The Nissan Frontier – like the Ford Ranger and the Toyota Tacoma and the Chevy Colorado – used to be a compact-sized truck that almost anyone who wanted a new truck could afford to buy, because its base price was less than that of almost any new car.
Today’s Frontier – like the Ranger, Tacoma and Colorado – is almost full-sized truck (by the standards that used to define a full-size truck) and fewer can afford it, because it costs more to start than many new cars.
Does that mean it’s a bad truck?
Not at all.
What It Is
The Frontier is Nissan’s no-longer-compact-sized pick-up.
Though smaller than the enormous Titan (and other current super-sized half-ton trucks like the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado) the Frontier has about the same footprint as a full-sized truck used to. It also comes standard with more horsepower than most full-sized trucks used to offer.
Like the others in its class, it comes only in extended (king cab) and crew cab styles; none of the currently available no-long-compact-sized pickups are available with a regular cab – and just two doors.
Prices start at $29,190 for the base S trim King (extended) cab with a six foot bed and 2WD; adding the available 4WD system bumps the MSRP up to $32,390.
The Crew Cab is also available in in Pro-X ($36,100) and top-of-the-line Pro-4x ($38,720) trims. These models come standard with Bilstein shocks, a locking rear differential, a 10 speaker upgraded audio system, dark-anodized wheels with all-terrain tires and other functional and cosmetic upgrades.
All trims come standard with a 3.8 liter V6.
What’s New for 2023
A Midnight Edition is available (crew cab only) that includes black interior accents, black-anodized wheels, LED headlights, fog lights and running lights.
Does most of what used to take a full-sized truck to do (such as carry five people and pull almost 7,000 lbs.).
Costs less than a super-sized truck.
Comes standard with a V6 (Colorado and Tacoma come standard with fours; Ranger comes only with a turbocharged four).
What’s Not So Good
It’s almost a full-sized truck, just like the Ranger, Tacoma and Colorado.
Unlike many full-sized trucks, it’s not available with a regular cab – most crew cabs are only available with a short (five-foot) bed.
It costs thousands more than a compact-sized truck used to cost.
Because it is a nearly full-sized truck (and weighs more than a full-sized truck used to) the Frontier comes standard with a 3.8 liter V6 engine. And this engine makes 310 horsepower, which – for reference – is more than twice as much horsepower as came standard in a 1989 Ford F-150. The latter came standard with a 4.9 liter in-line six that made 150 horsepower; the ’89 could be optioned out with either of two available V8s, the most powerful being a 5.8 liter (351 cubic inch) V8 that made – wait for it! – 240 horsepower.
This was enough to power a 4,118 lb. work truck, which is what most trucks were once designed to be. The new Frontier is capable of work but it is also a luxurious truck – by the standards that once applied to luxury cars. It comes standard with climate control AC and power everything.
The ’89 didn’t.
But, it’s why the ’23 weighs 4,473 lbs. For the 2WD king cab version. A crew cab with 4WD weighs 4,773 lbs.
Hence the standard V6.
The old Frontier – which was a compact-sized truck – weighed just 3,240 lbs. That’s why it was able to get away with being powered by a 2.4 liter four cylinder engine that made only 143 horsepower. This Frontier (last made in 2004) got better gas mileage – 20 city, 24 highway vs. the new Frontier’s 18 city, 24 highway – and you could get it with a five speed manual transmission.
The new Frontier comes only with a nine speed automatic.
On the other hand, the old Frontier came standard with a max tow rating of just 3,500 lbs. – which is less than half the new Frontier’s standard 6,700 lb. maximum tow rating. And the old Frontier needed about 10 seconds to achieve 60 MPH with its standard four cylinder engine. The New Frontier can do the same run in about 7.5 seconds. This is also much quicker than an ’89 Ford F-150.
But there is a price to be paid for all of this. Literally as well as figuratively.
Back in ’04, you could buy a new Frontier for $13,490 – which, even adjusted for almost ten years’ worth of inflation – works out to just $22,265 today. The New Frontier costs about $8k more to start.
On The Road
Driving a compact-sized truck like the old Frontier was (still is, if you still have one) easier than driving the new Frontier, which is very much like driving a full-sized half-ton truck from about 20 years ago that’s more powerful and aggressive-feeling than those were.
It moves when you push down on the gas pedal, for one thing. The compact trucks you can’t buy anymore generally didn’t – especially the models like my ’02 Frontier that have the standard four cylinder engine. But there is the compensatory fact of being able to shift for yourself, which is something you used to be able to do in most trucks – because hey, it’s a truck. They also used to have shifters for the 4WD system. Now they have buttons or maybe knobs.
