by Ian Wright
What do mid-size truck owners want in the USA? That's the question Nissan has posed in developing an all-new, and long awaited, 2022 Nissan Frontier truck. The answer wasn't "a bigger truck." Instead, owners wanted to keep the cost down, fit it in a garage, use it as a daily driver or a work vehicle, and use it at the weekend as a leisure vehicle. These are all things the old Frontier did well for more than a decade on the market, but to stay relevant against strong contenders like the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, and Honda Ridgeline, a new one needs to do all of that and more. Powered by a 3.8-liter V6 that appeared at the tail-end of the last-gen truck, the Frontier now has 310 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque to play with, with either 4x2 or 4x4 drivetrains, a nine-speed automatic transmission, and a towing capacity of up to 6,720 lbs. But with the sharper visuals brought about by the redesign, Nissan has kept a critical eye on the dimensions, given it a deeper bed, an up-to-date infotainment system, and a practical yet comfortable interior. We flew out to Utah to test drive the new Nissan Frontier, discovering that it's a big shot across the bow of the Toyota Tacoma. The class leader now has serious mid-size truck competition.
The 2022 Frontier is an all-new vehicle and the start of the third generation for the US model. However, most of the major mechanical components are carried over from the previous model. These include the 3.8-liter naturally-aspirated V6 engine introduced for 2021, the nine-speed gearbox, and the ladder-frame chassis, albeit thoroughly revising the latter. Nissan's new Frontier is still an old-school truck with a leaf spring/Dana axle setup at the rear, but it's now covered in a layer of comfort and convenience. All models get a large touchscreen infotainment system and a selection of other convenience items. It's also more practical than ever, with a deeper bed and a 6,720-pound towing capacity.
See trim levels and configurations:
A new power steering system adds some much-needed precision to the new Frontier, but it doesn't come at the expense of being too light. In fact, there's a reassuring weight to the steering that goes with the upgrade in ride quality from the last generation. There's no mistaking the fact that you're driving a truck still, but there's a new assurance to the Frontier. On the freeway, it's as good as a truck gets with the engine measured out well to deal with getting up to and then maintaining freeway speed. On town and city roads, the ride quality is still relatively smooth for a truck, while the steering is quick and direct enough to respond and get a little hustle on. The added couple of inches in length aren't noticeable when it comes to parking and maneuvering in town, which is a benchmark Nissan continues to aim for with the Frontier.
We got a chance to put the Frontier through its paces on tight, narrow dirt trails with stony and rocky inclines and gradients. The Frontier was happy to scramble up steep slopes with the low box and four-wheel-drive hooked up while the suspension took the pounding. Crawl Control wasn't strictly necessary but made the descents stress-free affairs. If how the all-wheel-drive system dealt with dust and small loose rocks is anything to go by, dealing with mud and sand is simply going to be a case of keeping things as slow as possible and as much as necessary. On that dusty ground and playing on hairpins covered in wet grass, the traction control is on the heavy-handed side and will keep those with a heavy right foot out of trouble.
The 4x4 system is excellent on slippery surfaces like snow, gravel, and muddy roads, however. The 4LO setting is perfect for slow-speed off-roading. Nissan includes Hill Descent Control as standard on all models, but it's hardly necessary for the 4x4. The gear ratios are perfectly judged, which means first and second gear are perfect for crawling down something using only compression. Call us old-fashioned, but we prefer using mechanical bits over an electronic brain.
Back out on the road, we found a nice long gradient up into the mountain and there's no struggle from the engine at all getting some altitude and keeping up with traffic. Finally, we found a long tight road to hustle a little and found the Frontier as confident and sure-footed despite its light rear end's all-purpose suspension tuning.
Nissan has delivered a mid-size truck that's perfectly measured for its demographic. Cost is kept down while keeping the Frontier functional and rugged, but with a massive increase in comfort and technology over the last generation, as well as bringing styling up to date. The highlights of the interior are Nissan's excellent "Zero Gravity" seats and an infotainment screen that's larger than it needs to be for a mid-size truck. It drives nicely, has the correct amount of power and a naturally aspirated engine that should provide relentless reliability to go with the rugged chassis.
All of the above sounds like damning with faint praise, but we understand the mid-size market and that people aren't looking for an overpowered luxury truck. The bottom line is that Nissan has taken the concept of value, style, and rugged functionality and smacked it out of the park in a single package that has put the Toyota Tacoma on notice.
Like the previous-generation Frontier, the Tacoma is in dire need of a facelift. Or not, since it seems to keep on selling well despite missing out on modern features. The Tacoma uses a 3.5-liter NA V6, mated to a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. It produces 278 hp and 265 lb-ft, which is lightweight compared to the Frontier's 310 hp and 281 lb-ft. The V6 model comes with a tow rating of 6,800 lbs, slightly more than the Frontier's 6,720 lbs.
Compared to the Tacoma, the Frontier looks like a bargain. The Tacoma range starts at $26,400 and for that price you get a 2.7-liter naturally-aspirated four-pot delivering 159 hp and 180 lb-ft. Next to the base Frontier ($27,840) and its standard V6 engine, Toyota's four-banger looks pitiful.
The Tacoma has a smaller infotainment system, but it has the same functionality. Safety-wise, the older Toyota is better. All models get Toyota Safety Sense P, including forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, dynamic cruise control, and lane departure warning. The Frontier only comes standard with forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and to match the Tacoma's safety spec, you need to start adding packages.
The Frontier is a more modern car, and you can feel it, especially when it comes to ride quality and refinement. It also has more tech, and the standard V6 is great. Objectively, we'd have the Frontier over the Tacoma, but we're not convinced Nissan has done enough to lure diehard Tacoma fans out of their trucks.
The Frontier is newer, but the Ranger is still highly competitive and even better in all the categories that matter. First, the power output. Nissan says it leads the pack with 310 horses and 281 lb-ft, but Ford hits back with a much higher 310 lb-ft of torque to counteract its lower power figure, and that torque is available from 1,000 rpm less. This gives the Ranger a tow rating of 7,500 lbs and easily trumps the Frontier's ratings of up to 6,720 lbs, and it's more frugal. The Ranger also has more legroom, but its interior is a bit of a plastic fest, feeling cheaper in its construction than the hardy Frontier. High-end Ford models come with leather as standard, while you need to pay extra for a package to get it in the Nissan, and the Ford's infotainment suite is arguably better, too. Base Ranger models are also light on driver assistance features. Still, from XLT specification, you get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, and trailer tow monitoring, all of which are only optional, even on top-spec Frontier trims. These two are well-matched and both fulfill the role of a midsizer well. To us, the Ranger is a better all-around product, but it's not the only answer. If you need to go off-road, for example, the PRO-4X will walk the competition, so it really does come down to personal needs.
The most popular competitors of 2022 Nissan Frontier: