A Taste for Choice
When it comes to vehicles, Americans’ tastes vary widely. One man’s dream model might be a sporty little two-seat roadster; another woman’s ride might incorporate seating for seven and a tricked-out navigation/entertainment system. But one thing seems constant: everyone likes choices. And, last year 20 percent of compact pickup buyers chose a Nissan Frontier.
The 2012 Nissan Frontier comes from a bloodline that originated the compact truck segment in the U.S. and claims over 50 years of truck heritage “firsts”. The 2011 Frontier received the highest rating from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) and was also given a top recommended compact truck pick by Edmunds.com. The 2012 Frontier has undergone only a minor refresh, but it features a cornucopia of choices – two cab styles, multiple drivetrain combinations and up to four trim levels. This pick-up that starts at a base price of $18, 200 has something for just about everyone.
First introduced in 1997, the Nissan Frontier was available in either a regular or King cab style, with a 134-horsepower 4-cylinder engine running the show. These days, the pickup is a well-established player in the compact pick-up segment, with killer good looks and a choice of 4- or 6-cylinder drivetrains.
As followers of American politics (and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown) know, the pick-up market has evolved significantly in the past 13 years. No longer seen as simply rural workhorses, pickups often do double- or triple-duty as family vehicles and mobile workstations, thanks to innovations in technology, safety and fit-and-finish. And, Nissan’s Frontier is no exception.
Although the 2012 Nissan Frontier represents a refresher model year, updates include standard 2-Wheel Brake Limited Slip (ABLS); Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) on 4-cylinder engine equipped models; and new exterior colors. New options include a Sport Appearance Package on King Cab and Crew Cab SV models; the package features 18-inch SL aluminum-alloy wheels and a tasteful front grille with Dark Hyper Silver finish, body-color front and rear bumpers, sport cloth seat trim, white-faced gauges and Bluetooth.What We Drove
We drove two models of the 2012 Nissan Frontier on trails at the Medina River Ranch, in the Hill Country of Texas. Nissan calls its mid-size Frontier a “no compromise activity tool”, and says that it wears “full-size” truck hardware at compact-value pricing; it’s built on the same platform as the full-size Titan truck and Armada SUV. We have driven this model since it came to market in 1997 and have always liked its no-apologies, trucky ride and handling, plus its prowess off the pavement.
With 261 horsepower, Nissan claims leadership in the segment and also has a class-exclusive factory spray-on bed liner, with 5 bedrails compared to the competitors’ 3. What we say is that this fully-boxed pickup has a heavy duty frame, which translates to a solid ride feel, and has great command of the backcountry as a truly capable 4 x 4 player. We like its ingress, egress and good visibility; comfortable seats and pleasing ergonomics; as well as its power, responsive brakes and well-weighted steering.
We drove a Super Black Frontier CC 4 x 4 SV version with a Steel-colored interior that came with Nissan’s Premium Utility package that upgrades audio, and adds an electrochromic inside mirror, spray-on bed liner, tie-down cleats and a UTILI-TRAK channel system, among other goodies in this package, and was priced at $29, 595. We also motored the more off-road capable PRO-4X performance version set up with 16-inch wheels and BFG Rugged Trail tires; Bilstein shocks; 4 skid plates; and a rear locking differential. It was optioned with a Bed Extender Trailer Hitch package and retailed at just over $30,000.Cooking with Gas
The 2012 Nissan Frontier boasts decent fuel mileage for its class, with EPA estimates of 17/21 mpg city/highway on 4x2 King Cab models. Under the hood is a 4.0-liter V6 producing 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque; an available 2.5-liter 4-clyinder (King Cab 4x2 only) is rated at 152 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque.
The standard engine is mated to a 6-speed manual, while the 4-cylinder comes with a 5-speed stick shift. A 5-speed automatic also is available. The available 4-wheel drive system has 2WD/4H/4LO modes and an electronically-controlled, part-time transfer case. All key underbody hardware is tucked up to the frame rails for.9 inches (4x4) or 8.6 inches (4x2) of running ground clearance. Other Frontier driveline components include engine-speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack-and pinion steering and standard 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS.Putting it to Bed
Nissan has spent a lot of time thinking about – and innovating – the bed of its 2012 Nissan Frontier truck. Both Frontier King Cab and Crew Cab offer an available high-utility bed with factory-applied, spray-on bedliner and Nissan’s UTILE-TRAK™ tie-down system, which features cross-section rails mounted in the bed. Removable utility cleats slide into the channels for securing cargo.
