2022 Nissan Frontier Pro 4X—First Drive
Nissan has a history of designing small 4X4 trucks that look tough. And that’s especially true of the “Hardbody” pickups from the 1980s and 1990s. These pickups were durable, capable and had room for large (at the time) 31-inch tires under the stock suspension. Oh yeah, they looked downright cool too with blistered fender flares and a design perfectly chiseled in the late 1980s. These trucks were right in-step with what was happening with trucks at the time.
The next-generation Frontier arrived in 1997 and got off to a slow start. But by the early 2000s, Nissan had beefed it up with revised styling and hefty fender flares. At the time, Nissan said the new frontend design looked like a boxing glove coming straight at you. A stretch? Perhaps. But we liked the redesigned Frontier and the optional supercharger under the hood did give it more, ahem, punch.
The next-size-up midsize Frontier arrived in 2006 with an aggressive style and a chassis that was all-new and derived from Nissan’s hefty F-Apha truck platform. It was the first Frontier to offer the Pro-4X off road package. And this generation lasted a full 15 years without a major redesign. That’s a very long time and it made Nissan the elder statesman of midsize trucks. The Frontier was old but it was still a strong seller. Even back in 2019, as the truck was well over a decade old, Nissan still moved over 70,000 of them. That’s impressive.
But the Frontier was past-due for a freshening. So for 2022, Nissan gave the truck a full redesign. They’ve certainly succeeded in terms of creating a rugged design. In the metal, the truck looks great, especially wearing its beefiest Pro4-X kit. And it certainly resembles and seems to have taken cues from the beloved “hardbody” compact trucks too. That is certainly no bad thing. But how does this all-new Frontier perform?
We logged a week’s worth of seat time in a $44,315 Cardinal Red Pro-4X model and worked it hard on the streets around Los Angeles as well as on the dirt trails of Hungry Valley SVRA about 60 miles north of the city. And thanks to a fairly significant storm the day before our off-road test we had a chance to play in the mud and in a little snow too. Here’s what we discovered.
The Frontier’s chassis isn’t all-new. In fact, the truck shares much of the greasy bits underneath with the outgoing Frontier. They even share the same 126-inch wheelbase used on most Frontiers (like before there is a long wheelbase long bed Crew Cab model). The so-called “F-Alpha” modular chassis architecture that dates back to the original Nissan Titan back in 2004. That means this new truck simply doesn’t benefit from the latest advancements in high strength steel that many fullsize trucks have used to maintain or improve rigidity while also cutting weight. But the good news is that frame system is fully-boxed and plenty strong.
The buff bodywork makes for a larger bed with seven percent more volume than the old Frontier on both 5-foot (Crew Cab) and 6-foot (King Cab) models. New hydraulic cab mounts are said to reduce road vibration by 80 percent. Plus, we’re told that the company installed countermeasures inside the cab to combat NVH including improved insulation and carpeting plus laminated glass on the front doors. They say engine noise has been cut by 5 decibels and road noise by 3 decibels.
Take a look underneath the Frontier and there are some familiar components. The IFS front suspension, when you compare them visually to the last one we tested back in 2015, looks nearly identical. It’s a double-wishbone design with coil springs and Bilstein dampers. Nissan has added urethane jounce bumpers front and rear suspensions replacing old rubber bump stops. The company has up-sized the front sway bar too. That change probably aids handling but doesn’t do much for wheel travel. There is some improved skid plating underneath compared to the old Frontier too as well as easy to find red tow hooks. They’ve also re-tuned the hydraulic rack and pinion steering with a 16 percent ratio increase to quicken the response and reduce effort.
In the rear, Nissan uses a Dana 44 solid axle once again. Like before, the Pro-4X package includes an electronically operated rear locker as well as Bilstien dampers. And here, the suspension design looks to be similar to the old model as well. However one glaring difference is the rear sway bar. Most pickups with an off-road package don’t come equipped with a rear sway bar, unless they’re also designed for towing heavy loads. But on the Frontier we question the logic, especially because it must have some limiting effect on the Frontier’s suspension articulation.
