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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"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."
---- Posted by: Clint

And you would have failed to upsell me no matter how hard you tried. Why? Because the Titan is simply too big when the buyer has no need or desire for a full-sized truck, no matter how much "real work" it may be capable of performing.

"The F-150 Eco-Boost has the best value for the money
It gets the BEST gas mileage with the BEST Torque."
--- which is absolutely worthless when it is also one of the largest trucks in today's market.

"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?"
--- Maybe because they don't NEED or WANT "class-leading power, hauling and towing"?

"Not only that you get respect, respect and MORE RESPECT for owning an Eco-Boost !"
--- People driving them and not using their capabilities only get my scorn. Those giant trucks are no more than "big boy toys" to the majority of their buyers when new.

"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

If that refrigerator didn't need to be carried upright (and not all of them do) then you might have seen the same unloaded gas mileage while loaded. The only reason your fuel mileage went down was due to putting a brick wall (Ok, a stainless steel wall behind cardboard) into the air stream. The weight would have been insignificant.

"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." ---- Posted by: PISTON1246

It's not how much weight it can carry or tow that's important to most small truck users, it's how much BULK it can handle. So what if a sedan can handle 900 pounds; can you drop an upright freezer into it? Will you carry 20+ bags of mulch? 20+ potted plants for landscaping? How about that old, broken-down bed frame or that rotted out sofa? Will you carry those in that Toyota Camry?

"I can do EVERYTHING your trucks can do, and more." ---- Posted by: James
-- Perhaps. But do we need or want to do what you do with your truck?

"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."
--- Hilarious. I don't own a race car or a trailer; so I have no need to tow one.

"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."
--- Well, since I don't have a ranch, the family consists of me, my wife, one dog and two cats, I have no reason to carry 110 gallons of water, 55 gallons of fuel, a generator, food, supplies OR tow a small backhoe that I don't own."

"When camping I will take 30-50 gallons of fuel, a smaller generator, food, water, gear and the camper. Plus the family."
--- How long do you go camping for? A month? There's certainly no need to carry that much fuel for even a one-week camping trip towing the size camper I've been looking at. Assuming, that is, I even NEED a generator. I'd probably get by with a portable solar array and a gallon (at most) of fuel for the gas stove.

"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."
--- Since I only need about 800# of capacity AFTER the family, I get 20mpg town and about 27mpg highway with the 20+ year-old Ford Ranger I already own. I just want a little more cabin space to carry my cargo-handling gear, a couple bowling bags and/or a few other things I'd rather not carry out in the weather.

"You might beat me on mileage, but my heavy duty pickup will outlast your MidSized in a monthly tow contest."
--- Towing contest? Yes. Daily driver for all other purposes? I doubt it. My little truck is over 20 years old and looks almost as good as it did when brand new and I've performed only four functional modifications to it:
• Replaced air filter with a high-flow filter;
• Added a tach (did not come with one originally, though the model did in some versions);
• Added a manual A/C compressor switch;
• Swapped out the crank-driven fan with an electric for better cooling.

"Come on, I carry your MAX payload and your MAX towing. What’s that? You can’t do BOTH simultaneously?"
--- Why would I want to? If I don't need the capability, why would I even want it?

Posted by: James

With my 84 Mazda B2000 2.0L carbureted 5sp manual, I put my first refrigerater in it. Of course I didn't stand it up. But I also had 2 other 175lb buddy's in the cab with me and we went up the Sunol grade in it here in Fremont, CA (sea level to ~500ft in ~ 2miles. I did 320,000 total miles worth of dirt biking to Lake Tahoe ~7000' peak elevations, dirt loads, standup jet ski, odds and ends, of all sorts in that gutless truck and it just got the job done 99% of the time! The other 1%, well, I just paid people to deliver things. And the only delivery I can remember is AB- rock for under the slab in my backyard, and rebar for that slab for the 27years I had that truck. I always wanted to upgrade to a full size, but they've become too bloated.

oops more like 28-29 years I had the truck. I did transmission swaps and head overhauls and such myself in my garage because it FIT in it!!! May it RIP.

The small Asian trucks of the 1980s saved people a lot of money if they were killed in a wreck because they would just bury you AND the truck in the same hole.

It is ironic to hear people who think they're so hi-tech talking about the death trap pickups so fondly. No air bags. Flimsy body.

Hit on the drivers side in a t-bone wreck? You're dead.

Today's compact trucks are bigger and cost more, but you have a fighting chance if you're in a collision. The old Mazdas, Nissans and Toyotas were deadly.

