2010 Nissan Frontier
Base price: $17,540 – $29,740
As tested: $28,785
MPG: 15 city/19 highway
- Off- and on-road capabilities
- Powerful V-6
- Well built
- Plasticky interior
- Poor turning circle
- Abysmal fuel economy
By Jim Prueter
(Since little of substance has changed with this model, this 2008 review has been updated to cover model years 2009 and 2010)
Frontier chosen as a Top Pick for 2010
Completely redesigned for 2005, Frontier was so completely new the only thing unchanged was the name. It looks so much like its big brother, the Nissan Titan, it was often mistaken for one during my week of test driving.
No wonder, Frontier is larger than its predecessor inside and out and is even built on Nissan’s “F-Alpha” platform, which it shares with the Titan, Armada and the Pathfinder, also all-new in 2005.
Frontier has been around since 1958 and was the first compact pickup on the market. Of course it wasn’t always known as a Frontier; it started out as the Datsun pickup, then the Nissan, which became the Hardbody, and finally the Frontier.
The 2005 Frontier was significantly wider and taller than the previous model with a wheelbase nearly 10 inches longer and almost six inches longer overall, making it one of the largest trucks in the class. Only the Dodge Dakota is bigger.
Outside the “Little Titan” appearance is unmistakable, with the same wedge profile, angled two-bar chrome strut grille and vinyl trim around the tailgate release. Gone (thank goodness) is the wide plastic wheel-arch cladding featured on previous Frontier models.
For 2009, the Frontier received a minor face-lift to the exterior, featuring redesigned front fascia, headlamps and grille. The exterior trim — bumpers, mirrors, door handles — received a body-colored monochromatic appearance. There were two new colors for ’09 — brick red and navy blue — and one, night armor, for 2010.
Frontier has many of the same innovations found on the Titan, including the optional, factory-applied, sprayed-in bedliner. Frontiers may also be had with an Utili-Track system that consists of five moveable grooves or channels in the bed on both the sides and bottom, along with heavy-duty tie-down cleats to secure cargo. Tailgates are equipped with a door-style lock.
For 2010, the Frontier is available in two four-cylinder 4x2 models: XE with a five-speed manual transmission or SE with your choice of the manual or a five-speed automatic. It is also offered with a 4.0-liter V-6 engine, in either a 4x2 or 4x4 model in three trims — SE, LE or PRO-4X — with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The PRO-4X off-road was added for 2009, but is really the previous Nismo model with a new name.
The Crew Cab is offered in SE, LE, and PRO4X models, in regular or long bed body styles. Frontier Crew Cab SE models are offered with either six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, while Crew Cab LE and PRO-4X are available with the five-speed automatic transmission only.
All Frontier models come with four doors. The rear doors on the king cab are hinged in back opening “clamshell” style while the crew cab doors open forward like those on a sedan. King cab versions feature flip-up rear jump seats with headrests, while the crew cab has a full-size bench.
There are a total of 13 king cab and 14 crew cab configurations for 2010.
Frontier is larger overall and the added exterior dimensions make for a much roomier cabin. The interior, however, has a bit of an economy look because everything is hard plastic.
Front seats are comfortable, but for a tall driver the seating position is too high; my line of vision was mostly through the sun tint on the upper part of the windshield. Rear seat room in the crew cab is limited, but adults can fit if the trip isn’t a long one. The dash and gauges are well laid out and easy to use. Controls for the climate control system are large and straightforward. You’ll find plenty of cupholders for both front and rear seat passengers.
For 2009, we drove a 4x4 SE Crew Cab with four doors. The 261-horsepower V-6 provided plenty of power but suffered an abysmal 15 miles per gallon overall fuel economy. The ride, however, was extremely quiet, rattle free and surprisingly sedan-like but firm enough to handle sharp cornering with a sense of control.
What I have always liked about the Frontier is its capability on an off-road course where I tested the 4x4 suspension and traction capabilities. Steep hills, deep ruts, sand, and pebbled desert were handled with aplomb.
But not all is well driving the Frontier. The turning radius is among the worst of any vehicle we have driven, making parking a consistent three-point maneuver. Frontier seems to take acres to turn a circle and you can forget about just pulling into a parking spot at the shopping center. You’ll need to pull up, back up and then finish the job.
Safety-wise, all Frontiers are equipped with standard four-wheel disc antilock brakes. Front-seat side-impact airbags and curtain airbags that provide side-impact and rollover protection for front and rear passengers were optional for 2009 but are included as standard equipment for the 2010 model year. Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) is also standard for 2010 V6-equipped models, and Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control are now standard on all SE and LE 4WD automatic transmission-equipped models. In government crash tests, Frontier earned four out of five stars for driver and passenger protection in front impacts, four stars for rollover protection and the highest five stars in side impacts.
Available options and packages include the XE Preferred Package, SE Power Package, Value Truck Package (SE, LE and PRO-4X only), moon roof package (crew cab only) Technology Package and Traction Package (4x4 automatic transmission only).
Anyone in the market for a mid-size pickup would be advised to take a good look at the Frontier. Nissan offers a lot of content for the money and has the largest engine in its class, a roomy interior, advanced off-road systems, innovative cargo bed features and bold, tough looks. Frontier felt solid and seemed well built with excellent fit and finish.