Sunday, October 5, 2014


Did you know that the Nissan Frontier is one of the three remaining small pickups for sale today, competing against the Honda Ridgeline and the Toyota Tacoma. In case you hadn’t noticed, most car companies no longer build a smaller truck, and that’s because modern full-size trucks are just as fuel efficient, or even more fuel efficient, than trucks the size of the Frontier.

Most people do not need a larger truck, and that’s the primary reason Nissan still makes the Frontier. Well, that and the fact that it’s now a decade old and quite profitable to continue to build. Let’s take a closer look at one of the only compact trucks you can still buy. 

A fully loaded, Lava Red, Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X, which is the off-road-ready version of Nissan’s small truck. The Frontier PRO-4X includes skid plates, off-road performance shocks, a locking rear differential, and because my truck had the automatic transmission, hill descent control and hill start assist. Special 16-inch aluminum wheels are also part of the PRO-4X treatment, and they’re wrapped in P265/75R16 B.F. Goodrich Rugged Trail tires.

The truck added the optional Luxury Package ($2,650), which includes leather seats, an 8-way power driver’s seat, a 4-way power front passenger’s seat, heated outside mirrors, a power sunroof, a roof rack with cross bars, and a NissanConnect infotainment system with navigation, Bluetooth music streaming capability, a text messaging assistant, and more. The cargo bed extender and a trailer hitch ran an extra $580, and floor mats were $135, bringing the sticker price to $36,315.

Most owners with a Frontier are comfortable, but some prefer the upper part of the door panel was made of soft material, and I’d prefer the PRO-4X model’s standard cloth seats to the stiff optional leather. Unfortunately, the leather is included in the package that adds the useful NissanConnect infotainment system, a power driver’s seat, and the handy roof rack atop my test truck.

When you need more space: If you don’t need the rear seat for people, you can flip the bottom cushion up to create decent vertical storage room, or you can fold the seat down to create a flat area for items you’d rather carry inside of the truck.

The spacious Frontier Crew Cab’s cargo bed measures just 59.5 inches in length, half an inch short of five feet long. The optional bed extender helps accommodate longer cargo, though, like maybe even a dirt bike, and my test truck had both a factory spray-in bedliner and a Utilitrak bed channel system with four adjustable tie-down cleats.

Notably, when you exit the truck after dark, the rear bed light comes on automatically, making it easier to see at night. Lock the doors with the remote, and the light shuts off, or times out on its own. As befits the truck’s mission, the Nissan Frontier’s interior is really simple and easy to understand and use, and majority of the controls are generously labeled and sized. If you need to shift into 4-wheel-drive, doing so is as easy as twisting a knob.

My Frontier test truck had the optional NissanConnect infotainment system, which includes voice recognition technology, a navigation system, Bluetooth streaming audio capability, a text-messaging assistant, and a number of mobile applications. The system’s 5.8-inch touchscreen is rather small, but the virtual buttons are responsive and Nissan provides knobs and buttons for primary functions.

The hands-free text-messaging assistant that’s included with the optional NissanConnect infotainment system might just be the most sophisticated safety feature on the Frontier, unless you’re counting the available reversing camera. Otherwise, the Frontier clearly shows its age on the safety front, lacking modern technologies that are available on full-size pickups.

As far as crashworthiness is concerned, and in light of the truck’s decade-old engineering, the Frontier performs remarkably well in tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS gives the Frontier a “Good” rating for moderate overlap frontal impact, side impact, and roof crush protection, and an “Acceptable” rating for how the seats and head restraints protect in a rear-impact collision. The Frontier has not been assessed in the latest IIHS small overlap frontal-impact crash test.

Beyond this, you might want to consider getting the 4-wheel-drive model if for no other reason than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims it improves the Frontier’s ability to resist a rollover accident. With 4WD, the truck gets a 4-star rating in this regard. With 2WD, the rollover resistance rating is 3 stars.

Besides, it’s not like you’re going to save a bunch of money at the pump by going with the 2WD model.

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