Nissan Frontier — Remarkably a winner

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The old adage "old soldiers never die, they just fade away" could be aptly applied to the Nissan Frontier mid-sized pickup. The current Frontier has been on the market since 2005 with few changes, an eternity in the ever-changing automotive landscape.

The amazing thing is that the Frontier with its minimal updates year-to-year — it was endowed with some minor exterior enhancements and a reworked instrument panel in 2009 — still has a winning personality in 2016 that includes a strong V-6 engine, a decent-sized back seat in the crew cab configuration, and solid off-road prowess in its Desert Runner and Pro-4X formats.

Until last year it wasn't surprising — or particularly relevant — that the Frontier soldiered on without significant changes because the mid-sized pickup market, dominated by the Toyota Tacoma, which likewise had not seen a complete remake since 2005, was stagnant. Then in 2015, General Motors introduced all-new models of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon leapfrogging both the Tacoma and Frontier in terms of up-to-date features and overall refinement. Toyota followed suit this past summer with the first all-new Tacoma in more than a decade.

That leaves the Frontier sucking the tailpipe fumes of the new products. But we discovered after time behind the wheel of top-of-the-line Pro-4X crew cab why in the face of the new competition Nissan still managed to sell 70,000 copies in 2015.

The biggest downsides to the Frontier compared to the new guys is refinement, especially with its loud, course-sounding and gas-guzzling V-6 engine, an outdated five-speed automatic transmission, elevated interior noise levels, and rather antiquated looking dashboard layout that is adorned with acres of hard plastic — that looks like hard plastic.

But on the upside, the 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 — the same engine that powered the 2005 Frontier — is every bit as powerful as the new more sophisticated engines in the Toyota and GM products with the ability to reach 60 mph from a standstill in around 8 seconds. The tow rating also matches up with the competition at 6,500 pounds. You will have to live with a bit less gas mileage, however, rated at 16 mpg city, 22-highway and 18-combined in rear-drive format and 15/21/17 with four-wheel drive. A six-speed manual transmission is also offered.

The Frontier also comes with a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque mated to either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. Gas mileage numbers are only marginally better than the V-6 in rear-drive format (19/23/21) and performance suffers. We recommend that you opt for the V-6.

Our Frontier Pro-4X off-road capable pickups came with surprisingly good ride quality that belie the fact that the Pro-4X is a go-anywhere pickup. On the other hand, the Frontier is anything, but nimble with a heavy steering feel. And reaching highway speed, which is no problem with the V-6, comes with an abundance of engine noise. Off road equipment on the Pro-4X includes a two-speed transfer case, locking rear differential, Bilstein shocks, all-terrain tires, a number of underbody skid-plates, and hill start assist and hill decent control.

While the interior layout harkens back a decade, controls are intuitive and easy to use. Radio volume and tuning is achieved with good, old-fashioned knobs, still the best way to get those jobs done while on the road. Climate controls are also easily accessible with clear buttons and knobs. But the navigation screen is on the small side. Cruise control and redundant audio controls are conveniently located on the steering wheel.

The Frontier is offered in extended cab (called King Cab) with rear half doors and crew cab with four standard doors. King cab models are not as passenger friendly with fold-down rear jump seats. The King Cab comes with a 6.1-foot bed while the crew cab offers a choice of a 5-foot or 6.1-foot bed. Five trim levels are available — S, SV, Desert Runner, Pro-4X and SL.

Standard equipment across the lineup starting with the S trim automatic at $21,860 includes the 4-cylinder engine King Cab, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a four-speaker sound system with CD player, antilock disc brakes, stability control, and side-curtain airbags. A host of configurations are available. Our Pro-4X Crew Cab with four-wheel drive carried a base price of $33,575. With the luxury package option ($2,100) that includes leather-appointed and heated power front seats; heated outside mirrors; power moonroof; roof rack; and floor mats, the bottom line was $35,810.

Standard equipment on the Pro-4X includes a Rockford-Fosgate premium audio system with 10 speakers, navigation, and a backup camera.

Base price: $19,190; as driven, $35,810
Engine: 4.0-liter V-6
Horsepower: 261 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 281 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive: four wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 125.9 inches
Length: 205.5 inches
Curb weight: 4,561 pounds
Ground clearance: 8.9 inches
Towing capacity: 6,500 pounds
Turning circle: 43.3 feet
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 21 highway, 15 city, 17 combined
0-60: 8.1 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado

The Good
• Strong-feeling V-6 engine
• Controls easy to use
• Pleasant on-road ride

The Bad
• Noisy interior

The Ugly
• Hard plastics throughout the cabin