The 2022 Nissan Frontier Makes Something Great From Old Parts

Photo credit: Chris Perkins
Photo credit: Chris Perkins

The story of Nissan in this century is a peculiar one. In the early-to-mid 2000s, it released a ton of new products and subsequently grew sales volume to an incredible degree, all at the expense of profit. Lack of profit meant its products became increasingly uncompetitive, and eventually the company found itself in a crisis. The second-generation Frontier debuted way back in 2004, and soldiered on until last year without many meaningful updates. Perhaps the biggest change to the Frontier came for 2020 with the introduction of a new V-6, which is carried over into this, the third-gen truck.

To turn things around, Nissan is finally bringing exciting new products to market. Along with the new Z, Pathfinder, and Ariya electric crossover, the new Frontier is key to the automaker's attempted renaissance.

Nissan says the third-gen Frontier is "all-new," though it would be more accurately considered a heavily revised version of the old truck. Despite that unexciting approach, this is an extremely successful redesign. Nissan has pulled off something great here with limited resources.

Photo credit: Chris Perkins
Photo credit: Chris Perkins

Certainly, no one will confuse the new Frontier for its predecessor on the outside. This truck is modern and tough, without looking obnoxious or over-the-top. There are a lot of hints of the beloved Hardbody of the Eighties, and I can't be the only one who thinks Nissan should offer the retro three-spoke wheels it made for its Project Hardbody concept on the production Frontier. (And if Nissan was really cool, it would make a Frontier in homage to the Eighties SCCA SportTruck racer, though I suspect I'm one of, like, four people asking for this.)

Inside, it's more obvious that much is shared with the old Frontier. Again, it's not actually a bad thing, as the Frontier feels well built, with nice materials in this well-optioned Pro-4X tester, and an incredibly easy-to-use interface. Nissan's infotainment doesn't look all that fancy, but it's simple and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And unlike a lot of mid-sized pickup trucks, the Frontier is very spacious and comfortable inside, with Nissan's "Zero Gravity" seats a particular highlight.

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to test the off-road chops of the Pro-4X, which in addition to the requisite all-terrain tires gets new Bilstein dampers, skid plates, and an electronically locking rear differential. Those Bilsteins might've improved the ride quality on broken New York City streets, and though large imperfections can send a shock through the truck, the ride is generally very agreeable. Steering is shockingly heavy and with a somewhat quicker ratio than you'd expect from an off-road truck. Nissan made a bit of a show by highlighting that the third-gen Frontier retained hydraulic rather than electric power steering and, though that sounds like it could be catnip to enthusiasts who decry electric steering for lack of feel, an old 911 this is not. It's a truck, and it steers like one.

That new engine is fairly unremarkable, in a good way. It makes 310 hp and 281 lb-ft from 3.8 liters, and it's smooth, torquey, and unobtrusive. It pairs well with a Nissan-designed-and-built nine-speed automatic that, again, goes about its business without ever letting the driver know about it.

All in all, the Frontier offers a pleasantly refined driving experience, and I suspect it would be better on a more road-biased tire. Being a body-on-frame pickup, the Frontier is never going to be as smooth as a Honda Ridgeline, but it more than makes up for that with off-road capability and a much higher tow rating (6720 vs 5000 pounds).

Photo credit: Chris Perkins
Photo credit: Chris Perkins

The Frontier was the value play in this segment, though this tester stickers for $46,570—over $8000 more than the $38,415 base price. Even when you get rid of accessories like the $1095 Sport Bar and the $750 side steps, it still seems pricey. A similarly equipped Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 costs around the same, and offers even better ride quality thanks to its incredibly sophisticated and expensive Multimatic DSSV dampers. Plus, a fully loaded Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road is right around the $45,000 mark, too—if you can find one for sticker—and it's really hard to argue with that truck's residuals.

As with the rest of the segment, the Tacoma is probably the biggest thorn in the Frontier's side. In a lot of ways, the Frontier is a nicer truck to live with than the Tacoma, but how could you convince someone to not buy the truck that will likely run forever and holds its value like a manual-transmission Porsche GT3? Frankly, I don't think I could be convinced.

But none of that is to say that the Frontier is a bad truck. Quite the contrary. And hopefully sales of this and all of Nissan's other exciting new cars will be strong enough that the company can dig itself out of the hole it created and invest in more good stuff. A new GT-R is long overdue, after all.

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