- Rugged, handsome styling
- Strong V-6 performance
- Impressive towing capacity
- Interior trim feels cheap
- Busy ride
- No true long-bed version
The 2010 Nissan Frontier clearly isn't as large or capable as full-size trucks, but it offers enough toughness for personal use along with an especially good feature list.
Riding on the same frame as the large Nissan Titan, the 2010 Nissan Frontier is hardly a compact. More appropriately, it's a mid-size truck, a full class larger than real compacts like the Ford Ranger. That said, the Frontier picks and chooses traits from compact and full-size trucks. In Crew Cab form, its interior closely rivals that of full-size pickups—so does its extensive feature set—yet in some of its most basic models, the Frontier is offered with a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine.
Designers can't do much with the shape of a pickup; there's the cab and the bed, and the proportions are quite rigidly set. But with the Frontier, Nissan managed to fit in some carlike curves, along with styling cues that are in line with more luxurious SUVs. The large chrome-bar grille is sophisticated, while the beveled window frames and flared wheel wells give it a chunky, serious appearance that's also tough and charismatic. Inside, the design is quite straightforward, with inexpensive-looking materials but a tasteful layout.
There's no V-8 offered in the 2010 Nissan Frontier, but you're not likely to miss it. The 4.0-liter V-6 that's standard on most Frontiers and optional on some of them makes 261 horsepower, giving the Frontier strong acceleration and good passing punch. Towing capacity rates up to 6,500 pounds. Throws are rather long for the manual transmissions, but they work well, as does the five-speed automatic, which responds nicely to quick passing needs. We don't recommend the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder in the Frontier unless you live in a relatively level area and won't be driving too often with heavy loads. If you can live with its limited 152 hp, the four-cylinder gets fuel economy figures of 19 mpg city, 23 highway, while the V-6 ranges down to 14/19 mpg.
King Cab and Crew Cab versions of the 2010 Nissan Frontier are offered (there is no basic short-cab version), but with each body style, you can choose between rear- or four-wheel drive. If you need easier backseat entry and enough space for two adults, especially for extended trips, you'd better go with the Crew Cab; the King Cab configuration allows for occasional backseat passengers with small front-hinged rear access doors and flip-up backseats, but they're puny and uncomfortable for adults. On either body style, the front seats afford a nice, upright driving position with good outward visibility, and the seats are very supportive and comfortable.
Cargo-hauling is, of course, a big priority for shoppers looking at the 2010 Nissan Frontier. Cargo beds for the Frontier are six feet long at most, so it will never be a true rival to full-size trucks. But the Frontier offers several features not otherwise found in pickups in this price range. The cargo bed includes a factory-applied spray-in bedliner. For those who need to secure small or heavy items in back, the available Utili-Track cargo tie-down system is recommended.
The 2010 Nissan Frontier gets acceptable but not excellent crash-test ratings, with a mix of four- and five-star ratings in federal frontal tests and five stars in NHTSA's side test. Two-wheel-drive versions get a three-star rollover rating. In IIHS tests, the Frontier rates "good" in frontal offset but only "poor" in the seat-based rear-impact test. The IIHS hasn't retested the Frontier since side airbags and side-curtain bags became standard. Otherwise, the Frontier has a respectable safety-features list, though electronic stability control isn't offered on four-cylinder models (it's standard with the V-6). Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control testify to the Frontier's off-roading credentials.
The base four-cylinder Frontier XE models are quite basic—they don't include air conditioning, power windows, or even a tilt steering wheel. SE models are better equipped, while LE models get all the popular equipment, like larger alloy wheels, fog lamps, chrome trim, tie-down cleats, the Utili-Track system, cruise control, keyless entry, power accessories, and a four-speaker sound system. Options include a limited-slip differential, leather seats, a high-powered Rockford Fosgate audio system, and a choice of either XM or Sirius Satellite Radio. Serious trail-crawlers will want to check out the PRO-4X Off-Road model.