2018 Frontier New Car Test Drive
The 2017 Nissan Frontier is up against a tough field of mid-size trucks, among them the recently redesigned Toyota Tacoma, GMC Canyon, and Chevrolet Colorado, and the new Honda Ridgeline. The Frontier offers up price, size, and a reputation for ruggedness.
Price is the main motivator here, with a similarly equipped Frontier retailing for $5000 less than those others. But its design is a decade old, and it shows, inside, outside, and under the hood.
The Frontier is a truck with many faces and personalities. There are five models, in extended cab or crew cab, beds that are 60 inches long or 74 inches long, a choice between four-cylinder engine or V6, two manual transmissions and one automatic; 4×2 or 4×4. You can get a Frontier equipped as a vanilla work truck, or a Desert Runner, or a chunky-tired and lifted PRO-4X.
Base engine is a 2.5-liter four making 152 horsepower; it's cheaper to buy but it won't pull like the V6 and doesn't get much better fuel mileage. The 4.0-liter V6 makes 261 horsepower and 281 pound-foot of torque, with as much grunt as some V8s, the small ones. Frontiers are rated to tow 6000 pounds or more.
The Crew Cab is a true four-door. The King Cab's rear doors are hinged at the rear, and open up to the rear seats that are better for cargo than people. The bed of the King Cab measures 73.3 inches, while the Crew Cab's bed is 59.5 inches, with the longer bed available. That setup would stretch the Frontier from it's normal 205.5 inches to 219.4 inches.
With rear-wheel drive and the four-cylinder engine, there's a five-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic. With the V6 and 2wd, it's a six-speed manual or the automatic. Four-wheel drive only comes with the V6.
All Frontiers use the same suspension design, double wishbones in front and leaf springs in rear, with a solid axle (stamp of the 10-year-old design). But the upgrades can get showy, for example the Bilstein dampers and locking diff on the Desert Runner or Pro-4X.
The Frontier loses the fuel-mileage competition for midsize trucks. The 2wd four-cylinder with the six-speed manual gets 19 mpg city, 23 highway, and 21 combined. The more popular five-speed automatic transmission brings the combined mpg down to 19.
That's the same combined mpg as the V6 with rear-wheel drive and the manual, and only one more mpg than the V6 with the automatic. The 4WD gets 1 mpg less with each transmission.
Despite its dated design, the Frontier's crash-testing scores aren't bad. The NHTSA hasn't tested the Frontier, but the IIHS gives it top Good scores for all the tests it performed, with an Acceptable in head-restraint. The Frontier offers no crash-avoidance features.
There are five trim levels: S, SV, SL, Desert Runner and PRO-4X. Those five models can extend into no less than 28 iterations, depending on engine, transmission, 2WD or 4WD, cabin style and bed length. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Frontier S King Cab ($18,390) is basic, with roll-up windows and manual mirrors, although air conditioning, cruise control and Bluetooth are standard. Frontier S Crew Cab ($23,900) replaces the standard 2.5-liter four cylinder with the 4.0-liter V6.
Frontier SV ($22,860) and SV V6 ($24,620) add remote entry and alloy wheels, and offers options like heated seats.
Frontier SL Crew Cab ($32,510) includes the V6 and adds more options like a moonroof and Rockford Fosgate audio system.
The Frontier Desert Runner ($26,630) is rear-wheel drive only, with a rugged suspension and styling. The Pro-4X ($32,340) is four-wheel drive, and has more options.
Options include a rearview camera, spray-in bedliner and cargo tie-down system.