Most midsize pickup truck buyers understand how to conduct a side-by-side comparison of capabilities to decide between two models, such as the 2022 Nissan Frontier vs 2022 GMC Canyon. The hard part comes when both models are relatively equal, at which point a deeper dive, including dissecting available trims and equipment packages, is necessary.
The thing is, small truck buyers aren’t just looking for truck-like capabilities in a smaller package: some buy them because they have zero interest in a sedan, an SUV, or a crossover. The midsize pickup is perfect for undecided buyers who can’t find their dream car in the usual places. For most of these buyers, ending up with a smaller truck boils down to a lifestyle choice.
These buyers choose a Frontier or a Canyon simply because they prefer the pickup body style. For these buyers, even an entry truck trim is preferred over a more well-equipped (and vanilla) crossover. Midsize trucks are fun-sized alternatives to bigger rigs and offer an escape hatch for those who want no part of the SUV invasion.
In the end, midsize trucks are chameleon-like. Which type of buyer are you? And which of these trucks gets you to your goal most efficiently?
The Adventure Seeker
We see you, weekend warriors. You’re eyeing the clock on Friday afternoon, just waiting to head out to the mountains with a few buddies. For you, a midsize pickup fits your budget, but more importantly, it gets you where you want to go – the trail, the campsite, or the desert. You can even add an Around View Monitor to the Frontier to display trail conditions right on the touchscreen.
You can haul your toys and fit your buddies in the crew cab, and no one ends up broke after splitting the cost of gas since combined fuel economy hovers at around 20 mpg. The 2022 Frontier hauls up to 6,720 pounds and pumps out a class-leading 310 horsepower for peppy performance when you need it. The available 284 lb-ft of torque also contributes to low-range power, perfect for rock crawling.
The 2022 Canyon is no slouch on the trail, but it falls below the Frontier’s horsepower capability. Also, grabbing a fully-equipped Canyon AT4 pushes the price tag close to the $40,000 mark, a budget buster for many midsize truck buyers. You can get a Duramax turbo-diesel motor and 31-inch all-terrain tires, but unfortunately, the Canyon lacks some of the Frontier’s more advanced technology, which will be a deal killer for younger buyers.
The Frontier PRO-X 4×4 includes Bilstein shocks and a very innovative set of digital off-road gauges that display pitch and roll for the driver. Those features, along with the 2022 Frontier’s trail camera and larger available 9-inch infotainment touchscreen, set the stage for a vehicle that’s built with the features active buyers want, along with seamless smartphone connectivity, an ultra-quick and responsive operating system, and crisp graphics. Check, check, and check in the Frontier.
The Bargain Shopper
Hold the phone because, for some small truck buyers, the decision is entirely driven by cash (or lack of cash) on hand. They want a pickup truck, but breaking into the full-size category isn’t in the financial cards. So, a smaller profile truck is the answer, but which of these models has not only the lower price tag but also gets the most bang for the hard-earned buck?
Answer: the Frontier. Glimpse each truck’s starting MSRP, and you might object, but for a thousand more than the base Canyon – that’s a mere 3.9% more for the math nerds – you get a far more powerful V6. Entry-level Canyon buyers are stuck with a very underpowered 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that squeezes out a mere 200 horsepower and only 191 lb-ft of torque. Upgrade to GMC’s V6, and the Canyon now costs nearly a grand more than the Frontier.
This leads us to another consideration for budget buyers, which is choosing the vehicle that packs the most standard premium equipment in the cabin. We like the Frontier’s push-button start and oversized 8-inch driver display. Sadly, the Canyon’s spartan interior will be a daily reminder that you bought a base model trim, especially with its tiny 3.5-inch driver display and undersized 7-inch touchscreen.
The best bargain exists at your Nissan dealer because that extra grand you’re paying for the base model Frontier gets you far more power (310 horses vs 200 on the Canyon), more advanced infotainment tech, and a far more upgraded cabin. Don’t forget that this year’s Frontier is all-new, having just received a complete redesign. Last we checked, the Canyon hasn’t seen an overhaul since 2012. That speaks to residual value if you ever decide to trade or sell your truck.
For the image-conscious, the Frontier is undeniably the freshest option, as 2022 marks year one of its newest generation. The fully-redesigned exterior is a nice blend of rugged and head-turning, especially dressed in one of the more dramatic exterior hues. We especially like the flared fenders and integrated LED headlights on the PRO-X trim, which fully-loaded runs not much more than $40,000.
GMC offers the Canyon Denali for luxury-minded buyers, and with the new-for-2022 Denali Black Edition Package, it’s all dressed up for the valet. Chrome exhaust tips and an abundant use of glossy black trim pieces adorn this special edition sub-trim, as do the high-gloss 20-inch wheels. GMC’s Denali trim is iconic, representing luxury and high-end finishes across the automaker’s lineup. Get out your wallet, though, because this plush Canyon configuration gets you closer to $50k when all the options are selected.
Nissan’s partnership with high-end audio company Fender is on full display in the upper Frontier trims. A 9-speaker Fender system produces high-quality audio in the cabin. The Canyon’s upgraded 7-speaker Bose system just isn’t a sound quality match, but both trucks offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, along with a Wi-Fi hotspot.
With a larger 9-inch touchscreen available, a comparably-equipped luxury interior with leather seating, and all the same bells-and-whistles found on the much more expensive Canyon Denali, the Frontier seems to offer an advantage even for image-oriented shoppers. This group tends to go with what feels right, though, so for some, the Canyon’s more rugged and boxy appearance might win.
The Frontier is the Everyman’s Truck
The midsize pickup segment is a catchall for buyers that can’t find a home elsewhere. It’s true that many buyers buy GMC Canyons and Nissan Frontiers because they can’t afford a comparably-equipped full-size truck, but we think they’re the minority. Sure, both these trucks offer plenty of capability and off-roading prowess, but the story is more complex than that.
A better profile of these buyers is to think of them as a collection of SUV-averse, pickup-for-pickup’s-sake folks, along with bargain shoppers who cannot and will not pull the trigger on a crossover. For these buyers, small pickups are a respite from sameness and a way to display a more adventurous image. Also, the utility of a truck bed has no equal.
What draws you to the midsize pickup category? Whatever your reasons, you’re in good company. The segment expanded by 33 percent in the second quarter of 2021, and the Frontier, in particular, enjoyed a 77.53% year-over-year unit sales increase. Considering the 2022 model is completely redesigned, that trend is likely to continue. Sadly, although it saw a slight 2.33% sales increase, the GMC Canyon isn’t faring as well, which is important for buyers to know