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2015 Nissan Frontier REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/5/2017

Con: Doesn't handle that well on paved roads; uncomfortable rear seats with tight legroom in crew cabs; some cut-rate interior materials.

Interior: Don't expect a lot of eye candy when you enter the 2015 Frontier's cabin. The materials are fairly drab in appearance and only of adequate quality, even by pickup standards. Indeed, some of the controls fail to provide the weighty, tactile feedback you'd expect in a sturdy truck. On the upside, the layout is all fairly straightforward, from the design of the gauges and dash to the familiar placement for the secondary controls, including the drive-mode switch for 4WD models. Modern tech features like Bluetooth audio connectivity, hands-free text messaging capability and smartphone app integration are available starting at the SV trim level.

King Cab models have rear-hinged doors that swing open and two old-school folding jump seats for rear passengers who'd better like sitting bolt upright. That's why crew cabs are now the dominant configuration; with four conventional doors, the Frontier crew cab's rear seats are far more useful, particularly for ease of entry, though the seatbacks still butt directly against the rear bulkhead and there's significantly less legroom than in the back of the Tacoma and Colorado crew cabs.

You're better off using the Frontier to haul cargo rather than people. A 6.1-foot bed is standard for the King Cab models and has enough room to handle whatever your everyday duties require. You also can get the long bed on the crew cab. The Frontier offers utility enhancements like adjustable cargo bed tie-downs, a bed extender/divider and a thoughtful area under the rear seats for smaller items you'd prefer to lock in the cab.

Body: The 2015 Nissan Frontier is a compact-to-midsize pickup that's offered in extended cab (known as the King Cab) and crew cab body styles. King Cab models come with fold-down rear jump seats and a 6.1-foot cargo bed, while crew cab versions get a 60/40-split-folding rear bench and a choice of a standard 5-foot or optional 6.1-foot bed. There are also five trim levels available: S, SV, Desert Runner, Pro-4X and SL.

On two-wheel-drive King Cabs with a manual transmission, the entry-level S trim level includes 15-inch steel wheels, rear privacy glass, front bucket seats (with a flat-folding front passenger seat) and cloth upholstery. Select the automatic transmission for the King Cabs S, and you'll also get standard air-conditioning, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary input; these items can be added to the manual version via the S Preferred package. Meanwhile, crew cabs with the S trim add the V6 engine, 16-inch steel wheels, a sliding rear window and a six-speaker audio system as standard.

Stepping up to the SV trim level gets you all of the above (though the V6 engine is optional for SV King Cabs), along with 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, full power accessories, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, a 5-inch color display radio with the NissanConnect interface with Bluetooth audio connectivity and smartphone-integrated apps, USB/iPod integration, satellite radio and an additional 12-volt power outlet. Options for the SV (V6 model) include a Value Truck package that adds foglights, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a sliding bed extender, adjustable cargo tie-downs, a Class IV trailer hitch, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and two extra speakers on King Cabs.

The Desert Runner (2WD V6 only in either cab configuration) builds on the base SV equipment list, adding special exterior and interior styling details, foglights, high-performance shock absorbers, off-road tires and an eight-way manual driver seat. The SV Value package equipment isn't available on the Frontier Desert Runner.

For serious off-roaders, there's the four-wheel-drive-only Pro-4X, which features the off-road tires and specially tuned shocks along with a locking rear differential, underbody skid plates, automatic headlights, a 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio and voice controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, a first aid kit and everything in the SV Value Truck package, except the trailer hitch and bed extender (which are optional). Pro-4X crew cabs get a 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system as well. The Pro-4X Luxury package (automatic-equipped crew cabs only) adds a sunroof, roof rack with crossbars, heated mirrors, leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats (eight-way driver, four-way passenger) and a rear-seat center console.

The top SL trim (automatic crew cabs only) loses the Pro-4X's off-road-oriented equipment, but retains most of the items in the Pro-4X Luxury package, including a sunroof for long-bed SLs (the sunroof is a stand-alone option for short-bed SLs). Additional standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels and side steps that ease access to the cab. The trailer hitch and bed extender remain optional on the Frontier SL.

Driving: Unless squeezing every last mile from a gallon of fuel is your overriding priority, forget the Frontier's sluggish 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The fuel economy penalty for opting for the stout 4.0-liter V6 is fairly negligible, and in return you'll enjoy markedly more energetic acceleration, as well as upgraded hauling and towing ability.

We'll acknowledge that a V6-powered, crew cab Frontier with the six-speed manual transmission is a tempting (and increasingly rare) package, but most buyers are going to find the five-speed automatic transmission a better everyday companion. Still, we'd like to see Nissan add an additional overdrive gear to improve highway fuel economy and allow for quieter and more relaxed cruising at speed.