Nissan introduced an all-new powertrain to the Frontier a couple years ago—a preview of what would come in the new 2022 model. The 3.8-liter V6 (code named VQ38) carries over from that 2020 truck and is related to the old 4.0-liter V6 but Nissan says it has 93-percent new parts. The V6 delivers 310 hp at 6,400 rpm and 281 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Compared to the 4.0-liter V6, this new one makes 49 more hp and the same amount of torque. And that makes this the most powerful motor in the midsize class. The V6 comes paired to a 9-speed automatic with a 5.41:1 First gear. When you factor-in Nissan’s 2.71:1 transfer case low range and 3.69:1 gears, the Pro-4X has a crawl ratio of 54:1.
The Pro-4X comes in weighing 4,708 pounds before options. It offers a maximum payload of 1,230 lbs. and can tow 6,270 lbs. Those are once again very similar to Toyota’s figures for the Tacoma although the domestic midsize trucks can all be configured to tow 7,000 lbs. or more.
The Pro-4X package adds a ton of equipment but off-road focused items include the wheels and tires, flares, electronic rear locking differential, Bilstien dampers, skid plates, “Lava Red” tow hooks. Plus, it comes with LED lighting. Our rig had Nissan’s smart Utili-Track tie down system plus all models receive a new damped tailgate.
On the Street
Take a long slow look around the new Frontier and from certain angles it has definite hints of Hardbody. The design looks good for sure. The Pro-4X package’s faux beadlock wheels and thick sidewall 265/70R17 tires add some muscle. In photos, the Frontier looks a bit like a Tacoma from some angles. But in person we didn’t find that to be the case.
On the inside, the Pro-4X comes with unique stitching and ours came with leather seating, special floor mats, leather-wrapped wheel, a 9-inch color touch screen with navigation and built-in compass, dual zone AC. Our truck also came with the intelligent around view monitor camera system (part of the Pro Premium Package) as well as heated seats and wheel.
The tech package option was on-board which includes safety gear like blind spot warning, rear automatic braking, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, a rear sonar system and traffic sign recognition. It’s a great deal for $900.
The Frontier’s interior is a clear improvement over the old truck. The look of the materials is that of quality. And we dig that big 9-inch screen. Although Nissan has brought the Frontier’s interior up to modern standards, it doesn’t exactly break new ground. It all feels more traditional than it does forward-looking. Still, there’s way more space in the cab to fit stuff including much larger drink holders—and more of them.
We found the front seats to be very comfortable. And this was a truck that was easy to get used to right away. Since Nissan retained the old truck’s wheelbase, the back seat retains the not-so-comfy upright seating position.
On the road, the chassis instills a sense of solidity to be sure. Like before, the ride is on the soft side and does a decent job filtering out road irregularities. But the suspension tune here doesn’t really push the midsize class forward in terms of ride and handling. And despite the revision to the steering system, the Frontier’s steering is still heavy at slow speeds. In fact, it feels quite a lot like the old Frontier.
The new (ish) 3.8-liter V6 and 9-speed automatic delivers what feels like slightly snappier acceleration than before. The extra gears are a noticeable improvement because the old Frontier made due with just a 5-speed automatic. The new Frontier always seems to have enough power and torque. That said, despite the numbers it doesn’t feel like a quick truck. And our hunch is that a Chevy Colorado or Ford Ranger would likely win in a drag race.
The Frontier had an easy time on the freeway, cruising along at just 1,500 rpm at 70 mph. The tightly spaced gearing meant that as the road grade changed from flat to steep, the transmission would drop one or two gears to keep the V6 chuffing along at the right speed. The highest rpm we saw to maintain 70 mph was just 2,500 rpm on the steepest sections. However using cruise control, we found the truck down shifted to a too-low gear for the hills, making the sound level in the cabin skyrocket.
The EPA says this model can deliver 17 mpg city and 22 on the highway. And we recorded a reasonable 19 mpg on our test of highway, city and off-road miles. That’s an improvement over the last Frontier Pro-4X we tested 7 years ago which could only manage 17.6 mpg over the same basic route. It’s within one MPG of a TRD Tacoma (non Pro) we tested in 2017 but two MPG shy of both a Chevy Colorado and Ranger we tested on similar trips.
