2022 Nissan Frontier First Drive Review | Return from the wilderness

2022 Nissan Frontier First Drive Review | Return from the wilderness

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Nissan should make a new midsize truck more often. Turns out, the company is good at it. Waiting 17 years for a new Frontier is a rather unforgivable period of time — yes, the last time we had a new Frontier was in 2004. However, that doesn’t take anything away from the new 2022 Nissan Frontier, because it’s a damn good pickup.

How good, you ask? After a first go-round behind the wheel, it’s safe to say the new Frontier is officially on a level playing field with every other midsize pickup, and it’s reaching for a podium spot.

Nissan started this pickup renaissance with a full-scale redesign. The truck looks like a knockout in photos, but it looks even better up close and in-person. You can’t go wrong with either a standard model or a PRO-4X when it comes to aesthetics, either. All of them have a tall, squared-off nose with a big, but still reasonably-sized grille. It looks mean and capable, but not like it’s about to tear your head off and scare small children away. Bold and bright daytime running lights give it the modern edge that a 2022 pickup deserves, with LED headlights available starting on the SV. And the bulging fenders help complete the package in a rugged way that only the Toyota Tacoma has been able to capture. And yes, there’s no denying the Frontier’s resemblance to the Taco, but don’t mistake it for a copycat. Put the two next to each other, and the Frontier has a distinctive look and shape.

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Those modern looks deserve a modern powertrain to match. Like most in this segment, Nissan has a big, naturally aspirated V6 ready for duty. Specifically, it’s a 3.8-liter V6 that makes 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. That’s technically more horsepower than anything else in the segment, but don’t get too excited — everything feels about the same when it comes to straight-line speed here. The engine was actually dropped into the previous-generation Frontier for one model year before moseying over into the new truck, and we’re glad to meet it again. Paired with this V6 is a nine-speed automatic transmission that’s pulled from the Titan.

Admittedly, to Nissan’s own disadvantage, it selected northern Utah and an elevation of more than 6,000 feet for the Frontier's first-drive press launch. It’s not possible to say how strong this engine will feel closer to sea level, but acceleration is not brisk in the mountains. As it stands, the low- and mid-range power is rather meek, and the forward thrust only starts to come on stronger toward the top end.

The nine-speed is a lovely partner when you’re just casually cruising around town, but it’s not so smooth and smart when called upon to change down multiple gears for a quick passing maneuver or steep hill. There were a few rough shifts, and the speed at which it responded to throttle prodding was a bit disappointing. There’s a one potato, two potato wait after getting on the throttle, and then you get a downshift.

One area that offers few disappointments is its new ride and handling, thanks to the upgraded frame and new suspension components. And yes, we do mean upgraded from its 17-year-old predecessor and not totally new – you can read a deep dive here on Nissan’s justifications for heavily modifying the truck’s current bones instead of building a totally new platform. It’s fitted with new urethane jounce bumpers, new hydraulic cab mounts (claimed 80% reduction in road vibration), a larger front stabilizer bar and a newly added rear stabilizer bar. The steering is still hydraulic, but is re-tuned to be 16% quicker than before. Plus, the PRO-4X and PRO-X models are fitted with new off-road-tuned Bilstein dampers. The non-PRO models get newly developed ZF dampers.

All of these additions have transformed the Frontier into a top-notch riding and handling pickup. Potholes and rough roads are handled with aplomb — yes, it rides better than a Tacoma. This applies to both the Bilstein-equipped and ZF damper-equipped pickups, as the difference in on-road ride is minimal. Plus, it doesn’t fall apart when you decide to throw it at a twisty mountain road, which you’re likely to do if you use the Frontier for its intended adventuring purposes. Steering is fairly high-effort at low speeds — no modern variable-ratio electric rack here! But it comes into its own once you get up to speed, and it’s especially good when you’re off-road.