Like its big brother, the Titan, Nissan's Frontier has changed little since the current generation's introduction for the 2005 model year. Sure, there are the usual paint color changes and minor equipment updates that come over the course of seven years, with no huge surprises. But because the midsize truck sector has fewer players and less competition, the Frontier fares much better than the Titan.
Our SV V-6 4x4 tester was basic but functional. With some concessions to technological progress, it has the bare minimum expected in modern vehicles. There's Bluetooth hands-free calling and an auxiliary input for the audio system, but forget about iTunes metadata being displayed on the head unit. There's no USB input accompanying the aux port, either, and the only information displayed on the one-line, monochrome radio display when you're using the hands-free calling feature is "Phone" in a basic, 16-bit typeface reminiscent of the Speak & Spell from the early '80s. No names, numbers, nor any other information. Our tester also did not have satellite radio, which has become so ubiquitous its absence has become surprising.
The basics like power windows, remote door locks, air conditioning, and cruise control are present and accounted for. The front passenger seat folds flat and has a hard plastic back to accommodate bulky or awkward items in the cab. There are also two 12v outlets in the cab, one in the center stack near the climate controls and another inside the center console storage bin.
Hard plastics dominate the interior. Unlike some interiors that try to fool you with a soft-looking satin grain over hard plastics, the Frontier makes no such superficial gestures toward false luxury. Considering the Frontier's mission in life, the design and quality of materials isn't off-putting nor does it come across as cheap. It is what it is -- rugged and functional.
There's something refreshingly endearing about this straightforwardness. Even noise, vibration, and harshness, something pursued and muffled vigorously by most manufacturers in nearly every model, doesn't seem like it was a huge priority for Nissan when it comes to the Frontier, though it's not annoyingly noisy or unrefined. The long-stroke 4.0-liter VQ40DE V-6 sends a subtle but persistent vibration through the cab from idle to redline that can be heard clearly at almost any speed.
Still, it's not just noise for noise's sake. The engine's 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque scoot the truck around with an exuberant kick. Initial throttle tip-in is a bit abrupt, causing the truck to lunge off the line, but that's about the only shortcoming. Power output is ample for daily driving and for most tasks this truck will be asked to do. However, the EPA figures betray the Frontier's aging powertrain with a mediocre 14 city and 19 highway rating. Many full-size trucks match or surpass those figures with substantially more power and capability. The size and packaging of the Frontier may make a compelling case for itself, but the fuel economy doesn't.
While the Frontier 4x4 wouldn't be the first choice for aggressive canyon carving, it feels remarkably responsive and tossable for a truck, reflecting Nissan's fun-to-drive philosophy. Even if you're a "car" guy at heart, driving the Frontier doesn't feel like punishment, like some trucks can.
If you like the looks and size of the Frontier, but want something slightly plusher than our tester, Nissan offers an SL trim with a power driver's seat, leather seating, and a Rockford Fosgate sound system. The upgraded trim is also available on the off-road oriented PRO-4X model as well, which gives you Bilstein shocks, a locking rear differential and skid plates to facilitate your off-pavement adventures.
Is the Frontier showing its age a little? Absolutely. Its underwhelming fuel economy, Spartan interior, and generation-behind tech integration makes it feel more like a 2005 model than a 2012. What would we change? Less than you'd think, actually. A navigation option would be nice, as well as the expanded display functionalities that would come with it. Better fuel economy is a given. The Frontier's overseas brother, the Navara, offers an optional 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 with 240 hp and a whopping 406 lb-ft of torque. While it's unlikely we'll ever get this option in the U.S., it sure is a tempting prospect.
What we hope Nissan doesn't change with the next-generation Frontier, whenever it comes, is its earnest and fun-to-drive nature, practicality, and lack of fluffy pretense. Keep it fun and functional, with a little better fuel economy, and more up-to-date cabin tech, and it will continue to be a compelling offering in the midsize truck market.
|2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab SV V6 4x4|
|BASE PRICE|| $28,715 (est) |
|PRICE AS TESTED|| $29,905 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT|| Front engine, rear/4WD, 5-pass, 4-door pickup|
|ENGINE|| 4.0L/261-hp/281-lb-ft, 24-valve DOHC V-6 |
|TRANSMISSION|| 5-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (mfr) ||4409 lb
|WHEELBASE ||125.9 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT|| 205.5 x 72.8 x 70.1 in|
|0-60 MPH ||7.5 sec (est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON|| 14/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY|| 241/177 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS ||1.22 lb/mi|