@papa jim--True but everything is relative. For their time the compact trucks of the 70's and 80's were a real value. You could get them for less than many cars and they were very handy for those who needed a vehicle that could haul something that was too bulky for a car but not too large in size. Having owned a 85 Mighty Max I used it for everything and got my money's worth out of it while enjoying a manual transmission and a vehicle that was smaller that could handle hilly curvy roads much better than a full size truck. I do like the safety features of today's trucks and for the money the King Cab Nissan Frontier is a good deal and still have the enjoyment of a manual transmission. I would have to say that the 85 Max gave me an appreciation for a smaller vehicle that had utility but was still fun to drive. I do like the experience of driving a vehicle with a manual transmission in that I am more engaged in driving and I have a better feel for the vehicle. Most full size trucks do not have manuals and many midsize trucks are getting harder to get with manuals.

@Jeff S

You may have missed my point. I'm referring to Angelo P's nostalgic riff about his old B2000. I understand the charm of old cars, having owned a few myself. But having also been in some bad wrecks in the old cars I can assure you there's nothing nostalgic about a bad concussion, sutures or broken bones.

The modern trucks are insanely complex, but the stability-control systems, air bags and 10 speed automatics really take the shine off that old nostalgic crap about 1980s S10s or Mighty Max pickups.

Bury me in it. Funny. Yah I've heard the death trap quote plenty.
Couldn't of been that bad. 320kmiles and I'm alive to talk bought it. And fondly too.

By the way plenty of cars on road were smaller n lighter too back then. I mean the average weight of everything has ballooned, and F150 was smaller too.

$6000 out the door in 84.

Clearly I'd be singing a different tune if I got into a bad accident! Partly because I would never of been able to clock 320kmiles in it which really adds to the nastalgia. I had it for more than half my life!

Never once did I think the B2000 was hi tech. No A/C, no power steering, no electric door lock or windows. Nothing, and that was the beauty of it. Its' low weight is why the 2.0L could get it to Lake Tahoe with 2 motoX bikes and me n nephew. The heater stopped working on that one winter trip to Tahoe w/nephew too, and he remembers that. Yup spent over half my driving life in it.

So what's holding me back from running out n getting a Frontier? The suspense of a new Frontier this year, and maybe the fact that a Colorado crew cab with 6.0' bed won't come with 4 cylinder and 8speed tranny from what I saw on Chevy website. I don't tow anything (because standup jet ski fits in the bed), so I don't want Chevy dictating I have to upgrade to V6 all to get an 8sp.

@Angelo P

Go ahead---splurge! The Nissan comes with a great V6 six-speed package, as do the GM midsize twins. Or, if you can stand to wait there's a 10 speed turbo Ranger in your future. Think of the Fremont hill climbs you can do with that Ranger! Ever been to Mount Diabo up in the East Bay?

Why wait. Do it today.

Oh yah. Forgot to add the ranger debut too. Yup peddled Mt Diablo some years ago with a cousin. The higher climb though is Lick Observatory in San Jose 4400'. Very nice views n an Observatory at top. Did it last yr on 4july.

@papa jim--I got your point. I would much rather be in a newer vehicle especially in a wreck. I have nostalgia for many old vehicle especially 50's and 60's cars and trucks but I don't want to drive one everyday. I do like the old Mazda pickups along with my Mitsubishi and the others but I will have to say that even my 99 S-10 is a much better truck and I could easily live with any of the current midsize trucks.

@papajim--I have no problem with anyone being nostalgic for the vehicles of their youth--that is why they have an interest in vehicles. I do think their could be a place for a true compact truck especially if it uses and existing platform even if it is front wheel drive. I don't know how much use a compact crew cab pickup would be especially with a tiny bed but an extended cab that is not too big with a decent sized bed would generate some interest including me. I fully understand developing a compact truck on a separate platform would be prohibitive in cost but maybe one based on a compact crossover could be competitively priced. I think this is what some like Vulpine and maybe even Angelo would like to see. This might not ever happen unless Hyundai or Kia decide to make one but there might be more demand for a truck like this than many think--price would have to be competitive. Who knows what will happen.

I met a painter with a crew cab long bed Colorado. I asked why didn't he get the 4 cylinder. He said they didn't have any and besides he carries 40 gallon paint drums at times so the extra power was welcomed. 40*6lb/gal=240lb per drum. It seems that a few of those really wouldn't weigh much. Then i went to Colorado configurator n learned that I4 isn't available in crew config. Seems sales guy was easily able to upsell to the V6, or the Hispanic painter just didn't understand the sales guy or I wasn't able to understand the painter with his accent. Nice truck even without a lot of room in crew area. Although I felt the engine compartment could of used another 6" of shortening up that could of been put into both the crew n bed area! A bit of solid engineering should be able to do that hopefully sooner than later.


