Nissan finishes off the Frontier after last year's new engine with a new exterior.
Interior is loaded with the connectivity buyers crave.
Nissan better do something as Frontier sales plunge like a truck off a pier.
The mid-sized pickup segment has been getting crowded lately. Not too long ago that there was just the Ranger, the Tacoma and the Frontier, but then came a new Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon and even something called a Honda Ridgeline. So things got competitive. You could understand why Nissan’s Frontier sales were slipping, as the Frontier hadn’t been significantly redesigned since about 2005. But when a new 3.8-liter V6 sporting a class-leading 310 hp came into the Frontier a year ago, sales didn’t increase at all but instead actually dropped almost 50 percent.
What the heck was going on?
Let’s back up… all the way to the dawn on the mini truck. Nissan (then Datsun) pretty much introduced the compact pickup segment to the U.S. with the 22o model in 1962. By the 1970s a decent segment had built up with the Ford Courier, Chevy Luv, Dodge Rampage, and Toyota Hilux. There was even a Mazda Rotary and a Subaru Brat. Heck, Volkswagen was in it for about a minute with the Rabbit Pickup. For low-budget youth and small-business tradesmen of the 1970s, life was good. There were even truck clubs that flourished around these cute little utilitarian haulers. Some put camper shells on the back and enjoyed almost as much prestige as the custom van guys of the day. And everyone had a CB radio with a whip antenna. (Whatever happened to the Simi Valley Mini Truckers, anyway? Anybody still out there modulatin’?)
The segment evolved recently from compact to mid-size as it became obvious that no one wanted anything quite as small as a mini truck, and now things are really taking off. Depending on who’s measuring it, the compact segment is running at about 650,000 or so sales per year, a figure that looks ready to maintain itself through at least 2025.
So what has Nissan done to save itself? As we said, last year Nissan added the mighty, class-leading, completely redesigned 3.8-liter V6 engine, sporting 310 hp and 281 lb. ft. of torque, enough to garner a 6,720-pound tow rating. That’s 32 more hp than Tacoma, 40 more than Ranger and two more than Colorado/Canyon. It’s about mid-pack on torque with 281 lb ft.
It wasn’t enough.
So for 2022, Nissan has revised the Frontier’s frame and redesigned the outside, while loading up the interior with all the features buyers today crave.
Outside, Nissan says the look was “inspired by” the Nissan Hardbody pickup of the 1980s. But when you look at it you’re more likely to see inspiration from today’s full-size and even heavy duty pickup trucks from the Detroit 3. Everybody sees different things, but the slab-sided, concrete-block look suggests the new truck is trying to break out of its class and move up. Indeed, while it maintains the same 126-inch wheelbase, the overall length has increased four and a half inches, most up at the front end. The bed walls of the pickup box are taller. The Frontier’s lead designer Hiren Patel said it has a “solid-block main volume, powerful blister fenders, mechanical interlocking volumes and integrated toughness.” Those are the four food groups of truck toughness. I boldly predict buyers will like these new dimensions, thinking they’re getting more truck for the money.
The fully boxed, high-strength steel frame is a “heavily revised version of the existing frame,” Nissan said, adding that the frame has been improved throughout its 16-year life. The truck gets new hydraulic cab mounts, along with new sway bars and urethane jounce bumpers. Steering is not EPS, but rack and pinion, with a faster ratio that is said to be 16-percent quicker. The goal is best-level ride and handling, said product-planning VP planning Jared Haslem.
Inside looks almost like a concept truck, at least in the photos they showed us, with bright red-orange trim around the grab handles and bold shapes throughout. The all-important touchscreen comes in at eight inches diagonally across as standard, and nine inches in upper trim levels. There’s four liters of center console storage and room for things throughout. There’s WiFi for over-the-air updates and two 110-volt outlets.
“Being in Nashville we had to have the Fender premium audio,” said Haslem. The nine-speaker system, “really bumps,” he added, without explaining exactly what that meant.
The truck comes in two- and four-wheel drive, in Crew and King Cab configurations. There are four trim levels: S, SV, PRO-X and PRO-4X. The latter two look pretty cool, with Bilstein off-road shocks, and fender flares hiding 265/70R17 tires. The PRO-4X models also get three skid plates underneath and an electronically locking rear diff.
Pricing will be announced closer to the car’s on-sale date this summer, but current Frontiers range from $27,885 to $38,485. Expect the new truck’s pricing to cover the competition, which ranges from the lower-to-mid-20s to the mid-to-upper 30s. But Nissan has said there will be no price leader model.
“As we developed this truck the base truck (of the previous year) was not a huge seller,” Haslam said.
But the new model’s mighty and muscly look will surely draw in new buyers looking for bargain beef.