2014 Nissan Frontier Review

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Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
April 3, 2014

The 2014 Nissan Frontier is your best bet when looking to downsize from a full-size pickup, balancing maneuverability and size with utility and comfort.

The compact pickup segment has shrunk severely over the last decade, with few truly compact pickups left. Even those names which once rode on small trucks are up-sizing, including the Chevy Colorado. The Ford Ranger is gone. But the 2014 Nissan Frontier remains, though it too has grown over its lifespan.

Other than the Frontier and GM's new offering, the main alternative is the Toyota Tacoma. While the much newer Colorado offers many upgrades to the Frontier's capabilities and feature set, the Frontier remains a comfortable, traditional take on the segment. The Frontier is showing its age, however, having seen only minimal updates since 2005. Improvements for the 2014 model year help recalibrate its comfort and convenience, but the style remains the same.

The 2014 Nissan Frontier gets a range of upgrades and trim changes to improve over the value of last year's model, including heated front seats with the SV VTP package; heated cloth front seats are now standard on PRO-4X models and optional on SV models. Bluetooth phone and audio is standard on S models; navigation enhancements including smartphone integration and improved voice recognition; and NissanConnect Apps functionality.

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Under the hood, there's a choice of a 261-horsepower, 281-pound-foot 4.0-liter V-6 engine or a 152-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder. The V-6 is the star of this show, with pep and pulling power that's almost equal to some smaller V-8s. Improvements to the engine's internal components last year reduced friction and boosted gas mileage slightly (along with minor aerodynamic improvements), helping to keep the V-6 competitive. The four-cylinder is fine for the commuter who occasionally needs a pickup, but it's ill-suited to heavier duty. Both 4x2 (rear-wheel drive) and 4x4 drivelines are available as well.

In 4x2 guise, four-cylinder models offer a choice of five-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic; V-6 models can choose between a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. If you want a 4x4 Frontier, the V-6 engine is your only option, mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.

Two cabs are offered, the King Cab and the Crew Cab. With four doors and good rear seat space, the Crew Cab is the clear choice for Frontier shoppers who need to transport more than two people regularly. For the driver, a comfortable, upright seating position is comfortable for most; taller drivers may find the high floor level requires a legs-out seating position. As with most pickups, especially shorter-wheelbase models, the Frontier's ride can get choppy when the road--paved or unpaved--turns rough.

When it's the work that's rough, the Frontier has some handy factory features: a sprayed-in bedliner, available Utili-Track cargo tie-down system, and a Value Truck Package that bundles a trailer hitch, dual-zone climate control, a bed extender, and more.

Four core trim lines are offered on the Frontier: S, SV, SL, and PRO-4X. The Frontier S is the entry point, with equipment and options increasing as you move up through SV and SL trims. The PRO-4X model has features and options selected with an eye for off-road suitability as well as on-road daily driving.

The 2014 Nissan Frontier hasn't been officially rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the structurally identical 2013 model earned top marks of "good" in moderate overlap front-impact, side-impact, and roof strength tests.

Despite the available four-cylinder engine and lack of a V-8 offering, the Frontier doesn't get much better gas mileage than many new full-size trucks. Ranging from as low as 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway (4x4 V-6 automatic models) to as much as 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway (4x2 four-cylinder manual models), the Frontier isn't an ideal commuter vehicle in any form--but then no truck is.

7

2014 Nissan Frontier

Styling

The Nissan Frontier is handsome and tough on the outside, but is showing its age on the inside, despite new features for the 2014 model year.

Like any good mid-size truck, the Nissan Frontier is a dual-duty vehicle: it's about as likely to handle a commute or a weekend at the beach as it is to handle a load of concrete or a heavy trailer. Fortunately, it looks the part, too.

Little has changed with the Frontier's styling over the past several years, which is fine when it comes to the sporty, sturdy-looking exterior; the spartan interior could use some improvements in the aesthetic department, though it does get a collection of new features for 2014.

A trio of new alloy wheel designs joins the option sheet for 2014, including two 16-inch offerings for SV and PRO-4X models, and an 18-inch set for the SL grade.

Function-first design dominates the Frontier's lines, inside and out. It's buff and brawny for its size, and it's easily the coolest-looking of the smaller trucks--though the Chevy Colorado and its GMC Canyon twin are due for an update soon. Carlike fenders swell and curve at the wheel wells, separated at the nose by a grille that, while attempting to blend into its surroundings, comes off as a bit of an afterthought.

While the interior is simple and clean, it's certainly not charming or warm. If anything, the cabin feels as old as it is--nearing a decade. Compared to full-size trucks, there's more plastic and less substantial feel--but the Frontier is less expensive, too.

7

2014 Nissan Frontier

Performance

The 2014 Nissan Frontier is confident and maneuverable, but be sure to go with the V-6 engine for power and capability.

One of our longtime top picks in the midsize truck segment, the Nissan Frontier offers gutsy, potent capability with the optional V-6 engine.

The four-cylinder base model offers an economy-car-like 152 horsepower from its 2.5-liters, and performance reflects that: it's wheezy, weak, and strains under any sort of load. Because it's barely up to the task, gas mileage isn't much better than the V-6, either--it maxes out at 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.

Step up to the 4.0-liter V-6, however, and the Frontier does a 180, providing 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque that makes it feel downright quick when unloaded, and easily up to the task of its working side. The V-6 Frontiers are rated for up to 6,500 pounds of towing capacity when appropriately configured. The V-6 is also available with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. Most will opt for the automatic, and the five-speed gearbox (six-speed on SV, SL, and PRO-4X models) does a fine job matching the Frontier's power, torque, and use.

Many mid-size truck buyers aren't just looking for better gas mileage or lower prices--they often need better maneuverability as well. With the Frontier, you'll get it, but only up to a point; steering is good and the suspension controls the body well, but it can get choppy and harsh over broken surfaces.

