2018 Nissan Frontier Surprises Full-Size Truck Owner

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By Andy Mikonis

When Nissan offered me a weeklong loan of a base 2018 Frontier S, I jumped on it for two reasons. First, when I was a judge for PickupTrucks.com's 2016 Midsize Truck Challenge, I noted the Frontier was the bargain in the contest at $37,058 — and that was a well-equipped model. But here was the 2018 base model ringing up at just more than $20,000 and I wondered if the idea still held true.

The second reason was the Nissan Frontier gets a lot of grief for being long in the tooth. It hasn't had a significant redesign since the 2005 model year. This could be a positive, though, since Nissan should have worked all the bugs out by now. I wanted to see whether this criticism was justifiable before the updated 2019 Nissan Frontier hits the roads.

So, what do you get with the base-level Nissan Frontier S?

My 4x2 King Cab test unit with the standard 152-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission had a starting price of $19,965 (all prices include destination charges). It had only one factory option — carpeted floormats for $150. Now, it's not unheard of for automakers to overcharge for floormats, but in the case of this Nissan, it puts the truck's total cost at $20,115. If Nissan's goal was to emphasize that this Frontier is value priced, you'd think it would come with cheaper floormats to keep it less than $20,000.

Nissan Specs Chart

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As far as equipment, essential and otherwise, the Frontier S scores quite high. It has air conditioning, cruise control and intermittent wipers. There's a CD player if you are still into that and if you're not, the radio has auxiliary and USB inputs and an "iPod menu" button. Hands-free phone and Siri Eyes Free integration is included. The federally mandated backup camera is a nice touch as well. Finally, as a victim of attempted tailgate theft, I appreciated the lockable tailgate.

What You Get

As far as features you will have to do without, the Nissan Frontier S has basic crank windows (less stuff to break), manual door locks (offend your passenger and they might reach over to unlock your door) and no vanity mirrors (use the rearview mirror to check your teeth). Given the typically loaded press vehicles I test, I found the base configuration refreshing. (I drive a Jeep TJ Wrangler in real life, so I'm no stranger to plastic interiors and crank windows.)

King Cabs have rear-hinged half doors for the passenger compartment and two foldable jump seats with small storage bins underneath. Combined with the 6-foot bed that's standard on King Cabs — longer than some full-size pickups — it's a good combination of interior and bed space. In fact, it fit in my 20-foot-deep garage with room to spare through an 8-foot opening without having to fold in the mirrors. The doors sound solid, though they do flutter a bit when slammed.

Inside, the seats were basic, covered in a textured cloth that stayed fairly cool on hot days. The head restraints poked too far forward for my liking, but I am tall. The dashboard has a couple cubbies for phones and small items and a small-but-deep center bin storage. Elbow points have a thin rubbery layer to keep it livable. I liked that it had a good, old-fashioned key start, but don't be surprised if you hit the wipers more than a few times when reaching for the key.

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Other Driving Options for the Price

So, what are your other vehicle choices for this kind of money? I recently drove a base 2019 Volkswagen Jetta with an automatic transmission, which rang up at $20,195 ($19,395 with a manual.) It was a nice, solid car, but it was just a car. There are lots of smaller crossovers and SUVs available, but under the skin most of them are just cars, too. There's something to be said for having rugged truck underpinnings, especially if you carry big loads, furniture or big toys.

The Nissan Frontier S came standard with 235/75R15 tires — now there's a size I remember from my youth. A taller aspect ratio helps absorb bigger bumps and will probably still be cheaper to replace than the more trendy, low-profile tires. And, of course, you have more accessible space and higher payload for your hauling needs.

A Nissan Frontier Fan

My dad, Ken, is on his third new Nissan Frontier. I asked why he moved from cars to a pickup.

"I always liked the idea of a pickup from hanging around with you," he said. "You would talk about how you did this and did that with your pickup. Then we moved to a new place and wanted to do landscaping and other things around the house. That's when we decided to go new and bought the first Frontier."

