A truck is a special type of vehicle. These mechanical beasts of burden are designed to work; taking incredible amounts of abuse and asking for more. Recently however, trucks have become less work oriented and have grown soft. Even the most powerful trucks are available with leather and plush suspensions. The 2012 Nissan Frontier is not a luxury truck. The slab of metal and blue paint you see before you is without a doubt an old-school, four-wheel-drive, working truck.
Our Frontier is a Crew Cab 4×4 model powered by an iron-block 4.0-liter V6 making 261 horsepower and 281 lb/ft of torque. The motor feels coarse yet eager and propels the truck without issue. Our tester came equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission and two-speed transfer case for the AWD system. The whole package of running gear feels very dated, but solid. Fuel economy is the only serious weak point for the Frontier. Our truck is rated at 14 city and 19 highway, with us averaging around 15 during our time. Most full-size trucks can now beat these numbers, and it is a huge weakness in the current marketplace.
The interior of the truck has the same feeling. Our truck stickers for $29,085, but you will find no satellite radio, no leather seats and no fake wood across the dash. All that money goes towards features that make the truck more usable, not more comfortable. The rear seats fold up to reveal mesh covered storage bins for storing tools and other useful items; they also fold forward to create a large storage for larger objects. The front of the cabin features a large storage console and two glove boxes. The Frontier is not pure utility, with Nissan offering some amenities like an auxiliary port for the stereo and Bluetooth connectivity. The Frontier has been using this same basic interior design for many years and it shows. For being a brand new truck, we had several people comment that it felt almost ten years older than its manufacture date.
The seats are firm and supportive with the cloth feeling particularly robust. We do love the grippy texture, but worry about how much dirt and debris can collect in the large porous openings. The Frontier embroidery in the seats is a nice touch that is much more tasteful than the large sticker plastered across the exterior. All the controls feel like they were made by Tonka, large and robust. Aside from the size and construction, all the buttons are easy to find and actuate, a far cry from something like the Sierra Denali with its multitude of microscopic buttons.
Move to the exterior and you are graced with the few superfluous additions to truck. Our tester came with the SV Sport Appearance Package which added dark gray wheels, dark finish grille, body color bumpers, fog-lights and a huge Frontier strip down the side. We could care less about the sticker, but love the dark rims. The bed is short, even for a truck of this class, but it comes with built-in tie downs to increase its ease of use, and we were more than able to fit several bales of hay and still close the tailgate. If you need more space, Nissan offers a bed extending tailgate cage.
Our favorite part of the truck is how it feels. When you go to drive the Frontier it feels familiar. The ride quality is mildly harsh and bouncy with NVH levels being higher than would be acceptable by a modern-day sedan, but the truck is better for it. You never forget that you are driving a vehicle that has been designed to work. Steering is light and predictable and the short dimensions make parking a breeze. When driven under load, the Frontier does not squat or feel terribly burdened, it just noses forward and drives on.
If you are keen to leave the beaten path, a quick turn of the 4WD switch will get you moving up any muddy trail. With tires that we would call far from off-road worthy, we were able to traverse wet and mud covered hills with ease. The truck never missed a beat as we crawled skyward.
For reasons that may seem asinine, we absolutely adore this chunk of Metallic Blue sheet metal. It is crass, uncomfortable and thirsty, but above all else it epitomizes “truck”. We have strayed too far from the definition in today’s market with our high-dollar luxury trucks. We applaud Nissan for building a truck that feels like it has purpose and power. The Nissan Frontier is the best truck we have driven all year. It may not be as powerful or capable as many full-size competitors at its price point, but it doesn’t sacrifice usability for pointless luxury features. A truck owner should try to see how dirty he can make his truck in a day, not spend all day worrying if it is dirty. The 2012 Nissan Frontier 4×4 is that truck, and we love it.