Given the way I fell in love with the Ford F-150 I tested last year, I might be mistaken for some yee-haw-shouting, horse-trailer-pulling ranch hand. But I’m not. I’m a simple girl who lives in the suburbs with three children and a husband. I haul more groceries than horse trailers. Nevertheless, I do have an unlikely affinity for fun, practical and powerful trucks.
The 2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X doesn’t hit the mark perfectly in any of these categories, but for a smaller truck that’s decently priced, it does a good job of trying to keep up with the big guys.
The Frontier has a surprisingly spacious crew cab that fits five comfortably, plenty of storage options and a base model with an extended cab that starts below $20,000.
Of course, if you want a bigger engine, a crew cab and four-wheel-drive, the starting price goes up a bit. The off-road-ready Frontier PRO-4X with a crew cab that I tested has a starting price of $30,495, including an $825 destination charge. With the addition of an USB input and floor mats, the grand total on my test car was $31,275. The PRO-4X also comes as a King Cab.
Whereas the base model has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the PRO-4X comes with a 4.0-liter V-6 engine. On paper that sounds great, but in reality, it was a bit disappointing. This is plenty of power for a truck this size, but the PRO-4X is configured for off-roading, making the drive around town feel downright awkward. I drove the Frontier up and down mountain highways, and though acceleration was fine, handling felt clumsy and rough on the smooth pavement. Word on the street is that the other Frontier models offer a better driving experience and if that’s the case, how can you fault the PRO-4X for doing what it’s made to do?
Because it’s a smaller truck and has fender flares over the tires that look like bulbous muscles, the Frontier reminds me of a stout bodybuilder. In other words, it’s got some appeal and is definitely athletic-looking, but it’s not a look that is universally admired. Sixteen-inch off-road alloy wheels, tinted rear privacy glass, power side mirrors, and front and rear splash guards complete the Frontier’s rough-rider look.
One of the best things about a truck for a family is the freedom you have to load up the cargo bed without giving too much thought to the whole process. In an SUV or minivan, I often have a whole series of calculations required to ensure that everything my family needs for a trip will actually fit. There’s none of that with a truck since the bed is so spacious. The sky is literally the limit! I heaved bikes, strollers and luggage in the Frontier’s 4.5-foot bed and had room for plenty more.
The Frontier PRO-4X also comes with the Utili-Track channel system that makes securing cargo easy via sliding hooks. A standard cab-mounted cargo bed lamp is also great when you’re forced to load or unload in the dark. The Frontier can tow up to 6,500 pounds, which means that this is one small but mighty truck.
Because it’s a smaller truck, the Frontier’s step-in height is quite manageable, even for small children. Though my daughter is feisty and strong-willed, it’s notable that my tiny 2-year old was able to hoist herself into the truck without adult help. In other words, if she can do it, almost anyone can!
The base engine is a 2.5-liter dual-overhead-camshaft inline-four-cylinder engine that makes 152 horsepower and 171 pounds-feet of torque; with rear-wheel drive, it gets an EPA-estimated 17/22 mpg city/highway. The PRO-4X comes with a 4.0-liter dual-overhead-camshaft V-6 and delivers 261 hp and 281 pounds-feet of torque. It gets 14/19 mpg. My test car came with a five-speed automatic transmission and a shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system. A six-speed manual transmission is also available.
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
The Frontier’s interior is nothing fancy, but it’s surprising in its spaciousness and practicality. The PRO-4X’s seats are covered with an attractive black and red cloth upholstery. Leather is also available. The driver and front passenger seats are quite comfortable, though the rear bench seat could use more padding to cushion the ride for adult passengers.
Headroom and legroom are decent all around, and the crew cab fits five passengers with unexpected ease. As for practicality, there are four cupholders and four bottleholders on the doors. There are plenty of other storage possibilities, including dual glove boxes, a tray atop the dashboard and several smaller trays near the gearshift that are convenient for securing smartphones or wallets. The center console is deep and includes coin slots.
The center stack, though unattractively covered in black and silver plastic, is refreshing in its simplicity and easy for anyone to operate. My dad had no problem navigating the audio system, which suggests that it’s kind of old school; my children were not able to operate the system, which confirms that it’s old school. It’s modern enough to include satellite radio and an auxiliary jack as standard features.
My test truck had an upgraded Rockford Fosgate audio system with six-CD changer and auxiliary input, a first-aid kit and a trip computer. Other available options include a sunroof, heated power front seats, heated side mirrors and a roof rack.
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample/Galore
The 2012 Nissan Frontier received the top rating of Good across all Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-test categories except for rear protection, for which it received an Average rating. It hasn’t been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
When it comes to family time, you can squeeze in two convertible seats and a booster across the second row’s three-seat bench, but it’s not possible to fit three convertibles. The only thing that compromises front legroom in the crew cab is the installation of a rear-facing infant seat. This compromise is not unique to the Frontier — it happens in many crossovers and SUVs as well.
The Frontier crew cab has two sets of Latch anchors. Slits in the seat upholstery makes the lower anchors easy to locate and use. The top tethers are on the back of the seats and are accessed by folding the seat forward. Once you fold the seat back into place and lock it, things feel quite secure.
The 2012 Frontier has standard rear-wheel drive, antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. Hill start assist and hill descent control are standard on the PRO-4X that I tested as well as other Frontier models with four-wheel drive.
Get more safety information about the 2012 Nissan Frontier here.