But why a mid-size instead of something like, say, the diesel Ram heavy duty I once lent him for a month?

"Utility, especially with the later ones, and comfort were the two main factors," he said. "I suppose any pickup has utility, but it's the overall body length of the Frontier I like. We have a smaller garage and it fits perfectly. It's a King Cab, so it has great additional space for smaller packages on short trips. I've had one passenger in the back in 10 years, so I didn't want a four-door. It's tailor-made for my requirements."

The Motorcycle Challenge

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Taking advantage of having a pickup for a week, I ran some errands. I took in some used oil and antifreeze for recycling. We bought some plants and stocked up on charcoal from the local home improvement emporium. Sure, these are things you can do with a car or SUV if you exercise some care to not make a mess. Before the truck was reclaimed by Nissan, I decided to carry something you definitely cannot put inside a car or SUV: a vintage motorcycle. I needed to get the bike from a storage garage to my home shop for some work before firing it up for the season.

The first issue was getting the 7-foot-1-inch-long motorcycle into a 6-foot bed (Nissan calls it 73.3 inches, according to the specifications). The solution was obvious, but it was funny that I had a sticker on my toolbox showing a Nissan Frontier with a motorcycle placed diagonally in the back, so that was the plan. Grabbing a ramp and some helpers, I parked the pickup truck with the rear wheels in the gutter at an alley entrance. The tailgate came off easily enough in typical fashion, with the added step of disconnecting the backup camera wiring harness. The Nissan's reasonable suspension height did not create much of an incline and it was quick work to roll the bike in. After some jockeying around, it was solidly strapped in using four rings bolted in the bed sides.

Before doing that, of course, I needed to figure out whether the Nissan Frontier could safely haul my motorcycle. The bike weighs 452 pounds with a full tank of gas. The tank was empty, so I threw in a few items you might need in a transportation or resuscitation operation: my small road toolbox, a battery and a portable air tank. That load weighed in at 540 pounds. Add the driver (235 pounds) for a total of 775 of payload. I found some discrepancies in Nissan's published maximum payload capacity: The tire and loading sticker said 827 pounds, while Nissan's specification data said 900 pounds. With a full tank of fuel, the unloaded truck weighed in at 3,760 pounds. I subtracted that amount from the Nissan Frontier's gross vehicle weight rating of 4,700 pounds to get a calculated payload capacity of 940 pounds, meaning the truck was not overloaded.

Nissan Weight Chart

The Frontier felt the weight of the load, mostly evidenced by requiring more liberal applications of 1st gear, but it didn't strain to merge with highway traffic or pull overdrive at 55 mph and up. When driving a loaded manual transmission Nissan Frontier in city traffic, expect the shifter to get a workout, but clutch effort is light and the shifter is smooth and positive. Suspension tuning is bang-on in terms of handling the load. The otherwise somewhat bouncy empty ride smoothed right out with the payload. Other than some general road noise, the engine was quiet and the Frontier cruised nicely on the highway. Sixty mph clocks in at 2,400 rpm in 5th gear. My only real complaint was the soft brake-pedal feel, though it never had issues stopping in safe distances.

Fuel Economy

With the truck empty and loaded, I ran the same 50.8-mile loop for fuel-economy testing. Filling it at the same pump before and after each loop, I set the pump on the first (slowest) catch and let it shut off automatically. The route consisted of about 6 miles of city driving, 14 miles of multilane 40-55-mph suburban roads with scattered stoplights and the rest was urban expressway driving. Windows were up, air conditioning was on the same setting for both legs and I didn't idle it waiting for the pump. The EPA rates the manual Nissan Frontier at 19/23/21 mpg city/highway/combined. At 22.6 mpg, the empty run got within half a mile per gallon of the EPA highway rating, which I thought was pretty good. The loaded run, recording 24 mpg, got 1 mpg better than the EPA's highway rating.

