2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X
Total Points: 63.54/100
Base Price: $30,060
Off-Road Package Contents: Electronic part-time four-wheel drive, Bilstein shocks, P265/75R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A tires w/fullsize spare, electronic locking rear differential, 4-Wheel Limited Slip, Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, front tow hooks, full skidplating
We have always liked the Frontier. With a strong V-6 and willing chassis, it is a fun truck to drive. Despite having upgraded tires, Bilstein shocks, and a rear locker, the Frontier came in with lowest base price in our group. But, like the Xterra it shares a platform with it is a bit long-in-the-tooth.
On the plus side, the interior, despite being dated, offers simple controls that anyone can easily master. The plasticky dash and door panels can be effortlessly wiped clean, and the small truck comes from the factory with a bedliner and the Utili-Track tie-down system.
In the dirt, the Frontier benefits over the Xterra from a longer wheelbase. It also comes with a rear hitch that can be used as a recovery point, unlike the Xterra, which was completely devoid of any rear tow point. We never found the electronic supervisors to be overly intrusive; although there were times when we knew they were watching.
Using a touch more speed, the Frontier climbed our loose hill a little bit easier than did the Xterra. On the stairs, the Frontier was surprisingly adept thanks to a good throttle calibration in low range, along with a well-sorted traction control system. Even in the rocks, where the Frontier should have been hampered by low ground clearance, it picked its way through, while a relatively smooth underbody helped it to slide over rocks without getting hung up.
It’s true the Frontier didn’t excite us in any large way, but we couldn’t really find fault with it either. Overall, it is a great choice as a daily driver that sees weekend-duty to the favorite camping spot. While not in the same league as some of the other vehicles in this test, this robust little pickup is a can’t-go-wrong proposition for anyone requiring a basic, rugged little 4x4.
Hot: Simple, fun, affordable
Not: Dated, not a lot of features, low clearance
Our Take: A great choice for someone looking for a nice, solid truck to get him or her up a dirt road
2012 Toyota Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series
Total Points: 68.33/100
Base Price: $35,255
Off-Road Package Contents: Electronic part-time four-wheel drive, Bilstein shocks, three-leaf spring pack, P265/70R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A tires w/fullsize spare, TRD aluminum wheels, electronic locking rear differential, 4-Wheel Limited Slip, Downhill Assist Control, Hill Start Assist, front tow hooks, full skidplating, TRD exhaust
You have to love the approach Toyota took to upgrade its Tacoma pickup. Seeing the success of Ford’s Raptor, but not wanting to play at that price point, Toyota cherry-picked the aftermarket to come up with an off-road package that transforms the popular Tacoma without the need to raid the couch cushions.
The Baja takes a standard Tacoma TRD and trims it out with TRD leveling springs in the front, paired with 60mm Bilstein monotube shocks. Out back, a new three-leaf pack and 50mm Bilstein reservoir shocks round out the suspension changes. The Baja also benefits from upgraded BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A tires mounted on distinctive TRD wheels and a TRD exhaust.
Like the TRD model on which it is based, the Baja includes an electronic rear locker, along with Toyota’s typical host of traction-watching acronyms, such as VSC, A-TRAC, HAC, and DAC. Just as with the 4Runner, the Baja is equipped with a 4.0L DOHC V-6. Curiously, it is only rated at 235hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, falling short of the 4Runner’s 4.0L V-6 (270hp/278tq), as well as Nissan’s 4.0L V-6 in the Frontier (261hp/281tq).
Our first test of the Baja in the desert (August ’12) left us with a favorable impression of the truck, but we were curious how it would perform in a more traditional off-road setting. At the Chelsea hillclimb, we found the Tacoma to be a little light on low-end torque, but were able to conquer the ascent as long as we kept the revs up. The stiffened suspension exhibited compliance, without exhibiting any wheelhop and traction was not a problem. On the downward slope, HDC operation was similar to the 4Runner, effective, but noisy.
On the stairstep challenge, the stiff frontend of the Baja made the driver work a bit harder than in the Frontier, but with the right technique, the Toyota got the job done without much drama. Despite electronics that could be invasive at higher speeds, we found they did an admirable job of aiding traction at low speeds.
The Tacoma also took surprisingly well to the rock garden. Like the 4Runner, its low frame height made choosing a proper line critical, although the Baja’s smoother undercarriage didn’t get caught up as often as the 4Runner. Just a little more ground clearance would do wonders for this mid-travel midsize.
We walked away from the test with the impression that this is a truck we could live with everyday, and while the suspension is geared toward going fast, it doesn’t detract from the Toyota’s all-around competence in the dirt. It still isn’t quite in the same league as the Raptor, but at a nearly $10,000 discount, it is about 85-percent of the way there. The Baja is a well-sorted truck in search of bigger tires.
Hot: Suspension begs to go fast, an all-around better Tacoma
Not: Tires on the small size, front suspension a bit stiff for low speeds
Our Take: Raptor fun without a Raptor price