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This Is The Best (And Only) New Pickup Truck For Under $20K

Smart Buy / 28 Comments

Even fully optioned you won't spend more than $35 grand.

Pickup trucks have gone from relatively affordable daily task masters to seriously luxury vehicles over the past decade to decade and a half. A new Toyota Tacoma has an MSRP of just over $25,000, and that's the bare bones SR variant. Tack on a few features and move up a trim or three and you'll be near the $40k mark. The Chevrolet Colorado begins at just over $21k, again for the unexciting base trim. Don't know about any of you, but we firmly believe a new mid-size pickup truck ought to be downright affordable without having to spend wildly on things like a V6.

Right now, there's only one new mid-size truck on the market you can buy brand spanking new for under $20k and around $25k for V6 power. That truck is the Nissan Frontier. Okay, I know what you're thinking and you're absolutely right; the Frontier is a dinosaur by today's truck standards. Launched for 2004, it's changed surprisingly very little since. Even its engine lineup, a 2.5-liter inline four and a 4.0-liter V6, are still offered. Transmission options? Like we're in 2004 all over again, a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. King and crew cab body styles are offered along with optional 4WD.

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The only relevant optional feature to tack on, aside from choosing trim level, is the $1,890 Value Truck Package, consisting of leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, spray-on bedliner, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, and heated front seats, among a few other things. And you know what? That's about all you really need, feature wise. Want a modern infotainment system? No problem, buy a $10 dashboard mount for your smartphone. Compared to the optional 5.8-inch navigation touchscreen, chances are your iPhone's 5.5-inch display is nicer. Not everyone wants or needs a truck with fancy schmancy tech bits. Didn't a majority of people once buy pickup trucks because they needed to get stuff done?

You know, like hauling home project materials in the bed, helping a friend move, or as a small business truck. Perhaps I'm being a bit old school here, but those tasks and countless other ones are still fairly basic; why spend so much money on a truck then? The Frontier, as outdated as it is, has all of the charms of yesteryear. Need it for towing? The entry-level Frontier SL with standard RWD and the four banger can tow up to 3,790 pounds and carry up to 900 pounds of maximum payload. It's not much, but it'll still handle towing a jet ski and trailer without breaking a sweat. That Frontier SL will cost you just $19,365 including destination. Need more power and towing strength?

The SV V6 King Cab 4x2 (base price: $25,900) tows up to 6,690 pounds and 1,420 pounds of max payload. The Frontier crew cab's 5-foot cargo box is nearly the same size as competing trucks, and there's also a 6-foot option if so needed. Are you looking for an off-road focused variant? There's the Pro-4X, which comes standard with 4WD, Bilstein shocks, electronic locking rear differential, skid plates, and up to 6,450 pounds of towing – all for a starting MSRP of $33,030. The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 we just tested only begins at $41,000. Of course the ZR2 is a fully modern machine whereas the Pro-4X is, uh, not. But that $8 grand difference is a significant chunk of change for the average person.

Yes, the Nissan Frontier is nearly 15 years old. Yes, it's lacking in many areas, such as safety crash test results and general ride comfort, but it gets the job done without breaking the bank. Nissan is said to be working on a successor at this very moment, which we figure is about a year or two away. In the meantime, the wonderfully old school and charming Frontier soldiers on, often under the radar. But those who buy one know they are getting one hell of a bargain.