The midsize truck market is a hot one right now. According to Good Car Bad Car, the segment’s sales jumped 26 percent in 2016. Midsize truck sales growth continued in 2017, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic. That said, it’s safe to say midsize trucks are a strong segment in the U.S. One of the most interesting key players is the Nissan Frontier.
The Nissan Frontier’s design made its official debut back in 2004 for the 2005 model year. Few vehicles that are teenagers have aged this well. Recently, we had a chance to drive an SV Midnight Edition Frontier on an off-road course at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, during a Midwest Automotive Media Association event. It's surprising that this old truck still sells so well, but after spending some time in the vehicle, we understand why.
Capable of Doing What Owners Need
From a capability standpoint, the Frontier still delivers. It offers more than enough power, towing capacity, and payload capacity for the tasks that most people tackle on a regular basis. After all, it’s not like trailers have suddenly got more difficult to tow or materials have gotten heavier.
You can get the model with either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 152 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque or a 4.0-liter V6 engine that manages 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. Both power plants are dated at this point, but they still get the job done.
In V6 form, when properly equipped, the Frontier can tow up to 6,710 lbs. That’s more than the recently redesigned Honda Ridgeline. What’s interesting is that the vast majority of recreational towers will never tow more than 5,000 lbs. That means the Frontier fits most of the truck market. From a payload standpoint, the truck can carry up to 1,430 lbs, which is very respectable.
Tough, Tested, and Practical
When we heard there would be a Nissan Frontier on the off-road course at Road America we assumed it’d be a Pro-4X model, but Nissan brought along an SV Midnight Edition. Despite the lack of some of the dedicated off-road equipment that the Pro-4X has – like skid plates, a locking rear differential, and Bilstein shocks – the SV Midnight Edition handled the entire course with ease. At no point did the truck feel strained, even after we bounded up a rock pile that would have ripped the low-hanging fascia off many other vehicles, including some competitors in this segment.
The Frontier’s aptitude on the off-road course is a testament to how well-designed this dated model is. People have been beating the snot out of the current generation of these things for 14 years, and many of them are still going. If you get the truck in crew cab form it’s a competent family vehicle, too, with room for five and a bed for all your junk.
Enough Modern Tech to Get By
The Frontier is behind in the technology department. Interestingly this hasn’t seemed to hurt sales much. In an age when Ram is tossing a massive 12-inch screen in its 1500 pickup, Nissan has managed to appeal to truck owners who want something a little more basic. Not everyone needs or necessarily wants the latest and greatest tech. Maybe they just want something that works? The Frontier undoubtedly appeals to the pickup-seeking Luddites of the world.
That said, it’s not like the Frontier is completely void of technology. In the top trim level you can get things like a 5.8-inch touchscreen with navigation, NissanConnect infotainment system with mobile apps and voice recognition, Sirius XM Radio, Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free, and remote keyless entry. On the other end of the spectrum, in the vehicle’s most basic trim, you get a simple FM/AM/CD stereo system with Bluetooth, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, a rearview camera, and not much else. The S trim level of the Frontier is pretty stripped down, and we kind of love that you can get a super-basic pickup. The base model in previous model years had even less equipment, and the bottom-level S trim is less of a stripper than it once was.
More Affordable Than the Competition
The base price for the Nissan Frontier is $18,990. It’s the most affordable new pickup truck you can buy. It spanks the Honda Ridgeline in the price department by whopping $11,000. Of course, Honda only sells the Ridgeline as a crew cab so if you compare the lowest-priced crew cab Frontier to the Ridgeline, it only comes out looking $5,440 better. Still a huge price difference.
The Nissan beats the rest of the competition, too, when it comes to price. It does better the Toyota Tacoma by $6,410, the GMC Canyon by $2,110, and the Chevrolet Colorado by $1,210. These are less significant, but still considerable numbers. The story doesn’t change as you go up the trim ladder either. A totally decked out Frontier is still going to be at least a few thousand dollars cheaper than the competition, making it a smart choice for the value-minded shopper.
Far From Perfect, Still a Great Pickup
The Nissan Frontier isn’t the best pickup in the world. It has limitations, and it’s not going to be the right truck for every buyer. The mechanical steering is heavy, the ride is harsh compared to newer designs, and the interior uses far too many plastics that look like they're from 2001. Additionally, it's not the most powerful nor the most comfortable, and as we discussed above the tech is behind the curve. Even with that in mind, we would be willing to say that for the money, it’s one of the best offerings out there.
We love that Nissan is still putting this model out even though it’s dated. But really, when you think about it, they’d be stupid not to. They have the most affordable pickup on the market, and by offering a super basic truck, they’re also providing one of the most unique experiences in the market right now. Plus the design is a proven workhorse that offers close enough performance numbers to the much newer and more expensive competition.
There’s likely a new Nissan midsize pickup truck in the works, but a big part of us hopes it doesn’t debut any time soon. If Nissan wants to breath fresh life into this model, all they need do is give it some super comfy seats, revise the interior, and bring in their latest technology.