In contrast to the seemingly endless onslaught of new crossovers, the mid-size pickup segment likes to take its time evolving. None of the small(er) trucks on sale today offer anything groundbreaking in the way of technology, but customers still adore them.
The Nissan Frontier might as well be the poster child for the business-as-usual truck. The second-generation truck only recently left us after 15 or so years on sale with very few changes. And yet, with little in the way of updating since its debut in 2005, the old Frontier sold nearly as well at the end of its life as it did when new. Nissan hopes the new 2022 Frontier will continue this success (or expand on it).
While the old Frontier built its reputation on being an affordable, dependable work truck, the new model looks to push harder into the off-road enthusiast space, with its sights firmly set on Toyota Tacoma customers along the way. We spent time piloting the Frontier both on and off-road and came to the conclusion that is not by any means an unreasonable target.
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New From The Skin Up
We've only seen spy photos of the entry-level S trim and we're starting to think that's for a reason. Nissan wants all of your attention on the range-topping Pro-4X model, which it anticipates will be the volume-selling trim.
In this particular spec, everything about the Frontier's appearance conveys off-road prowess and an overall aggressive tone. That starts in the face with sharp, squared-off lines and a massive black grille with the truck's name proudly stamped at the top. Full LED headlights outlined in a boxier take on Nissan's familial lighting design adorn the front fascia, while a massive functional skid plate pokes out from beneath the front bumper.
Nissan wants all of your attention on the range-topping Pro-4X model, which it anticipates will be the volume-selling trim.
Your eye immediately jumps to the insanely bright lava red accents on the badges and tow hooks – and you better like them because they're standard on the Pro-4X. Against some of the more neutral tones the red looks nice but matched up against the Tactical Green paint on this tester, the whole thing looks like tacky holiday wrapping paper.
The front three-quarter angle is the truck's best, showing off some burly fender flares and all-terrain tires wrapped around dark gray 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels. Proportions are effectively the same as before, with this truck retaining the prior generation's frame and 126-inch wheelbase, although the truck is about 5 inches longer overall.
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Things in the bed are more jazzed up with a new tailgate design that features a very trendy “FRONTIER” wordmark stamped in the middle. The gate now comes with standard damping, so you can open the handle and let it fall gently. Other features like two LED lights, a spray-in bedliner, sliding tie-down hooks, and a tow bar come along with the $1,990 Convenience Package. The Frontier can handle up to 1,600 pounds of payload, which is right in line with what the Tacoma offers.
A Mid-size Interior Makeover
We've become quite accustomed to lavish full-size truck interiors, packed with nice leathers and beautiful wood grains. Mid-size pickups, on the other hand, don't offer luxury-rivaling cabins, but we shouldn't expect such things considering their lower cost of entry.
Inside the Frontier, black plastic is the main course, which dominates the center console and door panels. Cloth-equipped models break things up with the same holy-crap bright red accents from the exterior, but our leather-wearing test truck featured all black everything.
Inside the Frontier, black plastic is the main course.
There are eight cupholders (with four of those being large enough to take on giant 32-ounce water bottles), as well as class-leading space for your junk in the center console. Nissan put additional storage under the rear bench, which complements the oversized door pockets to fit more items.
The company's Zero Gravity seats come standard and offer tons of bum and back support, and in this truck's case come with optional two-stage heating. Space to sprawl out in either row is bang-on against the competition, and only the backset feels cramped, mostly due to its upright position. It's worth remembering, though, that the Pro-4X is only available with the larger Crew Cab body.
Nissan wiped the slate clean with tech, creating a new center stack that comes with an optional 9.0-inch touchscreen, which is the biggest in the class. A smaller 7.0-inch screen comes standard, and every truck includes wired Apple Carplay and Android Auto; Nissan says wireless connections may come at some point to match other products in the range like the Rogue and Pathfinder.
Additional features come sprinkled in the Frontier's three-tiered options pack structure. The cheapest $990 Tech Package brings lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control, which makes it a total no-brainer for that money. Things like a surround-view camera monitor and the 10-speaker Fender audio system are nice add-ons, but they're bundled in with other items and cost $1,990 and $2,790, respectively.
Hitting The (Off) Road
After staring at the Pro-4X's enticing off-road kit all morning, we were eager to get it dirty. But before that chance came later in the day, we spent some time on the gorgeous roads surrounding Sundance, Utah. On this stretch of mostly highway driving, we came to know how the truck handles itself as a daily driver, starting with its nicely sorted powertrain.
