It’s amazing to think about how up-in-arms car reviewers and auto journalists (real and professed) get about a vehicle platform that has some age to it. The last-generation Ram had been around for FOREVER (2009-present as the Ram Classic). The Dodge Charger, Challenger and Chrysler 300 are ANCIENT (2005 to present, if you don’t count the Charger and 300’s update in 2011, or the Challenger’s 2015 facelift.) The Nissan GT-R has been the same since 2007, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX have been around about as long, and nobody mention anything about the Chevrolet Express, GMC Savana, or the legitimately ancient Ford E-series, which was last renovated thoroughly in 1992. But one notable benchmark, a vehicle that many thought had been forgotten, has finally seen some work: the Nissan Frontier. Last updated in 2005 and feeling more-or-less the same as it had when it replaced the Hardbody in 1997, the Frontier was always a good knock-around value pickup…and one that only felt worth buying when surrounded by the likes of military HMMWVs, crashed BMWs barely making it on four out of six cylinders, and Kia Bongo vans. You bought a Frontier because it was cheap without being cheap and crappy, the beauty of amortized development costs. But for years now, the reaction to the Frontier was the same: “Oh…they’re still making it, huh?”
Well, in a way, yes they are. Sure, the outer skin is new, and bless them for the change, it’s an improvement. The engine hasn’t changed…last year, the Frontier gained the 3.8L V6 so there was no need to do any work there. With 310 horsepower and 281 ft/lbs of torque, the Frontier has plenty of grunt for a truck its size. The sole transmission is a nine-speed automatic, the PRO-4X off-road trim brings in electric locking differentials, skid plates, and Bilstien off-road shocks. You even get trailer sway control on every model. Inside seems a bit overzealous on the promotion truck, but the controls are neat and clear and the seats are Zero Gravity units that are supposed to reduce fatigue.
What you don’t get, however, is a new frame. You do get a very re-worked version of the last frame, one that has been updated considerably. It’s a fully-boxed steel unit that has been updated to handle the IIHS overlap crash test, something that came about after the last-generation Frontier was designed, and something that the last-generation Frontier scored poorly at.
“One of the other big things was the safety improvements that were made for the latest NCAP and IIHS safety and our safety strategy within Nissan,” Melania Vasko, a Nissan vehicle program development manager, said. “So, we did make several great improvements to the frame not only for dynamic performance but also for safety improvements.”
It’s fun to break out a new model every couple of years, but there is something to be said about slow, steady and methodical changes on a program that works. It appears that Nissan is taking this road, and for the better.
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