We’re short-changed on engine offerings in the USDM Frontier, limited to a 152hp 4-cylinder or 261hp V6 gasoline engine choice with the option to drive all 4 wheels. Manual and automatic gearboxes are an option, in 6- and 5-speeds respectively. The Pro 4X package gives you more off-road ability with a lockable rear differential, Bilstein shocks, all-terrain tires, and under-body skid plates. Despite its lack of advanced safety features other than ABS, ESC, and traction control, the NHTSA backs the Frontier up with a decent 4-star safety rating while the IIHS rates it as ‘good’.
Way back in the day, the caveman invented spears, fire, and the wheel. Not so long after, he developed the Nissan Frontier – or at least that’s what it feels like. The Frontier dates back to 2004, and though it received minor updates in 2009, it’s still essentially the same old pickup that’s been around for nearly a decade and a half. A new Frontier – called a Navara in other markets – has already launched in other parts of the world, which means it’s only a matter of time until it hits the US of A.
Rugged may perhaps be the polite term to describe the Frontier’s interior – though the more honest description would be ‘as old as the declaration of independence’. Cheap, harsh plastics adorn the cabin, and the upholstery, even in leather, feels cheap and plastic. The switchgear lacks refinement in both feel and operation, with the Frontier living up to its ‘cheapest pickup on the market tag’. There’s space for 5 in the crew-cab configuration, but it’s far more cramped than anything competitors have to offer.
In the way of infotainment, a 5-inch touch screen lags behind the competition, and even the 5.8in one in the SL specification falls short of the 7- and 8-inch setups in rival trucks. You’ve got to get at least the SL though if you want Navigation through NissanConnect – the SL also giving you a low res rear-view monitor, power adjustable driver’s seat, and dual-zone climate control.
In spite of its age, the Frontier still drives relatively well. Engineered in an era where pickups were somewhat smaller, it sits lower to the ground than rivals do and is supported decently by its suspension. It’s lower position on the road also makes it feel easy to wield and thread through tighter gaps, though the steering doesn’t feel quite as pointy and accurate as the likes of the Chevrolet Colorado or Honda Ridgeline.
The ride quality is great over all surfaces, and body control through corners is quite exemplary. But despite the competence, it feels somewhat unrefined and a bit agricultural – not quite hiding its age and showing just how far development of newer rivals has come in the last decade. The new model with coil-spring rear suspension should be a vast improvement, when it eventually arrives.
In 2014, a prototype Frontier emerged with a Cummins diesel engine, but a production version never materialized; nor did we get the exceptional V9X diesel motor found in other markets. Instead we have 2 gasoline variants – a 2.5-liter 4 cylinder good for 152 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque, and a 4.0-liter V6 with 261hp and 281lb-ft. The former is only available in low-spec extended cab models, with all crew-cabs getting the V6 with either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic gearbox. The motor is potent, able to tow 6 630lbs in 4x2 spec (4x4 models are only rated at 6 400lbs), but lags behind the Toyota Tacoma’s 6800lb limit or the Chevrolet Colorado diesel’s 7 700lbs.
In terms of equipment, the Frontier is obviously from another generation, with a smaller than average 59.5in length cargo bay and no long-box option on crew-cab models. A sliding bed extender is available as an option on some models, but a prosthetic doesn’t quite feel like the real deal. It has plenty of safety tech, but almost all of it obsolete – like regular cruise control rather than adaptive. It has other standard safety features such as traction control and ESP, but nowadays who doesn’t? If you’re looking for lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring, you best look elsewhere.
It may live up to being the cheapest mid-size pickup on the market, but when it’s this old and offers this little, it would be criminal to ask the same kind of money as a Chevrolet Colorado or Toyota Tacoma. If budget value is what you’re after, it’s worth a look, but in nothing higher than SV V6 trim at $25,950.