Ten years ago, the Toyota Tacoma outsold the Nissan Frontier roughly three-to-one. These days, it’s slightly more than six-to-one. And, of the seven midsize pickups currently for sale in the U.S. market, the Frontier outsold only the Honda Ridgeline and GMC Canyon. The Jeep Gladiator, Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger and the previously mentioned Tacoma, all outpaced the Frontier with sales of at least two-to-one.
It’s no wonder.
The Frontier remained mostly unchanged for 16 years. Given it takes three-to-five years for automakers to develop a new vehicle, the Frontier’s current engineering is close to 20 years old. How long ago was that? Well, George W. Bush was president. So, the arrival of a redesigned Frontier is more than welcome and long overdue.
Buyers can opt for a Crew Cab in S and SV trim with a 5-foot bed, or an SV with a 6-foot bed. Rear-wheel or 4-wheel drive is offered with both trims. In addition, Nissan also offers the Crew Cab in off-road-oriented PRO-X with rear-wheel drive, or PRO-4X with 4-wheel drive. For those needing more space, the King Cab with a 6-foot bed is offered in S and SV trim with rear-wheel or 4-wheel drive.
The Frontier’s designers took no chances with its appearance, inspired by the 1986 Nissan Hardbody pickup, the first truck designed by Nissan in San Diego. “I really like is the cleanliness of that design,” said Hiren Patel, project lead designer at Nissan Design America in San Diego. “Every panel has a purpose, and the look of toughness to it even though it’s a small truck.”
Patel took the lessons of that truck and endowed the new Frontier with a handsomely chiseled exterior design eschewing trendiness for timelessness. Yet it seems completely modern and up to date. There’s little of the childish video game affectation that pollutes too much modern car design, particularly from Japan.
Opting for the PRO-4X model adds three skid plates, off-road suspension tuning with an electronic locking rear differential, Bilstein off-road shock absorbers, LED lighting, and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels with 265/70R-17 all-terrain tires and PRO-4X badging. All models get a dampened tailgate, bed tiedowns two standard cargo bed lights standard. LED lights are optional.
A factory-applied spray-in bedliner, locking tailgate, under-rail lighting, rear step-bumper with a provision for a ball hitch, and bed-mounted track system are available, as are up to 80 accessories, including a hood graphic, step rails, bed-mounted audio system, and a bed-mounted sport bar.
As you might expect, a cloth interior is standard; all Frontiers — save the S model — can be fitted with leather trim when the optional Premium Package is ordered. The overall ambience is sensible, yet deceptive. It doesn’t look as if it’s adorned with the latest tech, even though it is. That’s because Nissan designers were careful to make key controls operatable while wearing gloves. This is why the 9-inch touchscreen has knobs for key audio functions. Similarly, the climate controls are simple knobs and buttons.
The cab is spacious, with good room up front and surprisingly spacious room in the rear. Storage space is abundant, including second row under-seat storage as an option. Materials seem to be of a noticeably better of a better quality than before. Feeling durable but not too fancy or upscale, it’s in keeping with this truck’s personality. Still, you can spoil yourself by equipping your Frontier with heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
Regardless of trim, all Frontiers get the same driveline: a direct injection 3.8-liter V-6 and 9-speed automatic transmission with rear-wheel or part-time, shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel drive. The engine was all-new for 2020 and carried over for the new model. Trailer Sway Control is standard on all models, but trailer braking is not offered. Towing is rated at 6,720 pounds and payload is rated at 1,610 pounds.
Hill Start Assist is standard on all models, and Hill Descent Control is standard on 4-wheel-drive models. Frontier Pro-4Xs get an electronic locking differential, Bilstein off-road shock absorbers and underbody skid plates.
Safety and Technology
As would seem fitting for a vehicle that changed little in 16 years — something its clientele have come to expect — forward collision warning is the sole standard driver assistance safety feature. Others are part of the Nissan Safety Shield 360 package, which includes Rear Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind-Spot Warning, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane-Departure Warning, High Beam Assist and Rear Automatic Braking. Neither NHTSA nor IIHS has crash tested the Frontier.
Yet there’s plenty of tech, including standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and optional Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless charging, although both are standard on the Pro-X and Pro-4X. All Frontiers come with one Type-A and one Type-C front port, and two front 12-volt outlets. Buyers can also opt for a 110-volt outlet in the rear seat and the bed.
A 10-speaker Fender audio system is optional on all but the S trim level. An 8-inch infotainment touchscreen is standard, a 9-inch touchscreen is optional. Nissan’s new user interface is standard, and is far easier to use than past systems, and proves to be quicker as well. An Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection and Off-Road Mode is optional.
With 315 horsepower available under your right foot, there’s more than enough power to make the most of the daily drive through clogged arteries and pokey parkways. Short interstate onramps aren’t a concern. The 9-speed transmission is a little too fuel conscious at times, so you’re frequently asking for power in hilly terrain, even though the power is there. The solution? Shift for yourself; it’s far more fun anyway.
If you’re used to the current Frontier, little will prepare you for the refinement of the 2022 model. Even in Pro-4X trim, the Frontier doesn’t exhibit excess body motion over bumps, yet the ride remains very comfortable for a boulder-bashing pickup. It’s surprisingly civilized, even when you’re driving somewhere that isn’t. Steering is responsive and perfectly weighted, and body lean is minimal for its class. The cabin remains quiet, even off-road, with little wind noise and a less commotion emanating from the road.
Once the sidewalk ends, you’ll find the Frontier retains its finesse. The shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel-drive system includes a 4 low position when you need it. Paired with hill descent control, it makes traversing extreme slopes a breeze. While the Frontier doesn’t have selectable trail modes, skilled off-roaders won’t miss them. This truck has just the hardware you need to get the job done.
The Pro-4X we drove was a pre-production unit, and did exhibit a bucking sensation almost like fuel starvation while off-road in certain uphill circumstances. Nissan engineers attributed it to a glitch in the driveline software. Company officials admitted they experienced it in testing, and it has since been corrected, but wasn’t in our test vehicle. Consumer models may still be affected by it.
The 2022 Nissan Frontier is an artful update of a pickup that has spent far too much time frozen in time. Given its clients welcome a certain timelessness and no-nonsense approach to their trucks, Nissan has succeeded in updating the Frontier with the latest and greatest, but without being too obviously modern.
Nissan calls the new Frontier “right-sized.” It certainly seems that way compared to full-sized pickups sized like garden sheds. With the Frontier, Nissan has delivered a remarkable update. It isn’t flashy, but its capability and overall competence will quickly win you over.
2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X — Frequently Asked Questions
Should I wait for the 2022 Nissan Frontier?
Yes. The 2022 model is completely redesigned, with only its driveline carrying over, and that was reengineered for 2020.
Is a Nissan Frontier worth buying?
Yes. The new truck is an up-to-date midsize pickup with all the mod cons you’d want, and with prices starting at less than $28,000.
Is the Nissan Frontier reliable?
Repairpal.com gave the Frontier a 4.0 out of 5 rating for the Frontier, ranking Nissan at ninth out of 32 for all car brands. Consumer Reports ranked the previous model as having average reliability.