Ride quality is better than you'd expect, even on the Pro-4X model, but when you're going around turns, the Frontier's heavy, slow steering is a hindrance, and there's no disguising the fact that this truck would rather be going straight. In addition, the brake pedal has a spongy feel that doesn't inspire confidence, even though actual stopping performance is adequate. Wind noise is also intrusive at highway speeds, and if you choose the Pro-4X or the Desert Runner, you'll also get some noise from the knobby all-terrain tires.

Of course, some of these faults are forgiven when you get the Nissan Frontier on an off-road trail. With 8.9 inches of ground clearance and a well-sorted suspension, the Frontier Pro-4X is not only very capable, it's seriously fun. Despite its focused purpose, the Por-4X earned an above-average Edmunds.com "B" rating.

What’s New: There are scattered content upgrades for the 2015 Nissan Frontier lineup. The SV and Desert Runner trims get a new 5-inch color audio display with the NissanConnect and Mobile Apps interface and smartphone integration, and a navigation system is now standard in the Pro-4X. A sunroof is standard on the long-bed Frontier SL.

The 2015 Nissan Frontier is offered with a choice of two engines. Extended-cab S and SV models come standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder good for 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual and rear-wheel drive are standard, and a five-speed automatic is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy with the manual transmission is 21 mpg combined (19 city/23 highway), and 19 mpg combined (17/23) with the automatic. Four-wheel drive is not available with the four-cylinder engine.

Optional for the SV and standard for the rest of the King Cab lineup -- as well as all of the Frontier crew-cab models -- is a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. The S, SV and Pro-4X can be had with either a standard six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic, while the Desert Runner and SL are automatic only. In Edmunds performance testing, an automatic-equipped Pro-4X crew cab went from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, which makes it a little slower than a comparable Tacoma.

Except for the specialized Desert Runner and Pro-4X models, the V6 Frontier gives you a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive. The Frontier uses a part-time 4WD system with a low-range transfer case. Automatic transmission-equipped 4WD models also have hill start assist and hill descent control, while the Pro-4X has a locking rear differential.

EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg combined (17/22) for manual-shift 4x2 V6 models, while the ratings drop to 18 mpg combined (16/21) with 4WD. Automatic-equipped V6 Frontiers rate 18 combined (16/22) with rear-wheel drive and 17 combined (15/21) with 4WD.

Properly equipped, four-cylinder models can tow up to 3,500 pounds, while V6 versions can tow as much as 6,500 pounds.

Safety: Every 2015 Nissan Frontier comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Also standard is a brake-activated limited-slip differential. Rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are available on all Frontiers except the S, SV four-cylinder and Desert Runner models.

In Edmunds brake testing, a Frontier Pro-4X came to a stop from 60 mph in 134 feet, a fairly common stopping distance for an off-road-oriented truck with all-terrain tires.

The Frontier crew cab received the top rating of "Good" in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Its seat/head restraint design was given the second-highest rating of "Acceptable" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.

Pro: Fun-to-drive nature whether you're off-road or just commuting; strong V6; easy-to-use interior controls; stout bed lining and tie-down points.

Edmunds Say: The 2015 Nissan Frontier remains a decent pick for a midsize pickup truck, thanks to its brawny V6 engine, surprisingly good ride quality and, in Pro-4X trim, solid off-road capability. GM's new midsize trucks feel far more modern from behind the wheel, though, and have much nicer interiors to boot.

Introduction: Although full-size pickup trucks grab most of the headlines in the U.S., not everyone needs all of the capabilities of these large vehicles -- or wants to deal with their oversize proportions in everyday driving. That's the reason midsize trucks like the 2015 Nissan Frontier have stuck around all these years. Indeed, the current Frontier hit the road long before the Great Recession, and while it's not the freshest design out there, Nissan has kept it reasonably up to date.

The updates continue this year, as the automaker has expanded the availability of its NissanConnect interface, which includes Bluetooth audio connectivity, hands-free text messaging and integrated smartphone apps, to Frontiers without a navigation system. It's a small change but a nod to the reality that tech features matter, even in a pickup. In other respects, though, the Frontier's cabin is starting to show its age. The controls are simple enough, but the quality of the materials is unimpressive for this class and, even in the crew cab, the backseat is surprisingly cramped for a truck that purports to be midsize.

You'll also notice signs of age when you're turning and stopping, as the 2015 Nissan Frontier has the slow steering and spongy brake pedal feel that was once endemic to all pickups. Newer trucks like GM's brand-new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon feel significantly more agile in these situations, though. However, the Frontier's considerable off-road chops in Pro-4X trim help balance some of its age-related deficits, while utility features like movable cargo tie-downs, a spray-in bedliner and a sliding bed extender make it as useful as many full-size trucks.

But there's no sugar coating the reality that the Frontier's appeal has slipped in the midsize pickup class. The similarly dated Toyota Tacoma shares many of its faults, but has a more accommodating backseat and a more fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine, while the GM trucks are far better to drive on paved roads and have much nicer interiors. There's still a case to be made for buying a Frontier if off-road activities are high on your list or you plan to make frequent use of the cargo bed, but the majority of shoppers will probably prefer one of its rivals.

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