Review: 2022 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X
What do you expect from a mid-size pickup truck? Is it purely for work, hauling & towing, and helping you do business? Is it a family shuttle, schlepping kids around on a daily basis? Is it purely a toy, used to trek to off-road getaways for the weekend or perhaps longer? The myriad roles that a pickup is expected to fill surely makes it one of the more challenging vehicles to engineer, and yet the market has five mid-size offerings that each manages to do the job quite well. Will Nissan be able to make a dent with its newest Frontier?
Until the 2022 Frontier came along, Nissan had been selling the same basic mid-size pickup since the 2005 model year. That’s quite a long time in pickup years, especially in such a competitive arena. Since the Frontier was launched in late 2004, the Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado, and GMC Canyon have all seen complete redesigns and the Toyota Tacoma has received numerous facelifts and enhancements. Still, the second-generation Frontier soldiered on and proved to be a solid sales workhorse in the United States.
After being deprived of the Frontier variant that launched in other global markets for 2012, North America finally gets the thoroughly redesigned 2022 Frontier with a totally new interior, cab, and exterior sheet metal. It all rides on an updated version of the existing Frontier’s ladder-frame chassis. Also carrying over is its 3.8-liter, 310-hp V-6 and nine-speed automatic transmission, both of which were late additions to the previous-generation Frontier. There’s nothing surprising with the chassis—the solid axle out back and IFS up front with coil springs stick around.
Starting at $38,390, including destination, the PRO-4X is the truck’s top 4×4 trim comes nicely equipped with LED headlights, fender flares, underbody skid plates, Bilstein off-road performance shock absorbers, and an overall design scheme that eschews chrome for black trim. It’s not entirely monochrome like the various “Midnight,” “Dark Shadow,” or “Tactical Black Turtleneck” editions that associate editor Nate Petroelje loves to hate. Rather, you’ll find “Lava Red” tow hooks up front to match the Nissan emblems, and the skidplates are finished in a contrasting silver. Our PRO-4X came equipped with the $2790 PRO Premium package that brings leather seating surfaces, a Fender audio system with 10 speakers, an auto-dimming mirror, 17-inch beadlock-style aluminum wheels, a power sunroof, and upgraded door panel and console trim. The $1990 Pro Convenience package adds a host of functional upgrades to the bed including a spray-in liner, cargo tie-down system, under-rail lighting, and a 120-volt outlet. Also included are wireless charging; heated seats side mirrors, and steering wheel; remote start; a 360-degree camera system; and a trailer hitch with accompanying wiring. Finally, the $990 Technology Package adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure and blind-spot warning systems, as well as rear sonar that brings rear cross-traffic alert and rear automatic braking.
Our first chore for the Frontier was a long road trip, where the nine-speed auto shifted so smoothly it was practically imperceptible. On the highway, our only real gripe with the truck was a noticeable lag between hitting the throttle and getting a downshift when passing. The truck’s 310 horsepower puts it quite a bit above the 278-hp Tacoma and 270-hp Ranger in terms of peak power and slightly ahead of the Colorado/Canyon twins and their 308-hp 3.6-liter V-6. Overall, the 3.8 is more than adequate at getting the truck up to highway speeds in a hurry and offers an EPA rating of 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, with a combined 19 mpg rating. Two-wheel-drive models squeeze out an additional 1 mpg for the combined rating. That’s just behind the rest of the current crop of mid-size pickups, which each manage 21-23 mpg combined depending on the powertrain.
Nissan refers to its front buckets as “Zero Gravity” seats, although they don’t look like anything out of the ordinary. Then, after a few hours behind the wheel on a long stretch of highway, we realized that we hadn’t had to think about the seat adjustment or our own seating position in hours. Maybe there are more flattering ways to applaud a seat, but forgetting that they’re even there is really what you want out of them, right? Regardless of the name, they work as advertised. Likewise, the rear seats seemed equally comfortable, and offer a great view and plenty of headroom even though our well-optioned test vehicle was equipped with a sunroof that robbed a bit of headroom. Very tall rear-seat passengers may find the hip point to be a touch low, but otherwise, the second row is not a bad place to be.
