ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 14-year run is an eternity in the automotive business, but that’s how long Nissan’s Frontier midsize pickup truck has survived with only occasional updates.
Meanwhile competitors, old and new, have unleashed modern entries. Toyota continues to move boatloads of its best-selling Tacoma. General Motors is successfully peddling modern versions of its Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins. After a lengthy hiatus, Ford is reviving its much-missed Ranger in an Americanized version of a truck it has been selling in foreign markets since 2011.
Jeep is getting in on the action with its upcoming 2020 Gladiator pickup, companion to the all-new 2019 Wrangler SUV. Honda has re-entered the sector with a second generation of its Ridgeline sports-utility truck. South Korea’s Hyundai is preparing to join the fray with a pickup of its own. Even Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz are close to pulling the trigger on trucks.
So as action in the segment reaches a boiling point, and in order to remain a major player, it’s obviously way past time for Nissan to unleash a redesigned truck. It looks like just such a truck will be hitting eager dealerships as a 2020 model.
In the interim, the venerable Frontier soldiers on virtually unchanged for 2019. The good news is that despite its age it remains a solid and diligent workhorse with plenty of positives, including capable performance, decent on-road manners, and a palatable pricing structure.
Our 2019 Frontier tester, an off-road-ready Pro-4X Crew Cab 4×4, was powered by Nissan’s stalwart-but-dated 4.0-liter twin-cam V-6 providing 261 horsepower and a robust 281 pound-feet of torque. Transferring power to the wheels is a lazy-shifting, antediluvian five-speed automatic transmission, shy a couple of cogs compared with more modern gearboxes.
With its fully boxed, stiff frame, a Crew Cab Pro-4X can tow a solid 6,290 pounds and haul up to 1,039 pounds in its truncated 5-foot cargo bed (a longer, 6-foot 1-inch bed is available on some crew-cab models). So the Frontier won’t shy away when work duty calls.
The Pro-4X package ups the off-road ante with 16”x 7” alloys wrapped with chunky, P265/75R-16 all-terrain tires; upgraded Bilstein dampers; skid plates protecting oil pan, fuel tank, and 4×4 transfer case; and an electronically locking rear differential. Even with this gear, the Frontier rides relatively smoothly on all but the roughest pavement.
There are two areas where the Frontier falls woefully behind its modern competitors. Most noticeable is the cabin, which is dressed in hard plastics, decade-old styling and shy of numerous features and tech found even on many of today’s economy cars (a telescoping steering wheel, for example). An optional ($2,100) Premium Package did dress it up a bit with leather upholstery, power/heated front bucket seats, dual heated outdoor mirrors; and power sunroof. The four-door Crew Cab’s design, though, shortchanges rear riders with minimal legroom and a split fold-down back seat that requires occupants to sit bolt upright.
The second major demerit is the Frontier’s fuel craving. Its penchant for regular-grade gasoline — EPA rated at 15 mpg city/21 highway — is more in line with today’s full-size pickups. Much of the blame must be attributed to that outdated five-speed automatic transmission and strong but gruff V-6.
The Frontier remains a still-competent midsize pickup that delivers solid, purposeful performance. If the latest gadgets and gizmos are low on the list of gotta-haves, the 2019 Pro-4X Crew Cab 4×4’s honest work ethic might just fit the bill.