Nissan Fuel Economy Chart

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It may seem counterintuitive, but we've seen it before. Traffic conditions were similar, though I did get caught for a few minutes between some pop-up construction sites and a lane-striping operation during the empty run. I wasn't hypermiling, but I drove easy keeping the revs down without lugging it or falling behind traffic. Maybe this engine is more efficient revving closer to its torque peak, where it would have been during our loaded loop. Or it could have just been fluctuations with the pump.

A Pickup Enthusiast's Takeaway

Though I try to stay objective when reviewing vehicles, I've owned six full-size pickup trucks and never considered anything smaller. The Frontier S proved it is a completely viable ground support vehicle for my vintage motoring hobby, plus it can be employed in countless other uses. The only thing it couldn't do for me was trailer one of my vintage cars. Now that I think about it, I don't trailer my cars anyway. The money saved here would certainly offset having to make occasional arrangements for a project or parts car haul.

You could choose a fancier or bigger truck for your needs, but the prospect of a new vehicle at this price with a warranty (36 months/36,000 miles bumper to bumper, 60 months/60,000 miles powertrain), maintained to your standards, is difficult to ignore. And when the warranty is up, a long production run means lots of interchangeable parts to harvest in salvage yards for years to come.

Cars.com photos by Andy Mikonis; Cars.com graphics by Jen Burklow

 

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Comments

And finally, a full-sized truck owner understands what I've been saying for the last 10 years. You don't NEED a full-sized truck if you never use its full capabilities.

With respect to fuel mileage with a loaded pick-up truck, it is my experience that hauling 800 to 1000 lbs has little effect on fuel mileage unless you are driving into elevated terrain or in city traffic. Now having said that, that same weight in the form of 2 refrigerators that stood 3-4 feet above the roofline dramatically affected my highway fuel mileage.

You cannot find one with a manual anymore. They're listed, but very hard to find.

@GMSRGREAT

Trying to accurately measure fuel economy comparing two fifty mile runs is hopeless. It's even worse if you have to contend with mixed driving.

I would love to mileage-test this particular model on 1000 miles of interstate driving---level roads, low traffic. Purpose being to really grasp what the highway mileage can be without hypermiling. An extra gear or two would really help this Frontier improve on gas mileage, but I bet I could get 25 mpg easily as is.

if u could live with that interior??? Its still a PROVEN little truck!

I have to agree with @GMSRGREAT. Unless your are loaded extremely heavy, mpg doesn't take much of a hit with some weight in the truck. My truck's mpg is the same whether or not I have a toolbox in the back or a light load.

@ Vulpine,

Same here! I accomplish everything I need with my Tacoma's, no need for a full-size.

I run a 65-gallon water tank to water my trees in the country, my 42-inch deck tractor mower fits completely inside my bed with tailgate up, and I haul growing materials with ease including removing trees.

Why would I need a full-size when everything is accomplished with just a mid-size?

@papa jim--I have found a manual Frontier but it was at dealers in more rural areas. This is true for Colorados and most midsize trucks. For me it would be worth it to travel to get what I wanted. I recently saw this same truck in silver with a gray interior which is the color I would choose anyway.

The 6 speed manual in the Colorado/Canyon is better but I would not rule out the Frontier with a 5 speed--good truck for the money.

@oxi--I would agree a midsize truck easily meets most of my needs. I used my 85 Mitsubishi Mighty Max for everything including hauling gravel, 2 x 4s, mulch, appliances, and everything else including pulling a tree stump out. I have basically done the same with my S-10. I would take any of the current midsize trucks they are all very capable.

Sold manual Nissan Frontiers all the time.
Some in higher trim levels.
We always had a few new ones on the lot. Probably about as common as the chevy 6.2 in a half ton.

It was still easy to upsell a lot of people from a well equipped 4x4 Frontier to a heavily incentived Titan. For 3 or 4K more and 2 or 3 MPG less you can get a real truck that can do real work.

