Whether you consider the 2019 Nissan Frontier as being true to form or far outdated, its size, shape, and torquey powertrain bring a truckful of purposefulness that’s been lost on some newer competitors. There are several areas, though, that could have benefitted from a bit of continuous improvement. Are those areas a big deal? Maybe not in terms of truck function, but they detract from a sense of overall value and quality.
Price and Features
This 2019 Nissan Frontier is spec’d with the large V6, five-speed automatic, four-wheel drive, and the PRO-4X trim with the Premium Package. Body-colored front and rear bumpers, body-colored and heated mirrors, auto headlights, fog lights, 16-inch wheels, and a roof rack are highlights of the exterior. The short bed receives a spray-in lining, a lockable tailgate, and a large flat spoiler surface which also hides the rear camera. Inside, the leather seats are heated with eight-way power adjustment for the driver, the steering wheel and shift knob are wrapped in leather, and dual-zone air conditioning and a sunroof provide an additional level of comfort. A small and highly reflective 5.8-inch touchscreen includes navigation and SiriusXM while Aux, USB, and Bluetooth are additional connectivity options. The premium stereo includes 10 speakers, including a subwoofer, and has plenty of power but lacks clarity at high volume.
The truck’s off-road package also brings upgrades to the chassis in the form of Bilstein shock absorbers, a locking rear differential, hill-descent control, and additional skid plates underneath.
For an out-the-door total of $37,500, the Frontier packs a fair level of features, though the execution of these features challenges value of them – for example, flipping up the rear seat cushion is a two-handed affair, the auto-headlights lack an “On” indicator, and active safety equipment may have to wait for the next generation.
The Frontier features advanced airbags and powerful brakes with force distribution but there are no active safety systems available beyond the mandated backup camera and stability control. IIHS scores the Frontier as Marginal in the demanding narrow-offset crash and Good is the moderate overlap barrier. The headlights received a rating of Poor. NHTSA awards frontal crash scores of just 3/5 and 2/5 stars for the driver and passenger, respectively.
Style and Size
The small overall size of the Frontier is a big part of its charm. It’s the same width as most compact crossovers while its crew cab and five-foot length bed extend it beyond any non-full-size vehicles but still fits in normal sized parking spaces.
Inside, its tidy dimensions feel on par with its competition for rear leg room (read: tight) though headroom is good for all seating positions. Storage space inside is good with a split-level glove box and pockets for miscellaneous items. Style-wise, there isn’t much in terms of imagination or newfound boldness. Controls are logically arranged, and most are easy to reach. The exception being the window switch placement on the driver’s door which requires a cross hand operation or a t-rex moment with the left hand.
Power and Efficiency
The gritty 4.0-liter V6 and 5AT deliver a robust launch off the line and can easily pull ahead of traffic. While the powertrain is not as technologically advanced as its competition, the combination works well and always acted predictably. The downside is fuel efficiency, where the truck’s 17 mpg is a bit of a tough pill to swallow considering the modest peak power ratings of 261 horsepower @5600 and 281 lb-ft ft at 4,000 rpm. The EPA estimates 15 mpg city, 21 highway, and 17 combined.
This particular Frontier configuration can haul 1,020 lbs in the bed and tow 6,290 lbs, though the towing package is extra.
The part-time four-wheel drive system is recommended only in low traction situations while the traction control fills in when tire spin unexpectedly occurs.
Ride and Handling
The traditional strut front and leaf-spring rear suspension deliver a controlled ride as far as pick-up trucks go with little side stepping over mid-corner bumps but body roll is significant. While not as softly sprung as the Tacoma, the Frontier’s much slower steering puts an end to any notion of driving enthusiasm. The brakes feel up to the task of bringing the truck down from speed and the gear shifter allows for easy gear selection and control. Outward visibility is good with the cab’s short dash and boxy window lines though the seating position feels as low as a typical crossover.
The Frontier is a capable truck born to satisfy yesterday’s customer demands. The truck handles the expected truck duties without hesitation but everyday duties, less so. In today’s world of integrated systems and higher quality expectations, this Nissan feels a step behind the times – pickup truck or not.