Motor Trend Compares Tacoma, Frontier, and New Colorado

Motor Trend recently compared the new Chevy Colorado to the Tacoma and the Nissan Frontier, and here’s what they found:

  1. The new Colorado’s interior is roomy and luxurious in comparison to the Tacoma and Frontier
  2. The new Colorado rides nicer than the Tacoma
  3. The new Colorado is the most car-like truck of the group, and therefore the “best” truck in the group

First, congrats to Chevy for winning this comparison. Second, here’s why truck comparisons from most “auto experts” come up short.

What Motor Trend Got Right

Tacoma vs Frontier vs Colorado

Motor Trend compared the TRD Pro Tacoma to a couple of trucks with lesser off-road packages…and no tow packages either.

There’s no denying that the Colorado has more interior space, as well as a nicer interior. The Colorado is a much newer design, and there’s been a lot of emphasis on interiors the last few years. The Colorado deserves recognition for these attributes.

Motor Trend also took the time to test the trucks with a payload of about 900lbs, to test the acceleration of the trucks, do some skid pad tests, and they even parallel-parked each of the trucks to see how they performed in tight spaces. These are all good, useful tests that can help buyers learn about how a truck might haul, tow, or handle in an emergency, etc.

What Motor Trend Got Wrong

First, let’s talk about the trim levels that were tested:

  • A Z71 Colorado
  • A Pro-4X Frontier
  • A TRD Pro Tacoma

One of these is not like the other, eh? While the Frontier and Colorado are wearing off-road packages that are basically just tires and shocks, the Tacoma has a TRD Pro package, which includes increased suspension travel and lift, dramatically different shocks with different tuning, dedicated off-road tires, etc. Comparing a TRD Pro to these trucks isn’t appropriate – a standard TRD package would be more correct.

However, Motor Trend has to test the trucks their given, right? It’s Toyota’s fault that a truck carefully tuned for heavy-duty off-roading was sent to a comparison test that featured two competitors with very basic off-road setups. But Toyota can’t take the blame for the fact that no attempt was made to drive these trucks off-road.

Motor Trend says that few mid-size truck buyers go off-road (citing data from Maritz market research), and perhaps this is the rational for skipping an off-road test that the TRD Pro Tacoma would have dominated relative to the competition.

Yet the TRD Pro’s suspension tune and tires – which are primarily designed for attacking trails – were minor gripes in the payload testing, ride quality test, and handling impressions.

What’s more, while Motor Trend ran a payload test, they didn’t test the trucks pulling a trailer. Again, citing Maritz market research, Motor Trend states that most truck buyers in this segment (67%) don’t tow…but what about the 33% who do? And what about the fact that only the Tacoma was rated to pull more than 6000lbs as equipped, while the Frontier and Colorado (which did not have tow packages) could only pull 3,500lbs?

Perhaps if the comparison had featured three trucks with tow packages (instead of just one), the comments about the Colorado’s “smooth” acceleration would have been tempered.

It says here that no truck review should skip an off-road comparison, nor should they overlook towing concerns. Even if most new truck buyers don’t do these things, they are concerned about capability. Everyone wants to own a truck that tows, hauls, and off-roads with the best of them, even if there’s no plan to do these things.

Tacoma vs Colorado vs Frontier

Even if most new mid-size truck buyers don’t off-road or tow, the trucks should still be compared on these attributes. After all, part of what truck owners want when they buy is capability.

But here’s where Motor Trend really screwed up when comparing these three trucks: They never talked about quality and durability ratings for each brand, nor did they talk about resale value. Truck owners are incredibly concerned about quality and durability, and as we’ve written recently, resale value is a proxy for durability.

Of course, most reviewers are loathe to talk about these sorts of things, so this is no surprise. They’d rather just focus on comparing the trucks in front of them than dive deeper into reliability ratings and data that might give buyers insight into which trucks hold up best over time.

The Tacoma Got Second Place

Considering that:

  1. The Tacoma in this test had a hard-core off-roading package and
  2. The Tacoma was the only truck in the test with a tow package

The Tacoma did just fine in this comparison. Great, even. It got dinged for having a rougher ride (expected) and being less “car-like” in terms of handling and acceleration (which isn’t a bad thing, regardless of what Motor Trend says). While the critiques of the Tacoma’s lack of interior space and low-grade interior are fair, the Tacoma’s overall design compared favorably to the much newer Colorado.

In fact, considering how new the Colorado is – and how old the Tacoma is – the competition really shouldn’t have been close. Yet it was close.