Some don’t even have those; it’s all automatic now.
There is one very noticeable difference between these new almost-full-sized trucks and the super-sized half-tons of today.
It is width.
The new Frontier is more than a foot longer than a late 1980s F-150 but it is about half a foot narrower than a new F-150 and other current 1500-series trucks. The ’23 F-150 is 95.7 inches wide (95.7 inches if you count the outside rearview mirrors). These wide-load half-tons ought to be led by a pilot car with flags and flashing lights to warn people about them coming.
It’s not quite that bad. But it’s close – sometimes.
On narrow country roads, the new F-150 and others of its class take up pretty much all the road. Or rather, the lane. There is almost no room to spare in between the yellow line to your left and the shoulder to your right. If another of these wide-load behemoths is coming at you in the other land, smacking mirrors is a real possibility. They also take up so much space in a two-car garage there’s sometimes only space enough for one truck.
The new Frontier is still six inches wider than the old Frontier – but it’s not quite as wide a load as a new half-ton. Driving it – even on narrow country roads – you don’t get the feeling there’s very little road left. It also doesn’t take up so much space in the garage that there’s not much space left for anything else.
And – to be fair to the new Frontier and its kind – driving it is a lot like driving what used to be considered a full-sized truck vs. driving a compact-sized truck like the old Frontier. The new Frontier is substantial feeling – which the old compacts weren’t.
At The Curb
The old Frontier stood not much higher off the ground than a car. You didn’t climb in; you just sat down. But you also sat close – to whomever was sitting beside you. And there wasn’t room for anything in between – except for the gear-shift lever.
There wasn’t an “in back” – in the standard regular cab these little trucks used to offer. If you got the extended cab, you got a pair of folding-out jumpseats that were kind of like the “collapsible B” life-boats you’ve probably heard the Titanic carried. They were there for emergencies. If you got the crew cab, you could squeeze a couple people back there. But not comfortably and so probably not for long.
The new Frontier king cab comes standard with more useable back seats than the old Frontier had with four doors. In part because the new Frontier king cab has rear doors. But even more important, there are seats.
There’s also 26.2 inches of back seat legroom in the king cab, as opposed to (essentially) zero in the old Frontier extended cab. The new Frontier crew cab has 33.5 inches of backseat legroom – and there’s enough sideways room (due to the increased width) to seat three across.
If you want the six foot bed and the crew cab, you’re restricted to the long-wheelbase SV trim; also, the Pro-X and Pro-4X packages are only available with the crew cab (and short bed) versions of the new Frontier.
King cab versions come standard with a six foot bed.
One very nice thing about the new Frontier is that most of the “advanced driver assistance technologies” – including Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Automatic Braking – are optional on all trims.
You can also get a bedliner lighting system and an adjustable cargo tie-down system.
But you can’t get a new Frontier without a big LCD touchscreen in the dashboard. They all come with one now.
When it was still a compact-sized truck, the old Frontier was a truck almost anyone could afford. And that was because it did not come standard with power windows or locks, a six speaker stereo, 16 inch wheels, push-button ignition, an 8 inch touchscreen and a tilt wheel, all of which do come standard in the new Frontier. Plus the fact that you literally get more truck.
And more engine.
But, it doesn’t come cheap.
The new Frontier’s base price is comparable to the inflation-adjusted price of a fully loaded ’04 Frontier which was the last year you could buy a compact-sized Frontier. It’s nice if you can afford it – and assuming you want more truck.
No doubt some do.
On the other hand, Ford can’t build its new compact-sized Maverick fast enough to meet demand for the thing. It’s not a real truck, in the sense that it’s built on a car-type front-wheel-drive layout (with AWD available) and it’s a hybrid. But it is compact-sized and does fill the hole left by the disappearance (via-upsizing) of every other compact-sized truck people used to be able to buy.
And thus, it sells.
If Nissan were to bring back a compact-sized Frontier and offered it without power windows, locks and everything else – for about what the old Frontier sold for the last time it was available (adjusted for inflation, of course) would it sell better than this one?
It’d be interesting to run that experiment. Wait. Ford already did.
The Maverick is creaming the Ranger – which is a near-full-sized truck just like the new Frontier – that also stickers for about what it used to cost to get into a base-trim full-sized truck.
The Bottom Line
Bigger can be better – if bigger is what you need and you’re able to afford it.
If not, bigger doesn’t matter.
Even less so if you’d rather have smaller.
. . .
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