Midsize Pickup Adventure Review: 2017 Honda Ridgeline vs. Toyota Tacoma vs. Nissan Frontier vs. GMC Canyon

What is the way to get a good measure of a pickup truck? It has to do many jobs well. We completed the Ike Gauntlet extreme towing reviews of each one of these trucks. You can find them all under the Ike Gauntlet section. How do these trucks handle the daily grind of the city and highway driving? This may be a bit boring, so we decided to use the Rocky Mountains to our advantage for a comprehensive off-road adventure review that included all of the latest midsize pickups. While we were not able to include a Chevy Colorado in this comparison, the GMC Canyon crew cab 4×4 is the GM midsize truck representative.

There is another very important question we wanted to answer with this grand comparison. How does the second generation 2017 Honda Ridgeline stack up against the rest of the field in its on-road and off-road prowess? We already know that the Ridgeline can beat the Tacoma and the Frontier in a drag race. We wanted to learn more.

The route took us from Boulder, CO to Golden, CO and then on to the top of the Montezuma off-road trail. We chose the Montezuma off-road trail because it is a medium difficulty route to above tree-line and to the top of the Rocky Mountains. We wanted to give each truck a chance to reach the top, hence the medium difficulty.

This adventure review includes the following trucks. See the “Logistics” section at the end of this post for more details.

2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD 2016 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 2016 Nissan Frontier 4×4 2016 GMC Canyon 4×4
3.5L V6 3.5L V6 4.0L V6 3.6L V6
Max Power 280 hp 278 hp 261 hp 305 hp
Max Torque 262 lb-ft 265 lb-ft 281 lb-ft 269 lb-ft
Transmission 6-speed 6-speed 5-speed 6-speed

The 2017 Ridgeline came out as the top choice for on-road handling, comfort, and acceleration performance. Not surprisingly, it was not the best choice for the off-road adventure. The Ridgeline has the lowest ground clearance in this group and street-biased all-season tires. Its sophisticated AWD system offers torque vectoring for better corner handling and several algorithms for handling low traction conditions, such as this off-road trail. The system will allocated power to the wheel(s) with most traction. The Ridgeline struggled more the steeper and rockier the trail got. Finally, Roman received a “Transmission overheating” warning message in the gauge cluster, just as Kent “Mr Truck” Sundling started to have clearance problems. Given a chance to cool down, the Ridgeline had no damage or ill effects on the way down the mountain and for the rest of the week in our custody.

The off-road performance of the 2016 GMC Canyon was inhibited by the low front chin spoiler. We all know that this front air deflector is removable, and thus would greatly improve the trail capability of the truck. However, we consider this a modification of an otherwise fully stock vehicle. If we were to remove this air deflector, what other modifications should be consider for the other trucks? The point is, all of these trucks are being evaluated the way that they are sold at the dealership, and they way you purchase them. Other than the limiting air dam, the Canyon has the hardware to make the SLE grade truck a competent off-road performer. While the All-Terrain version of the truck will do even better.

It’s no surprise that the Tacoma 4×4 TRD Off-Road and the Frontier 4×4 PRO-4X are the off-road midsizers of this bunch. These two models represent the top of the off-road technology from their respective companies for this segment.

The Toyota Tacoma is the segment leader in sales. It’s known for reliability and off-road focused design. However, it’s not the most comfortable truck on the day-to-day basis. We find that the front two seats are a little too close to the floor for everyday comfort. Of course, this design has been part of the Tacoma for several generations and it’s done in the name of higher clearance for off-roading. We explored this topic in more details in a recent TFLtruck: By the Numbers segment.

The Nissan Frontier is by far the oldest design in this group. Nonetheless, it’s still a capable and competitive midsize truck, as you see in the off-road portion of this mashup. The noticeable reminder of the truck’s older design is its fuel economy which is now several MPG less than the competition’s. Nissan is likely to bring a redesigned Frontier for the 2018 model year, although the company has not made any official announcement to this effect.

2017 honda ridgeline tacoma frontier canyon gmc nissan toyota comparison review


We sent out a call to all five midsize pickup manufacturers (Chevrolet, GMC, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota) to submit their off-road prepared crew cab 4x4s. We had a tight time constraint. We wanted to take the trucks to the top of the Rocky Mountains, but these high elevations can see snowfall at the end of September which can potentially close the gorgeous mountain trails. Middle of September is also a great time for fall colors in the Rockies, as aspens burst into many hues of yellow and orange. General Motors did not have their trucks in the regional fleet, as they are switching from 2016 to 2017 model year.

A large comparison requires a great team, and we are fortunate to have some of the best in the industry. Roman Mica took the 2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition, Nathan Adlen grabbed the 2016 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 TRD Off-Road, Kent Sundling jumped into the 2016 GMC Canyon 4×4 SLE, and yours truly piloted the 2016 Nissan Frontier 4×4 PRO-4X. A video review of this scale must have the best video crew. Once again, we are very fortunate to have Ian Chisholm and Tommy Mica as videographers and editors.

As a side note, the 2017 Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon with the upgraded 3.6L V6 and the 8-speed automatic transmission are not in circulation yet. We will thoroughly test these as soon as they are available.