Both 4x2 and 4x4 drive options are available, though 4x4 is limited to V-6-powered models.

8

2014 Nissan Frontier

Comfort & Quality

Rugged rather than refined, the 2014 Nissan Frontier's cabin is nonetheless comfortable and even offers fair rear-seat space in Crew Cab models.

The 2014 Nissan Frontier no longer offers a standard cab, short-bed version, maturing fully into mid-size status with a choice of Crew or King cabs. Crew Cab models get a standard manual sliding rear window (except for base S models), and a range of interior technology and equipment upgrades improve the cabin experience for 2014.

Five trim grades are available, including Frontier S and SV (both available with either the four-cylinder or V-6 engine), the PRO-4X, the Desert Runner, and the SL (available in Crew Cab only).

While the Frontier is mid-sized, it's certainly large enough for most folks. It's easy to enter and exit thanks to its slightly lower-than-full-size height, and the front seats are supportive and comfortable upright. Visibility is good throughout the Frontier range.

King Cab Frontiers get a pair of rear-hinged doors that open up the area behind the front seats for more cargo and a pair of jump seats--but the jump seats are best reserved for kids, and small ones at that. The Crew Cab models get four full-size doors that accommodate smaller adults, with a three-across second-row bench that's only tight on elbow and shoulder room when fully loaded.

Hauling things is a truck's job (at least in part) and the Frontier delivers with the cargo-related features. A stout frame, beds up to six feet in length, and a factory spray-in bedliner make for a rugged, if residential-sized, work space. An available Utili-Track cargo tie-down system is very handy for those regularly hauling weekend projects or outdoor gear.

7

2014 Nissan Frontier

Safety

No official crash-test scores are out for the 2014 Frontier, but it has done well in the past and offers a strong set of standard safety equipment.

The 2014 Nissan Frontier hasn't yet been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aside from a three-star rollover rating, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the Frontier with top marks of "good" in moderate overlap front, side, and roof-strength tests; the Frontier's head restraints and seats scored "acceptable" in IIHS testing.

Despite the lack of comprehensive official scores for the current model, the Frontier remains our top pick in this category for its strong history and solid list of standard safety equipment.

A backup camera and sonar parking sensors are available as part of the Value Truck Package, and hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity is now standard on all models, including the base Frontier S.

8

2014 Nissan Frontier

Features

A number of upgrades for 2014 make the Nissan Frontier a much better-equipped truck, and off-roaders will be happy with the PRO-4X.

The 2014 Nissan Frontier, like most pickups, is offered in a wide array of models and body/bed styles. From basic commuting to hobbyists and tradespeople to the off-road enthusiast, the Frontier offers a bit of something for almost everyone.

Five trims are available: the base Frontier S, Frontier SV, Frontier PRO-4X, Frontier SL and Frontier Desert Runner. The SL is available with a Crew Cab body only; the Frontier S and SV are the only models available with a four-cylinder engine. All trims can be ordered with the Crew Cab, but only with the V-6 engine option. Both 4x2 and 4x4 drive options are also available, but 4x4 only comes with the V-6 engine.

Several updates for the 2014 model year help freshen the Frontier driving experience. Heated front cloth seats are now standard on PRO-4X models, and optional on SV-grade Frontiers; Bluetooth, manual air conditioning, cruise control, and upgraded audio systems are now standard on S models; an enhanced navigation system with voice recognition is now available; and NissanConnect Apps smartphone integration for iPhone and Android is now bundled with SiriusXM TravelLink and Weather. SV VTP-package Frontiers now get heated front seats standard.

Frontier S models are the workhorses of the range, minimally equipped (though upgraded for 2014 as noted above). The SV models add keyless entry and tilt steering among other features, making it a better bet for daily driving niceties. The SL is the most feature-packed, with an eight-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system, heated leather seats, step rails, and tie-down cleats in the bed.

The Value Truck Package returns for 2014, adding heated front seats on VTP-equipped SV models, as well as dual-zone climate control, rear sonar parking sensors, a rearview camera, sliding bed extender, fog lamps, a trailer hitch, a spray-in bed liner, and Utili-Track tie-downs for all VTP-fitted models.

Off-roaders will want to look to the PRO-4X and Desert Runner versions of the Frontier. The PRO-4X is the most hardcore, with Bilstein off-road dampers, a six-speed automatic transmission, skid plates, a locking rear differential, and larger BFGoodrich trail tires. The Desert Runner is available only in rear-wheel drive, but gets the Bilstein dampers plus a few exterior appearance upgrades on top of the features of the SV package.

6

2014 Nissan Frontier

Fuel Economy

The Nissan Frontier is about as thirsty as many full-size V-6 trucks, and even the four-cylinder version doesn't save much gas.

The 2014 Nissan Frontier scores fairly respectably in EPA gas mileage ratings, for a pickup truck, thanks to its relatively compact size and four- and six-cylinder engine options.

The 2WD four-cylinder Frontier rates as high as 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for a combined rating of 21 mpg, when equipped with the five-speed manual transmission. Opting for the five-speed automatic gearbox brings those figures down to 17/23/19 mpg. With the V-6, the 2WD Frontier rates 16/22/19 mpg city/highway/combined with a six-speed manual, or 16/22/18 mpg with the five-speed automatic.

In 4WD form, the 2014 Nissan Frontier  is only available with the V-6 engine. Manual-equipped versions score 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, and 18 mpg combined; with the automatic, it rates 15/21/17 mpg.

Those figures make the Frontier more efficient than the Titan, but then the Titan is one of the thirstiest pickups on the road. Several full-size V-6 models in their base forms do better at the pump, and should merit consideration for the truck buyer that also covers lots of miles each year.

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