The Nissan Frontier is long in the tooth, with almost no changes for 2016, which puts it at a disadvantage against its competitors, the all-new Toyota Tacoma and one-year-old GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado.
The current-generation Frontier was introduced as a 2005 model and updated for 2009. A redesign is expected for 2017.
Still, the Frontier with its solid virtues holds its own against the new Tacoma. Meanwhile, the GM trucks have driven to the top of the heap in performance, dynamics, comfort and economy and now the option of a turbodiesel.
The sheetmetal still looks fresh, but climb inside and the truck shows its age with hard plastic trim and an upright seating position. It comes as a King Cab or four-door Crew Cab having good rear seat space, with a short or long wheelbase.
Two engines are available: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 152 horsepower or a 4.0-liter V6 making 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Each offers a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. Three models get a six-speed manual, including the PRO-4X for rugged terrain.
The rear-wheel-drive four-cylinder is fine for someone who owns a pickup because they sometimes need to carry big things, but it’s not beefy enough for real truck work. And it’s not much cheaper or more fuel-efficient than the V6, which is much more powerful and is available in a 4×4.
The Frontier gulps gas. The four-cylinder rates an EPA-estimated 19/23 mpg City/Highway, while the 4×4 V6 rates just 15/21 mpg.
The 2015 Frontier earned top marks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in its crash tests, for moderate overlap front-impact, side-impact, and roof strength.
The 2016 Nissan Frontier comes in five trim levels: S, SV, SL, Desert Runner and PRO-4X. But with so many combinations of powertrains, cabs and wheelbases, you can find a whopping 27 models to choose from.
The PRO-4X is the full-on offroad version, Desert Runner is the rear-wheel-drive version designed as a pre-runner type truck and easier to drive on the street.
On the higher models, the standard infotainment system links to smartphones. Options include a sprayed-on bedliner, tie-down cargo system, and a Crew Cab package with dual-zone climate control, plus trailer hitch and bed extender.
Nissan designers did a good job, long ago, with the Frontier. It has a timelessness to its pickup truck shape, buff and brawny with swelling fenders, even as a mere midsize, so it doesn’t look too dated when compared to its shiny new competitors, especially the square-jawed Canyon. It’s timeless because it’s about function. The grille, however, looks like an afterthought.
The cabin is simple and clean but feels old, lacking the charm and warmth of the GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado. Compared to other trucks, it feels less substantial and shows its years in its hard plastic.
Acceleration is weak from the four-cylinder, as it struggles to hit highway speeds.
The V6, however, is downright fast when unloaded, and easily handles heavy weight in the bed. It’s rated to tow up to 6500 pounds, with either the manual or automatic transmission that does a good job with the engine’s power and torque.
A midsize truck maneuvers better than a full size, and the Frontier’s suspension keeps the body under control pretty well, but the ride can get choppy on a rough road.
Go for the V6 if you need a real truck, but unless you can get a smoking deal on a 2016 Frontier, wait for the redesigned version, or check out the Chevrolet Colorado.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection, words by Sam Moses.