts well below the Frontier’s MSRP of $26,790 and will cost less at the pump.
What’s On the Inside Counts
The interior of the 2020 Nissan Frontier is a no-frills experience. Gray plastic and cloth abound and will make you think you stepped into a truck from the 2000s, not the 2020s. A push-button ignition and 7″ touchscreen are about all there is to remind you that this is indeed a 2020 model. Some like it that way – it feels frugal, it’s reportedly well-built so you won’t worry much about upkeep, and it’s as simple as it gets. Leather trim is available, and two-setting heated front seats can be had, but that’s about it.
On the other hand, the 2020 Canyon is a truck from the modern age. It offers jet black or cocoa/dune two-tone interior coloring, both of which deliver a significantly more sophisticated atmosphere than the Frontier’s steely gray. It also offers leather trim, but the Canyon exceeds the Frontier by offering front seat ventilation and a heated steering wheel. The 7 or 8″ touch screen allows you to navigate the supremely user-friendly infotainment system, and the control layout has often been applauded for its logical, intuitive design.
Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility allow the 2020 GMC Canyon to connect seamlessly with your smartphone, bringing all the conveniences of your apps and voice assistants into the truck with you. Frontier doesn’t offer this at any trim level – instead, owners are limited to Siri Eyes Free and a frankly archaic optional navigation system. You also can’t get wireless charging for your phone in a Frontier, which you can in a Canyon.
Finally, while both trucks offer premium sound systems, you’ll have to crank the Nissan’s higher to appreciate it. In the 15 years since the Frontier’s last redesign, Nissan hasn’t done much to improve noise insulation, while the Canyon’s triple-sealed doors make the cabin pleasantly quiet. The Frontier’s springy truck-like ride against Canyon’s sedan-like shock absorption further widens the gap between the driving experience of each truck.
The 2020 GMC Canyon SLE and 2020 Nissan Frontier SV are both mid-grade trims. It’s a kind of sweet spot – while some drivers would either sacrifice comfort for the cheapest truck possible or go all-in on every feature, most people would prefer something in between. They’ve got a budget, and they want the best value for it, which means a lot of standard features and a bunch of options to pick and choose from.
The Frontier SV in a King Cab 4×2 configuration starts at $27,670, adding the crew cab and 4×4 bumps that up to $31,990. For upgrading to the SV, you’ll find a sliding rear window and power side mirrors added to the standard features list alongside a rear-view camera, push-button start, and power windows. SV trim also has access to packages like the Midnight Edition appearance suite for an additional price bump. The Value Truck package focuses on features over aesthetics and brings the flexible Utili-track Channel System for managing cargo, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
The 2020 GMC Canyon offers twice as many trim options, from the starting SL up to the very popular and heavily-chromed Denali. The SLE lands right in the middle and starts at $29,100 with an extended cab. Switching to a crew cab also means upgrading the engine, and 4×4 tacks a few thousand on as well, so that an SLE equipped with both runs $36,100. Coming standard at this trim are features such as Apple CarPlay, a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, a 6-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, cruise control, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Available options include remote start, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and safety assists like forward collision alert and lane departure warning.
In the end, the mid-trim 2020 GMC Canyon SLE costs around $2,000 – 4,000 more than a 2020 Nissan Frontier SV. But that price difference amounts to more than a truck with better towing and hauling capabilities. It also puts you in a truck with a significantly more modern interior, seamless smartphone integration, and more standard features in general.
In Need of a Refresher
The 2020 GMC Canyon is a handsome, well-equipped truck with the best towing and fuel-sipping capabilities of any midsize pickup. It offers an upscale cabin and more distinctly truck-like styling while delivering a car-like ride quality that impresses for the class. The truck is now five years into its design cycle, and reviewers have expressed disappointment in the plainness of the interior and the lack of standard driver-assist features compared to the competition. Except that is when considering the 2020 Nissan Frontier.
The 2020 Frontier does technically offer the most powerful V6 engine in the segment, but that power advantage is marginal at best and doesn’t translate into better towing or hauling. It’s also not enough to make up for the seriously dated interior. The Frontier has a reputation for being well-built, and it’s on the inexpensive side even when relatively well-equipped, so it should appeal to certain groups of shoppers. However, the Canyon out-tows it by a wide margin and offers significantly more standard tech features in a more comfortable interior.
To wrap all of that up, the 2020 GMC Canyon is a middle-of-the-pack midsize pickup, offering best-in-class towing and near-best-in-class ride quality. Standard connectivity tech exceeds many competitors, the interior is nice, and overall styling is good. However, the price is a little high for what you get compared to other trucks in the class, with few lackluster exceptions – and one of those exceptions is the 2020 Nissan Frontier.