Sold manual Nissan Frontiers all the time.
Some in higher trim levels.
We always had a few new ones on the lot. Probably about as common as the chevy 6.2 in a half ton.

It was still easy to upsell a lot of people from a well equipped 4x4 Frontier to a heavily incentived Titan. For 3 or 4K more and 2 or 3 MPG less you can get a real truck that can do real work.

@ Clint
I agree. Mid-size is nice for small tasks and getting groceries but you need a real truck for real work.

The F-150 Eco-Boost has the best value for the money
It gets the BEST gas mileage with the BEST Torque

why, why, WHY would anyone buy a tiny truck, a toy when the Eco-Boost is the same price plus you get class leading power, hauling and towing?

Not only that you get respect, respect and MORE RESPECT for owning an Eco-Boost !
When others see my Eco-Boost they say to themselves: "I wish I owned that truck"

The above comment is proof Ford fans can't do math.

No ecoboost cost the same as this nissan's $19,000 price.

And you can't fit that F150 on most trails. Not to mention parking spaces etc.

Can't help but laugh at another drunk comment from ecoturd

@GMSRGREAT

Trying to accurately measure fuel economy comparing two fifty mile runs is hopeless. It's even worse if you have to contend with mixed driving.

Posted by: papajim | Jun 15, 2018 10:50:50 AM

I totally agree, however, the refrigerators experience I spoke of involved a nearly 300 mile drive. Empty up to 600 to 800 lbs of concealed cargo , I routinely get over 21 mpg doing that same trip. The refrigerators knocked me back to 18 mpg.

I doubt if you could get a full size pickup for the price of this Frontier. If all you need is a midsize truck then why get a bigger truck unless it is for ego. Midsize trucks are real trucks and can be used as such. Most people who really need a truck for work or business will get a 3/4 or 1 ton truck and not a half ton. Buy what you like and enjoy it.

$29,200 is the lowest starting price for F-150 without ecoboost. $30,195 with ecoboost.
Math update for the Ford guy, Cost of the F-150 is more than 50% more than Frontier. With no rear seats included in F-150 cost.

As to "Real Work" I see more work being done in these base level Frontier than I do the average full size pickup. If only due to high level of commercial usage of the base Frontier and personal use of full size trucks.

@ ecoboost

Your delusional!! Your ecobust doesn't get best in class, thats just what Ford lies tells u and we can all see that you believe every word!

I've got the previous generation FRONTIER....2003....I've owned it for 9 years...Bought it with 97k miles, I just rolled over 200k....would love to have something newer but I have no reason to get rid of the '03....day in, day out, combined town and country driving averages 23mpg as I keep track tank full after tank full....my previous pu was a 96 Frontier extended cab, before that a 95 standard cab I traded in on the 96 because of the room factor. I've used the 03 to pull a 4x8 open trailer loaded with mulch, (every year I've owned it) a full size 4x4 atv, (I repair them as a retirement job) a 6x12 box trailer from TN to Colorado and back full of furniture from my aunt's estate sale....that may have been outside the owners manual recommendation but it handled it...speeds were kept at 60 mph...mostly 4th gear.....great truck...now if I could justify a reason to move up to a newer version but there isn't one...oil has been changed every 3-3500 miles, coolant every 50k, trans, rearend, and brake fluid every 75k miles so I'm good to go for who knows how long....I do all my own maintenance without a lift in a farm shop....by the way, I turn 68 I next month.....FOR EVER FRONTIER!!!

I totally agree, however, the refrigerators experience I spoke of involved a nearly 300 mile drive. Empty up to 600 to 800 lbs of concealed cargo , I routinely get over 21 mpg doing that same trip. The refrigerators knocked me back to 18 mpg.


