We tested our four challengers on the same day, at the same track (Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.), with the same test equipment and the same driver (and his test procedures). Since we had all V-6 engines, spinning tires was not much of a problem for these pickups, but much of their success was based on tire grip and transmission software mapping. Interestingly, there was still a pretty good separation between the players.
The Colorado had the fastest time to 60 mph, running in 8.1 seconds. The Frontier, with its impressive off-the-line throttle response, was close behind with 8.18 seconds. Although it has an aging engine, Nissan engineers have done an excellent job of getting the power from the engine to the wheels. The Canyon placed third, and the Tacoma — the smallest and least powerful vehicle according to its Toyota factory specs — finished last.
Maybe not surprisingly, the fastest of our loaded group was the pickup with the smallest calculated payload: The Frontier ran to 60 mph in 9.32 seconds. The Canyon took second place with 9.93 seconds, while the Toyota and Colorado finished third and fourth respectively.
In our quarter-mile testing, the results were similar but not identical to the zero-to-60 mph runs. During our empty runs down the entire length of the track at wide-open throttle, the two newest engines again had the best results, likely due to their strong-shifting six-speed automatic transmissions.
The Colorado ran the quickest at 16.26 seconds at 87.6 mph, while the Canyon ran a little slower but did have the highest speed in 16.41 seconds at 87.8 mph. The Nissan was only a tenth of a second behind and a few mph slower with a third-place finish. The Toyota finished fourth.
In the loaded quarter-mile run, the Nissan did best again, crossing the traps in 17.25 seconds at 81.1 mph, but very close behind was the Canyon at 17.54 seconds at 82.0 mph. The Toyota finished third and the Colorado came in fourth.
How We Conducted the Testing
We began our test with the empty zero-to-60 mph runs. Some may be surprised that the two smallest V-6s were the fastest and most powerful engines, but consider that these are the two most sophisticated and advanced engines around — direct injection, variable valve timing and variable intakes. Add to that the fact the two GM 3.6-liter motors also had the highest (lowest numerically) ring-and-pinion ratios — 3.42:1 — and their performance achievements are even more impressive. We're guessing the transmission mapping had something to do with that as well.
For our loaded testing, knowing how capable these smaller pickups typically are, we calculated the maximum payload of each competitor by weighing each truck at the local CAT scales and subtracting that number from the gross vehicle weight rating as stated on the door labels. With that number in hand, we knew exactly how many 40-pound bags of rock salt to load into each truck bed before loaded testing. Our calculations had us loading 37 bags into the Chevy, 36 into the GMC, 25 into the Nissan and 28 into the Toyota.
All of our track testing was done on the same day, where conditions were calm and cool. Temperatures hovered right around 78 degrees and the humidity was, as it normally is in March in Arizona, low.
Each run was done with our RaceLogic VBOX VB2SX10 and real-time display equipment. For acceleration runs, we usually take three or four runs with each pickup to find out how best to launch the truck. It's worth noting there was a huge difference in tire types for this test, with the Tacoma running on rather large (and knobby) off-road-biased BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires, while the Canyon had street-biased Goodyear Wranglers. As a result, our launches varied quite a bit from vehicle to vehicle, and even from test run to test run due in large part to the condition of the start-line surface. Additionally, Cars.com test driver Joe Bruzek uses his left foot to brake-torque the engine before fully releasing the brake pedal and mashing the throttle. We do not correct the numbers to sea-level performance (like some other outlets do) to give you the best real-world comparison numbers and performance results we can.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears