New & Used Nissan Frontier: In Depth
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The Nissan Frontier is one of the two remaining mid-size pickup trucks--that is, until the 2015 model year is in full swing. Conceived at a time when compact and mid-size trucks were a bigger part of the market, the Frontier is still our choice over the older, less powerful Toyota Tacoma.
That all could change later this year as GM introduces its new mid-size twins, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.
MORE: Read our 2015 Nissan Frontier review
The Nissan Frontier is the successor to what was once called the Nissan Hardbody. That pickup brought Nissan out of its Datsun years, and became a staple of the small-pickup market. Lightly updated over the course of a decade, the Frontier started to establish its current style in 2001, when it gained a more rugged appearance that mainly involved clipped-on wheel well flares, plus a chunkier-looking grille and front air dam. These models did quite well with the standard 148-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine; the 168-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 engine was a decent choice for those who towed or hauled heavy loads. Most Frontiers of this vintage are regular or King Cab (extended) body styles, though a Crew Cab model was introduced for 2000.
An all-new Frontier arrived for 2005, and the same basic truck is still on sale today. Now based on Nissan's F-Alpha architecture, first used for the larger Titan pickup, it is larger than the model it replaced, and also somewhat heavier. Nissan markets the current Frontier as a mid-sizer as a result. Like the Titan, the Frontier is getting a bit long in the tooth, although replacements for both pickups are promised soon.
With its 2005 redesign, the Frontier made some major advances in safety. For a few years, the Frontier was rated "good" in many tests by the IIHS--unlike compact trucks like the Ranger, Colorado, and Canyon. Since then, not much has been done in the way of crash testing, however.
For 2007, a longer-bed Crew Cab model was first offered, which gave the Frontier nearly full-size proportions. In 2009 Nissan gave the Frontier a mid-cycle refresh, with slightly different front-end styling as well as revised interior trim. A more focused PRO-4X off-road model was also released. More recently, the Frontier got a small fuel-economy boost, and a new Desert Runner package. Bluetooth became standard on most models, and Nissan expanded availability of dual-zone climate control, navigation, a rearview camera, and rear parking sensors.
Today's Frontiers don't do nearly as well with the 152-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which feels overwhelmed even on the limited models in which it was available. But the 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 that's offered with this generation is strong and smooth, with plenty of torque and a relaxed character with the automatic transmission. A choice of extended- and crew-cab body styles are offered, as is four-wheel drive. Many Frontiers get a standard spray-on bedliner, while a market-standout Utili-track channel and tie-down system is handy for securing smaller but heavy items like an engine or a small ATV.
In recent years, Nissan has moved production of the Frontier from Tennessee to its newer truck, SUV, and commercial-vehicle plant in Mississippi.
A new Frontier had been expected in the next model year or two, and Nissan has shown a concept Frontier pickup outfitted with a diesel engine. According to latest reports, though, the Frontier might not get a replacement until the 2017 model year. A new Titan pickup likely will precede the Frontier, with the larger Nissan truck also slated to receive a diesel engine. Delays with the new Titan likely played into the Frontier being put off.