Posted by: GMSRGREAT | Jun 15, 2018 2:43:39 PM

you got the 6.2 right? what year is your's? so you don't see 23 to 24 MPG's like TNTGMC does, that good regardless

"You cannot find one with a manual anymore. They're listed, but very hard to find." ---- Posted by: papajim

Funny thing about that: I found a brand new one on the lot of my nearest Nissan dealer exactly like the one Mark drove; extended cab and all.

There is no way to get a new truck with a better value/price/product

@ DLE

Mine is an 18/GMC with 6.2 and 3.23 gears. I drove 85 on interstate whole way up to make lake house today. I got 20.3.

My 17 5.3L with 3.42 rear end got same 20 mpgs but going 80. This 6.2l is amazing and gets great mpgs bc I have noticed it never needs to downshift up hills. The TQ it has just pulls and pulls. My 5.3L would have to downshift a few times on the bigger hills.

Now going 70, I do see 23 to 24 all the time with either engine. But the highway is all flat.

A 1994 Toyota Camry has a payload of 900lbs or so.

TNT
nice

@piston1246

not getting the point. 900 pounds?

A truck is supposed to be a vehicle that can carry a heavy load.

When a truck's payload is equal to that of a passenger car it leaves much to be desired in my book.

I think most people getting anything less than a 3/4 ton are not that in need of a real truck.

I bought my 2010 Frontier used in 2013.

I moved from one house to another and pull my 70s antique camper with 2 kayaks to Pensacola. I love that truck
It is great on the dirt roads in the forest and a wonderful road trip truck. Very comfortable.

@piston1246

So is there a toll free number where we can call you to find out if each of us actually needs a pickup truck?

Not really surprising for me,. Australian Holden and Ford Utes cold haul motorcycles comfortably.Now we have dead cheap Chinese Pickups similar too the frontier, drive away price of $20,000 with a 3 litre Cummins Diesel

I've always like the Frontier. I drive a full size truck not for the capabilty but for the interior space. Being 6'8" a small truck won't work..

you got the 6.2 right? what year is your's? so you don't see 23 to 24 MPG's like TNTGMC does, that good regardless

Posted by: DLE | Jun 15, 2018 3:33:19 PM

2015 Silverado 6.2. 3.23 gears. Generally 21.5 to 21.8 mpg @70 mph. @ 60 mph I go up 22.8 . The truck is very consistent mpg summer and winter.

@ GMSRGREAT

That's awesome u get that consistently. I'm hoping mine doesn't go down much....my 5.3L lost 2/mpgs during the winter months. Idk about new one bc I bought it in April and turned over 3400 miles on it today coming to lake.

@ GMSRGREAT

That's awesome u get that consistently. I'm hoping mine doesn't go down much....my 5.3L lost 2/mpgs during the winter months. Idk about new one bc I bought it in April and turned over 3400 miles on it today coming to lake.

The reason Nissan wouldn't want to make the price $19.999 with the mats is because Nissan as a whole doesn't have a clue as to what is going on with there products in general! I own a 2016 Frontier Pro4x and it is probably the worst fuel economy I have ever seen.. Is it priced below others in the segment YES but this being my 2nd frontier I can say it will be my last and I rather spend more and get something that is from this century as far as the way the interior us put together and the poor customer service when the truck needs warranty or even paid services...

At TNTGMC: The 6.2 makes great power with good economy, love everyone of those 420 horses.

@vulpine and oxi

I can do EVERYTHING your trucks can do, and more.

68 gallons of water? So, what’s your point?
Roughly 600 lbs with the container.
A 42” (riding) mower? LoL.
My race car and trailer is over 6,500 lbs.

For long work weekends at the ranch I take the family, 110 gallons of water, 55 gallons of fuel, a generator, food, supplies, gear, and tow a small backhoe.

When camping I will take 30-50 gallons of fuel, a smaller generator, food, water, gear and the camper. Plus the family.

Me, the wife, and the 3 kids, are 550 lbs before gear.

My payload AFTER the family is more than ANY midsized Truck.
I get 18 mpg highway, 14 mpg around town.

