2016 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4WD Review by Carey Russ
It's the go anywhere, do anything comfortable pickup
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Nissan Research and Buyers Guide
Deja vu all over again? Researching this week’s 2016 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab pickup, I saw that the last time I had driven one was in early 2008. At which time I wrote the following: “Timing is everything. My week with a Nissan Frontier Crew Cab LE pickup in 4x4 trim coincided with the first serious storms of the season. Heavy rain, strong winds, deep standing water, and streams crossing the road were the order of the day. The Frontier was the perfect vehicle for those less than lovely conditions.”
The week before last saw a triple-digit heat wave; this past week saw the first rain of the season, when all the summer grime and slime rises to the surface of the roads. Change “2008” to “2016” and “LE” to “Pro-4X”, and rearrange trim levels and standard equipment — the sturdy and solid Frontier hasn’t changed much over the years. And there’s no reason for it to change as it fits its mission well. Nissan had the first compact pickup in the country back in 1959. Timing is everything — its Japanese domestic market-spec 500-pound payload and 37 horsepower didn't exactly make a dent in the American market. But when compact pickups gained popularity after the fuel crises of the 1970s, Nissan was well-placed. It had the first long-bed compact truck in 1975, and the first extended cab - called "King Cab" by Nissan - in the small truck field in 1977. In 1998, the Nissan pickup got a name - Frontier - and in 1999, the Frontier became the first small crew cab truck offered for sale in the U.S.
Today's Frontier is the culmination of all of that Nissan truck history and more. It’s offered in King Cab and Crew Cab form only. Lower King Cab trim levels come with a 2.5-liter, 152-horsepower four-cylinder engine; higher King Cab and all Crew Cab models have Nissan’s 4.0-liter V6. Its 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque gives the Frontier King Cab towing abilities of 6500 pounds in 4x2 trim or 6300 4x4, with the Crew Cab good for 6300 4x2 and 6100 4x4. It’s big enough to be called midsize now, not compact — but with that size and power comes space and towing ability. And off-road ability, with minimum clearance under the front axle of 8.9 inches, with 10.1 at the rear. The Pro-X models have factory steel skid plates under the oil pan, transfer case, and fuel tank — useful protection against road debris as well as rocks and stumps and ruts on the trails.
Changes to the Frontier in the past few years have been minor. Outside, virtually nil other than colors and small trim items. Inside, ditto, but Nissan has added electronic convenience, safety, and connectivity items. Jack and USB connections for external audio players and USB connectivity are standard in all current Frontiers, with Nissan Connect midrange and Nissan Connect with navigation at the top, including in the Pro-X.
The Frontier Crew Cab Pro-X is a personal-use vehicle more than a work truck, for active outdoors people. Interior space is equivalent to a compact sedan, with a much larger trunk, and the rear seat cushion folds up for interior storage. The five-foot short bed is small for use as a camping bivouac, but the short-wheelbase Frontier is more maneuverable than the long. No, you can’t fit a motorcycle or personal watercraft in that bed — but a trailer is much easier to load. You can fit bicycles and all sorts of outdoor equipment. The Frontier is a useful tool.
APPEARANCE: Rumor has it that a restyle or at least freshening is coming, but style is less important for a truck than a luxury car. The Crew Cab short-bed Frontier is functional but ruggedly handsome, and is proudly a truck, with the cab getting equal billing with the bed. The venerable “angled strut” grille defines the front. Bumpers can be either body-color or chrome depending on the model; the Pro-X gets body color. The tailgate can be locked in all models, a good security feature.
COMFORT: Anyone who has ever been subjected to the torture that was a compact-truck rear jump seat will appreciate the Crew Cab's rear rear seat, and if it's not holding passengers the cushion can be flipped up or the back flipped down, both with a 60/40 split, for extra, and secure, inside storage space. There is even a little storage space, and a first-aid kit, underneath. Up front are two good sport buckets. They have heated cushions at Pro-X level; the optional Pro-X Luxury Package adds leather, power adjustment for both front seats, heatable outside mirrors, a sunroof, and roof rack. So-equipped, it seems to nice to get seriously muddy or dirty. The leather-rimmed steering wheel has audio, cruise, and phone controls. Interesting it’s tilt-only. Instruments are black-on-white, with orange lighting at night, and easily visible with no glare issues. Audio choices here are AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, plus CD (including MP3 and WMA formats) and a jack and USB port in the console box. Dual-zone climate control works quickly. Useful interior storage abounds, with storage and drink bottle space in all doors, open storage on the console, and a deep console box. There’s even a small tray at the center of the instrument panel, and the glove box locks. The full-size spare tire is in the standard truck position, under the rear. A spray-in bed liner and the Utili-Track™ C-channel moveable tie-down system are standard in the Pro-X.