The Frontier exterior also features a standard locking and detachable tailgate, a tinted front window, rear privacy glass and a hitch ball provision on the rear bumper for towing. New exterior colors for 2012 include Brilliant Silver, Metallic Blue and Lava Red; carryover colors are Red Brick, Super Black, Night Armor and Avalanche.Putting it Away
When it comes to pickups and storage, one expects great things. The 2012 Nissan Frontier doesn’t disappoint, with large rear doors (rear hinged on King Cab) for easy access to rear seats on King and Crew cabs. King Cab versions come with flip-up rear seats and both cab styles have removable storage boxes tucked beneath the rear seats, while the front passenger seat folds down for added load carrying capacity (except on leather trim models). A locking dual glove box, center console storage, one-liter bottle holders in the front doors and a multitude of cupholders as well as power points are standard.Ordering from the (Very Big) Menu
The 2012 Nissan Frontier lineup is like a Cheesecake Factory menu: packed, and with lots of variations on the same theme. Trim levels include S, SV, Pro-4X (a more rugged off-road package for 4x4 versions) and SL. The King Cab is available in four models: Frontier S-I4 4x2 (2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission); Frontier SV-I4 4x2 and (2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission); Frontier SV-V6 4x2 or 4x4 (4.0-liter V6, 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission); and the PRO-4X 4x4 (5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual).
The Frontier Crew Cab comes in S, SV, SL and PRO-4X trim levels, in Regular or Long
Bed body styles (SV and SL), each offered with a standard 4.0-liter V6 and a choice of 4x4 or 4x2. Powertrains.
Frontier Crew Cab S, SV models and the Frontier PRO-4X 4x4 are offered with either 6- speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmissions, while Crew Cab SL models are available with the 5-speed automatic transmission only.Having Your Cake…
The 2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X model features performance enhancements, exterior panache and interior creature comforts. Under the chassis are Bilstein® off-road high-pressure shock absorbers, skid plates on the oil pan and transfer case, an electronic rear differential locker 4-wheel limited-slip (ABLS) and machine-finished 16-inch aluminum-alloy, off-road wheels.
Body-colored grille and bumpers, outside mirrors and door handles and fog lamps are a key exterior feature; cruise control, remote keyless entry power windows and door locks and dual power outside mirrors are standard. The PRO-4X interior also gets a leather-appointed red-stitched shifter knob (M/T only) and steering wheel, chrome accent ring around the white-faced meter gauges and trip computer.
King Cab and Crew Cab feature flip-up rear seats and flat-fold front passenger’s seat
Leather power-adjustable seats, heated seats and mirrors and a rockin’ Fosgate-powered audio system with 6-disc in-dash CD autochanger. XM® Satellite Radio and MP3 capability with WMA/MP3 player aux-in jack (Crew Cab) are available, as is Bluetooth.
Options packages include the S Preferred Package (I-4 models only), which adds air conditioner and AM/FM/CD with digital clock. In addition, Frontier Crew Cab has optional leather seats interior and available tilt and sliding moonroof. PRO-4X model features leather-appointed red-stitched shifter knob (M/T only) and steering wheel, chrome accent rings and trip computer. A luxury package with additional features is available with PRO-4X models.Safety Check
The 2012 Nissan Frontier can tow up to 6,500 pounds and features Standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and standard 2-Wheel Brake Limited Slip (2WD models) or 4-Wheel Brake Limited Slip (4WD models). An electronic locking rear differential, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist are available on 4WD automatic transmission models.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, three-point seat belts on all rear positions and LATCH child seat tethers.What You Get for Your Money
The 2012 Nissan Frontier lineup starts at $18,200 for the base level King Cab 4x2 with a four-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual; it tops out at $32,080 for the top-of-the-line SL Crew Cab with 4x4, long bed, V6 and an automatic transmission.