Thoroughly outpointed by its rivals, the 2017 Nissan Frontier is nonetheless worth a look if you value its nimble feel and its surprisingly good value.
Mid-size trucks have made a serious comeback in the last few years, with the Toyota Tacoma, GMC Canyon, and Chevrolet Colorado all making news every year with redesigns, refreshes, and major updates.
But what about the Nissan Frontier? It's still hanging in there, awaiting an upcoming redesign. Its basic bones date back more than a decade, but despite its age, it remains popular with buyers. What's drawing them in? Well, it's a combination between value, size, and perceived durability. Five flavors are on offer: S, SV, SL, Desert Runner and PRO-4X.
We rate the Frontier a 4.8 out of 10, giving it some credit for its slightly less mid-size dimensions and for its robust V-6, but dinging it for a generally dated feel overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
That doesn't mean it's not worth shopping; quite the contrary, it's something of a classic in its own time.
Two cabs are offered, the King Cab (think extended 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. All King Cabs feature a 73.3-inch bed, while the Crew Cab offers a choice between 59.5- and 73.3-inch beds. A chrome-heavy front grille is augmented for 2017 on base S models by a new painted rear bumper.
Inside, the Frontier's look is chunky and boxy, with no shortage of hard plastics. SL and PRO-4X models are available with leather seating surfaces that are surprisingly high quality, however, so it's possible to dress up your Frontier considerably. The driver and front passenger are treated to upright, comfortable seats, but the manual seats standard on most models don't include a height adjustment. Tall drivers may find the high floor level requires a legs-out seating position. The second row consists of jumpseats on King Cabs that aren't suitable for more than short trips, but the Crew Cab has decent room for adults even if the backrests are way too upright.
Nissan Frontier performance, features, and fuel economy
Under the hood, there's a choice of a 261 horsepower, 281 pound-foot of torque 4.0-liter V-6 engine or a 152-hp, 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 have boosted gas mileage slightly over the years, helping to keep the V-6 competitive if certainly not class leading. 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 4WD Frontier, the V-6 engine is your only option, mated to either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic.
The 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 with rear-wheel drive and four with four-wheel drive. The Frontier lacks any sort of collision avoidance tech, unlike most of its rivals.
The base Frontier S is basically a work truck; it lacks power windows and mirrors, and has a limited number of options. The SV is designed as the mainstream model, adding those features plus alloy wheels. It also offers a reasonably-priced package that includes unexpected niceties like heated seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rearview camera, automatic climate control, a spray-in bedliner, and an alarm system. SLs build on that with a Rockford Fosgate audio system, navigation, heated seats, and chrome exterior touches.
The Desert Runner is designed to be a dune-bashing truck; it's rear-wheel drive-only, but it includes its own suspension and styling. The Pro-4X, meanwhile, builds on the Desert runner with a few more convenience features plus four-wheel drive.
No Frontier is especially thrifty, but 15 mpg city, 21 highway, 17 combined for the four-wheel drive automatic model isn't terrible. All models can tow upwards of 6,000 pounds, with rear-wheel drive long wheelbase Crew Cabs topping out at 6,500 pounds.