SAFETY: Zone Body construction, with front and rear crumple zones and built-in passenger cabin protection, the Nissan Advanced Air Bag System with dual-stage front, front seat-mounted side and ceiling-mounted full-length side curtain airbags, and four-wheel antilock vented disc brakes with dual-piston front and single-piston rear calipers are standard on the Frontier Crew Cab.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The Frontier is a real truck, with body-on-frame construction and a solid rear axle suspended on multi-leaf springs. Front suspension is independent, double wishbone and coil springs. The frame is fully-boxed, so commendably rigid. The Pro-X comes with high-performance, high-pressure Bilstein gas shocks and 265/75 R16 tires on alloy wheels. It’s tuned for off-road ability, and initially feels high and soft compared to a car. Especially with the blocky all-terrain, all-season tires on my test example, it won’t corner like a Z or a GT-R — but those cars won’t get too far on bad pavement or a rutted dirt road. The high-profile tires add an air-shock effect, with the result that the 4x4 Frontier is quite comfortable in everyday use. Its four-wheel drive system is the real deal, meant for part-time use in inclement conditions, with both high and low ranges. Rear wheel drive is the default; four-wheel drive modes can be switched into on the fly. An electrically-controlled rear locking differential is standard in the Pro-X. The short-bed Crew Cab has more weight over the rear wheels un-loaded than a long-bed regular or extended-cab truck, but care still needs to be taken when applying power on a slippery surface. And painted street signage wet and slippery with the season’s first rain counts as slippery. Gentle throttle control keeps the Vehicle Dynamic Control system happy.
PERFORMANCE: If the design specs for Frontier's 4.0-liter V6 sound familiar - dual overhead cams with continuously-variable cam phasing, aluminum alloy construction, 24 valves, etc... yes, it's a Nissan VQ-series engine, cousin of that found in the 370Z. Here it's tuned more for low- and midrange torque, but it still likes to rev. And with 261 horsepower(at 5600 rpm) and 281 lb-ft of torque (at 4000 rpm) getting to the ground by means of a five-speed automatic transmission, the Frontier has no problem merging into traffic. Towing capacity with 4WD is 6100 pounds, so if it doesn't fit in the bed, hook up a trailer. With a weight around 4500 pounds, fuel economy is not going to be too high. EPA ratings are 15 mpg city and 21 highway; I got 16 overall. That was all in 2WD. In 4-lo, plan accordingly.
CONCLUSIONS: In 4x4 Pro-X trim, the Nissan Frontier is a good vehicle for anyone who needs to go almost anywhere, in comfort and with useful space and towing ability.
2016 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4WD
Base Price $ 33,390
Price As Tested $ 36,525
Engine Type aluminum alloy DOHC 24-valve V6
Engine Size 4.0 liters / 241 cu. in.
Horsepower 261 @ 5000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 281 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 125.9 in. / 205.5 in.
Curb Weight 4561 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 17.5
Fuel Capacity 21.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P265/75R16 118T Hankook Dynapro AT-M m+s
Brakes, front/rear vented disc all around, ABS and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / solid axle and leaf springs
Drivetrain longitudinal front engine, part-time dual-range 4-wheel drive
Ground Clearance 8.9 inches at front differential minimum
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 15 / 21 / 16
0 to 60 mph est 8 sec
Towing Capacity 6100 pounds
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Floor Mats - 3-piece set $ 135
Pro-4X Luxury Package — includes: Leather-appointed seats with Pro-4X logo, 8-way power-adjustable heated driver’s seat and 4-way power heated passenger seat, dual power and heated outside mirrors $ 2,100
Destination Charge $ 900