In the first four months of 2016, Japanese manufacturer Nissan had sold 28,904 Frontier mid-size pickup trucks in the United States, an increase of 15.9 percent over the January-April period in 2015.
Considering the renewed interest in mid-size pickup trucks since the recent introduction of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, and a major makeover for the Toyota Tacoma, that hike may not seem so surprising.
But, here’s the kicker: the Nissan Frontier has been soldiering on with the same basic design since its introduction in 2004 as a 2005 model. The last significant upgrade dates back to the 2009 model and the next one is not expected anytime soon.
Actually, Nissan may be smart to stick with its proven product. When you think of it, there aren’t many ways you change a pickup truck’s basic design. You can introduce more efficient powertrains, you can upgrade the suspension for a more comfortable ride, you can add new technology and you can even make it look a bit more modern. But, the basic work-truck functionality remains the same.
The vehicle supplied for my inspection was the 2016 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X with a crew cab, V-6 engine, automatic transmission and 4-wheel drive. In addition to its every-day tradesman duties, it is tough enough to take its passengers on rugged off-road adventures.
Rugged off-road adventures were not on my to-do list, so I must judge the Frontier on its on-road prowess, where I suspect most Frontiers will spend the bulk of their time anyway.
Power for the test truck was supplied by a 4-liter V-6 engine that produces 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Teamed with a 5-speed automatic transmission, that’s enough power to propel the Frontier and a driver from a stop to 60 mph in about 8 seconds.
The engine is not quite as smooth as more modern V-6 powerplants, but I don’t think that should be any real cause for concern. A more important downer is the way it gulps gasoline. The EPA estimates the Frontier will get 15 miles per gallon of regular unleaded fuel in the city and 21 mpg on the open road. In 200 miles of traveling alone over mostly suburban roads and four-lane highways, I averaged just 16 mpg.
The Pro-4X comes with a standard 4-wheel-drive system that operates in three modes: 2-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive high and 4-wheel-drive low. It also comes with hill-start assist, hill-descent control and a locking rear differential.
Traction is enhanced with 16-inch off-road alloy wheels and knobby all-terrain tires. Off-roaders will appreciate the 8.9 inches of ground clearance and the skid plates that allow rock crawling without damage to the undercarriage.
For a body-on-frame truck built for adventures in the outback, the Frontier has a surprisingly comfortable on-road ride. Attribute that to the suspension —- independent double wishbones in the front and an overslung multi-leaf setup at the back wheels —- combined with Bilstein off-road high pressure shock absorbers.
The speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering is predictably numb, and the 43.33-foot turning diameter makes maneuvering in tight spaces an unpleasant chore. The strong brakes have vented discs at all four wheels.
For those who plan to use the Frontier for towing, the Pro-4X can haul up to 6,100 pounds of boat or trailer.
Inside, the Frontier’s seats are comfortable for the two front-seat passengers, but the story is different in the second row. The space is tight and the seats are low, meaning tall passengers (two preferably, three in a squeeze) will find their knees approaching their chins.
The standard bed is about 5 feet long and 18 inches deep. Its width varies from 44.4 inches between the wheel wells to a maximum of 61.4 inches. In all there are 27.1 cubic feet of cargo space.
The Frontier’s safety features include airbags, side curtains, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and electronic brake-force distribution.
Included in the 2016 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X base price of $32,690 are cruise control, premium 10-speaker audio system, Nissan Connect infotainment system with navigation and mobile apps, a 5.8-inch color touch screen, voice recognition, available satellite radio, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, Ipod connectivity, rear-view camera and audible warning sensor and dual-zone climate control.
The Pro-4X Luxury Package ($2,100) includes leather upholstery, power driver and front passenger seats that can be heated, heatable outside mirrors, power sunroof and a roof rack with cross bars.
Add $135 for floor mats and the $885 delivery charge and the suggested retail price comes to $35,810.
Yes, the interior looks dated, the touch screen is relatively tiny and the steering slow and heavy. But, despite its age, the Frontier can still get the job done, on road or off.
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