The Nissan Frontier is a midsize pickup that offers buyers much of the capability of a full-size pickup in a smaller, more maneuverable and relatively fuel-efficient package. A descendant of the 1959 Datsun Truck that pioneered the small-pickup segment in the United States, the Frontier is available with four- and six-cylinder engines along with a variety of cab and bed options.
Minor tweaks help certain Frontier models eke out slightly improved fuel economy for the latest model year. A new, off-road focused Desert runner trim and several equipment changes are the only updates of note.
The Frontier rides on Nissan's rugged F-Alpha platform, which includes a fully-boxed ladder frame constructed from high tensile-strength steel. Its suspension layout and many of its component designs are identical to those of the full-size Titan pickup, including an all-steel double-wishbone front suspension and solid axle rear suspension with overslung leaf springs and a long suspension stroke for off-road performance.
These underpinnings help the Frontier to tow a full-size-pickup-like 6,500 pounds (in RWD V6 form), although the truck's relatively modest dimensions and curb weight give it more responsive handling than the average full-sizer.
Buyers can choose from a "King Cab" with two back-hinged rear doors and modestly sized rear jump seats or a "Crew Cab" with conventional front-hinged rear doors and full-sized rear seats. A five-foot bed is standard with the King Cab, while Crew-Cab models get a six-foot bed that can be had as on option on the King.
Regardless of cab and bed selections, the Frontier offers a utilitarian cabin with sturdy materials and a simple dashboard with straightforward controls.
The Frontier comes standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 152 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque, while an optional 4.0-liter V6 produces 261 ponies and 281 lb-ft of twist.
For the latest model year, enhanced aerodynamic measures and reduced engine friction result in slight mileage gains for several powertrain combinations.
Equipped with a five-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel-drive, the four-banger returns 19 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. Choosing a five-speed automatic lowers those figures to 17/23 mpg - with the highway figure being up 1 mpg for the latest model year.
The V6 comes standard with a six-speed manual, in which configuration it returns 16/22 mpg - a gain of 2 mpg city - while opting for the automatic nets identical mileage.
Four-wheel-drive is available as on option, though only on V6-equipped Frontiers. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds for four-cylinder models, while rear-drive V6 models manage an impressive 6,500 pounds.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Frontier is available in S, SV, SL, Desert Runner and Pro-4X trim levels.
The four-cylinder-only S trim is essentially a no-frills work truck - it comes standard with cloth seats, a four-speaker AM/FM stereo, a full compliment of safety equipment (detailed below) and little else - the seats, windows and locks are of the manually-adjustable variety, and A/C and a CD player are extra-cost options.
The SV adds expected niceties like A/C, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, interior map lights, Bluetooth and a CD player, and can also be had with the V6 engine.
The new Desert Runner trim level includes 16-inch Off-Road design aluminum-alloy wheels, Bilstein shocks tuned for greater off-road capability, unique seat cloth with embroidered Frontier logos on the front seats, fog lights and Desert Runner decals and badging.
The Pro-4X brings Bilstein shocks, skid plates, an electronic-locking rear diff, an electronic all-wheel limited slip system and unique 16-inch alloy wheels. The interior features unique accents such as a leather-appointed and red-stitched shift knob on the manual gearbox, the same treatment for the steering wheel, chrome accents on the gauges. Opting for the PRO-4X VTP in the Crew Cab model gets black leather front seats with red stitching, with 8-way power operation for the driver seat and 4-way operated passenger seats, both heated, just like the mirrors. The rear bench gets a fold-down center armrest.
All PRO-4X models are equipped with four-wheel-drive, powered by the 4.0-liter V6 model and sport a body-colored grille, bumpers, outside mirrors, door handles and fog lamps. Additional standard content for the new model year includes Satin Chrome grille finish, fog lights, revised logos and decals, updated contrast stitching and seat embroidery, RearView Monitor, rear sonar, Dual Zone Auto A/C, auto on/off headlights, an additional 12V power outlet and a touchscreen-operated sound system.
The up-market SL trim adds to the SV's features with 18-inch aluminum wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, step rails, leather upholstery, power-adjustable and heated front seats and a Rockford Fosgate-powered audio system with a six-disc CD changer and an Auxiliary audio input jack. A navigation system is newly standard on the SL, as are a RearView Monitor, rear sonar, Dual Zone Auto A/C, auto on/off headlights and an additional 12V power outlet.
All Frontier models come standard with dual front, side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The Frontier faces competition from the popular Toyota Tacoma in addition to the aging Chevrolet Colorado/ GMC Canyon twins. The larger, unibody Honda Ridgeline is also worth considering, while those who like the capability of the Frontier but want a slightly different look can opt for the Suzuki Equator, which is a rebodied Frontier built by Nissan for Suzuki.