The compact pickup has been around for over half a century, and it came from very humble beginnings in Japan, when Datsun, a brand owned by Nissan, brought over the 220 pickup. Since then, Nissan has been a key player in the small pickup market, offering down-to-earth, and ready-to-work trucks that place value on ruggedness and their willingness to get down and dirty. The 2021 Nissan Frontier is one such truck; it offers all the basics needed to make it a good choice for tradesman and construction types, and for 2021 is offered with an all-new 3.8-liter V6 engine producing a class-leading 310 horsepower, and also gets a brand new nine-speed automatic transmission. The mid-size Nissan Frontier is due to be replaced during 2021 and the new model will feature this same engine and transmission combination. With a low asking price and a rudimentary interior and safety spec, can the Frontier stand up to rivals such as the Ford Ranger?
Nissan has already shown the next-generation 2022 Frontier and its launch in the USA is due to happen this year. Given this situation, Nissan has opted not to change anything on the last-of-the-last 2021 model.
See trim levels and configurations:
As the originator of the compact pickup class, Nissan knows how to build a decent-looking small pickup and we think the chunky, yet diminutive stature looks great. In a segment where trucks continue to grow in size, it's refreshing to see that the Frontier hasn't done much growing in the past few years, which makes it perfect for suburban and city living, but also gives it the edge over larger off-road vehicles when it comes to tackling tight backwood trails. For 2021, Nissan offers the Frontier in King Cab and Crew Cab configurations, as well as standard and long bed format, which offers new buyers freedom of choice. Trademark Nissan styling features remain solidly in place: the front features an angled strut grille with halogen headlamps, a beefy bumper, and short overhangs in the front and rear, perfect for climbing over rock and pavement. The stamped-steel fender flares add to the Frontier's feisty off-road appeal. S trim cars get 16-inch styled steel wheels, while SV models get 16-inch alloy wheels. The PRO-4X gets 16-inch off-road-style alloy wheels and a moonroof.
The 2021 Nissan Frontier truck classifies as a mid-size pickup with dimensions comparable to those of the Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma. Measurements of the Frontier vary between the available configurations. Wheelbase measurements are 125.9 inches for SWB trucks, and 139.9 for LWB models. The overall length is 205.5 for SWB derivatives, and 219.4 for LWB versions. The total width of the 2021 Nissan Frontier is 72.8 inches, and its height is 70.1 inches standard, increasing to 73.9 inches for SV 4x4 and PRO-4X models.
Ground clearance for 4x2 models is 9.8 inches, while 4x4 vehicles offer a ground clearance figure of 8.9 inches in the front and 10.1 inches in the rear. Approach angles are 30.5/31.5/32.6 degrees for 4x2/4x4/PRO-4X trims, respectively, while departure angles for the same vehicles are 22.1/22.6/23.3 degrees. Breakover angles are noted at 19.8/20.6/20.5 degrees.
In its lightest configuration, the 2021 Nissan Frontier weighs in at 4,181 pounds (SWB King Cab S 4x2), and in its heaviest form, weighs 4,696 lbs (Crew Cab PRO-4X 4x4).
The 2021 Nissan Frontier pickup is built to work and have the occasional romp on dirt trails, so Nissan deemed it unnecessary to offer it with fancy pearl and tri-coat paint schemes. Instead, you get to choose from a range of six colors, all equally utilitarian and tough-looking in nature. Your basics are covered with Magnetic Black metallic, Glacier White, and Brilliant Silver metallic. Those who want to stand out a bit more can go for Cayenne Red metallic or Arctic Blue metallic. If we were the ones doing the buying, we'd paint ours in Gun metallic for a rough-and-ready look.
Instead of waiting until the new model is released, Nissan went ahead and fitted its new 3.8-liter V6 engine into the current Frontier vehicle in 2020, which means you get class-leading power and a maximum towing capability of up to 6,720 lbs in the King Cab 4x2. This new engine offers a strong 310 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque and is mated to an all-new nine-speed transmission. No one will expect the Frontier to deliver a high top speed or quick 0 to 60 time, but the new engine most certainly gives it some much-needed zest. The power delivery is linear and torque is spread out evenly across the lower half of the rev range. Driving at lower speeds raised some concerns however; the new transmission is left hunting for gears, which makes low-speed rolling takeoffs jerky and unpredictable. On the highway, however, the transmission settles down and the needle rests at just under 2,000 rpm when cruising along at 75 mph.
