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Time Capsule: 2017 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Tested

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 9/15/2017 MIKE SUTTON

2017 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X
With a production run that started back in late 2004 for the 2005 model year, the current Nissan Frontier pickup is a living automotive fossil from a time before iPhones and when new Oldsmobiles were new-mobiles on dealer lots. Forget about Game of Thrones—we were still wondering what would become of Tony Soprano when this second-generation rig hit the streets. And yet Nissan’s mid-size dino-truck has persisted as a rudimentary tool of practicality. 

A Window to the Past

The last time we tested a Frontier was for a five-truck comparison test in 2005, in which the Nissan finished second to the then revolutionary first-generation Honda Ridgeline. Despite the Frontier’s minimal update for 2009, a big, torquey 4.0-liter V-6 (261 horsepower, 281 lb-ft) is still found under the hood of most models, including our crew-cab Pro-4X test truck. (Only some smaller King Cab variants with rear-hinged half doors can be had with the 152-hp 2.5-liter inline-four.) A standard six-speed manual or, as in this example, a $1050 automatic transmission—with just five forward gears—handles shifting duties on V-6 versions. Unlike newer mid-size trucks, there is no full-time all-wheel-drive setting for the Pro-4X’s low-range four-wheel-drive transfer case. And the Frontier’s power steering is still boosted by old-timey hydraulic assistance, which lends the wheel a firm, linear action, if not much feel.

There is nary a surface inside the Nissan’s hard plastic cabin that we would consider soft to the touch, and its headliner is made of coarse, rat-fur-like material. An Apple Watch looks like a 4K TV next to the simple digital readout in our truck’s analog instrument cluster. And despite features such as navigation, mobile apps, and Bluetooth streaming through our example’s modest 5.8-inch central touchscreen (a 5.0-inch setup is standard), the interface appears dated and chintzy next to more modern systems.

The Frontier’s age also is apparent in its full-size appetite for fuel, which is not helped by the Pro-4X’s chunky Hankook Dynapro AT-M all-terrain tires (sized P265/75R-16) and our example’s huge roof rack—included with the $2100 Pro-4X Luxury package (power sunroof, heated exterior mirrors, leather upholstery, heated eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, and a heated four-way power-adjustable passenger seat). Compared to EPA estimates of 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, our test truck returned 20 mpg on our 75-mph highway test and averaged 16 mpg the rest of the time. For reference, those figures are close to what the burlier Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 achieved with a 308-hp V-6, and the latest Honda Ridgeline has averaged 21 mpg in our testing and returned 28 mpg on our highway loop. 

2017 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X 4x4 Crew Cab Automatic© MIKE SUTTON 2017 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X 4x4 Crew Cab Automatic Still Workin’ It

However, push the Frontier and it still acquits itself fairly well for a mid-size pickup. Our 4616-pound test truck eclipsed 60 mph in 7.3 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 15.8 at 87 mph, making it slightly quicker than most of the crew-cab Toyota Tacomas we’ve tested recently. It’s not grossly outpaced by a similar Chevrolet Colorado or Honda Ridgeline, both of which pack considerably more horses. The Frontier’s 189-foot stop from 70 mph and 0.70 g of grip around the skidpad, while not great, are acceptable for a mid-size truck with an off-road bent, which Pro-4X models reinforce with standard four-wheel drive, Bilstein dampers, protective skid plates underneath, and an electronically locking rear differential.

The Frontier’s fully boxed ladder frame feels plenty stiff, and it rides on an independent front suspension and a conventional leaf-spring live axle in back. Its dynamic responses are unmistakably slow and trucklike, giving it a simplistic charm when you’re not in a hurry. But this Nissan likely will put off more shoppers with its utilitarian trappings than with how it actually goes down the road. Ride quality is decently composed and surprisingly smooth on all but the roughest pavement. The gruff V-6 also provides ample passing power as it groans through the widely spaced ratios of the five-speed automatic.

As a workhorse, our crew-cab Pro-4X example would have been able to tow a solid 6290 pounds if it had been fitted with the available $580 trailer hitch. It also could lug up to 1039 pounds in its stumpy five-foot cargo bed. (A longer, six-foot-one-inch bed is standard with the extended cab and available on certain crew-cab models, the latter also receiving a longer, 139.9-inch wheelbase.) We’d opt for the trailer hitch just for the fold-out bed extender that comes with it, which would maximize the usefulness of the Pro-4X’s cargo hold beyond its standard spray-in bedliner and adjustable rack system of tie-downs.

2017 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X© Chris Amos 2017 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X Old Is New

Our other issues with the Frontier are based on the fact that its design is older than YouTube: Despite excellent outward visibility, its halogen headlights are woefully dim, and the driver’s seat is perched too high for some drivers to sit comfortably behind the non-telescoping steering column (which does tilt). The Frontier’s 60/40 split fold-up back seat is bolt upright and pinched for legroom. We’ve never sat in the back of a smaller extended-cab model, and we don’t want to. We’d also lose the tacky roof rack and our truck’s $465 decal package, which added gaudy tire-tread graphics and additional Pro-4X logos to the body.

Today’s Frontier is offered in several cab and chassis configurations depending on the trim level, which include S, SV, rear-drive-only Desert Runner, 4WD-only Pro-4X, and top-spec SL. The Nissan’s senior status generally earns it a discount at the sales counter versus newer competitors, with prices starting at just $19,365 for a base rear-wheel-drive extended-cab S version with the 2.5-liter four banger. That tally can build quickly—our crew-cab Pro-4X started at $34,365 and climbed to more than $37,000 with a couple of options—but even the fanciest Frontier undercuts the $40K mark that its newer rivals can surpass. Nissan says it is committed to keeping the Frontier competitive in the U.S. market, even though the rest of the world already gets the revised NP300 Navara model that eventually will be fettled for U.S. duty, too.

At least the resurging mid-size-truck market helps fund the development of the Frontier’s revision: The 12-year-old Nissan’s respectable 50,097 sales through August of this year are within sight of the Chevy Colorado’s 71,763 and more than double the sales of the Honda Ridgeline (23,792). While the 2017 Frontier at times feels ancient enough for its own Smithsonian exhibit, it is far from obsolete for those seeking a capable pickup truck and little else.

2017 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X© Chris Amos 2017 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X

Specifications

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup

PRICE AS TESTED: $37,075 (base price: $34,365)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection

Displacement: 241 cu in, 3954 cc

Power: 261 hp @ 5600 rpm

Torque: 281 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 125.9 in

Length: 205.5 in

Width: 72.8 in Height: 70.1 in

Passenger volume: 101 cu ft

Curb weight: 4616 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS:

Zero to 60 mph: 7.3 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 22.3 sec

Zero to 110 mph: 36.8 sec

Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.7 sec

Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.0 sec

Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.3 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 15.8 sec @ 87 mph

Top speed (governor limited): 113 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 189 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.70 g

C/D FUEL ECONOMY:

Observed: 16 MPG

75-mph highway driving: 20 mpg

Highway range: 420 miles

EPA FUEL ECONOMY:

Combined/city/highway: 17/15/21 mpg

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