Nissan Frontier Pro-4X — Decent power, off-road credibility

Photos by Dan Scanlan

By Dan Scanlan - MyCarData

(February 27, 2022) It was called Hardbody — a spunky, chunky compact pickup truck from the mid-1980s to mid-90s that was the most macho thing to come out of Nissan, offering a V-6 ‘tween squared-off flared fenders. It was an in-your-face pickup when Toyotas, Fords and Chevys were less aggressive. And it sold very well indeed, more than 127,000 in the U.S. in its last full sales

In 1997, a new compact pickup replaced it, called Frontier, then updated and mid-sized in 2004, yet never reaching the Hardbody’s success despite being a sturdy and appealing model.

But Nissan is in a renaissance of new models, led by the new Z car with retro hints. So while it isn’t called hardbody, the 2022 Frontier remembers spunky pretty well.

Nissan calls the revamped model, still atop the 139.8-inch wheelbase of the 2004-2021 model, “a truck in every sense of the word, with a true personality unlike any other.” And Nissan has mined its Hardbody heritage to create an exterior that has some classic character.
So gone is the corporate V-grill seen on other Nissans, replaced with a bolder, thrust-out rectangular black one with red-accented badge. DRL bars accent slim LED headlights units that flank it, a deep lower intake capping a real skid plate and twin red tow hooks.

The new interior shares none of past Nissan bar some familiar steering wheel controls, done in hard black plastic that’s well-fitted with touches of gloss black and red. And it’s a lot cleaner in detail and design than the past generation.

The front doors are long, meaning easy access, although there’s only grab handles for passengers. Hopping into Nissan’s “Zero Gravity” seats, I found long-distance comfort, a bit of lateral hold and minor manual lumbar support with power adjustments. I didn’t find any telescoping adjustment on the tilt steering wheel, with familiar 7-inch Nissan stereo, cruise, trip computer and phone/voice command buttons set in gloss black strips.

A 9-inch center color touchscreen has navigation, SiriusXM with solid 10-speaker Fender sound system, Wi-Fi Hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus app access. Volume and tuning knobs as well as audio, map and home screen buttons are below, plus backup camera display. Dual-zone climate, seat and steering wheel heat controls are at the bottom of the center stack, with parking sensor and dual USB buttons. There’s a big rubberized storage tray at the head of the center console, flanked by grab handles. Cup holders, gearshift and an inductive smartphone charger make up the rest, with decent storage and a 12-volt outlet under a padded center armrest.

The rear doors on this Crew Cab are narrow in length, a bit tight to get into the rear bench seat. The rear floor is high and the bench is low, meaning your knees stick up a bit. There’s adequate head and leg room here, with a center armrest, plus two USB ports and a 120-volt outlet.

Our Crew Cab’s 6-foot-long bed had 49.2-cu.ft. of space. Access is easy, with a nicely damped locking tailgate, kick-down step under the left-rear bumper, and a flip-up locking grab handle to get up and in. Once there, movable tie-downs on three bedsides, plus four fixed bed tie-down hooks help secure gear. We had factory spray-on bedliner.

All in all, a truck with usable space for four and stuff, plus up to 6,270 pounds of towing capacity and 49.2-cu. ft. of cargo space.
The new Frontier has a 3.8-liter direct-injection V-6 with 310-hp and 281 lb.ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm, a familiar size but with mostly new or redesigned parts since a 2020 makeover, Nissan says. But while Frontier’s body and interior are all new, that body-on-frame chassis is somewhat the same as the last generation. That’s 4,708 pounds of Frontier Crew Cab Pro-4X, about the same as the last-gen model, a bit heavier than direct competition like the Ford Ranger, and a bit lighter than the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado.

That’s still the best-in-class horsepower among compact trucks, mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission with wider gear ratios than the last-gen’s. Aimed at off-road enthusiasts, there’s selectable rear wheel/4-wheel-high/4-wheel-low transfer case and hill start assist, plus trailer sway and hill descent control, tow/haul mode and electronic locking rear differential, some of those buttons set low and to the left of the wheel out of sight.
Set in 2-wheel-drive, the Frontier launches fairly quickly with a hint of rear wheelspin, hitting 60 mph in 7.5 seconds.

We did find the retuned hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering gear had more heft than we liked, especially in slow turns, although it was accurate with a solid dead-center feel. The disc brakes on our 6,600-mile-old truck had a nice pedal feel and controllable bite high on the pedal. There was a bit of wiggle with nose dive when we braked hard from 60 mph, plus some ABS chatter at the limit, but stopping distances were good with no fade after repeated use.

We played hard on a muddy, rutted boat ramp, a lumpy grass field with divots, a sandy trail with washouts and a very soaked gravel and dirt lot. The shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel drive system quickly did what we asked, traction just fine on all surfaces with a 4-wheel limited-slip system to move power to the drive wheels that need it.

We sensed some wheelspin at one end or the other when we hit some sandy stuff, but the Frontier kept going, feeling its weight and absorbing bumps well. With no rocks to worry about in Florida, it was still nice to know we had aluminum (front) and three steel (oil pan, transfer case and fuel tank) underbody skid plates for protection.

For safety, an around-view video system that automatically shows views around the pickup when low range is selected. There’s automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning that rumbles the steering wheel when a line is approached, high beam assist and rear automatic braking. Intelligent cruise control maintains speed and distance to stop, then beeps to tell you to take over. There’s auto-high beams.

A base Frontier King Cab S 4x2 starts at $28,340; our Crew Cab PRO-4X 4x4 starts at $37,240 with standard 17-inch painted aluminum-alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, Bilstein Off Road shocks, fender flares, LED headlights, 9-inch color touchscreen display, electronic locking rear differential and more. Our test truck added the $990 Technology, $1,990 Convenience and $2,790 Premium packages, plus $1,095 roll bars and more to top out at $46,570.

Bottom line: Appreciated Hardbody design cues in a nice exterior/interior redesign atop a classic platform with decent moves and power, plus some off-road cred.