The Nissan Frontier is hardly the freshest midsize pickup truck available today, in fact, it’s probably the most geriatric of the entire segment. Chevrolet’s Colorado, the Jeep Gladiator and Ford Ranger are all far newer. But just because this venerable nameplate is a little on the older side doesn’t mean it’s without virtue.
New for 2020: In an unusual move, Nissan has given the ol’ Frontier a brand new engine and drivetrain combo in its final year of production. The combo will appear in the next-generation model, due in a year or so, so consider this a taster of sorts. The four cylinder model is gone (as is the manual transmission), with just the newer, smaller 3.8-liter V6. It produces a healthy 310 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. No matter whether you choose two- or four-wheel drive, the sole transmission is the nine-speed automatic.
The current-generation Frontier has been in production so long the automaker has had ample time to work all the bugs out of its basic design. The result of this should be a high-quality vehicle with few known defects. Underscoring this point, for the last three years Frontier has been the highest-rated midsize truck in the annual J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study.
Another benefit of being a proven design is that this Nissan is also inexpensive. Foregoing many of the bells and whistles found on newer trucks, the Frontier keeps costs low. In its most basic form, the automaker claims Frontier is the most affordable pickup available in America today.
Rear- or four-wheel drive is also offered, as are two cab configurations. You can get an extended King Cab or an even bigger Crew Cab. Two bed lengths are also offered including a short one measuring 59.5 inches (1,511 millimeters) and a longer offering at 73.3 inches (1,862 millimeters).
The 2019 Frontier is built at Nissan’s Canton Assembly Plant in Mississippi. Building cars and trucks in America is a proud tradition of this Japanese automaker. Back in 1983, a pickup was the first vehicle to roll off the company’s first U.S. assembly plant, which was located in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Pros/ Affordable pricing / A proven design / Proven reliability
Cons/ Low-rent interior / Fuel efficiency / Crude feeling
Bottom Line/ The Nissan Frontier is an old truck, but its affordable pricing helps keeps it relevant.
Table of contents
Nissan Frontier Powertrain
For 2020 Nissan simplified the Frontier lineup. It dropped the unloved four-cylinder and introduced a new V6 engine, destined for the next-generation pickup. At 3.8 liters of displacement, it’s slightly smaller than the old six-pot, but produces more power (310 hp) and torque (281 lb-ft). It sends that new-found grunt to the ground via a nine-speed automatic transmission. Buyers have the choice of either rear- or all-wheel drive.
Nissan Frontier Fuel Economy
When it comes to fuel consumption, a two-wheel-drive Frontier in base trim with the new V6 will post an EPA-estimated 18 mpg on the highway, 24 in the city, and an average of an even 20 mpg. Numbers get only slightly worse with 4×4 versions, dropping a single mpg across the board. Thank the additional cogs in the nine-speed transmission for maximizing the fuel efficiency of the new, more powerful V6.
Nissan Frontier Safety
Given its age, the Nissan Frontier isn’t quite as safe as its more modern rivals, at least in certain crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) evaluated a 2019 crew-cab model and it didn’t fare too well. In the both small-overlap frontal crash tests the truck earned a “Marginal” rating, the second-worst score available and its head restraints and seats were only rated “Acceptable,” slightly better. Overall headlight performance was rated “Poor,” the worst score provided by IIHS. In much better news, the Frontier earned “Good” ratings in the moderate-overlap, side-impact and roof-strength tests, the highest score available.
Nissan Frontier Features
Providing a strong backbone, the Frontier rides atop a fully boxed, ladder-style frame. It has independent suspension up front and a live axle at the rear.
A 7.0-inch color audio touchscreen is now standard on S and SV models. Fancier PRO-4X and SL grades features a 5.8-inch display with navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio and travel services plus voice recognition.
Dramatically increasing its versatility, Nissan’s available Utili-Track system is offered on the Frontier. This useful feature is comprised of five special C-channel rails mounted in the bed, two on the floor, two along the sides and one at the head of the cargo box. Removable cleats attach to these rails, making it easy to tie down just about any sort of cargo.
Further increasing its usefulness, the Frontier has storage cubbies underneath its rear seats, there are dual gloveboxes, a generous center console and large bottle holsters integrated into the front door panels. They’re large enough to hold one-liter containers.
For the 2020 model year, six exterior colors are available including Gun Metallic, Magnetic Black Pearl, Glacier White, Brilliant Silver Metallic and Arctic Blue Metallic. Cayenne Red Metallic is also an option and is now available on more models in the Frontier range than before.