You might beat me on mileage, but my heavy duty pickup will outlast your MidSized in a monthly tow contest.
Come on, I carry your MAX payload and your MAX towing. What’s that? You can’t do BOTH simultaneously?

I find a lower truck like this more useful for using the bed. Try rolling a motorcycle into the back of a F250 4x4. The bed height on some trucks has gotten to be so high that it almost not functional as a pickup.

John. Amen

For over 10 yrs I've waited and listened and hoped for a full size that would be a little more compact engine compartment wise so that I can happily move up from midsize. It hasn't happened. The fact that a full size rides so high and is a pain to park in Silicon valley has me rethinking that midsize will probably be good enough for me since I've never had to tow anything. Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay area in general is so congested now! Too many people.

@ GMSRGREAT

That's awesome u get that consistently. I'm hoping mine doesn't go down much....my 5.3L lost 2/mpgs during the winter months. Idk about new one bc I bought it in April and turned over 3400 miles on it today coming to lake.


Posted by: TNTGMC | Jun 15, 2018 9:53:33 PM

I put Michelin X - ice xi2 winter tires tires on my Silverado. They remain soft during the coldest temperatures. I now believe that is why my Silverado do not suffer any MPG drop during winter months. All my previous vehicles suffered 2-3 MPG drops during highway winter driving but I always ran them with all season tires.

I own a 2011 frontier S 4x4 Crew Cab. Paid $20k for it used with 75k miles on it. Got it up to 180k miles and it’s running like a champ. I know some snowflakes need comfortable interiors with high tech everything so they can get their millennial on. But I’ve never needed to tow over 6,000 lbs and never even touched 500 lbs in the bed. Even an 800lb nilgai drops to under 500lbs once you clean and quarter it. That’s right, I hunt, fish, tow boats and camping trailers in my frontier. Meanwhile my cousin’s $50,000 ego boost takes him to work and game stop. Ecoboost rules wants us to buy his brand for respect? No thanks, I’ve got plenty of self respect thank you.

Even an 800lb nilgai drops to under 500lbs once you clean and quarter it. ...Posted by: Mls956 | Jun 16, 2018

@Mis956

The nilgai's in my neighborhood don't run quite that big, but I do haul some big loads of bagged mulch from time to time. Field dressing the mulch bags just requires a box-cutter or a little pocket knife.

Never been attacked by a mulch bag but I did get a sore back once. Six cans of cold PBR fixed it.

This article says driver weight is 235lb. Im sorry, but this is a reflection of the beauty of this country having both cheap gas and food. No wonder the Asian versions of trucks don't come here because Asians in general are not this size, and so engines in USA need to be more powerful. I'm a 140lb pilot, Boston Marathoner, and struggle with trying to put 3 other >200lb men in a 4 seat Cessna 172 because the payload is 733lb. I read a European airplane article once that said they always have to change engine configurations for US market because Americans in general are heavier. One time I flew to Reno, NV Air races and took my 300lb neighbor. He'd balloned from 240lb in 3months and I had to ask to ensure we weren't overweight. Good thing us other 3 passengers were much less than 300. Take a look at Nathon of TFLtruck. Just some food for thought.

Even the new airplane weight specs these days talk about 4x 200lb passengers. If manufacturers want a piece of the biggest market, that's what they have to deal with: Heavy passengers.

I'm 5'8" and was up to 167lb 19 years ago, but a consistent exercise regiment lifestyle changed all that

I'm 6'8" and 280 lbs. Yes I could loose some weight but being this tall I can't weigh 140 lbs. without looking emaciated.

Yes Jim. I realize some are just bigger boned than others.

I was in Japan once, and the whole culture is lean. Except the Sumo wrestlers! Now they where easily 3x me when I sat next to one at an Osaka Wrestling tournament. That was a great experience! Used many of the Japanese temples as training runs for my first Boston Marathon 2002.



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