The Midnight Edition package adds style, but the Frontier is still a no-nonsense, old-school truck.
In the early 2000s, the mid-size truck market wasn’t nearly as lucrative as it is today. Tiny pickups were typically reserved for fleet duty, not daily driving. But the market has evolved and buyers are now looking for tech, safety, and efficiency to pair with truck-like capabilities in a more manageable footprint.
While the Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline, and Chevrolet Colorado have all been updated with these cues, the Nissan Frontier soldiers on with the same basic elements that debuted more than a decade ago.
In an attempt to freshen up its ancient offering, though, Nissan fitted the Frontier – and the rest of its range – with an optional Midnight Edition design package. It adds style, sure, but there’s still little substance still to be found.
At $32,425 as tested, the Midnight Edition is one of the priciest options in the Frontier range. The base model starts at just $18,990, and an equally matched SV Crew Cab (on which the Midnight Edition package is based) costs $29,540 before options. But if you want an comparable Colorado with a crew cab body and a V6, it will cost you $34,995. If you want a double cab Tacoma SR5, it will set you back no less than $34,540.
It’s not nearly as well equipped, but the Frontier Midnight Edition is probably the most affordable “special edition” in its class.
The hastily applied Midnight package can’t hide the Frontier’s 14-year-old design. It’s ancient. The blacked-out accents and new 18-inch wheels definitely give it a more-aggressive look, but the boxy, straight angles and big halogen headlights are too plain for this competitive class.
But the Frontier isn’t completely unattractive. The V-Motion grille is a good look, and the flared fenders give it a nice stance. Plastic cladding on the bed, side steps, and on the front fascia add an extra element of ruggedness as well. And the backside, though plain, is hard to hate.
Being a pickup, the Frontier gets a pass for not having as lush a cabin as some of its SUV or sedan counterparts. But it’s still very outdated. A sea of grey plastic covers the dash, steering wheel, and center console. A silvery plastic finish around the infotainment screen and gear shift lever attempts to add some flair to the otherwise conservative cabin, but it’s just as unattractive.
The vertically angled steering wheel is off putting, the square styling on the center console is old-school, and the many knobs and dials feel like they could come off in my hand. At least the cloth seats are super comfortable, both front and back. And there’s a lot of storage; a removable set of storage compartments are located underneath the rear seats and the locking dual glove box offers a lot of space.
Don’t expect modern features on the Frontier – this truck is almost devoid of tech. The Midnight Edition, which builds on the mid-range SV trim, doesn’t add any functional equipment. Apart from a five-inch screen – which is now standard for 2018 – you get basic features like AM/FM and satellite radio, standard air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, and Siri Eyes Free.
The Nissan Frontier’s age doesn’t mean it’s not fun to drive, thankfully. It has a lot of torque – the optional 4.0-liter V6 produces 281 pound-feet of it – and the dynamics of the chassis are superior to some modern competitors. It doesn’t lumber around nor feel as sluggish as the Toyota Tacoma, for example. Full-time four-wheel drive and an approach angle of 31.5-degrees (best in class) makes it capable, too. And with a tow rating of 6,370 pounds, it’s close to the Tacoma (6,800 pounds).
But 261 horsepower is the lowest power rating in class, 1,350 pounds is also the lowest payload rating in class, and the five-speed automatic is ancient. Nissan does still offer a six-speed manual, but not on this trim.
The Nissan Frontier doesn’t have any modern safety features. Nada, zip, zilch. That’s sort of expected on a truck this old, but still not great considering what competitors in this class do offer. Toyota just updated its Tacoma with standard Safety Sense P (pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, radar cruise control). There’s a backup camera – which will soon come standard on all vehicles anyways – a rear parking sensor, and that’s about it.
At 15 miles per gallon city, 21 highway, and 17 combined, the Nissan Frontier is the least fuel-efficient vehicle in its class. That number gets a bit better with the four-cylinder engine (17/22/19), but the Honda Ridgeline (18/25/21), Tacoma (18/23/20), and Chevy Colorado (17/24/29) are all better.