Leather interior appointments are on the menu for higher-end versions of the Frontier. Two colors of cow hide are offered, either gray or beige.
Appealing to a wide array of customers, five different options groups are available on this pickup. The S Work Truck Package is offered on King Cab models with the four-cylinder engine or V6-powered Crew Cab variants. It includes a spray-in bedliner, cargo-box caps and more.
The SV Value Truck Package can be had on six-cylinder models. It includes rear sonar, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, additional speakers and the Utili-Track system.
A Premium package is offered on Crew Cab PRO-4X models. This upgrade includes goodies like leather seating surfaces, special branding, an eight-way power driver’s seat and four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated exterior mirrors, a fold-down center armrest for backseat passengers, a moonroof and even a roof rack with crossbars.
For customers that nab Crew Cab PRO-4X or SV models, a Moonroof Package is also on the options menu. As its name suggests, it adds a tilt-and-sliding moonroof to let a little sunshine in, weather permitting, of course.
Finally, there’s the Midnight Edition Package. This options group adds things like a gloss-black grille, 18-inch wheels (also finished in gloss black), blacked out step rails, body-color bumpers both front and rear plus blacked out mirror housings, door handles and badges.
Arguably, the most exciting version of the Frontier is the off-road-ready PRO-4X model. They feature various body-color elements including the grille, bumpers, mirror housing and fog-lamp surrounds. They also feature cruise control, remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, white-faced gauges and more.
The Frontier offers a lot of useful truck features, but it falls short in other areas. Given its advanced years, this pickup has almost no driver aids. Automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and similar features and amenities are nowhere to be found on this pickup truck at any price, which is a real shame.
Seating Capacity: 5
Bed Capacity: Standard bed, 27.1 cubic feet (767 liters); long bed, 33.5 cubic feet (949 liters)
Maximum Towing Capacity: 6,620 pounds (3,002 kg)
Maximum Payload: 1,460 pounds (662 kg)
Short Wheelbase: 125.9 inches (3,198 mm)
Long Wheelbase: 139.9 inches (3,553 mm)
Overall Length, Short: 205.5 inches (5,220 mm)
Overall length, Long: 219.4 inches (5,573 mm)
Width: 72.8 inches (1,849 mm)
Nissan Frontier Pricing
The new engine changes the Frontier’s value proposition, adding several thousand to the price of entry. That said, $27,885 now gets you into a rear-drive King Cab S, with a vastly improved engine/transmission, 7.0-inch touchscreen, and keyless entry. A mid-spec Crew Cab 4×4 SV goes for $33,085, sprinkling more amenities, body-colored front bumper, alloy wheels, and more. Want the longer bed? Add $420. Go all-in on a top-shelf Crew Cab Pro-4X version with every bell and whistle, buzzer and claxon Nissan offers and plan on spending at least $38,585.
Nissan Frontier Competitors
As a midsize truck, the Frontier competes in a bourgeoning segment of the new-vehicle market. As traditional full-size pickups get larger, more capable and, of course, ever pricier, the viability of more approachable trucks can only grow. Nissan’s Frontier competes with other “right-sized” pickups like the Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma. Tangential rivals include the off-road-focused Jeep Gladiator and Honda’s car-based Ridgeline. All of its rivals offer more features and refinement, but none are as affordable as this Nissan.
Nissan Frontier Future Plans
Not only is Nissan’s Frontier the oldest midsize pickup around, it’s one of the most geriatric new vehicles on the market today. The current generation of this truck was introduced around 15 years ago, meaning it’s a seriously senior citizen at this point in its lifecycle.
Given its antiquated underpinnings and less-than-stellar feature set, it’s no surprise the Frontier is well overdue for a total overhaul. We expect Nissan to completely redesign this truck in a matter of months, not years. Rumor has it right now they’re hard at work on the next generation.
Nissan Frontier Review
By Chad Kirchner
The pickup truck market in the United States is booming. Last year, Ford sold nearly 900,000 units of its F-Series line of trucks. There are competitors from all of the major players.
Generally speaking, there are three types of trucks. There are heavy duty trucks like the Ford F-350 or Ram 3500. There’s the half-ton truck, like the F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500 or the Ram 1500. Then there’s the mid-size, such as the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger or Chevrolet Colorado.
