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2018 Nissan Frontier Review

2018 Nissan Frontier Review
The 2018 Nissan Frontier is a good, basic truck, but there are far more modern options for not too much more.

The 2018 Nissan Frontier is a compact pickup that is among the “oldest” new vehicles on the road today.


That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you have to dig deep to see the 2018 Frontier’s strengths. This truck has been on the market since late 2004 and has seen few changes, which is partly why we’ve rated it 4.0 out of 10.

The Frontier is back for 2018 in S, SV, Desert Runner, SL, and Pro-4X trim levels. This year, the Frontier S now comes standard with air conditioning and a rearview camera. A Midnight Edition package spices up the Frontier’s exterior with black wheels, but things are otherwise the same today as they were when George W. Bush was beginning his second term.

Underneath the Frontier’s hood sits either an overworked 2.5-liter inline-4 or a robust 4.0-liter V-6; the latter is far more popular and it’s easy to see why. Power shuttles through a 5-speed automatic, a 5-speed manual (inline-4), or a 6-speed manual (V-6) to either the rear or all four wheels.

Extended cab (“King Cab” in Nissan-speak) and four-door crew cab configurations are available. Extended cabs all have a 73.3-inch bed, while crew cabs are offered with that or a shorter 59.5-inch bed.

Inside, the Frontier’s blocky dash is functional but hardly sexy. Audio controls are up high and there’s a thumping optional Rockford Fosgate stereo with a relatively small 5.8-inch touchscreen navigation system on SL and Pro-4X trim levels. The front seats are thickly padded but light on adjustment on S and SV grades; higher-spec versions have a height-adjustable driver’s seat. Extended cabs barely have room for fido and your tool box in the back, but crew cabs are decently roomy—albeit with a very upright, thinly padded backrest.

No advanced safety features are on offer and the Frontier’s so-so crash-test ratings are a reminder that it first hit the market nearly 15 years ago and hasn’t been substantially updated since.

Two off-roady versions of the Frontier extend this truck’s capability. The rear-wheel-drive Desert Runner has a tall suspension with Bilstein shocks and all-terrain tires, while the four-wheel-drive Pro-4X builds on that with a proper transfer case and an electric locking rear differential. With nearly nine inches of ground clearance and decent approach and departure angles, the Frontier makes a decent exploration vehicle if you like that new truck smell and a full warranty.

Otherwise, the Frontier is decidedly dated against the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Toyota Tacoma. At least it’s cheaper; a Frontier SV with a package that adds automatic climate control, heated seats, a bedliner, and a host of other items runs around $32,000 with four-wheel drive.

Styling
While the 2018 Nissan Frontier’s looks have aged well outside, its interior is a throwback in all the wrong ways.

Like that weather-beaten hoodie you’ve worn since college, the 2018 Nissan Frontier is familiar and comfortable, if not exactly beautiful. We don’t mind its chunky exterior, but its blocky interior has some awkward angles and some oddball ergonomics, so this pickup scores just 4 out of 10 points here.

Frontier S, SV, and SL trims are loaded up with chrome bits so they don’t look too basic. There’s nothing high-tech about their styling, but the angle bumper is carved inward for a better approach angle and the buff wheel flares give it a suitably macho look.

Pro-4X and Desert Runner trims dial back the chrome, but the $465 Pro-4X Graphics Package that adorns the hood and fenders up front with Hot Wheels-esque tire tread sticker is laughable. We’re also not that enthused about the Frontier’s roof rack. While it adds utility, it looks like an afterthought (and sounds like one in the wind, too).

Inside, the Frontier’s control layout is fairly simple, but the look is off-putting. It’s a sea of gray or beige plastic with little contrast. Moreover, the shallow storage bins around the gear lever seem to have been thrown in by accident.

Performance
The 2018 Nissan Frontier grumbles and growls, but it’s plenty quick and we like the stick-shift.

The 2018 Nissan Frontier’s standard V-6 engine is gutsy, but short on refinement and its ride is unnecessarily busy. It loses points for its gruff nature and trucky ride, even by pickup standards. That said, the Pro-4X is useful off-road tool at a reasonable price, so we’ve boosted what could have been a very bad showing to a 4 out of 10 here.

A 2.5-liter inline-4 is standard on Frontier King Cabs, but with just 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, it’s not a particularly desirable option. The inline-4 is loud and is tasked with hauling around upward of 4,000 pounds of pickup. The standard manual transmissions work well enough, but the optional 5-speed automatic simply can’t keep up.

The bulk of all 2018 Frontiers come with a 4.0-liter V-6 rated at 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. Most are fitted with a 5-speed automatic, but Nissan sells a fair amount of pickups fitted instead with a less expensive manual. The 5-speed automatic fires off firm, predictable shifts and rarely seems to hunt for a gear. The manual (5-speed with the inline-4, 6-speed with the V-6) suffers from long throws but has a good clutch feel for a truck and is a worthwhile option for those who prefer to row gears themselves. Moreover, it’s available on a wide range of Frontiers, unlike some rivals.

Refinement, however, is not a Frontier virtue. The Frontier’s V-6 may growl under acceleration and vibrates at idle, but it furnishes terrific passing power. With an empty load in the bed, the Frontier will spin its rear tires briefly until the traction control kicks in—there’s that much power matched to that little weight.

Frontiers have the same three-spoke steering wheel that Nissan used to fit to its Z sports car (oh, about a decade ago), but that’s where the similarities stop. We like the firm steering feel and the nimble nature, but the Frontier doesn’t want to be hustled too hard down a curvy road. The suspension does a good job of controlling body lean, but the Frontier’s relatively short wheelbase means that its ride is often choppy. At highway speeds, we’ve found ourselves making constant corrections to the Frontier’s steering wheel.

