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2019 Nissan Frontier Review

The 2019 Nissan Frontier is an endearing, affordable mid-size truck that lacks the flash of competitors—we like that.
The 2019 Nissan Frontier is almost so retro that it’s cool. Almost.

The smallest pickup truck offered by Nissan is now among the “oldest” new cars on the road today. The same basic shape and structure that underpins the 2019 Frontier is old enough to earn its own learner’s permit.


That bodes well for value, but it doesn’t do much on our overall scale. It earns a 4.0. 

Like last year—and many previous years—the 2019 Nissan Frontier is available in S, SV, Desert Runner, SL, and Pro-4X trim levels. An extended cab with a 6-foot bed is standard, but a four-door crew cab with a shorter bed is more common.

Nissan’s basic shape for the Frontier hasn’t changed much, which we don’t mind. We do mind about the interior—it’s just dated.

Under the hood is a base, forgettable inline-4 that makes 152 horsepower and struggles with anything more than rear-wheel drive and a light lunch. The strong 4.0-liter V-6 is more common, and for good reason: its 261 hp is enough to chirp the wheels and tow more than 6,500 pounds. The ride is predictably bouncy, but the Nissan’s old-school steering and gumption are enough to overcome the loud powertrain.

The Nissan Frontier’s budget roots show in the cabin and comfort, which are below average for new cars now. The front seat is fine, but the rear seats are upright and stiff. We don’t advise many humans to ride in the rear of extended-cab versions. It’s just too small.

The Frontier lacks a complete safety score, or advanced features, a reminder that the Frontier is more than 15 years old now. A rearview camera is standard on all trucks, and outward vision is generally good.

Base trucks are true strippers: manual windows, manual transmission, manual locks, cloth seats, and steel wheels. A few items, such as a 7.0-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, and Bluetooth connectivity are included for economy of scale on those trucks, we suppose. For not much more than the base truck’s sub-$20,000 entry price, a Nissan Frontier SV is equipped with alloy wheels, power features, upgraded cloth, and keyless entry. A small package adds a lot of value, including a spray-in bedliner, upgraded audio, tailgate extender, and more.

No amount of money adds advanced safety tech or good fuel economy. Most Frontiers will manage combined mileage in the mid-teens, which is on par with some full-sizers.

Styling
The Nissan Frontier’s look is starting to blend in to the surroundings by now.
The 2019 Frontier is new, and instantly familiar, like a pair of chucks in the box. Like the shoes, Frontier is best matched with dusty jeans and T-shirt—not Brooks Brothers, please—with a well-worn ballcap.

Saying that, it’s not exactly stylish. We generously call the exterior average but ding it a point for an interior that’s anything but generous. It gets a 4 for style. 

This year the Frontier looks identical to the year before—and many others.

With a chunky exterior, including bulky fenders and wide headlights, we’ve been looking at the small Nissan truck for so long that we’ve become fluent in Frontier—we don’t notice the difference any more.

The bumper is carved in for better approach angles, and Pro-4X and Desert Runner trims dial down the chrome. The Frontier’s roof rack isn’t a good look, and it sounds worse from in the cabin.

Inside, the Frontier is a little gangly by modern standards. It’s a sea of plastic with a handful of storage bins scattered throughout the cabin for storage, or by accident, we can’t tell.

Performance
The 2019 Nissan Frontier equipped with a V-6 impresses in its performance.
The 2019 Nissan Frontier games our system and we’re fine with it.

The most popular 4.0-liter V-6 is lovable and gruff, with enough grunt to satisfy our needs—even if it drains our wallets with poor fuel economy.

Its ride is busy—almost unnecessary so—but top trim Pro-4X versions are a blast off road. It works its way back to a 4 out of 10 for performance on our scale.

The base engine is a 2.5-liter inline-4 that’s best kept for rear-drive pickups, and work ones at that. It offers 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque for lowlanders. The 6-speed manual is the best option for the busy inline-4, but a 5-speed automatic is available. The inline-4 is loud and overmatched by the Frontier’s two-ton weight.

A better option is the 4.0-liter V-6 rated at 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque—many Frontier shoppers will only consider this engine and we couldn’t agree more. It’s not very refined, but neither are tractor motors and they still get the job done. The Frontier’s V-6 fusses at idle and it sounds like a small galaxy being born when it revs, but it provides plenty of passing power and can spin up the rears with an empty load—it’s that tough.

The standard transmission is a long-shifting 6-speed that we like. The clutch is appropriately stiff for a truck and the manual is widely available among many V-6 trims. The optional 5-speed automatic is a decent pick and fires off predictable shifts, but we think it’s missing the point.

The Frontier has firm and precise tiller that doesn’t wander at highway speeds. The ride is predictably choppy for a short wheelbase pickup, but not overly harsh. On long distances, though, the Frontier will need more corrections than a puppy in training.
The good news is that off road, the pickup is far more surefooted. The off-road oriented Pro-4X is a veritable mountain when the road turns ragged and the Frontier’s part-time four-wheel drive system handles it well (it’s not meant to be used on dry pavement). The Pro-4X features a locking rear differential for extreme cases.

V-6 Frontiers are rated to tow up to 6,710 pounds, but inline-4 versions aren’t meant to drag more than 3,500 pounds.

Comfort & Quality
The 2019 Nissan Frontier is many things, but comfortable and spacious aren’t two.
With an open bed and a low price, the 2019 Nissan Frontier is a great way to find many new friends, many of whom will need your help moving this weekend.

Your new friends may feel differently if you ask them to sit in the backseat—it’s less comfortable than Catholic Mass with a hangover. The front row isn’t much better and the Frontier’s budget materials aren’t just visible, they’re a way of life for the small Nissan truck.

The Frontier earns a 4 for comfort. 

In base S and SV trims, the driver’s seat lacks height adjustment and both front seats aren’t very comfortable for long hauls. Outward vision is generally good, but tall drivers may have to crane their necks to see high objects nearby.

Extended-cab versions, which Nissan calls “King Cab,” offer small jump seats behind the front row that’s best considered as a cargo shelf with seatbelts.

Crew cabs are more popular, but the rear seats are not much more comfortable—they’re lightly padded and upright.

The business end of the Frontier is the business end. Behind King Cabs there’s a 73.3-inch bed. Crew cabs pick between the long bed or a shorter 59.5-inch bed. A spray-in bedliner is standard only on Pro-4X versions, and optional everywhere else. Tough tie-downs are available to make the bed more versatile.

Inside, the Frontier is awash with hard plastics that are inconsistently grained. We wouldn’t mind them in in trucks that cost in the low- to mid-$20,000s, but on high-buck trucks that cost nearly $40,000, it’s a tough sell.

Safety
The 2019 Nissan Frontier lacks modern safety systems, or a modern safety scorecard.
Despite being on the road for more nearly four presidential terms, the 2019 Nissan Frontier still lacks a complete set of crash ratings.

As a result, we skip rating it here. We’ll update this space if scores come in, perhaps those are in a bottle at sea somewhere? 

The Nissan Frontier doesn’t predate safety, but it does predate many safety features. As a result, there’s no available active safety features including automatic emergency braking, active lane control, or blind-spot monitors. The Frontier is equipped with required safety features such as airbags, traction control, stability control, and a rearview camera.

The IIHS has tested the Frontier for crashworthiness and the results are mixed.

The Frontier earned top “Good” scores on all crash tests except the small overlap crash test, which simulates hitting a tree or telephone pole, where it earned a “Marginal” rating. The Frontier’s head restraints rated as “Acceptable” and the standard halogen headlights were rated “Poor.”

Federal testers haven’t fully scored a Frontier, but the small truck earned a worrisome three-star score for front crash protection. Rear-drive Frontiers earn a three-star score in the calculated rollover test, but four-wheel drive versions earn four stars.

Features
Base versions of the Frontier lack some necessities; a little bit more money goes a long way, though.
It’s hard for inexpensive cars or base pickups to do well on our features score. Guess how well an inexpensive, base pickup will do?

The 2019 Nissan Frontier is unchanged from the year before it—including the price.

For less than $20,000, the 2019 Frontier S is equipped with a 7.0-inch display for infotainment, Bluetooth connectivity, four wheels—six if you count the steering wheel and spare tire—and not much else. Power locks and windows are an option, same with a bedliner. It’s not exceptional, but it is a value among pickups. (Just skip the $4,070 option for an automatic transmission, for many reasons.)

Starting from a base score, the Frontier earns points for its good overall value and base infotainment system. It loses points in its lack of customization and poor base features. It’s a wash at 5. 

The SV trim level is where we’d start, which adds popular features such as power windows and locks, alloy wheels, and tinted windows. A Value Truck package goes further: dual-zone climate control, better audio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, spray-in bedliner, parking sensors, and heated seats.

The top trim is a Frontier SL with leather seats, navigation, and premium audio. For more than $37,000, we just don’t see the point.

Fuel Economy
The 2019 Nissan Frontier drinks fuel like it’s 2004.
The 2019 Nissan Frontier is a small pickup with a big thirst.

Most version will only manage combined mileage in the high-teens with a V-6 and four-wheel drive. That’s good enough for a 3 on our scale. 

It’s possible to do better, but not much.

The base Frontier with an inline-4, rear-wheel drive, and 5-speed manual transmission is the most frugal at 19 mpg city, 23 highway, 21 combined, according to the EPA. Swapping in an automatic transmission dents that to 17/22/19 mpg.

Most Frontiers will be equipped with a 4.0-liter V-6 that drinks like a V-8. The most frugal version is the V-6 with a manual transmission: 16/22/19 mpg. That’s comparable to several full-sizers.

The Tacoma’s 20 combined rating isn’t much better, nor is the Colorado’s 19 mpg combined rating for a V-6 and four-wheel drive. Unlike the Tacoma or the Frontier, the Colorado offers a diesel powertrain that’s rated up to 23 mpg with four-wheel drive, tops among mid-size pickup trucks.

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