The Frontier is well over a decade old, yet Nissan has decided to stuff an all-new engine under the hood. Why? We suspect that they've made the move to iron out any bugs before the new Frontier gets launched. This 3.8-liter naturally aspirated V6 engine develops 310 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque and is 93% new, according to Nissan. This engine might be more powerful, but it's lighter on fuel than the outgoing unit, thanks to the clever use of integrated exhaust manifolds in the heads, a variable-displacement oil pump, and other tricks such as a variable tumble-control valve. The nine-speed automatic transmission sends power to either the back wheels or all four wheels via a part-time four-wheel-drive system and performs well at cruising speed, but can be a bit indecisive and frenetic at lower speeds. Fans of the old four-cylinder base model will have to make do with the V6, however, as the base engine has been cut from the lineup in 2020.
Those interested in buying a 2021 Nissan Frontier must understand that, unlike most modern crossover SUVs and larger luxury trucks that attempt to emulate the handling and driving characteristics of a car, the Frontier has been designed as a workhorse and off-road companion. So with that in mind, let's proceed. The relatively compact Frontier is at home on tighter city roads where it handles low-speed undulations with ease. This also applies to going over rougher terrain while crawling along in 4WD. Things start to fall apart at higher speeds, however, as road noise starts to creep into the cabin, detracting from the truck's otherwise acceptable refinement. Steering is light, which is great for making tight maneuvers at the worksite or on technical off-roading sections but does nothing for driver confidence at higher speeds. The greatest test of its drive is off the beaten path, however; off-road, the Nissan Frontier shines. It swallows up bumps and ruts, and if you're really serious about conquering the great outdoors, the PRO-4X with its uprated suspension and off-road tires is the one to go for.
The all-new V6 engine that found its way into the Frontier in 2020 is not only more powerful than the previous powerplant but returns respectable gas-mileage figures thanks to contemporary tech features such as direct injection and a variable-pressure oil pump. With well over 4,000 pounds to lug around, the 2021 Nissan Frontier surprises with an EPA-rated 18/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined for 4x2 models. Going for a 4WD version of the Frontier will see those numbers drop slightly to 17/23/19 mpg, which is not a massive sacrifice to make for the added benefit that a 4WD system brings.
All 2021 Nissan Frontier models are equipped with a 21.1-gallon fuel tank, which allows the truck to travel for between 400 and 422 miles between fill-ups.
If you thought that the exterior of the 2021 Nissan Frontier looked rough and ready, wait till you see the inside of this small truck. Tradespeople and others who tend to be hard on their cars will be pleased to find an interior that comes straight out of the early 2000s and has a minimalist approach that is almost endearing in a way. For most others, it will look spartan and slightly cheap. What you get is a space covered in hard plastics and other cheap materials and an overall simplified design that makes operating the Frontier easy, but also shows off its budget-minded nature - and age. Space in the front is good, but both the King Cab and Crew Cab struggle to impress with their rear seat capacity. Thankfully there are lots of nooks and crannies to store small items and we think the simplistic ruggedness of it all works well with the budget-minded nature of the Frontier.
When most think about small or mid-size pickups, they see a cramped interior and a set of useless back seats. Well, that might be true for some, but the Nissan Frontier still manages to offer just enough space in the back to make it usable for families with small kids. Getting in and out of the Frontier is a pleasure thanks to its lifted ride height, and once inside, the front seats offer a modicum of support and should offer good comfort over medium distances. The front row's headroom is measured at 39.9 inches, while the headroom in the rear drops to 38.6 inches. Front legroom for both the King Cab and Crew Cab is a generous 42.4 inches. Crew Cab occupants in the rear get 33.6 inches of legroom, while those in the King Cab get 25.4 inches. That's enough for average-sized adults.
There's nothing much to say about the interior colors and material choices inside the 2021 Nissan Frontier other than the fact that it is pretty basic. Enter the cabin and you'll be met by an ocean of hard plastics and hard-wearing surfaces. The cabin of the Nissan Frontier has clearly been designed to stand up to years of abuse without completely falling apart. Nissan does, however, differentiate between trim levels, with base model cars getting Steel cloth seats. SV models are offered with premium cloth seats, and the range-topping PRO-4X gets optional brand-embossed leather combination-type seats. The rest of the cabin is made up of different shades of workmanlike plastic.
When it comes to storing stuff, the Nissan Frontier offers a healthy amount of cargo space, which may seem small when compared to the average full-sized truck, but still gets the job done. Craftsman and small plumbing and repair shops will find the Frontier's cargo-bed space sufficient, especially in long-bed format. The standard bed offers 27.1 cubic feet of space, enough to load a few dirt bikes or a four-wheeler. For those that need all the space they can get, the long bed truck offers 33.5 cubic feet of space. While the standard bed is 59.5 inches long, the longer version measures 73.3 inches. The width between the wheel wells is 44.4 inches, and the bed has a standard depth of 18 inches.
