Nissan Frontier History
2013 Nissan FrontierEnlarge Photo
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The Nissan Frontier is our favorite choice amongst mid-size pickup trucks. The Frontier offers better fuel economy than a full-size truck, as well as better maneuverability. The only downside is its smaller bed and lighter payload. The Frontier competes with the Toyota Tacoma, and to a lesser degree, the Honda Ridgeline.
See our 2013 Nissan Frontier review for prices, gas mileage, and other specs
The Nissan Frontier was formerly offered in a smaller, narrower body style that was sold well into this past decade. For 2001, the Frontier was given a more rugged appearance that mainly involved clipped-on wheel well flares, plus a chunkier-looking grille and front air dam. These models do quite well with the standard 148-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine; the 168-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 engine is a decent choice for those who plan to tow or haul heavy loads, but it's thirsty and doesn't yield much more impressive performance. Most of these models are available in regular or King Cab (extended) body styles, though a Crew Cab model was introduced for 2000.
The Frontier was completely redesigned for 2005. Essentially an all-new truck built on a shortened version of the F-Alpha platform that underpins Nissan's full-size Titan pickup, this current-generation Frontier is much larger and somewhat heavier than its predecessor. Most noteworthy is its additional width, which makes the interior feel more spacious, and its interior design is a significant step forward even though materials remained a little bargain-basement in look and feel.
These 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 of Frontier is strong and smooth, with plenty of torque and a relaxed character with the automatic transmission. For 2007, a longer-bed Crew Cab model was first offered, which gave the Frontier nearly full-size proportions. With many of these models, a spray-on bedliner is included, 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.
With its 2005 redesign, the Frontier made some major advances in safety. The Frontier has achieved top 'good' ratings from the IIHS and is widely considered the safest of the compact or mid-size trucks—perhaps the result of being based on a full-size truck. In 2010 tests, it was the only compact truck tested to achieve a top rating in the IIHS's new roof strength test. Pre-2004 models weren't rated nearly as well for safety, though the Frontier has enjoyed a strong reputation for reliability and longevity.
For 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.Nissan is moving production of the Frontier to its new truck, SUV, and commercial-vehicle plant in Mississippi. For 2013 models, which are built both there and at the Tennessee plant, Nissan made a number of minor changes to the Frontier. Thanks to some aerodynamic improvements and engine tweaks, the Frontier gains 1 to 2 mpg, depending on the model. A new Desert Runner package, offering the tough look of the PRO-4X (including equipment like the Bilstein off-road shocks) but with 2WD, joined the lineup, and features were bolstered to include available dual-zone climate control, navigation, a rear-view camera system, and rear sonar sensors. A Bluetooth hands-free system was expanded to all but the base 2013 Nissan Frontier S.