On the Road Review: Nissan Frontier PRO-4X



A decade ago, Ford bowed out of the compact pickup truck class in America and devoted its resources to its top-selling F-series trucks. That left Toyota’s Tacoma, the Nissan Frontier and GM’s twins — Colorado and Canyon — as the sole offerings in a class that was stagnant.

The Tacoma saw modest changes during the ensuing 10 years, while the Frontier soldiered on virtually unchanged for 17 full years before the revised truck before you debuted earlier this summer. I think it safe to say that the automakers get the full depreciation on their small truck tooling before improvements are instituted to aging designs.

Despite being long in the tooth, the previous Frontier sold consistently. Nissan made the price attractive, while the reliability held up well in a market segment with respectable loyalty numbers.

Buyers looking for wholesale changes will be surprised to find some familiar Nissan pieces throughout, while the exterior styling and interior design have been thoroughly modernized — successfully.

Our pre-production PRO-4X CrewCab model (S trim starts at $28,990 while PRO-4X is $37,240 base, $44,315 as shown in Tactical Green Metallic) came with the full portfolio of features. Fender flares, skid plates, locking diffs, Bilstein off-road shocks, beadlock 17-inch wheels and red tow hooks ensure some superior performance when the road ends, while PRO-4X interior pieces include unique carpeting, decals, badges and leather embossing, LED lighting and a painted front grille. You also get a full-size spare, dual zone climate and special screens and apps with the PRO-4X.

Nissan’s Tech Package, $990, includes lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear sonar parking assist, rear automatic braking, intelligent cruise and traffic sign recognition — which isn’t much help during inclement weather.

PRO convenience brings spray-in bedliner, LED bed lighting and power outlet, heated steering wheel and mirrors, heated front seats, remote engine start, trailer hitch setup, plus surround view monitor — which is a huge aid during bad weather.

If you must, the PRO Premium Package adds Fender Premium audio with 10 speakers, leather seating, auto-dimming mirror, premium door and console trim, power sunroof, plus the aforementioned beadlock wheels.

Despite the upgrades, there is no telescoping steering column and no auto-mode selection in the 4WD transfer switch — omissions that you might find curious.

Tow capacity is 6,720 pounds (less than several rivals), but maximum load capacity jumps 10 percent to 1,610 pounds.

First impressions; the steering wheel is weighted at low speeds and light at higher speeds, which is generally the opposite of most designs, however the tracking and general driving feel is vastly better than the top-selling Tacoma. Cabin comfort is also better, with more head room, a higher seat and easier access.

Power comes from a 3.8-liter V-6 with 310 horses on tap — plenty of verve to propel this 4,500-pound workhorse down the road swiftly. The nine-speed automatic, a big upgrade over the previous transmission, shifts smoothly yet when cruise control is activated struggles to hold top gear — something that the driver can easily handle for best fuel economy. EPA estimates are 18/24 mpg, against a witnessed 22 mpg.

The Frontier’s stance makes pickup bed access much more user-friendly than any full-size pickup. You can reach into the bed and retrieve or place items without stretching, plus under-rail lighting, locking tailgate and several tie-down anchors help your hauling tasks. You can opt for two pickup beds, just under 5 feet long or a tad over 6 feet, with extended cab four-door and CrewCab currently the only bodies.

The cabin refinement is the largest improvement, other than the much more modern stance. The seating is very good, the cabin is quiet and the driver-friendly controls, a mix of large knobs, dials and buttons versus limited touch-screen use, is as close as analog fans are going to get in the new digital world. The large console offers wireless charging and USB ports, while the Nissan preference for locating lots of rocker buttons on the lower left of the dash out of your line of sight remains.

Cleaner look, much-improved cabin, better driving dynamics and much more content, the new Frontier is long overdue. Is it enough to fight off Gladiator, Ranger, Tacoma, Colorado and a host of new car-based pickups? We will soon see.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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