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2012 Nissan Frontier Review

Mid-Size Monster Truck

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Nissan Frontier Truck Review

2012 Nissan Frontier Pickup Truck

Photo © Jason Fogelson
I used to love small pickup trucks. They're pretty much all gone now, replaced by mid-size pickups, which are almost as big as full-size trucks used to be. One of the toughest-looking mid-size trucks, the Nissan Frontier, soldiers on as the competition falls. The 2012 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4X4 SV carries a base price of $26,970 ($29,085 as tested) with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty and EPA fuel efficiency estimates of 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway. Let’s drive.

First Glance at the Nissan Frontier Truck

Frontier is available as a King Cab or Crew Cab configuration - there's no standard cab anymore. My test vehicle was a Crew Cab 4X4 SV with a Standard (59.5") Bed, not the most elegant or balanced look. A long wheelbase version is also available with a Long (73.3") Bed, which makes the Frontier over a foot longer overall, and more balanced. The Crew Cab/Standard Bed combination looks like an SUV with a utility box rather than an actual working pickup truck, but for some owners, a 27.1 cubic foot box may provide enough capacity, especially when equipped with an accessory bed extender.

I'm a guy who likes to travel beneath the radar, so I'd never choose a bold graphics package for the side of my truck, unless it was advertising my business -- not Nissan's. My test vehicle was festooned with a big slash of graphic noise that came as a part of the $1,190 SV Sport Appearance Package of options, which included 18" aluminum alloy wheels, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, white-faced gauges, fog lights and other options. The package seems like a bargain, almost worth tolerating the body side "Frontier" sport graphic. Almost.

In the Nissan Frontier's Driver's Seat

Nissan Frontier Truck Review

2012 Nissan Frontier Pickup Truck

Photo © Jason Fogelson
I really appreciate Frontier's straightforward, uncluttered interior. The center stack manages to cluster its buttons and knobs in a very logical fashion. The shield-like design puts the controls in the middle and the vents flanking them on the sides, which puts the audio information screen at the top of the stack, right where it belongs. There's no factory navigation system available - if you want that, you'll have to go to the aftermarket.

Frontier's second row is as comfortable as many SUV second rows. Additionally, the 60/40 split seats flip up to reveal useful netted storage bins, which are also easily removable. Take out the bins, and Frontier has a broad flat load floor, greatly enhancing the cabin's utility.

On the Road in the Frontier Truck

As small trucks have grown into mid-size trucks, so too have their engines grown. Frontier is available with one engine choice, a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque, hooked up to a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. My automatic test truck was quick off the line, and swift down the road. The stiff suspension (independent front, rear multi-leaf) setup didn't provide luxury car smoothness, but didn't hammer me on the road, either. 8.9" of minimum ground clearance (10.1" at the rear differential) means that if you choose to take your Frontier off of the pavement, you've got a very good chance of getting back to solid ground. With a ladder type frame underlying the body, Frontier is a tough truck, not a poser.

The more I drove the Frontier, the more I realized that it is actually more of a competitor for an SUV than it is a smaller version of the full-sized pickup truck. I was a little disappointed with the meager fuel economy ratings of 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway, especially when a Tundra is rated to achieve 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway with a 5.6-liter V8 engine.

Journey's End

Nissan Frontier Truck Review

2012 Nissan Frontier Pickup Truck

Photo © Jason Fogelson
I'm all for versatility, and once I discovered the Frontier's versatility, I became a fan. People often buy a truck for the extremes -- they want the biggest, the most, the strongest -- and then never come close to testing their truck's capabilities in the real world. Frontier is a very capable truck, with the ability to carry five passengers in comfort along with a healthy load of cargo at the same time, without an enormous footprint.

In the midsize truck world, competitors are few. The Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon and Suzuki Equator (a rebadged Frontier) are pretty much it. Virtually every Frontier buyer probably considered a full size truck as well, which makes sense -- full size trucks have benefitted from vigorous competition, which has driven spectacular engineering and great advances over the past decade.

If you choose a Nissan Frontier, you'll get a no-nonsense, solid performer with great all-around abilities. Just make sure that you really love your Frontier before you check the box that splashes graphics on its side.

Disclosure: A review truck was provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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