Feeling old out of the gates
THE GOOD
  • New exterior styling
  • Relatively affordable
  • Gutsy 3.8L engine
THE BAD
  • Feels dated
  • Unruly driving behaviour
  • Low-res back-up camera

“It feels old!”

That was AutoTrader.ca Editor-in-Chief Jodi Lai’s three-word assessment after a day of driving the 2022 Nissan Frontier – not exactly a glowing evaluation of a truck that’s long overdue.

Now, she’s clearly of sound judgement; she hired yours truly, after all. Jokes aside, it was a startling appraisal of this pickup, but not nearly as startling as its accuracy. And while not all the inherent oldness of this new Frontier is worth fretting over, some of it certainly should give pause for thought.

Styling: 7.5/10

After looking largely the same since your humble author was in Grade 11 the Frontier has finally earned itself a new mug, and it’s – well, it’s different. Finished here in off-road-ready Pro-4X guise, with its exposed front skid plate and red recovery hooks, this midsize looks more like a concept vehicle than a production one. It’s undeniably stylish, though, and this could be the first time in the Frontier’s history that it’s actually capable of turning heads.

There is a noteworthy absence this time around, however. Gone are the fixed roof rails of old – a feature that enhanced both the form and function of previous Pro-4X models. The rest of this rugged rig looks the business, with thick wheel arch mouldings and a slick six-spoke wheel design to go with red badges front and back, and simple bedside stickers (assuming you skip the garish optional graphics). Finished here in Tactical Green Metallic paint ($300), the Frontier has genuine presence for the first time in nearly two decades.

Where the perceived age of this pickup starts to show is inside – not that it looks anything like it did before (and thank the car gods for that), but beyond the touchscreen on the dash it doesn’t look or feel very modern. While the red interior accents that are part of the Pro-4X package would add a welcome splash of colour at the very least, the addition of the Luxury package ($2,000) and its leather upholstery makes it a disappointingly dour space, with all of it replaced with black plastic and stitching.

Comfort: 6/10

Most of the materials inside are similarly dismal, with cheap and hollow plastics used for the dash and door panels. It’s not that it’s any worse than the stuff inside the segment-leading Toyota Tacoma, but it seems like a missed opportunity that Nissan didn’t try to outdo its opponent with something a little more upscale (it could be particularly problematic with a redesigned Ford Ranger on its way).

And while the driver’s seat itself is OK, its positioning has to be among the least comfortable on the market, with neck and shoulder pain setting in almost immediately due to the limited adjustability of the steering wheel. While the wheel tilts it doesn’t telescope, resulting in an awkward seating position while driving. Not all users are likely to experience such discomfort – for what it’s worth, Jodi, at 5-foot-7, didn’t have any issues – but those on the tall side should take note.

Ride quality is another area that this new-for-2022 truck feels decidedly dated, with an exaggerated tendency to buck back and forth over uneven or broken surfaces at speed. Even stretches of highway made of precast concrete slabs bring out the worst the Frontier has to offer, with an uncontrollable amount of seesawing as it goes along. Thankfully, it settles down on smooth surfaces, with the Bilstein shocks this Pro-4X trim is suspended upon providing good damping.

Driving Feel: 9/10

An area in which the Frontier’s age is a net benefit is handling, with its old-school hydraulic steering rack providing genuine feel and feedback (as well as a pleasant reminder of the way trucks once were). It’s on the heavy side, which means low-speed manoeuvres in parking lots or on trails are a good excuse to skip arm day at the gym, but it’s a nice system nonetheless that matches well with this truck’s overall demeanour.

Power: 9/10

Despite being just about brand new, the engine is another part of Nissan’s time-honoured approach to this midsize truck. It’s a 3.8L V6 that forgoes turbocharging in favour of natural aspiration. That means all its mechanical force – 310 hp to go with 281 lb-ft of torque, to be exact – has a progressive build-up rather than a sudden surge. The former makes this the most powerful pickup in the segment, while the latter peaks at 4,400 rpm and is delivered smoothly and steadily.

The nine-speed automatic transmission that connects it all to the Frontier’s standard selectable four-wheel drive system is prone to the occasional clunky shift, but it’s a pleasantly tactual powertrain that pairs well with the steering system to feel as mechanically connected as a modern vehicle can. Perhaps the only disappointment is the lack of an automatic setting for the four-wheel drive system, with only high- and low-range gearing instead. Ah, to have your cake and eat it, too.

Fuel Economy: 6.5/10

Although its official averages are in line with just about every one of its rivals, the 2022 Frontier isn’t especially efficient in real-world driving conditions. Over the course of nearly 400 km of truncated testing – the truck was returned three days early because of the neck and shoulder pain that resulted from driving it – the final tally came to 13.3 L/100 km. That the results were a litre worse than the official Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) figures isn’t unreasonable; those numbers are best-case-scenario. However, that’s 2.0 L/100 km worse than both the Toyota Tacoma Trail and Ford Ranger Tremor managed during testing, including some significant time spent off-road, while no such adventuring was done with the Frontier.

Features: 8/10

Where the redesigned Frontier feels just about up to modern standards is in its amenities, of which there’s a competitive assortment. While heated front seats aren’t standard, they come in the SV trim and up along with a heated steering wheel and dual-zone automatic climate control. Of course, power locks and windows are standard – although the rear sliding window that comes on all but the base trim is manually operated – as is remote keyless entry and push-button start.

