The mid-size Nissan Frontier is the only pickup truck sold in the U.S. that can be had for less than $20,000, and for that reason it deserves attention. At a time when some pickup truck prices are climbing into the stratosphere, it's nice that there's a pickup for buyers who simply want a no-nonsense, functional cargo hauler that doesn't swallow a bank account whole. We even did a video about all things we like about it. However, we would be remiss if we didn't also point out the trade-offs of purchasing a truck like the Nissan Frontier.
We recently spent time with a 2018 Nissan Frontier S King Cab with a 6-foot bed and a 4×2 drivetrain. Aside from the $150 floormats, the price of this base-trim Frontier was $19,965 including destination. This truck was powered by a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine (making 171 pounds-feet of torque) and a five-speed manual transmission. It came with manual sideview mirrors, manual door locks and manual window cranks.
The biggest weakness of this economical pickup? It's suspension. Not only does the Nissan Frontier provide a limited payload capacity — a paltry 827 pounds, meaning around 635 pounds if I'm driving — but it also has some of the most punishing front and rear suspension jitters we've felt in a long time. On the plus side, the Frontier is probably the single best example of how far today's pickup trucks have come. That's because the Frontier is essentially unchanged since 2004 and is in desperate need of an upgrade. Thankfully, we know the all-new (based off the impressive global Nissan Navara) will be showing up next year.
Below are the top five things we hope will be fixed in the 2018 Nissan Frontier.
The front coil and rear leaf springs are fine, but we found ourselves making sure we never let the gas tank get too low because the extra weight dramatically improved the ride quality. We're guessing loading a few hundred more pounds in the bed would have done even more. Nowadays all trucks should deliver a good ride when empty and loaded — and do it with a much higher payload rating. With two smaller adults in the Nissan Frontier, we'd barely be able to legally carry 500 pounds of payload, which is roughly the same capacity as a compact crossover.
We know many people still like the extended-cab option (called King Cab for Nissan) whether full-size or mid-size, but not if the rear doors open to only 90 degrees. Such an opening makes it almost impossible to access the rear in-cab storage or seating area in a tight parking lot. Larger double-jointed hinges provide more convenience and minimize the unsightly gaps that result from Nissan's old-school strategy.
Whether the problem is in the joints, the rods or the full steering mechanism, the shudder and vibration transmitted through the steering column and wheel is, at times, a bit unnerving — especially with so many improvements by the Nissan Frontier's competitors. And it's hard to find another 4×2 mid-size pickup with the same amount of steering wander and numbness as the Frontier's. Whatever the issue, the Nissan Frontier's steering needs an upgrade.
Better Bed Tech
Today's pickups do double duty, often serving as family hauler and work truck. No single area of the vehicle better defines how well it will tackle those tasks than the bed. With just four standard tie-down points, the Nissan Frontier's bed makes it difficult to safely strap down large or small cargo boxes. Likewise, the bed's tailgate is heavy and lacks any kind of lift or drop assist. To make the bed more useful, more tie-down hooks and tailgate assist should be available for all trim levels, not just some trim levels.
The interior of the current Nissan Frontier is seriously dated, and this is where it's easiest for Nissan to make improvements and close the gap with competitors. Better material choices and improved multimedia technology will help but providing more standard features will help a great deal as well. Get rid of the manual mirrors, locks and window cranks, and let customers know you want to give them as much as possible for a reasonable price. They'll appreciate it.
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams