If you’ve driven the same car for the better part of two decades, any new vehicle, good or bad, feels like a revelation. The same can be said for the Nissan Frontier, the outgoing version of which has been sold with few significant changes since 2004—three years before the first iPhone. Any update to the Frontier is bound to seem like a massive leap into the future. Or is it? The new 2022 Nissan Frontier is a solid midsize pickup truck, handsome and rugged, solidly built, reasonably comfortable (at least in the front row), and able to tackle heavy loads and tough terrain.
Nissan targeted the segment-champion Toyota Tacoma, and we can and will give you a stack of reasons to choose the Frontier over the Tacoma. But exactly what is really new about the 2022 Nissan Frontier beyond its styling?
Let’s lead with what we liked best about the new Frontier: its styling. This is a good-looking truck, with cues that give it a passing resemblance to the company’s full-size Titan but a look all its own. Our compliments apply to the interior, as well, where the 2022 Nissan Frontier reminds us that handsome styling can be balanced with sensible ergonomics (are you listening, Toyota?). All the controls are easy to find and use, and the red stitching and interior trim give the cabin a nice, racy splash of color.
Good-looking as it is, the interior is also entirely conventional—and that’s our biggest complaint about the 2022 Nissan Frontier. We were surprised less by what we saw and more by what we didn’t see in our top-of-the-line test truck: No seat-position memory. No auto-down function for windows other than the driver’s. No auto-stop or auto-hold. No lane keep assistance or alert. Time-delay wipers rather than rain-sensing. No air vents for the back seats. Aside from the USB-C ports, and perhaps a few legally required safety features, we couldn’t find anything in or on the 2022 Nissan Frontier we couldn’t have had in 2015. Of course, some buyers will see tried and true technology and take comfort in the fact there’s no bleeding-edge stuff to go on the fritz.
Is Mostly New … New Enough?
The same observation extends to the mechanical bits, particularly the engine, a mostly new 3.8-liter V-6 Nissan introduced in the 2020 Frontier. (We say “mostly new” because 93 percent of the parts are different from the engine it replaces, according to Nissan.) The engine’s rating of 310 hp wins the Frontier bragging rights over its competitors, but its 281 lb-ft of torque reminds us why the V-6 is a dying breed—the Ford Ranger gets 310 lb-ft from its smaller and more modern 2.3-liter turbo-four.
For our first few miles of driving, the nine-speed automatic did a good job of keeping revs down and fuel economy up, with smooth shifts under light throttle. But the roads soon turned hilly, and trying to keep up a freeway-speed pace threw the transmission into turmoil. Whether we used cruise control or the accelerator pedal, the transmission hunted continuously through its gears, never seeming to be able to find one it was satisfied with.
The suspension setup is entirely conventional, as is the hydraulically assisted steering, a technology we might well need to explain to readers younger than the age of 30. Purists like us may say they miss the feel of these old hydro systems (though electric power steering has largely caught up), but don’t expect a wave of nostalgia in the 2022 Nissan Frontier. Any precision feedback is largely lost in the tall, soft tires of the Pro-4X model we drove, and we found the steering effort a little too heavy on curvy roads.
The ride is busy and bumpy, though not any worse and perhaps even slightly better than the Toyota Tacoma’s. Noise levels were good, but the handling of our Frontier Pro-4X model was truckishly clumsy. Tacoma owners will no doubt be impressed by the way the new Frontier drives—Ford Ranger owners, too, perhaps—but anyone who has driven a Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, or Honda Ridgeline will be less enthralled.
Low-Tech Off-Roading, Good Trailering Stability
The latest Nissan Frontier has a simple four-wheel-drive system, with rear-drive, 4-Hi, and 4-Lo modes selected by an electronic dial shifter. In other words, the same system as the prior Frontier. Pro-4X models get a lockable rear differential, and hill-descent control represents the height of the Frontier’s technological savvy. Pro-4X models get stout recovery hooks on the front but not the back.
To demonstrate the 2022 Frontier’s off-road prowess, Nissan brought us to the sort of rough-and-rocky trail where your best bet is to put your foot down and bash through, relying on the Frontier Pro-4X’s stout tires, stout torque, and stout skidplates to get you through. Ignoring a cacophony of worrying clanks from the front suspension, we found the competence we’d expect from any small truck, though subtlety and finesse are not among this Nissan’s off-road attributes. This is no Jeep Gladiator Rubicon or Chevrolet Colorado ZR2.
We also got a chance to tow a boat/trailer combination Nissan said weighed 5,700 pounds, which is close to the 6,470-pound maximum towing capacity of the Frontier Pro-4X 4×4. (Two-wheel-drive S models can tow up to 6,720 pounds. Oh, and while we’re talking numbers, the Frontier’s payload ranges from 1,230 pounds to an impressive 1,480.) We were rather impressed by the stability, especially considering we were towing with a short-wheelbase Pro-4X model. (A long-wheelbase version with a six-foot bed is offered, as well, but only in SV trim.) But the weight overwhelmed the engine at higher speeds, turning the accelerator pedal into a volume pedal. When we opened the throttle at 45 mph, we got lots of noise but little change in speed.
Nissan plans four versions of the 2022 Frontier pickup, with prices ranging from $28,990 for the Frontier S 4×2 King Cab (that’s Nissan-speak for extended cab) to $38,390 for the Pro-4X 4×4. In between, you’ll find the midrange SV, which, like the S, is available with either King or crew cabs, and the crew-cab-only Pro-X, which provides the Pro-4X’s off-road styling cues with a 4×2 driveline. Options are limited to a handful of packages, with prices topping out just shy of $45,000.
We like the way the new 2022 Frontier looks, and if Nissan’s sole purpose was to make a truck better than the Toyota Tacoma, it has accomplished that goal. The Frontier looks better and is better to drive than the Toyota, though that’s not a terribly high bar to clear.
Compare the 2022 Nissan Frontier to the rest of the midsize class, though, and it loses its luster, to the point we began to wonder if Nissan’s engineers had even bothered to drive a Ridgeline or a Ranger Tremor or a Colorado ZR2. We’re disappointed mostly by the lack of innovation after all these years; we had hoped Nissan would set a new standard for midsize trucks—or at least equip the Frontier with some of the features found in modern-day half-tonners. Instead, Nissan gives us a conventional midsize truck that amounts to little more than a game of catch-up.