The interior comes with its own tricks: there's a removable under-seat storage bin, a dual-compartment glove box, and a center-console storage bin, as well as front door pockets, a driver's seatback pocket, and a sunglasses holder.
Picture yourself in a Range Rover as you get comfortable in your four-way manually adjustable driver's seat because the Frontier on its own is a stripped-down workhorse that offers little in the form of luxury. The base model gets manually adjustable front seats, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and manual climate control. The mid-range SV doesn't add any standard features to that list but does make some optional features available, such as heated front seats, a compass, a trip computer, an outside-temperature gauge, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The top-of-the-line PRO-4X adds a premium touch with its eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, four-way power-adjustable passenger seat, and power-tilt and -sliding moonroof. You also get heated front seats, a fold-down rear center armrest, a compass, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror - fewer things to break when you're hard at work, then.
The infotainment system in the 2021 Nissan Frontier is of a bygone era and lags hopelessly behind rivals such as the Ford Ranger. This basic system features an AM/FM radio, WMA/MP3 capability, and an aux-in jack, as well as streaming via Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free, and an optional SiriusXM satellite radio. The display screen is a seven-inch unit and the stock sound system features six speakers. Unlike most of its rivals, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not included. The range-topping PRO-4X includes NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps, voice recognition, as well as optional SiriusXM Traffic, SiriusXM, and Travel Link. Sound is channeled through a ten-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system on the PRO-4X, which sounds bearable when playing It's Over by Ty Segall.
The Nissan Frontier has been recalled twice in the last three years. The first recall was issued in August of 2018 for a faulty ignition switch that could switch the car off during operation. The second was issued in September of 2019 and was due to a faulty backup camera. There have been no Frontier recalls issued for 2020 or 2021 so far and no 2020 or 2021 J.D. Power ratings are available either, but the last time it was rated in 2019, J.D. Power scored it 78 out of 100 overall and 80 for quality and reliability. Nissan backs the 2021 Frontier with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a five-year corrosion warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty, as well as a three-year/36,000-mile roadside-assistance plan.
The Nissan Frontier receives mixed safety ratings from both the NHTSA and IIHS. The NHTSA's review of the Nissan Frontier found it to be relatively safe and scored it four out of five stars (overall rating). The IIHS were not as impressed; they found that the Frontier lacked in the headlight department, and scored the overall structural safety cage as Poor. The lack of active driver-assistance systems further proves that the Frontier's ancient safety systems fall far behind the offerings in more advanced competitors.
Pedestrian detection, night-vision assist, and traffic-sign recognition are all advanced driver-assistance systems that you won't find anywhere near the 2021 Nissan Frontier pickup truck. In fact, you won't find any notable driver-assistance features; instead, Nissan offers only the most basic of safety measures. A six-airbag system includes front-seat-mounted side-impact supplemental airbags but misses out on knee and thorax bags. Side-door guard beams, an energy-absorbing steering column, and front crumple zones are also in place. SV models add a barrier between car and thief in the form of an immobilizer system, and PRO-4X cars add a first-aid kit for when all of the above fail to protect. A rear-view camera and cruise control are also included as standard.
Nissan might have introduced the first compact pickup truck to the US over 70 years ago, but when you look at the 2021 Frontier, you'd be left in disbelief at how much has changed. The Frontier in its current state is an old thing that offers very little in the way of comfort or even safety, and with no base engine, it's no longer the most affordable around either. But what makes it so appealing is its dependability and durability. Nissan has decided to give the current Frontier one last shot in the arm in the form of an all-new 3.8-liter V6 engine and nine-speed automatic transmission, but it struggles to make up for the plastic-clad interior, inferior infotainment system, and questionable safety levels. The basic interior will last a long time, but the tight back seats might be too small for some, and the bouncy ride quality will also put some people off.
Nissan Frontier prices start at $27,190 for the Frontier King Cab S 4x2 model while the mid-spec SV starts at $28,070 in 4x2 King Cab guise. The top-of-the-line PRO-4X Crew Cab carries an MSRP of $37,890. These prices exclude tax, registration, and a destination fee of $1,195. In 2019, when the Frontier was still available with a four-pot engine, it started below the $20,000 mark, and the price hike of around $7,500 comes as quite a shock but can be attributed mostly to the inclusion of a standard 3.8-liter V6 engine and new nine-speed transmission.
