Review: The 2022 Nissan Frontier Pickup's Long-Awaited Update Is Finally Here, But Does The Truck Go Far Enough?
What do you do when it's time to replace a truck that's been selling reasonably strong, without any real changes, for more than 15 years straight? If you're Nissan, and that pickup is the mid-size Frontier, the answer is…not all that much. Faced with the prospect of updating its most popular pickup after a decade and a half, the brand's hands-off attitude in managing the Frontier's future is apparent in the redesigned 2022 model.
The 2022 Nissan Frontier boasts a much better interior, eye-catching new sheet metal, and the kind of features and equipment that pickup buyers have come to expect from a modern machine. From behind the wheel, however, it's business as usual for the task-focused truck—and that's probably not a bad thing considering where the Frontier stacks up in the mid-size hierarchy.
Winds Of Change
A lot has changed in the pickup world since the previous version of the Frontier first debuted.
Although most of the action has centered around the roaring full-size segment, smaller trucks have witnessed their fair share of drama as well, with no less than three models leaving and then re-entering the market (the Ford Ranger, the Chevrolet Colorado, and the GMC Canyon) while the Nissan sat largely untouched in showrooms.
To say that the Frontier had some catching up to do is a bit of an understatement, but Nissan put in a solid effort to bring several aspects of the vehicle up to speed. The most visible impact is found in the cabin, where the hard-wearing plastics of old have been replaced (at least in the top-tier PRO-4X trim) with a much more impressive array of soft touch trim. It's still a function-first arrangement, but the modernized infotainment touchscreen, the heated steering wheel, and thicker side glass make for a quieter, more comfortable, and friendlier driving environment.
It's not a perfect setup. The steering column doesn't telescope, the rear bench of the four-door crew cab are fine for short trips but otherwise fairly upright in its seating position, and folding them or down to haul bulky cargo inside the vehicle isn't as practical as what you'd find in competing models. That being said, there are plenty of storage nooks and charging points, and the vehicle's simple presentation is welcome for anyone seeking a task-oriented truck.
That same lack of complication is evidenced by the Frontier's overall butch, but pleasingly restrained restyling. The angled schnozz of years past has been replaced by a flat, bulky grille, muscular fenders front and rear, and eye-catching LED running lights (on the PRO-4X) that help cut a unique profile for the Nissan. It's an overall handsome truck, with a pair of cargo bed options (roughly five feet and six feet in length), a soft-drop tailgate, and useful tie-downs and lighting in the box, all in a package that's roughly the same size as the truck it replaces.
Average Driving Experience
Given its polished appearance, it's normal to expect that the 2022 Nissan Frontier would feel equally up-to-date out on the road. A look at the spec sheet would seem to confirm that: the truck boasts the same 310 horsepower, 3.8L V6 that was introduced on the 2020 model (for a strange, 24-month limited engagement with the old body style), along with a nine-speed automatic transmission. The PRO-4X model I drove also delivers low-range four-wheel drive (although there's no AUTO setting), along with Bilstein shocks and knobby rubber.
And yet, in terms of acceleration, throttle response, or even fuel economy, the 3.8L doesn't make much of its 50 horsepower advantage over the older 4.0L unit, nor does it profit from its more advanced electronic management. Floor the gas pedal and the 2022 is just over a half-second quicker when racing against its past self, while fuel mileage is roughly equivalent. I saw 17 mpg in combined driveway that included a 200 mile highway road trip, which is right in the middle of the official EPA estimates, and not all that competitive when matched against other range-topping mid-size drivetrains.
In general, there's a lack of liveliness to be had from the six-cylinder engine, which often kicked down dramatically to maintain speed at the request of the truck's adaptive cruise control system (which may be a function of its nine forward gears). The lackluster feeling is most noticeable when passing or merging, as smoother around town driving facilitated by the truck's 281 lb-ft of torque. The overall effect is average performance that doesn't stand out, but doesn't hobble the truck, either: towing stands at 6,270 lbs, with a payload of 1,610 lbs, numbers that keep the Frontier in the middle of the pack.
If you're looking for extra bounce, you'll find it when driving the PRO-4X over broken pavement, as the stiff suspension setup translates into a fair amount of jostling. That's to be expected from almost every off-road oriented mid-size pickup out there, save the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and its (much more expensive) DSSV shock absorbers. The Frontier's platform is largely carried over from the older truck, but on smooth roads there's a noticeable improvement in ride comfort thanks to a better insulated body mount system. It also retains hydraulic steering assist, which I found to be puzzlingly heavy to the point where low-speed turns had me wishing I'd done an extra set of deltoid reps at the gym.
With a starting price of just under $30,000, and the emergence of the Hyundai Santa Cruz and the Ford Maverick compact trucks, the 2022 Nissan Frontier is no longer the cheapest truck money can buy. It is still an affordable mid-size option, however, and it's far more useful for towing, trail fun, or hauling than those smaller, SUV-based unibody pickups that trade their covered cargo area for an open bed.
There were times when the Frontier's occasionally old school street manners and average performance had me asking myself 'why did Nissan bother with a refresh?' as its personality felt so similar to the model it replaced. Then again, that was balanced by its legitimately attractive look and much improved interior feel, which outclasses the XLT version of the rival Ranger costing roughly the same as the $38,000 PRO-4X when found with the FX4 Off-Road package.
The new Nissan Frontier is a useful, by-the-numbers pickup that checks all of the basic boxes truck owners are looking for. Once upon a time, that was all you needed to attract truck buyers, but today it remains to be seen how many mid-size shoppers are willing to plunk down modern money for a slick-looking throwback.