It turns out the Frontier isn't as far gone as we thought.
It’s easy to say a car is crap from behind a computer screen. We do it all the time. But when you get behind the wheel sometimes the script flips. OK, some cars are crap both on paper and in real life. But other times you find yourself surprised. We have slammed Nissan for not updating the Frontier. The mid-size pickup truck market is booming, so why not capitalize on that feeding frenzy by releasing an all-new Frontier? Well, as anyone who has driven the current version will tell you, it’s just fine as is.
We know this because we recently spent a week with the 2016 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab. In that time we learned a simple truth: Americans love all trucks. That's not a dig at Nissan. If anything it’s a strike at ourselves. We insisted that the Frontier needed an update or it would perish. But after a week we realized that wasn't true. But don’t take our word for it. Check out the sales figures. Through November 2016 the Frontier is outpacing its total sales in 2015 by a whopping 41.5%. According to stats compiled by the aptly named site PickupTrucks, that sales gain outpaces the Chevy Colorado, the media darling of the mid-size truck segment, and the class-leading—in terms of sales—Toyota Tacoma.
True, the Frontier had less work to do when it came to bettering its 2015 numbers than both the Colorado and Taco, but you see what we’re getting at, right? People are buying this truck despite its age. The Frontier’s last meaningful update came in 2011. The exterior design hasn’t been updated in what feels like 10 years. And the cabin, well let’s just say that 5.8-inch touchscreen is the most modern thing about it. The thing is, though, these complaints are easy to overlook when it comes to pickups. After all, a truck’s job is to do truck things, not necessarily be a harbinger of design innovation. To that extent Nissan got things just right. Under the hood is a 4.0-liter V6 making 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque.
Those power specs right there in line with the new Tacoma’s 3.5-liter V6 and are within striking distance of the 3.6-liter V6 in the Colorado/Canyon. Both trucks return better mpg ratings than the Frontier and its dismal 15/21/17 split, but does that even matter when you’re talking trucks? The five-speed automatic—a six-speed manual is also on offer—could have used another gear. That would increase the mpg ratings and make the needle’s journey up the speedometer a bit less sluggish. The Frontier PRO-4X Crew Cab has a base MSRP of $33,390. Our tester totaled out at $36,525 thanks to $2,235 in options, the lion’s share of which ($2,100) was the PRO-4X Luxury Package.
That package features leather seats, heated and automatically adjustable front seats, power and heated side mirrors, a moonroof and a roof rack with cross bars. It’s not a must-buy but it does make the aged cabin more livable. For reference, the Tacoma TRD Off-Road Double Cab we drove was priced at $37,610 and didn’t feature power seats. The rear seats also felt a bit roomier than the Taco's. The Frontier packs a surprising amount of standard goodies into such an ugly box. There are four-wheel vented discs, where the aforementioned Tacoma had drums in the back, as well as bed-mounted rails. That touchscreen is standard, as is a 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system. We could go on about what a surprisingly good deal this Frontier is.
The best part of all this is that you don’t really compromise too much on “truck stuff.” Next to a comparable Tacoma this Frontier loses out when it comes to max payload (1,039 pounds vs. 1,155 pounds) and max towing capacity (6,100 pounds vs. 6,400 pounds). All things considered this disparity isn’t so bad when you factor in the price difference. We’ll freely admit that we were wrong about the Frontier. It didn’t need a massive update to survive. Nissan should update its mid-size truck and will do sooner than later, with the 2017 Detroit Auto Show a likely venue for the model’s debut. But that update won’t save a sinking ship. The Frontier isn't even close to taking on water.
It’s old, but that’s not a sin in the truck world, especially in the American market. The Frontier PRO-4X Crew Cab checks all the necessary boxes and does its best to cover its warts with a bevy of standard features. In an age of fuel-efficient trucks with curvaceous body designs the Frontier is a relic. That’s not really such a bad thing.