There's something for everyone, from the humble student all the way through to the off-roading enthusiast, and everyone in between. Nissan offers the 2021 Frontier in three different trim levels. All models are powered by the same 3.8-liter V6 and nine-speed automatic transmission.
The base model is named S, offers new owners the option between 4x2 and 4x4 capability, and is available in Crew and King Cab configurations with varying bed lengths. Standard features on the S include manually adjustable, cloth-upholstered front seats, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and manual climate control. A six-speaker sound system is standard and a seven-inch basic infotainment setup is included.
The SV is the mid-range model for 2021, and while it doesn't offer many improvements over the base model other than premium cloth seating and heated exterior mirrors, it does offer a number of optional extras such as heated front seats, a compass, a trip computer, an outside temperature gauge, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror, which are not available on the base model.
The range-topping PRO-4X is ready for some off-road action and is equipped with 16-inch off-road-design aluminum-alloy wheels and off-road Bilstein high-pressure performance shock absorbers, skid plates, an electronic rear differential locker, and a limited-slip differential. Standard interior features include an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, four-way power-adjustable passenger seat, a power-tilt and -sliding moonroof, and heated front seats. A ten-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system is also included in the deal.
Three option packages are offered for 2021: the Value Truck Package, which is available on SV-trim trucks; the Midnight Edition Package, which is available on Crew Cab SV SWB trucks; and the new Special Edition Package, which is available on Crew Cab SV SWB trucks.
Choosing the Value Truck Package includes a factory-applied spray-on bed liner, a class 4 tow-hitch receiver, fog lights, a sliding bed extender, and a rear sonar system, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats, and a vehicle-security system.
The Midnight Edition Package offers appearance changes such as Midnight Edition black 18-inch alloy wheels, a black front grille, black door handles and mirrors, black step rails, custom badging, and a body-color rear bumper. This is for those enthusiasts who want to portray a slightly sportier image.
Finally, the Special Edition Package includes a trip computer, bodyside detailing, 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a body-colored rear bumper, and a satin-chrome grille.
Let's be honest: the 2021 Nissan Frontier isn't a premium lifestyle pickup truck in the way the Ford Ranger or Toyota Tacoma is. In fact, it doesn't even try to be anything but a bare-bones truck that is eager to work and is light on the pocket. The fact that Nissan has introduced its next-generation powertrain in the 2020 car should make the purchasing decision slightly easier. If we had the money to buy a Frontier, we would forego the masses of standard features available on the SV and PRO-4X (we're joking, obviously), and head straight for the base model truck which offers a sturdy base from which to explore both city and outdoors in a budget-friendly way. We would go for the 4x4 version in Crew Cab configuration, but new owners will go for the body type that suits them best. It's a homespun but tough truck that gets the basics done without complaint and is perfect if you need something down to earth that won't cost you an arm and a leg.
The Toyota Tacoma comes from humble beginnings, but thanks to some extensive development, and a serious advertising budget, it is now one of America's favorite off-roading platforms and enjoys massive aftermarket support in the off-roading community. In terms of refinement, it is miles ahead of the Frontier but still lags behind proper premium offerings in the large-SUV market. Power is provided by a choice of two engines, namely the standard 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine producing 159 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, or a 3.5-liter V6 engine developing 278 hp and 265 lb-ft, both lower than the Frontier's output ratings. Power is sent to either the rear or all four wheels. We like the fact that the Tacoma's interior is straightforward and easy to use, and it's impressive cargo capacity. Unlike the Frontier, there's a good amount of safety tech on board, and most importantly, it is very capable off-road. On the other hand, the interior is a bit tight, and the base engine is hopelessly underpowered. If it were up to us, we'd still have the Toyota.
The Ford Ranger is a popular mid-size pickup that is slowly clawing back some market share from the likes of the Toyota Tacoma and Chevy Colorado. The 2021 car is powered by a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, which sends its power to the rear or all four wheels via a ten-speed automatic transmission. The Ranger has only been around since 2019 in America, but the platform is essentially almost a decade old in international markets, which puts it on a relatively equal footing with the Nissan in terms of age. The thing we like about the Ranger is its powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine that offers vastly superior pull, down low. The standard features on offer in the Ford Ranger are also miles ahead of what is on offer in the Frontier. There are also multiple configurations available. Things that aren't as impressive are the base infotainment system that feels outdated, the expensive options, and limited interior storage. Despite this, we would go with the Ford every time.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Nissan Frontier: