Vital Stats

Engine:
4.0L V6
Power:
261 HP / 281 LB-FT
Transmission:
5-Speed Auto
Drivetrain:
4WD
Curb Weight:
4,409 LBS
Seating:
2+3
MPG:
14 City / 19 HWY
The Right-Sized Truck Shows Its Age



Sometime during the mid '90s, the Big Three stepped up the fullsize truck arms race in a serious way. While Chrysler, Ford and General Motors had always fought tooth and nail for every last possible customer, suddenly trucks began evolving into more than just utilitarian work horses. While the old payload and towing one-upmanship continued in earnest, pickup design began swelling with broad grilles, massive wheels and flanks to match. Option sheets suddenly glittered with choices previously confined to luxury vehicles, and MSRPs began covering wide territory as base models got cheaper and upper trims explored new fiscal heights.

With all of Detroit's resources going to the fullsize game, domestic midsize entries like the Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado were left to rot on the vine. After all, why would buyers want to pony up equivalent cash for a less capable truck? Because, as the 2012 Nissan Frontier quietly reminds us, getting a job done is never about having the biggest tool. It's about having the one that's right for the task at hand.
Make no mistake, the Frontier isn't some rosy-faced young gun. Nissan has left the truck largely unchanged since the current generation debuted in 2009. A new appearance package, complete with the saucy vinyl get up and the 19-inch Dark Hyper Silver finish wheels you see here, quietly sum up the width and breadth of the machine's evolution over the past three years, but that isn't such a bad thing. The Frontier still looks good with its purposeful grille and flared fenders. While the Toyota Tacoma received a mild facelift for 2012, the changes weren't enough to put the Taco leagues ahead of its Nissan rival aesthetically, though it does outsell the Frontier nearly 3-to-1.

2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 side view2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 front view2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 rear view

This setup is more than enough to handle light-duty suburban chores.

We're particularly fond of the color-matched wheels and grille on our Frontier tester, and while the graphics are a bit too campy for our tastes, the truth is they provide a commendable link to the truck's early days as the loveable Hardbody.

The Frontier's Crew Cab configuration does trim the overall bed length down to just under five feet at 59.5 inches. That leaves the cargo area virtually square, serving up a total of 27.1 cubic feet of storage. The space isn't huge, but it's enough to cart around landscaping materials with ease, and we found it more than capable of hauling a set of fenders and a windshield frame for a project vehicle with space to spare. This setup clearly isn't for tackling serious tasks, but it's more than enough to handle light-duty suburban chores without subjecting a vehicle's interior to the slights of moving dirty or abrasive cargo.

2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 headlight2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 wheel2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 taillight2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 bed

The Frontier starts to show its age indoors.

Speaking of interiors, there is a surprising amount of space indoors. We comfortably fit four grown adults in the cab of the Frontier without issue, and while the back seat can be a bit stiff, it's more than adequate for hops of less than an hour. We doubt kids will mind the way back for longer treks. The rear bench does offer some clever folding solutions for storing or transporting larger items when you don't need the extra passenger space, and we appreciate the small storage cubbies with tie-down netting as well.

But the Frontier starts to show its age indoors. Hard plastic seems to have been the only material available to Nissan when designers were working up the bill of materials for the cockpit. The door panels, dash and center console are all vast wastelands of the stuff, and the center stack looks as if it would have earned a skeptical eye back in 2009. Three years later, the cabin simply looks aged. We're all for trucks being utilitarian, but our Frontier carried an MSRP of $29,085, including an $810 destination fee. That stack of cash will earn you one very well equipped Ford F-150 or a Ram 1500 with an interior as work oriented as it is comfortable and attractive.

2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 interior2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 front seats2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 rear seats2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 folded rear seat storage

The mechanicals remain stout, though the hardware has greyed significantly.

That sticker price included the SV Sport Appearance Package, which included all sorts of gear hardly worth noting. In fact, we were more struck by what was missing from the list. Buyers won't find any sort of navigation system, satellite radio or meaningful smartphone integration, though Bluetooth hands-free calling is part of the party. With other manufacturers packing their equivalently priced fullsize rigs with equipment, Nissan is in sore need of upping its game on the Frontier.

The vehicle's mechanicals remain stout, though the hardware has greyed significantly. The 4.0-liter V6 engine in our tester served up 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque and came mounted to a five-speed automatic transmission and a two-speed transfer case. Those figures may have been adequate in 2009, but nearly four years later, the automotive world has grown to offer buyers forced-induction four-cylinders that offer that kind of grunt. Likewise, engines like the Chrysler Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 offer more horsepower and greater efficiency from less displacement.

2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 engine

The little Nissan drinks with all of the fervor of a fullsize truck.

And it's efficiency where the Frontier really suffers. With an Environmental Protection Agency rating estimated at 14 miles per gallon city and 19 mpg highway, the little Nissan drinks with all of the fervor of a fullsize truck. For comparison, the 5.0-liter V8-powered, four-wheel-drive 2013 Ford F-150 manages to match the Frontier in fuel economy while delivering nearly 100 additional horsepower and pound-feet of torque.

That's a damn shame, because we really enjoy the way the Frontier drives. While the SUV segment has been subjected to a crossoverification that will eventually see every high-rider handle like a 1998 Dodge Caravan, midsize trucks like the Frontier remain just that – trucks. Its live rear axle hops around over railroad tracks, and the body-on-frame jitters are all present and accounted for, but we wouldn't have it any other way. The Frontier offers great visibility for its size, and with appropriately weighted steering and confident brakes, we couldn't find a fault with the way the truck behaves on road.

2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 rear 3/4 view

The Frontier has found itself at an important crossroads.

More importantly, while bruisers like the Ram 1500, Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado easily best the Frontier in every meaningful category, the little Nissan is considerably easier to drive. Whipping around parking garages, through crowded city centers or down a tight trail pose no threat to the appropriately sized pickup, and while that isn't quite enough to offset the vehicle's shortcomings for us, it certainly helps balance the ledger.