Over the past decade, to keep up with safety requirements and consumer demand, trucks have grown in size. The midsized trucks of today are as large as the half-ton trucks from the 2000s. There was a time where nearly every truck you could buy would fit securely in a garage.
With these changes, trucks have also become more complex and more expensive. With a few option boxes checked, it’s easy to get a half-ton truck into the $50,000 range. Many of the mid-size trucks run into the low $40,000 range if you want a few options.
One truck, at least on paper, seems to buck that trend. The Nissan Frontier is the cheapest truck you can buy in the United States with a starting price below $20,000. It’s also smaller in overall footprint than all the current mid-size truck competitors.
Last seeing a major refresh in 2004, the Nissan Frontier has aged compared to the competition, but still sells in decent volume. Why? We wanted to find out.
After spending a week in a new Nissan Frontier SV Midnight Edition Crew Cab with four-wheel drive, we’ve come up with some reasons why you might want to add the Frontier to your shopping list.
1. Affordable Pricing
One of the biggest draws to the Nissan Frontier is the pricing. It’s probably what would get you in the door of the dealership to check out the truck. In the United States, the Frontier starts at $18,990 before destination. It’s the only new pickup truck available in the United States starting under $20,000.
Then you ask, “Isn’t it a 14-year-old truck?”
Yes, it is in a lot of ways. But that’s how the Frontier can remain so price competitive. Many of the overhead costs, including tooling, was fully paid for years ago. Nissan’s cost to build this truck in Canton, Mississippi, is lower than the competition.
The truck we used for this piece carries a price of $33,560 with delivery, but we’ve found some online for just a hair over $30,000 U.S.
A similarly equipped Colorado? We can’t build one exactly the same, but to get close, we’re still up to just over $38,000.
There are features that you can’t get on Frontier that the competition has, such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, but you’re not without some key items.
2. Essential Features
A truck that hasn’t seen a significant update in quite a few years isn’t likely going to have the same features you’d expect out of a fresh new truck. But the Frontier has some essentials that you’ll want.
For example, our review unit had dual-zone automatic climate control, a backup camera, Bluetooth, SiriusXM support, and an automatically dimming rearview mirror.
We also have heated cloth seats and fog lamps. Many of those items are optional on more-expensive trims of the competition.
If you really wanted an updated infotainment system, you could easily add one from the aftermarket with support for Car Play or Android Auto, plus anything else you’d be looking for. The stock stereo doesn’t control car features, so you aren’t losing functionality by going aftermarket.
We’d still like to see support for blind spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, and a better set of headlights. Those are all safety features you’ll likely see on an updated Frontier, but it’s severely lacking on the current truck.
3. It’s a Safe Truck
Some people gravitate towards pickup trucks because they believe that bigger vehicles are safer. While the Frontier doesn’t have the active preventative safety features like autonomous emergency braking or rear cross traffic alert, it’s still a safe truck.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent organization that crash tests vehicles and then rates them.
The Frontier Crew Cab earns the highest rating in the side, roof strength, and moderate overlap tests. The small overlap test, a test that wasn’t introduced until recently, the truck scored a “Moderate” rating.
That small overlap rating is lower than most of the competition’s trucks, but the overall safety is still solid, especially considering when the truck was engineered. It’s not top of its class, but we’ve seen worse-ranked vehicles.
4. Quality and Reliability
When you’re buying a truck, you want to know it’ll be built to last. It has to work hard and be inexpensive to maintain.
Every year, JD Power and Associates hands out an Initial Quality Survey award, or IQS, and they just announced their 2018 winners of best initial quality. In the midsize truck segment that winner is the Frontier.
The Frontier’s simplicity helps here. There are no completed electronics to go awry. The truck is built with components that are proven to work reliably for a long time. It’s easy to tease the truck by saying it’s 14 years old but building something like this consistently for this many years allows Nissan to work out all the kinks that might exist.
The factory warranty is only 3 years / 36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 60,000 miles for the powertrain – some of the competition is better — but combined with a high JD Power score means you should be able to feel quite confident in your purchase.
5. Towing Capacity
One of the main reasons why you might consider a pickup truck is because you have something you want to tow. It might be a small boat for the weekend or a set of side-by-sides to attack the sand dunes. The Frontier has you covered.
The maximum towing of any Frontier is 6,640 pounds, though our time with the Frontier was in an SV Midnight Edition 4-wheel drive with the automatic transmission and the short wheelbase, so it reduces our maximum towing to 6,370 pounds.