Off-road, the Pro-4X is a goat with wheels. All Frontiers have a part-time four-wheel-drive system not meant for dry pavement use, but the Pro-4X adds a convenient locking rear differential activated at the tap of a button.

The Frontier isn’t the most towing-suited pickup on the market, V-6 crew cabs are rated to tow between 6,450 and 6,710 pounds, depending on configuration. Four-cylinder variants are best left to utility trailers and the like given their modest power, although Nissan says they can lug upward of 3,500 pounds.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Frontier’s tight interior and dated materials do it no favors.

The 2018 Nissan Frontier is not what we’d recommend for long-distance cruising. Its front seats are just average, the second row is quite unpleasant, and a plethora of cheap materials spoil the mood inside.

Up front, there’s a good view out and the seats are fine for around town but feel light on support during a long drive. Only Frontier SL and Pro-4X trim levels offer a height-adjustable driver’s seat; other models have rudimentary four-way manual controls.
Extended cabs have rear-hinged back doors that open after the front doors to reveal a pair of pint-size jump seats not really meant for humans. Crew cabs have four proper doors and enough room for four adults or five in a pinch, but the rear seat’s backrest is particularly upright and lightly padded.

When it comes to hauling more than humans, the Frontier does the pickup thing well. Extended cabs have a 73.3-inch bed as their only option. Crew cabs are available with that long bed or a 59.5-inch bed. A spray-on bedliner is standard on Pro-4X and optional elsewhere. Most trims offer Nissan’s useful Utili-Track adjustable tie-downs. A host of additional Utili-Track accessories are available through Nissan’s accessories catalog.

The Frontier’s materials are inconsistently grained and hard to the touch. That’s fine for trucks priced in the mid-$20,000s, but at more than of $30,000, we expect nicer materials.

Safety
Don’t look for advanced safety tech on the 2018 Nissan Frontier.

You’d think that the 2018 Nissan Frontier would have been thoroughly crash-tested by now, but we don’t have all the data we need here. As a result, we can’t assign a score.

The 2018 Frontier is light on advanced safety tech—there’s really nothing to report here aside from a full complement of airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control. A rearview camera is newly standard on all trim levels just ahead of a federal mandate.

Don’t look for automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, or even rear cross-traffic assist here. You won’t find any of that tech.

The IIHS has performed the most extensive crash-testing on the 2018 Frontier so far and has come up with mixed results. Both body configurations scored just “Marginal” on the small overlap frontal test, but “Good” otherwise. The IIHS says that the Frontier’s head restraints are “Acceptable” but that its halogen headlights are “Poor.”

Federal testers found a worrisome three (out of five) star frontal crash-test performance on the crew cab, but they haven’t done any side-impact testing yet—a surprise given this pickup's aged design. On the rollover measurement (which is calculated rather than tested), the rear-drive Frontier scores just three stars and four-wheel drive models score four stars. 

Features
You won’t find much in the way of luxury with the 2018 Nissan Frontier, but it is a decent value.

The 2018 Nissan Frontier is available in a wide array of trim levels, but base models are still pretty spartan, there’s not much customizability, and the small infotainment system hardly merits a mention. As a result, we’ve rated the 2018 Frontier at 4 out of 10 points here.

The Frontier S anchors the lineup. It’s quite light on features, although this year’s addition of air conditioning, a rearview camera, a 5.0-inch display audio system, and Bluetooth help a little. Still, you’ll be rolling up your windows and locking your doors by hand, and the wheels are simply painted steel. A spray-in bedliner and rubber floor mats are optional.

Next up is the high-volume Frontier SV. It adds power windows, locks, and mirrors, tinted windows, and alloy wheels to the mix. The optional Value Truck package—adds reverse sensing, dual-zone automatic climate control, more speakers, auto-dimming interior mirror, heated front seats, fog lights, a security system, a bed extender, a trailer hitch, leather for the steering wheel and shift knob, a spray-in bedliner, and a cargo management system for the bed. That’s a lot of stuff for $1,890. A moonroof is also available.

This year, a new Midnight Edition package adds to the SV black exterior accents and black 18-inch alloy wheels.

The Frontier SL features power front seats, leather upholstery, heated seats, navigation, and a 5.8-inch touchscreen audio system with navigation.

Off-roaders have two options: the rear-drive Desert Runner and the four-wheel-drive Pro-4X. They’re identical to a point with their oversized all-terrain tires, Bilstein shocks, and lifted suspensions. The Pro-4X adds in a few creature comforts plus the safety net cast by a locking rear differential.

Frontier’s available 5.8-inch infotainment screen—SL and Pro-4X trims only—is well behind the times with its diminutive display and lack of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Nissan Frontier is definitely behind the times when it comes to fuel economy.

The 2018 Nissan Frontier is a mid-size truck with full-size fuel economy.

Our 5 out of 10 rating is based on the V-6 with four-wheel drive and the 5-speed automatic, but it could really apply to any 2018 Frontier.

If thrifty is your goal, the 4-cylinder, manual transmission, rear-wheel drive is the way to go at an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city, 23 highway, 21 combined. That’s about par with some V-8 full-size trucks, so it’s not exactly a great start.

Opting for the automatic drops those figures to 17/22/19 mpg.

Most Frontiers have the V-6 engine option. With rear-wheel drive and the 6-speed manual, the truck is rated at 16/22/19 mpg. The automatic comes in at 16/23/19 mpg.

Four-wheel drive manuals are rated at 16/21/18 mpg; the automatic version scores just 15/21/17 mpg.

One note for those in corn country is that the 4.0-liter V-6 is available in a flexible fuel version that can run on E85.

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