Mid-size pickups have the luxury of not needing to be too, well, luxurious. As versatile, value-centric machines, they trade more on the fundamentals of truck use than the leather and tech niceties found in their full-size brethren. Sure, you can still get a bare-bones half-ton rig these days, but there are no air-spring suspensions and massaging seats in the small-truck segment, at least not yet. A prime example is the previous-generation Nissan Frontier, a humble workhorse that continued to sell well despite receiving only modest updates since 2005. While a redesign for the 2022 model year makes for major changes, the new Frontier is more of a modernization of the former Frontier’s proven, old-school formula.
We’ve already broken down the new Frontier’s specifications and model range, but we imagine the trucks we spent most of our time with in Utah will be a popular configuration: four-wheel-drive crew-cab models with the off-road-oriented Pro-4X kit. This being the top trim level, you’ll find all-terrain tires on 17-inch wheels, Bilstein dampers, skid plates, and an electronically locking rear differential, plus one of the nicer versions of the Frontier’s thoroughly revamped interior (new for 2022 is a two-wheel-drive Pro-X variant that looks similar yet does without some of the off-road gear).
You’ll have to move down the lineup if chrome trim is your thing, as the two crew-cab-only Pro models eschew shiny exterior bits in favor of a more rugged appearance with darkened trim and red accents throughout. Squint and you might mistake it for its main competitor, the Toyota Tacoma—we did, at first glance—but more than a few passing motorists on our drive spotted the truck from a distance, giving us the thumbs-up or waving us down for a closer look.
Brand loyalists who have been patiently awaiting this refresh will find a much improved, if familiar, pickup. Think of it as a remastered edition with better graphics, sharper action, and more features. The outgoing truck’s ladder-type frame carries over with several revisions, including stronger mounting points for the suspension, new bump stops, and hydraulic body mounts that better insulate the cab from the road. Coil springs remain up front with a conventional leaf-type setup out back. Along with revised chassis tuning and the addition of a rear anti-roll bar to go with a stiffer front unit, the result is a more refined, composed ride with well-managed wheel control, be it on road or off. Compared to the previous model, the new Frontier’s standard laminated front side windows help stave off wind and road noise on the highway. And the old-school hydraulically assisted steering, though a bit heavy at low speeds, is now quicker and more direct, as well as more prone to communication than many newer electric systems.
The new Frontier isn’t much larger than its predecessor, and its 19- to 20-mpg EPA combined fuel-economy estimates are pretty much the same too. Power comes from the standard 3.8-liter V-6 in last year’s truck. It makes 281 pound-feet of torque and a class-leading 310 horses, and pairs with a nine-speed automatic transmission. We tested this powertrain combo in the 2020 Frontier and found that it didn’t improve performance or efficiency over the previous 4.0-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic. That said, the 2022 Frontier’s acceleration feels adequate, and its naturally aspirated engine revs smoothly even when being worked hard, albeit without the low-rpm surge common to turbocharged powerplants. Given that the trucks we drove were pre-production units that lacked the final drivetrain tuning buyers will experience, we’ll hold off on a final judgment until we have a production-ready example to test.
Put to intensive use, the Pro-4X can bomb down fire roads and climb steep, rocky trails with relative ease. It’s no Chevy Colorado ZR2, but the Pro-4X’s off-road prowess comes with little compromise to its on-road refinement, and at $38,415 it costs about $7000 less to start than that Chevy. Although some shoppers may wish for a more advanced four-wheel-drive transfer case with a full-time Auto setting, as most full-size pickups have adopted, the Frontier has the driver switching from rear-drive to either a high- or low-range part-time four-wheel drive. Nissan claims that full-time four-wheel drive has not been a priority for its customers. Payload and towing capacities max out at 1610 and 6720 pounds, respectively, which aren’t tops in the segment but still sufficient for pulling and hauling most moderate loads. As with all less-than-full-size pickups, you’ll want to go big if you regularly plan to tow a car hauler or a larger camper.
The Frontier’s attractive new interior is both its greatest enhancement and most necessary update. Some reminders of yesteryear remain—a steering column that tilts but doesn’t telescope; the snug, upright confines of the back seat; and an elevated seating position that provides a towering view over the hood—but Nissan’s supportive Zero Gravity front seats are a revelation, and thoughtful soft-touch points and finishes effectively draw your attention away from the scattered chintzier plastics. A 7.0-inch display highlights the instrument cluster, and the intuitive touchscreen for Nissan’s latest infotainment system spans 8.0 or 9.0 inches, depending on the configuration. Ergonomics are straightforward, large storage cubbies are plentiful, and available nods to modernity include wireless device charging, Wi-Fi connectivity, and a 10-speaker Fender audio system.
Pricing for the 2022 Frontier’s entry-level S trim starts at $29,015—less than a grand more than last year—for a rear-drive, extended-cab model. Less expensive small pickups exist in the marketplace, but many are not as well equipped or limit you to a wheezy four-cylinder engine—or, in the case of the also-new Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz, are unibody SUVs with cargo beds. Fully loaded with leather, a heated steering wheel, and adaptive cruise control, Pro-4X models top out at less than $45K—an amount that sits just below the threshold where similarly outfitted full-size trucks become tempting alternatives. We’ll need to perform a comparison test to properly rank the new Frontier among its peers, but it strikes us as a solid update that keeps things simple. As the success of the outgoing model proved over what seemed like forever, simple still works for mid-size pickups.
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