Our drive in the Frontier took us to California’s high desert sand and sandstone. The PRO-4X suspension feels like it was built for the kind of two-track roads that we encountered in the desert during one of several little detours filled with off-road playtime. Although far from cushy, the Frontier ate up these trails and absorbed the jounces thrown its way by the armadillo-sized rocks in its path. The PRO-4X is equipped with underbelly skid plates and a pair of front-mounted tow hooks, neither of which we had the opportunity to put to the test. We also didn’t test any high-tech off-road presets (seeing as the Frontier doesn’t have any). The truck’s electronic-shifting transfer case doesn’t have a lot of complicated knobs or dials encouraging the driver to pick a terrain mode or otherwise change the throttle response or the activation of the rear locker. Simply pick your transfer case setting, choose to lock the rear differential or not, and go. Uncomplicated is commendable, in its own way.
That PRO-4X suspension that did so admirably off-road also translated well to the highway where it offered a predictable, firm ride over all but the worst pavement. There were only two scenarios that unsettled the Frontier, and both were freeway-speed curves, one with broken pavement that caused the rear axle to shudder and another with perfectly spaced undulations that induced a porpoising motion. Both scenarios would have likely caused similar reactions in just about any other solid-axle pickup, and it would have likely been worse in a truck with a heavier suspension, like a 3/4-ton. That said, our PRO-4X did feel very much like a truck, thanks in part to its noticeably heavy steering.
Nissan chose an interior design that is closer to utilitarian than luxurious, which is logical for an off-road focused machine. The door panels and their controls are simple and intuitive, as are the buttons on the dash. Our tester was equipped with the NissanConnect nine-inch touch-screen display. Apple CarPlay functionality comes only when plugged into the USB ports in the dash, and a wireless charging tray is just aft of that, with a compact console shifter and twin cupholders between them. One nitpicking detail we have to point out: The switch for the electronic locking rear differential is on the left of the dash, and low, next to the traction control button. Most manufacturers locate these functions in the center stack, and placing these near the transfer case shifter seems most logical to us. On the other hand, spreading the buttons out did allow the new Frontier’s center stack to remain nicely uncluttered.
One of our most startling revelations in the new Frontier came when we fired up the Fender audio system and played music for the first time. It had a serious thump of bass. We assumed that the previous driver had cranked it up, but when we checked the equalizer it was right in the middle. We’re not complaining; the system did make our music sound great. We even turned the bass up a bit out of curiosity, and it continued to deliver clear sound through the speakers. Our only complaint regarding the audio system is that the equalizer had adjustments for bass and treble, but nothing else, and it seems that an upgraded audio system should offer more adjustability.
Our time with the Frontier tells us that Nissan is aiming the PRO-4X at the heart of the truck enthusiast market: people who want a truck to act like a truck. It doesn’t drive like a car, it’s not particularly soft, and aside from its optional surround-view cameras, radar cruise control, and lane-departure warnings, it’s not trying hard to show off any outrageous tech. The all-new look of the 2022 Frontier seems to be a hit with everyone that sees it, and we particularly like the bedsides, which flare just slightly. The options you’d likely want to have are there, but Nissan seems to stuck kept pretty close to the formula that served the previous Frontier so well for so long. Though we don’t expect it to rocket to the top of the midsize segment, this is a sensible, well-executed next iteration.
2022 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X
Price: $38,390/$44,315 (Base/As-tested)
Highs: Clean new design, fun off-road dynamics, continues to be a great value.
Lows: Nothing particularly groundbreaking, so-so fuel economy.
Summary: A worthy successor to the rough-and-tumble Nissan 4x4s of the past.