How often have you thought about how well a particular pickup truck performs off-road after being marketed as being fully capable of tackling hills, jumps, mounds, and every undulating challenge you can find far and away from a paved road? Let’s be honest, typically whenever we see an ad of a pickup getting mad clearance on a sandy jump in some barren wasteland, captured in slow motion while the engine roars with the truck in mid-air, the first thing we’re bound to do is scoff and say, “I bet the truck can’t do that.” But here’s the thing, what if it can? Or what if they’ve specifically been tuned to do so? Well, some pickup trucks have been tuned for exactly those kinds of feats. Big air, big jumps, and plenty of give in the suspension to handle the weight of the truck coming crashing down. This is the topic of discussion today when it comes to the 2022 Nissan Frontier vs 2022 Toyota Tacoma.
If you haven’t been keeping track of both model year outings (or even if you have been keeping track), you might have noticed that both companies have put a lot of stock into reinventing their pickups for the 2022 model year. In particular, Toyota has not been shy in making it known that the Tacoma is more off-road ready than ever before. Nissan, however, has been heavily promoting the Frontier’s all-new redesigned look as a fully functional pickup aimed at true enthusiasts of all kinds. But how do they measure up in the promise of being off-road trucks?
The off-road capabilities of any truck are going to be determined first and foremost by its ground clearance. Without ground clearance, you won’t be able to venture very far into off-road territory without destroying the underbody of the truck. Thankfully, both trucks offer some impressive clearance for their off-road trims. For the 2022 Nissan Frontier, there’s the PRO-X and the PRO-4X for the hardcore off-road enthusiasts. Each one offers a slightly different clearance.
The PRO-4X delivers 9.5-inches on the front differential and 9.4-inches on the rear differential. The PRO-X has the highest ground clearance of all the trims. It tops out at 9.8-inches of ground clearance. This gives the Frontier a good amount of space to clear a lot of debris, rubble, and other outdoor obstructions. Underbody skid plates that cover the oil pan, transfer case, and the fuel tank are also included for the PRO trims. So even if you land hard on the surface or scrape something while venturing off-road, the Frontier’s off-road-ready trims are ready to take a beating from mother nature and keep ticking.
On the Tacoma side, while each trim can be configured with four-wheel drive, much like the Frontier, the TRD trims are designed specifically for off-road use. The 2022 Toyota Tacoma also sports some impressive ground clearance. It actually received an upgrade for the 2022 outing over the previous model year, with a suspension lift of 1.5 inches in the front and 0.5-inches in the rear, for a total ground clearance of 9.4-inches.
Much like the Frontier, the 2022 Tacoma also comes with skid plates that protect the front of the vehicle’s undercarriage. However, unlike the Frontier, it doesn’t have as much skid plate protection, and the fact that it’s giving up 0.4-inches in ground clearance, it could make a difference in whether you hit or clear the debris. But the lack of additional skid plates on the Tacoma, even for the TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road, really is a huge step back compared to the multiple skid plates that come with the Frontier to ensure a complete sense of undercarriage protection. With these clear advantages, and given the similarity in departure and approach angles between both trucks, there’s an edge that leans in favor of the Frontier.
Winner: 2022 Nissan Frontier
Ground clearance is one thing, but being able to keep driving your truck after you hit a jump or come down off a steep hill is what really matters. Even if you get over the bumps, gaps, and obstructions, your truck needs to be able to absorb the punishment of harsh landings and unforgiving terrain and keep going. This is where a properly tuned and reinforced suspension comes in handy.
For the 2022 Nissan Frontier, it features an independent double-wishbone front suspension and an overslung multi-leaf rear suspension with a solid reinforced axle. A rear stabilizer bar and Bilstein off-road performance shock absorbers come standard for the Frontier PRO trims. The 2022 Toyota Tacoma is outfitted with a coil-spring double-wishbone front suspension with a rear leaf-spring suspension and Bilstein shock absorbers for the TRD Off-Road trim.
While it might seem like both vehicles are even in the suspension territory, capable of taking jolts like a champ and powering through the shock, there is a difference in the suspension when it comes to the steering. The Frontier sports engine-speed sensitive power steering, whereas the Tacoma is equipped with variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering. It’s not so much in the handling preference, so much as the Frontier attempts to regulate steering based on the engine speed to stabilize performance and handling.
Another thing worth noting is that the Bilstein off-road performance shocks are available for both the PRO-X and PRO-4X on the Frontier, whereas the Bilstein shocks on the Tacoma are only available for the TRD Off-Road trim and only that trim. So you’re kind of locked in with more limited options. This gives the edge ever-so-slightly to the Frontier because you get more trim variations with the high-end suspension components and the added engine-speed power steering, which would make it ideal for newcomers willing to dabble their toe into off-road traversal.
Winner: 2022 Nissan Frontier
You can easily swap tires or change the oil, but one thing that isn’t easy to do when it comes to improving your pickup truck’s off-road performance is the powertrain. What you get is what you’re stuck with unless you decide to do a complete engine swap, which is quite costly and time-consuming. This means that whatever the truck comes with is what you have to make do with when it comes to off-road antics.
For most enthusiasts, the real selling point for an off-road powertrain isn’t in the horsepower but rather the torque. Why? Because off-road traversal is rarely about speed (unless you’re into rally racing). For the most part, you need a lot of low-end torque at low revolutions per minute so you can get as many rotations as possible through the driveline before the differential locks and the wheels turn. The more torsional output, the better the truck is at trudging through mud, kicking up snow, or climbing over rocks.
In this category, the Frontier unequivocally comes out on top in the 2022 Nissan Frontier vs 2022 Toyota Tacoma off-road performance debate. The Frontier sports a 3.8-liter V6 that outputs 281 pound-feet of torque at up to 4,400 revolutions per minute. The Tacoma has two different powertrains, with the top-end powertrain being a 3.5-liter V6 that outputs 265 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 revolutions per minute. In essence, the Frontier nets you more torque at slightly lower revolutions than the Tacoma. Even if the difference is slight, there’s still a clear edge in favor of the Frontier in this department, and so it picks up the win in this category.
Winner: 2022 Nissan Frontier
While the Frontier may have come out victorious in this category, it doesn’t mean the Toyota Tacoma is a bad truck. There is a lot of give and take when it comes to pickup trucks, and just because one truck does something slightly better in one category doesn’t mean it’s better in all categories. In this case, however, the 2022 Nissan Frontier simply stepped out on top, so that’s something to consider if you were interested in either truck for off-road enthusiast purposes.