A six-speaker stereo is standard, as is an eight-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections. Moving to the Pro-4X trim means upgrading to a nine-inch display and adding a wireless phone charger, among other touches (although neither smartphone connection is wireless). It can also be had with the Luxury package that was added to this tester, which includes leather upholstery and a 10-speaker stereo, among a few other items like an auto-dimming rearview mirror. But the good stuff is all the off-road goodies like the Bilstein shocks, locking rear differential, skid plates, and recovery hooks that make this a trail-ready truck right off the showroom floor.

Safety: 8/10

Nissan has also thrown a decent selection of standard advanced safety features at the Frontier, although it’s missing lane-keep assist. While the Ranger is the only midsize truck on the market to offer that driver-assistance technology, it seems like another missed opportunity that Nissan didn’t make it work (although given the way this truck gets pushed around by the wind, it makes sense that it’s not here).

Every Frontier trim comes with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, front and rear automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control. Again, the latter is best when paired with lane-keeping, but it works well enough here to be worth using on the highway.

Practicality: 9/10

Midsize trucks may not be as popular as their larger half-ton siblings in this part of the world, although they can handle plenty of jobs while being more easily manoeuvred in tight spaces and less of a hassle to park. In the case of the Frontier, payload capacity ranges from roughly 558 kg (1,230 lb) to 726 kg (1,600 lb), depending on trim, while it’s rated to pull anywhere from 2,844 kg (6,270 lb) to 2,935 kg (6,470 lb). Of course, just like any vehicle, it’s best to stay below those maximum towing numbers in the name of safety, while any weight in the truck itself will reduce what can be hooked up to the back of it.

The Frontier Pro-4X gains some ground clearance over the rest of the lineup, standing 249 mm (9.8 in) compared to 239 mm (9.4 in). That puts it in the same obstacle-clearing territory as the Ford Ranger Tremor and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, both of which are similarly off-road ready. The Pro-4X package can also be had with either cab-and-a-half or crew cab configurations, the former of which isn’t available south of the border, although the usefulness of the latter’s back seats is limited where adults are concerned.

While children should find the space in the back perfectly fine, your author’s 6-foot-3 frame far exceeded the accommodations provided, with nowhere near enough headroom (and barely enough legroom) to fit inside. The spec sheet is somewhat deceiving, too, because on paper the Frontier has more headroom than the crew cab Ranger, but in reality that’s simply not the case.

User Friendliness: 9/10

Perhaps the under-seat storage bin that’s part of the Pro-4X trim is part of the problem, providing some small-item storage at the cost of passenger space. Either way, the bin spans the full width of the bench except when the Luxury package has been added, with the included subwoofer residing beneath the driver’s side section.

Otherwise, small-item storage is decent up front, with a good-sized cubby on the centre console to go with a deep bin and a tray atop the dash. All the controls scattered around the driver make a lot of sense, too, with large and logical labels on just about everything, and big buttons and knobs for all the important stuff like climate, infotainment, and advanced safety. Outward visibility is also among this truck’s best attributes, with tall glass all the way around.

Value: 7.5/10

If there’s anything in the Frontier’s favour, particularly in Pro-4X guise, it’s relative affordability next to similar versions of the Ranger and Tacoma. Where the TRD Pro version of that segment-leading Toyota rings in at more than $60,000 before tax, this tester, with its Luxury package and premium paint job, registered at $51,748 before tax but including a non-negotiable freight charge of $1,950. Even the Ranger Tremor eclipses the $54,000 mark when that package is added to the comparable Lariat trim.

That the Pro-4X is available in a cab-and-a-half configuration also means there’s significant money to be saved. Not only is it priced nearly $2,000 cheaper than its crew cab sibling, but the upgrade package isn’t available, meaning it’s another $2,000 less than the truck seen here. All told, such a truck would have a pre-tax price of $47,848 including a paint upgrade. But then a similarly priced Tacoma doesn’t feel like it’s missing much of anything next to this Nissan even without a TRD package.

The Verdict

The 2022 Nissan Frontier looks and feels as if it was benchmarked against the segment-leading Toyota Tacoma, which is fine until you consider the fact that its leading rival came out in its current form more than six years ago. And even then, there’s nothing about the Frontier that makes it a better truck than the Tacoma despite the opportunity Nissan had to take the fight to Toyota.

Finally replacing a truck that’s half as old as your humble author gave Nissan an opportunity to do something big, but it decided to play it safe instead. That doesn’t mean this redesigned Frontier is a bad truck, although the driving behaviour certainly can be, as can the neck and shoulder pain caused by the lack of telescoping steering. It does, however, mean there’s an inherent oldness to this truck that makes it feel rather ordinary despite Nissan having nearly two decades to deliver something exceptional.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.8L   Model Tested 2022 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X
Engine Cylinders V6   Base Price $47,498
Peak Horsepower 310 hp @ 6,400 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 281 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm   Destination Fee $1,950
Fuel Economy 13.7 / 10.6 / 12.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $51,848
Cargo Space N/A  
Optional Equipment
$2,300 – Luxury package, $2,000; Tactical Green Metallic paint, $300