New & Used Nissan Frontier: In Depth
2015 Nissan FrontierEnlarge Photo
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The Nissan Frontier is the Japanese automaker's made-in-the-USA mid-size pickup truck. It's related to the Nissan Titan full-size pickup in its underlying design, and offers good cargo hauling capability as well as off-road ability on certain models.
The little pickup was conceived at a time when compact and mid-size trucks were a larger part of the market. For a while, the mid-size niche waned--but it's back stronger than ever, with a new Toyota Tacoma arriving this year, and a pair of GM twins—the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon—in their second year, now available with a turbodiesel powerplant.
The Frontier is overdue for a replacement now, especially in the face of renewed competition from those GM trucks and the updated Tacoma. It may not get an update until 2017, though, since Nissan is hard at work on a 2016 Titan full-size pickup.
MORE: Read our 2016 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. Introduced for 1998 and 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.
Nissan introduced a new Frontier for 2005, and that same basic truck continues to be offered today, a decade later. The current Frontier is based on the company's F-Alpha architecture, which was first introduced for the larger Titan pickup. This Frontier is larger and slightly heavier than the one it replaced. Because of this, Nissan markets its smaller pickup as a mid-sizer. Both the Frontier and Titan are getting on in years, with a new Titan coming very soon and a Frontier replacement likely a short time after.
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 and last-generation 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 the Utili-track channel and tie-down system is handy for securing smaller but heavy items like an engine or a small ATV. Both were market standouts when introduced but have since been adopted by other truckmakers.
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 will precede the Frontier, with the larger Nissan truck also slated to receive a diesel engine. Delays with the new Titan, which is a bigger seller, likely played into the new Frontier being put off. The two are likely to share a basic architecture once more.