After our week with the Frontier, we found ourselves troubled by the feeling that Nissan is leaving its midsize pickup offering to wander down the same unfortunate trail blazed by the now-defunct Ford Ranger. The Ranger grew obsolete because Ford stopped significantly investing in the workhorse, choosing instead to focus its resources on the highly profitable fullsize game. The Frontier has found itself at an important crossroads. Nissan can either take the time to invest in more efficient, more capable powertrains or prepare to watch its sales disappear. As much as it pains us to say, obsolescence isn't some far-off future for the Frontier. It's knocking on the pickup's front door right now.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 76 Comments
      Will Wylie
      • 2 Years Ago
      This was painful to read. This generation came out in '04 for the 2005 MY.
      Joey Franklin
      • 2 Years Ago
      This body style came out in 2005 and those wheels are 18", not 19".
        chanonissan
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Joey Franklin
        your right, it was introduce in 2004 as a 2005 model, but i think the writer should have said it receive a face lift in 2009.
      The Wasp
      • 2 Years Ago
      That price is way too high. For anyone interested, though, you can get a great deal on a Suzuki Equator, which is based on the Frontier. In Minneapolis, a new 2012 Equator crew cab with V6 and 4x4 is listed at $23,999 -- it's much better deal than the Nissan.
        LtDansMagkLegs
        • 2 Years Ago
        @The Wasp
        You're comparing apples to oranges. MSRP vs sticker are two different things. Price out the MSRP of the V6 4x4 on Suzuki's website and Nissan's and the the come out nearly identical. The tester here is a one of the most fully loaded models (as sad as that is concerning what is included)
          The Wasp
          • 2 Years Ago
          @LtDansMagkLegs
          What I'm saying is that Suzuki's MSRP prices are no longer in effect since the company is leaving the US market. Dealers are offering much better discounted prices now. The truck that I mentioned has an MSRP of $29,825, so I think it's a pretty fair comparison to the truck in the review.
      Korbin Northman
      • 2 Years Ago
      Thankfully the new GM "mid-size" twins will debut next year. Hopefully they don't make them too big and don't let them languish like Ford did the Ranger and they did with the previous gen. Not everyone needs a behemoth.
        Xedicon
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Korbin Northman
        Hopefully they're no bigger than the earlier Dodge Dakotas (lets say the 97-2004 models). Those were as big as a truck can get and still be manageable for day to day life. The Dakota sold like crazy back then, hard to understand why it went away. :(
      Xedicon
      • 2 Years Ago
      Diesel would easily solve the "small truck problem." Why hasn't this happened?! I would love to have a pickup and I could actually afford one (a cheaper one anyways - no Longhorn truck for me, hehe) but they're HUGE now. I honestly don't think a current full size truck would fit up my driveway. On one side, the house. On the other, a fence. Also despite being slightly above average height I cant' reach over the side to get anything out of the bed, and you need a damn step ladder to get into the bed from the back. Long story short - I dislike any new full size because they're simply too big. Something the size of the 97-2004 Dakota would be perfect, or maybe even a little bit smaller. I'd like that.
        chanonissan
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Xedicon
        That is what I mention in a previous post, diesel would sovle the milage problem and they have two that are clean diesel and euro compliant, 3.0 turbo V6, 240 hp, 405lb ft torque and a 2.5 turbo four cylinder, 188 hp, 332lb ft torque, that they currently use in the navara, the frontier twin. These engine has more torque than even the gas engine nissan now offer.
      carguy1701
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Nissan has left the truck largely unchanged since the current generation debuted in 2009." The current Frontier debuted as an 05 model and was refreshed for 08 or 09, I forget which.
      BC
      • 2 Years Ago
      Right-sized? It's huge, yet has a tiny bed, and the fuel economy with the V6 is only slightly better than the Titan V8. At least it's less $10K expensive than the Titan, so you can afford to fill it up...
      buddahson
      • 2 Years Ago
      So I find it odd that this review is posted now, when I have had my 2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab SV for 11 months already. Any chance this review is for a 2013 model? Everything else about it appears the same as mine with the exception of the leather seats. Anyway, I love my truck. It may not be the best truck in the world but it tows my motorcycles perfectly and at $200 / month for a lease, it can't be beat.
        brucec039
        • 2 Years Ago
        @buddahson
        Yes, with real-world discounts, the Frontier likely costs a lot less than the MSRP. So there's that, at least.
      AlexTeela
      • 2 Years Ago
      Two words on how to make this truck profitable. Fuel efficiency. I know you can't tow mountains if you cut back on the consumption, but this thing gets worse gas mileage than a Ram 1500 and the Ram is CHEAPER, yet still tows more. Nissan can do better than this and it would be "a damn shame" if one of the last two mid-size pickups died.
      Fonin
      • 2 Years Ago
      i loved my 05 VQ frontier. what a fantastic truck. with the 6spd manual it had stump-pulling gearing, could tow 6500 and had over 1200lb cargo capacity. and it was about 20k. the frontier itself is still fully capable and as truck-like as truck-wants-to-be. it is severly over priced if for nothing other than the fact that in 7+ years it has changed bupkus. don;t bother with a brand new model, get one with a few dents and save thousands. as we know from old hardbodies, they will prob run for 20 years or more (ok the VGs may have been a little less stressed and simpler).
      Rob J
      • 11 Months Ago
      A family friend just bought a new Frontier to tow an aluminum fishing boat. At first I thought he made a terrible call since something like a Ram V6 would have better fuel economy but in the end, the little Frontier is rated to tow almost 2,000 lbs more (4,300 vs 6,000 lbs). Not to mention, it is NOT good on gas, but the fact remains that it is a quicker, more agile and more city capable truck than a full sizer. Maybe Dodge will bring back and revamp the Dakota and kill the Frontier, but as it stands, the Frontier is still a good choice if it meets your need.
      stratosrally
      • 2 Years Ago
      The only trucks I ever owned were a 1990 Hardbody and later a 2000 Frontier with the Desert Runner package. Great trucks... but I realized that the addtional cargo capacity of pickup trucks in general just wasn't worth the horrible fuel mileage. So, now I drive a Honda Fit Sport instead... with the back seat folded completely flat it's like a tiny economy truck!
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