A built-up Frontier on a budget.
There’s no point in sugar coating it: the Nissan Frontier is an old truck. This generation of the Japanese brand’s pickup reaches all the way back to 2005 and hasn’t seen any major changes in the last decade.
Despite this, the Frontier sells better than you might think. In fact, Nissan sold 7,000 more Frontiers in 2018 than it did in 2005. Let that sink in. Although Nissan seems to ignore the Frontier, it’s still an important part of the company’s profitability puzzle. And it’s because of that role that Nissan recently unveiled the one-off Destination Frontier, bringing an outdoorsy spin to the company's aging pickup.
Ignore the hokey name. The Destination Frontier packs all the tools for exploring the outdoors while appealing to a very specific audience. Overlanding, a term growing more common each year, combines off-roading and camping. The activity demands a rig that can tackle obstacles and also accommodate overnight passengers in relative comfort. In simple terms, the idea here is to throw your gear into the truck and travel off the grid for a weekend (or longer).
The hobby has grown rapidly enough to spawn, the Overland Expos, a pair of events that bounce between Arizona in the spring and Virginia in the fall. Nissan built the Destination Frontier for the former, but rather than pull the cover off the truck and move it to the company’s booth at Overland Expo West, just south of Flagstaff, Nissan let us exercise the one-off show truck. The Frontier joined a convoy of other Nissan off-road vehicles, including specialty versions of the Armada SUV, Titan pickup truck, and NV passenger van for a run through northern Arizona to see Nissan unveil the Ultimate Parks Titan. Such a trip demands a robust vehicle, and luckily the Destination Frontier is just that.
While some overland builds take things to the max with six-figure price tags and jaw-dropping options lists, the Destination Frontier is relatively tame. According to Nissan, the truck includes roughly $10,000 worth of additional parts, meaning the whole package is theoretically available for around $40,000 out the door. Or roughly the cost of a well-equipped Nissan Titan XD.
The Destination Frontier packs all the tools for exploring the outdoors while appealing to a very specific audience.
The Destination Frontier packs the core essentials for overlanding. Starting from the bottom, there are American racing wheels wrapped in 33-inch Nitto tires and a three-inch Nisstec lift kit. Meanwhile, Hefty Fabworks bumpers, skid plates, rock sliders, and a bed rack give the Frontier an imposing presence on the trail. And to complete the overland experience, Nissan added a CVT rooftop tent, Dometic refrigerator, and Baja Designs auxiliary lights to the Destination Frontier.
With just 261 horsepower and a dated five-speed transmission, the Frontier is already at a disadvantage next to newer and more powerful competitors. And let’s not forget the added weight from the accessories, which don’t improve matters.
But even with 33-inch rubber wrapped around its wheels and the added kit the truck never felt too hindered off-road. The Frontier’s biggest struggle is on the highway. With winds topping 45 miles per hour as I drove back to camp, each and every gust made the tall truck feel like a leaning tower of Frontier. Desert winds aside, the Destination Frontier was an otherwise willing companion on the beaten path.
Alas, Nissan has no plans to sell the Destination Frontier. Likewise, the company won’t stock the truck’s various off-road and overland-friendly parts at its dealerships. However, overlanders wanting a similar rig can easily build a truck with similar capabilities. While rumors persist that a new Frontier is on the horizon, the Destination Frontier, even with its old bones, is a wonderful reminder that a simple, affordable pickup is sometimes all you need to go out and play off the grid.