That number bests the Honda Ridgeline, which is capped at 5,000 pounds. A similarly equipped Tacoma (double cab, four-wheel drive) equipped with the optional tow prep package is just 30 pounds more at 6,400 pounds.
The class leader here is the Chevrolet Colorado at 7,000 pounds for the gasoline (and 7,600 pounds for the diesel), but the Frontier is still very competitive.
Additionally, 6,370 pounds will tow most of these weekend toys without any issue. A pair of Polaris RAZRs is only 5,500 pounds.
6. Payload Capacity
Many truck folks lament that the big cab full-size trucks still have small beds. Midsize trucks have always had the smaller beds and payload capacity, but the differences aren’t as large as you’d think.
For example, the cargo capacity of the Ford F-150 with the 5.5’ bed is 52.8 cu-ft. The Frontier long bed’s cargo volume is 33.5 cu-ft.
A base V6 F-150’s maximum payload is 1,990 pounds. The maximum Frontier can carry is 1,460 pounds, with our test truck being 1,350 pounds.
The point here is going up a class in pickup size doesn’t net you a whole lot more payload than the Frontier, which was updated significantly in 2004. The F-150 is all-new for 2015 and received an update for 2018.
7. Off-Road Capability
While you can off-road any vehicle if you have enough ambition and momentum, you generally want to stick to vehicles that have some extra safeguards in place and are designed to head off the pavement.
The Midnight Edition we drove is capable of off-roading, thanks to acceptable approach and departure angles, but if you are going to do it, you want the PRO-4X.
The PRO-4X is an all-wheel drive only Frontier that sits higher off the ground than a normal Frontier. It also has skid plates to protect vital components underneath the truck that you might hit. The last thing you want to do is puncture the oil pan.
Additionally, the PRO-4X has a 32.6-degree approach angle, a 23.3 departure angle, and a 20.5-degree breakover angle.
Toyota’s TRD Off-Road Tacoma 32 degrees for the approach angle, 23.5 degrees for the departure angle, and 21 degrees for the breakover angle. Both off-road trucks are incredibly close in off-road capability.
Only moving up to the TRD Pro in the Tacoma, a truck that starts at $41,720, do you get more significant off-road capability.
If you’re someone that wants to modify or personalize their ride, the Frontier is the right truck for you. Because it hasn’t been changed in a while, aftermarket companies have had plenty of time to get their parts out.
Lift kits? Easy. Replacement bumpers that support LED lighting and winches? No problem. Nearly everything you’d need to make your Frontier a serious off-road pickup is just a phone call away from one of the many aftermarket companies out there.
Is it as flushed out as a Jeep Wrangler or a Toyota Tacoma? No. But remember the cost of entry is lower here.
9. Resale Value
Common sense tells you that a car that is sold inexpensively, with incentives and fleet sales, isn’t a car that will hold its resale value particularly well. Interestingly, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the Frontier.
Sure, the first-year depreciation is a big hit – it is with most cars – but beyond that, it holds pretty well. We asked internet raconteur Bozi Tatervic to share with us some wholesale pricing for Frontiers heading to auction.
We found some 2015 models in good condition selling in the mid-$20,000s for the same trim of our test truck (SV Crew Cab with 4-wheel drive). Even some 2013 models are going for around $15,000 or so.
The resale value on a Tacoma is better over time, the residual value holds up here better than some cars on the market and seems reasonable for the marketplace.
10. American Made
While the badge on the hood says Nissan, the truck is assembled in the United States. It comes out of the company’s Canton, Mississippi, plant, which also makes the Titan.
The engine is produced at the company’s Powertrain Assembly Plant in Decherd, Tennessee.
No, the Frontier isn’t the perfect truck for everyone, but it does make sense for a decent swath of customers looking for a truck to get the job done. That someone might even be you.
|Price Range (USD) /||$27,885 – $38,585|
|Engine /||3.8-liter V6|
|Horsepower (hp) /||310 hp|
|Torque (lb-ft) /||281 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy (mpg) /||18/24/20 (RWD) / 17/23/19 (AWD)|
|Drivetrain /||9AT, RWD/AWD|
Our Final Verdict
The Nissan Frontier is definitely showing its age — it lacks refinement, technology and features compared to its competitors. But if you need an honest, no-nonsense workhorse, the Frontier is the most affordable truck you can get, and that alone is worth a lot.2.9
|Space and Comfort||5.0|