The Car Connection Nissan Frontier Overview
The Nissan Frontier is a mid-size pickup truck, made by the Japanese automaker in Mississippi. A relative of the full-size Titan truck, the Frontier has offered good cargo hauling capability as well as off-road ability, but its aging design has lost ground, especially in the face of renewed competition from GM's trucks and the updated Toyota Tacoma.
The Frontier's rivals include the Toyota Tacoma, and the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon—all of which are considerably fresher designs. Despite the Frontier's age, it remains popular with consumers, in part because of its low price.
MORE: Read our 2017 Nissan Frontier review
For 2017, the Frontier is largely unchanged aside from a new body-color rear bumper on the base S trim level and a new Work Truck package for that model that adds utility-minded features like a spray-in bedliner and rubber floor mats.
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-truck 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 4-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.
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 received 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 4-cylinder engine, which feels overwhelmed even on the limited models in which it was available. But the 261-hp, 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 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.