On the Trail
A deluge of winter rain in southern California created slightly snowy and certainly soggy conditions at the off-road park. Translation? It was downright muddy in places. And the type of mud we have here is composed of clay that becomes incredibly slick and clumpy. It’s very easy to slide right off whatever trail you’re on. And it’s really tough to tell which parts are slick and which ones have traction. It was so bad the park rangers actually coned-off certain areas that were particularly treacherous.
In these conditions, we simply weren’t able to tackle some of our favorite obstacles because, well, we knew we’d get stuck and perhaps even have a little body damage. The Pro-4X package is good but it’s not that good. Because of the conditions, we made sure to engage low range soon after our tires touched dirt and locked that rear diff. We’re glad we did because the trails were greasy. Now sliding around can be quite fun and we had a blast spinning the tires and attempting to climb things that are downright simple on a dry day. But it turned out a previous loan of this truck had done some chassis damage.
When we hit a small set of whoops, we discovered a noise coming from the front of the truck. On slower axle twisting sections, we could hear the front suspension making a distinct clunk as it cycled. The chassis was already caked in mud. So we were unable to find any witness marks from the rubbing. And the clunk certainly wasn’t severe enough for us to turn back. We just didn’t want to make it worse.
In these conditions, it was clear the Hankook all-terrain tires weren’t up to the challenge. They packed up with mud very easily and had a tough time cleaning themselves out. Although the 265/70R17 tire size seems to be the default midsize off-road package tire, Nissan’s tire choice is amongst the mildest in the segment. A better set of all-terrains would really enhance the package.
Our off-road package equipped truck has 9.5-inches of ground clearance under the front end and 9.4-inches under the rear. The approach angle is 32.2 degrees and the departure angle is 23.0 degrees with a breakover angle of 19.6 degrees. Those numbers are nearly identical to a Tacoma Double Cab with the TRD off-road package. TRD Pro models however, have improved figures.
We didn’t have a chance to ramp the Pro-4X but our friends at Four Wheeler tested a similar truck and found that it ramped a so-so 434 on their 22 degree ramp. That’s a lower number than some other compacts including the Gladiator and several Tacoma models. Visually, compared to the old Frontier it does look like there’s a bit less flex. And that makes sense considering the chassis is largely the same except for a larger front sway bar and the addition of a rear sway bar—both of which reduce articulation. Why would Nissan do this? It certainly doesn’t make much sense to us.
Yet despite perhaps a bit less flex than the old model, a clunky front suspension and soggy trail conditions, the Frontier provided plenty of fun. In the sandy washes of the park, the rain created plenty of traction to run in 2WD. And we found those Bilsteins did a nice job providing a comfortable and controlled ride at moderate speeds.
On our rough road section, 20 mph was about the maximum speed this time. The wet weather had really chewed up the terrain and we really didn’t want to push that clunky front suspension too hard. Still, raising the speed just a touch more once or twice, had the frontend on the verge of pogoing. So the Frontier is probably in the mid to lower end of the Midsize pack when it comes to higher speed driving.
Our usual hill climb section was dry on the surface but once the tires dug down a bit, they hit mud. And that packed the tires and halted progress. With a bit more tire speed, we made it near the top but the first deep rut stopped up dead. Our hunch? In dry conditions, the Nissan could probably crest the hill.
One thing we found super helpful was the cam system. Nissan’s Intelligent Around View Monitor has a good variety of camera angles, including just ahead of the passenger front tire. Just keep your speed down under about 6 mph and the camera remains functional.
The Bottom Line
Simply put, we weren’t all that impressed with the new Frontier. Nissan’s attempt at making the Frontier a better pickup seems half hearted. Yes, we like the exterior design of the new truck quite a bit but there’s not enough new and more importantly improved over the old model to vault it any closer to leading the midsize pack. It drives mostly the same. So if you like the old one, this new one should really appeal. Our take? There are midsize trucks available that provide a better experience on both either the street or the trail—or both.