Nissan is shouting from the rooftops that the new Frontier's engine (which carries over from last year's model) is the most powerful in the mid-size segment, with the 3.8-liter V6 pumping out 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet. Indeed, this narrowly outdoes the 308-hp Chevrolet Colorado and jumps clear past the 278-hp Tacoma and 270-hp Ford Ranger – provided you're not considering the torque figure. There's a standard nine-speed transmission that sends power to either the rear or all four wheels, depending on if you tick the box for four-wheel drive.
Nissan is shouting from the rooftops that the new Frontier's engine is the most powerful in the mid-size segment.
On paper the Nissan is a trade-off against competitors, swapping efficiency for capability with a maximum tow rating of 6,720 lbs and a combined fuel economy figure of 19 miles per gallon. Closest rival Tacoma can tow a lesser 6,400 lbs, but it does one mpg better combined. A comparable Ford Ranger can tow the most with a 7,500-lb rating, and it matches the Frontier's 19 mpg combined.
Paper matchups aside and back in the real world, our first entry onto the highway allowed for a decent foot-down test, where we came away more than satisfied with how the Frontier got moving. Without any forced induction, you need to be higher in the rev range to feel the power, but momentum keeps coming and this V6 gets the job done. A turbocharged four-cylinder would probably do just as well and require less effort to get going with its better torque delivery, but there's nothing wrong with what's underhood in the Nissan.
Aside from the powertrain, the standout feature is on-road comfort. Nissan worked hard to reduce the overall noise and vibrations coming into the cabin – something that was a real problem in the old Frontier. The company added new hydraulic mounts beneath the cab, thickened the lamination on the glass, and chose specific tire compounds to make things more civil on the road. And while measures like this sometimes add up to nothing beyond marketing talk, in the Frontier they actually work well; this truck is night and day more comfortable than before (and better to live with than any of its competitors, too).
A series of twisty roads up a mountain would lead to our main attraction for the day, an off-road trail tucked neatly into a tree-lined landscape. In these final moments on the pavement, the Frontier didn't offer much in the way of impressive dynamic driving. Body roll was significant, despite the addition of a second stabilizer bar, and the brakes felt a bit overwhelmed slowing the truck from higher speeds. Nissan's decision to retain a hydraulic steering rack does offer a more gritty “truck-like” feel, but it comes at the cost of active safety features like lane-keep assist. That trade-off is not worth it, in our estimation.
Aside from the powertrain, the standout feature is on-road comfort.
Switching the Frontier into off-road mode is an easy process, and that's because it has no such thing. The only adjustments you need to make are switching to four-wheel drive and, if the terrain requires it, locking the rear differential or switching to low range. While this trail wasn't the biggest challenge for such a machine, we did appreciate how easy it was to modulate the throttle, getting over rockier sections with ease.
Sightlines are great over the hood and out the back, and if you're caught in a tighter section, turning the surround-view camera on is a nice cheat to make sure nothing gets scratched. Ditto the Pro-4X's bigger skid plates, which reach further under the truck's nose to protect the radiator and oil pan from any major damage.
During some of the downhill portions, we activated the hill descent control, which is a simple on/off switch. The system itself worked very well and eased the process overall, butNissan put the control switch way too low, down next to the driver's knee. This forces you to take your eyes off the trail just to make sure everything is on. Using the system also comes with one speed only, unlike the Tacoma or Ranger's versions that allow the driver to increase and decrease the speed.
There's a refreshing simplicity to how the Frontier handles itself off-road. Every driving aid is a single button-press away (even if some are hard to reach), though this precludes adjustability that could be helpful in more advanced terrain. That said, the Pro-4X is a legit option for any buyer looking to work some adventure into their usual routine.
The 2022 Nissan Frontier is a highly competitive truck at both the low and high ends of its price range. A bare-bones base model starts at $27,840, before the $1,125 destination charge, and comes standard with 310 hp. The Tacoma undercuts the Frontier by a grand, but its standard 159-hp engine is way down on what Nissan offers.
Our fully loaded Pro-4X starts at $37,240 and checks in at $44,315 with the aforementioned option packs and destination charge. Toyota's top-dog Tacoma TRD Pro starts at $44,325 before you add anything to it. Admittedly, the Taco features a few more off-road features and comes with a bulletproof reputation of reliability that in the past has been enough for most buyers to pull the trigger.
Nissan took its time (15 years, remember?) to make sure that it had a winning truck to enter the market. The Frontier is targeting the Tacoma and, to a lesser extent, the Ford Ranger and Chevy Colorado. Based on our earliest and somewhat brief impressions, the Frontier won.
Frontier Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2022 Nissan Frontier: First Drive Review
2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab