Five Ways to Improve the Nissan Frontier


We recently spent a week behind the wheel of a 2015 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X, and two things are crystal clear to us: This is an old pickup truck design, and its off-road capability still brings a smile to our face.

But before we get into what the next Frontier needs to improve, we should first say the bones of the existing Nissan Frontier are still pretty good. Admittedly, our test truck was a fully equipped PRO-4X crew cab with the PRO-4X Luxury Package ($2,100) that totaled $36,205 including destination ( to see the price sheet), but it pleasantly reminded us of what trucks used to be like. It has a lower 1st (higher numerically) gear, which creates lots of low-end torque and had us wondering if we should expect to do a burnout every time we left the driveway. As a result, the driving experience was fun and exciting. Quick throttle response and a tight transmission is different from some of the newer pickups that have all the software settings biased to maximum fuel efficiency with softer driving responses and more fluid six- and eight-speed transmissions.

Nevertheless, here are the top five things (we know it could be much longer) the Nissan Frontier needs to improve to stay competitive.

1. New Transmissions

Yes, the current five-speed automatic transmission is a lot of fun; however, jumping from every full stop gets old pretty quickly. A smarter six- or eight-speed auto computer with a less torque-biased 1st gear is a must.

The downside with a new six-speed transmission could be the loss of better low-end torque that is ideal for off-roading, but we wonder if Nissan could incorporate an Off-Road mode button similar to the Sport mode buttons found in some cars and trucks. This might adjust the steering settings, transmission shift points and gas/brake pedal responsiveness. It would give off-road adventurers the best of both worlds.

Whether Off-Road mode is an option or not, Nissan engineers are likely going to have to find a compromise between the Frontier's strong off-road capability while providing improved ride comfort.


2. Improved Engines

After teasing us with a small Cummins-equipped , which got a strong response, we're hopeful the next-generation model will have such an engine. This would help keep it competitive with a new diesel-powered Chevrolet Colorado and could force the Toyota Tacoma to offer more than the gas V-6.

While a diesel engine sounds good to some buyers, Nissan also needs to improve the gas engine offerings. Although the all-aluminum 4.0-liter V-6 is plenty powerful, the fuel economy numbers (15/21/17 mpg city/highway/combined for the 4×4 five-speed automatic) are more like full-size V-6 numbers.

3. Upgraded Interior Materials

Another must for a new Nissan Frontier is improved touch-point materials throughout the cabin. Currently the cabin is full of hard plastic not seen in any other Nissan vehicle. While using Infiniti-like materials is probably a stretch, there is plenty of room for improvement. New soft-touch dash materials, Nissan's zero-gravity seats and some luxurylike touches could be great additions.

However, Nissan must keep an eye on the pricing. Our test model, as noted earlier, totaled $36,205. If Nissan substantially increases Frontier pricing, buyers will likely move up to a full-size model since the price comparison and fuel economy will be comparable. Even though midsize truck buyers usually want a smaller, better-handling vehicle, pricing it at or near an equivalent full-size model will not help.

With all that said, the midsize truck market is rapidly changing with more luxury packages being offered. In fact, according to our sources, a Colorado LT or Z71 crew cab (short or long bed) commonly costs $31,000 to $36,000. Whether midsize truck customers will opt for a higher-priced pickup remains to be seen; however, Nissan certainly doesn't have the resources like GM does and will likely not be able to take the risk of offering as many package options.


4. New Off-Road Model

One of the things that make the Nissan Frontier so much fun is the PRO-4X trim with Bilstein shocks, electronic locking differential and 16-inch off-road alloy wheels. While it's a great dealer up-sell over the base model, it could be further set apart like the all-new Toyota Tacoma, which includes two off-road models — the TRD Off-Road and the TRD Sport — as well as the extreme TRD Pro. Nissan would be smart to do the same.

Why build more off-road-oriented models? Simple — midsize truck buyers are normally folks who need a truck but don't want to maneuver a full-size model or they love off-roading. The off-road buyers typically want the smaller size for tighter trails where a full-size model like a Ford Raptor won't fit. Catering to this buyer would help the midsize Frontier stay competitive with Toyota, increase its credibility and create a niche for the product.

5. Unique Exterior Styling

One of the biggest challenges for any midsize and full-size pickup manufacturer is to create enough visual distinction between the models. While the idea of a "little brother" is a good way to lure buyers to a downsized option, creating a completely unique identity is really what marketers strive for. With the new Nissan Titan just around the corner with a sufficiently bold look, the Frontier will also need to create its own eye-catching look.

Another important challenge is to make sure the new truck still shares some of the styling cues of the larger model. Like Toyota just recently did with the trapezoidal grille, Nissan Frontier designers will need to tie in some angles and cues with the Titan.

As our recent romp on a nasty dirt road proved, the current Frontier PRO-4X has fun and excitement at its core, but the big challenge will be keeping the good stuff for the next generation and adding several significant improvements. It's our hope — no matter what Nissan does — that the Frontier won't lose its off-road spirit. photos by Tim Esterdahl




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