There is no way to get around it; the Nissan Frontier is an ancient truck. The current D40-generation truck has been with us since 2004 with almost zero major change aside from a single facelift six years ago. In that same time frame GM released the all-new Colorado and Canyon trucks, and then moved onto a second-generation model. Ford built, upgraded and then killed the Ranger in the US market. The only competitor that had a truck as old was Toyota, who started selling its all-new Tacoma last fall. In short, the Frontier is the oldest truck in the class by more than a decade, but is it still worth your money?
The only real highlight to the 2016 Frontier over last year’s model is a trio of new colors, and the movement of some options like a sunroof to lower trim levels. That said, the new Forged Copper color here on our tester looks great, and it gives the truck a slightly more contemporary look. Otherwise, it’s business as usual.
In fact, business as usual is the best way I can think to describe this pickup. Under the hood you will find the same 4.0-liter V6 that has been in the truck for years, and it is still making the same 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque. That isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, the engine in the Frontier has been handily outclassed by others in the segment, but it still feels appropriate to the truck. It has enough torque to move the truck with a full load in the bed, and the horsepower is plentiful enough to make sure the truck can tackle any highway passing maneuver you would ask of it.
The motor also lends itself well to off-road use, which is good considering this particular truck came loaded up as a Pro-4X model. When you see Pro-4X on the side of a Frontier, just know that it comes prepped from the factory to destroy any terrain you point it at. Along with the V6 and an electronically controlled 4WD system, the Pro-4X increases its off-road abilities with a custom Bilstein suspension and a selection of rugged metal skidplates to protect the greasy bits from jagged rocks on your favorite trail. Those plates cover the fuel tank, oil pan, and the transfer case.
If the road ends, just reach down and flip the switch to set the transfer case into 4wd and dig in. There is also an electronically locking rear diff if the trail gets really difficult. Just don’t expect the trip to be cheap. The fuel economy rating for the Pro-4X is 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. I averaged about 17 during my week with the truck. When you can get a full-size truck that can beat that fuel economy, it starts to become an issue. The overall price tag is also a problem with the Frontier. This truck will run you $33,000 if you want to own the Pro-4X package. That is not a lot of money in today’s truck market, but that price is just $2,000 shy of getting a Durmax equipped Colorado which will beat the Nissan in both towing ability and fuel economy. It’s also $2500 shy of Toyota’s Tacoma TRD off-road.
This is the definition of stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The truck itself feels a bit large and top-heavy, but it feels sturdy and sure of itself. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. This is not a luxury truck, and it is not built to be a great commuter. It is built to be filled, towed with and beaten on. All the rough and cheap plastic trims panels inside and out are there because its wears well. It can handle the kind of abuse that truck owners should be putting their machines through. Everything has been chosen and used because it should last, wear well and be easy to clean. This is a truck with a purpose. In today’s world that feels a bit at odds with what the market wants, and other companies are finding better ways to bridge the compromise between functionality and refinement, but it still works. Regardless of how many times I drive this truck, I always still seem to love it. It’s endearing to me in a special way I have a hard time explaining.
This is the third time I have reviewed a Frontier, and each year the truck gets older and the competition gets better, but I still love the Frontier. There is something special about the older and more rugged feel of this machine that is missing in some of its contemporaries. In a world where everything is focused on ride comfort and refinement, having a truck that feels like it was built with real human hands to be as rough and tough as possible is a nice contrast. Trucks are built to be work machines. These are things that are created simply to “do” and instead we have morphed them into impractical luxury cruisers. The Frontier needs to get better. It needs better drivetrains, it needs a drastic update to its interior, but I hope they don’t lose that special roughness that makes this truck so endearing in the process.