- Hauling and towing strength (V-6)
- Potent V-6 engine option
- Sharp pickup looks
- Spacious Crew Cabs
- Maximum bed length is only six feet
- Interior design showing its age
- Busy, choppy ride
- Four-cylinder is wheezy, unimpressive
The 2016 Nissan Frontier is an aging mid-size truck that's still attractive and useful, but in some ways outpointed by its new GM rivals.
Mid-size trucks are in a full revival this year—the Toyota Tacoma is new, and the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado are just a year old.
The Nissan Frontier? It's still hanging in there, awaiting an upcoming redesign, but mostly carried over from the prior model year with very few changes. It's still a worthy rival to the Tacoma, but ultimately it's outpointed in comfort, performance, and economy by its GM rivals.
The Frontier comes from a previous era, but soldiers on with a right-sized do-it-all nature that still serves well. It shows its age mostly in its cockpit: while the exterior sheet metal is still interesting, modern, even fresh after all these years, the cabin wears lots of hard plastic and a slightly legs-out driving position that shows how long it's been since the Frontier was fully redesigned.
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.
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 inline-4. 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 engine have boosted gas mileage slightly over the years, helping to keep the V-6 competitive. The 4-cylinder is OK for the commuter who occasionally needs a pickup, but it's ill-suited to heavier duty, and isn't that much cheaper or more efficient than the V-6.
Both 4x2 (rear-wheel drive) and 4x4 drivelines are available in the Frontier. In 4x2 guise, 4-cylinder models offer a choice of 5-speed manual transmission or 5-speed automatic; V-6 models can choose between a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. If you want a 4x4 Frontier, the V-6 engine is your only option, mated to either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic.
The 2016 Frontier earned top marks of "Good" in moderate overlap front-impact, side-impact, and roof strength tests from the IIHS. Federal officials haven't rated the truck beyond a calculated rollover score, for which the Frontier earns three stars.
Five trim lines are offered on the Frontier: S, SV, SL, Desert Runner 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; Desert Runner is the rear-drive, slightly more streetable version.
Changes for this year are minimal. Last year Nissan made its NissanConnect connectivity kit standard on upper trim levels. It links the car's audio system with smartphones and enables mobile apps for infotainment.
There are very few competitors to the Frontier in the market, with the Toyota Tacoma far and away the best seller. While it's somewhat improved this year, the Frontier's real problem lies with the excellent new Colorado and Canyon. They're better at seating and hauling, have superior dynamics and straight-line V-6 performance—and get a new turbodiesel offering later this year.
The Frontier's running in place until a replacement arrives in 2017—by some measures, it can't come too soon.
2016 Nissan Frontier
The cabin's aged beyond its years, but the Frontier still looks good.
With the Frontier, Nissan locked in a design that blended enough modernism and traditional truck cues, to last for a very long time. The Frontier still looks fresh and interesting—a feat when it's now competing against brand-new vehicles from Chevy, GMC, and Toyota.
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 some of us like the square-jawed look of the GMC Canyon best of all. 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.
The cabin, meanwhile, lacks the charm and warmth that GM in particular has baked into its new trucks. The Frontier's cockpit is simple and clean, but it feels as old as it is. Compared to the other mid-size (and full-size) trucks, there's a less substantial feel and a lot more hard plastic.
2016 Nissan Frontier
They can be the most expensive versions, but Frontiers with four-wheel drive and the V-6 are by far the best performers.
With the Frontier, you'll save some money by opting for the base 4-cylinder, but you'll exhaust your reserves of patience pretty quickly. That's fine, because the V-6 is a gutsy performer that's not priced too far above the base engine.
In the 4-cylinder Frontier, there's a miserly 152 horsepower available from its 2.5 liters of displacement. Straight-line performance is barely adequate: it strains to hit highway speeds, and feels weak. What's worse is gas mileage that's hardly better than the V-6—it tops out at 23 miles per gallon highway, just a couple of points higher than the six.
Step up to the 4.0-liter V-6, however, and the Frontier changes its tone. The V-6 kicks in 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 5-speed gearbox (6-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 rear-drive and four-wheel-drive options are available, though 4WD is limited to V-6-powered models.
2016 Nissan Frontier
Comfort & Quality
The Frontier's cabin room is fine, but its dated, plasticky interior is the least attractive in its class.
There are five versions of the 2015 Nissan Frontier available, including base Frontier S and SV models—both available with the 4-cylinder or V-6—the Desert Runner, PRO-4X and the SL, which is only available in Crew Cab layout.
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 6 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.
The Frontier's big downfall is its dated, plasticky cabin. Without real change for the past half-decade, it's aged quickly—especially in fit, finish, and driving position. Back-to-back comparisons with the new GM mid-sizers show how far ahead the GM trucks are in a comfortable, relatively high seating position and richly textured materials.
2016 Nissan Frontier
The Frontier hasn't been crash-tested in a while, and that hurts its safety scores.
With minimal standard and optional safety features—and a lack of recent crash-test data—the Frontier doesn't fare as well as it might in safety scores here at The Car Connection.
The crash data that is available isn't bad. Federal officials don't have any ratings for the current truck, but the IIHS gives it "Good" scores for the tests it has performed—save for an "acceptable" rating for head-restraint protection. There's no score for the new small-overlap crash test, though.
A rearview 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. There's nothing like the forward-collision warning systems offered on the new GM mid-size trucks.
2016 Nissan Frontier
The Frontier has some updated touches, but it's fallen far behind the latest mid-size trucks from Toyota and GM.
Trucks aren't normally the highest-rated vehicles when it comes to standard and optional features. But the game is changing. We've downrated the Frontier a bit this year, given the updates applied to the GM and Toyota mid-size trucks—while the Frontier runs in place on relatively outdated amenities.
The Frontier this year comes in two body styles, King and Crew Cab, in both rear- and four-wheel drive. There are five trim levels: S, SV, PRO-4X (4WD only), Desert Runner (2WD only) and SL (Crew Cab only). Crew Cabs and 4WD models come only with the V-6 engine.
Frontier S models are the workhorses of the range, minimally equipped. 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.
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 6-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.
For 2015, the Frontier made standard its NissanConnect infotainment system on SV and Desert Runner models, and navigation was made standard with the PRO-4X. Changes for 2016 include new color choices and moonroof availability.
2016 Nissan Frontier
The 4-cylinder's EPA ratings aren't worth giving up the V-6's performance.
The 2016 Frontier offers both a bigger-displacement V-6 and a bargain-hunting 4-cylinder, and while neither one of them turn in stellar figures, they're acceptable for the mid-size truck niche. For now.
The rear-drive, 4-cylinder Frontier rates as high as 19 mpg city, 23 highway, 21 combined when equipped with the 5-speed manual transmission. Opting for the 5-speed automatic gearbox brings those figures down to 17/23/19 mpg.
With the V-6, the rear-drive Frontier rates 16/22/19 mpg with a 6-speed manual, or 16/22/18 mpg with the 5-speed automatic.
The V-6 engine is standard on four-wheel-drive versions of the Nissan Frontier. Manual versions score 16/21/18 mpg; with the automatic, it rates 15/21/17 mpg.
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—the latest Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra first and foremost among them.
Then there's the mid-size Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, which offer more efficient V-6 engines in most models—and a turbodiesel option for the 2016 model year.
The Frontier is due to be replaced within a year or two, with new powertrains and possibly a diesel model of its own.