Six cylinder Colorados were in short supply initially, back in first year or two. Now you see them a lot.

@Angelo--The V-6 in the Colorado is not a lot less efficient than the I-4. I prefer an I-4 but I would not want it in the crew cab Colorado with its extra weight. Both the I-4 and V-6 are good solid engines.

99% of time, I'm alone in the vehicle and I have had 4cylinders ALL my life and I don't tow because the jet ski fits in the bed, albeit already at an angle in a 6.0' bed. I'm sure the V6 is a solid engine too. I think it would be interesting if they configured 8sp with the 4cylinder. Maybe in future. Surely, Chevy will keep convincing people that the extra load of a crew requires V6.


It's not Chevy, it's the dealers. They want to "package" the options to jack the price a little.

It really doesn't cost GM that much more to make a V6 compared to a four cylinder, it is just more dealer profit because the option packages give the dealers a lot better percentages on their markups.

This is like the never ending conversation about nothing

Weight of Colorado 2 wheel drive WT configurations:

Extended cab 4cy Long Box 3984lb
Crew cab 4cy Short Box 4028lb
Crew cab 6 cy Long Box 4252lb

1984 Mazda B2000 2788lb.

So the delta is 268lbs. That's one huge passengers worth or 2 small ones. A lengthened cab, frame, and 2 extra cylinders really weighs that much.? Wonder how much the delta alone is between the 4cy & 6cy engines is because the 8speed tranny's are supposed to be only ~4-10 lbs more.

Make the trucks so heavy that it is easy to justify the need and extra cost for a bigger engine.

@Angelo--Agree trucks have become heavier as have cars. Air bags, safety features, and other Government requirements have made all vehicles heavier. Papajim brings up a good point in that it is the dealers that choose what vehicles will sell because they buy the vehicles from the manufacturer. Dealers make more profit on the larger and better optioned vehicles. For just a little more a month they will put you in a better optioned vehicle and that is where the dealer makes a larger profit along with financing and add on options. Years ago you could order a vehicle the way you wanted it without the options you don't want but those days for the most part are gone. If you want heated seats then you will have to buy a higher trim with a moon roof, GPS, and a few other options that you might not want. The dealers don't want to stock the base models and if they do maybe one or two because they make more money of the higher trim and they don't want to get stuck with a vehicle that doesn't move quickly.


Save your breath! The little pickups are not coming back. There is noway for the Big 3 to build them (and sell them) profitably.

Even if the automakers would modify their unibody CUVs to be like a small pickup the cost of building them would make them unappealing compared to slightly larger midsize models.

The failure of a smart company like Honda to pull this off means it won't work, at least not with the current market.

Small trucks aren't coming back because there's no way to get them through CAFE regulations. The biggest reason trucks are getting bigger is due to the footprint loophole.

[Wheelbase] x [Track width] = Footprint

The greater the footprint, the lower the standards for fuel economy and CO2 emissions. That's why full-size trucks are larger than they used to be and compact trucks are gone for good. Unless the buying public is willing to buy a compact truck for $25-30k with a tiny engine that only makes 100 HP, it'll never happen. And while there's always "that guy" that says that's exactly what he wants and he'll buy one, nobody is going to roll the dice, build it, hope the market will buy it.

@Papa @Jeff
I hear your guys' perspective.

Nostalgia and Reflection:
1984 B2000 ~$6000 out the door.
2018 Frontier ~$21000 out the door for base model?
2017 Colorado ~$22000 out the door BASE.
2018 Colorado ~$22300 out the door BASE.

I didn't know there was a "BASE" model for Colorado, or is that for Fleet purchase only?

@Angelo--Yes, you can buy a Base Colorado extended cab with a 6 speed manual, vinyl seats, no carpet, power windows, power locks, back up camera, radio with wifi, power steering, power brakes , rear seat delete, and power driver's seat, but it only comes in white, black, or silver with a black interior. It is not a bad truck for the money and would meet most of my needs. For a little more there is an LS extended cab with a few more exterior colors, cloth seats, carpet, and a few extras (the LT offers an automatic as extra but the Base Colorado only comes with a 6 speed manual). Any trim level above the extended cab LT only offers an automatic. The Base Colorados can be had for as little as 20k which is below sticker.


You can lease these base model compact trucks for about 200 per mo. At the end of 3 years you determine your best option. In the meantime, enjoy!

I owed a 1993 but I had kids and I ended up in the seats in the back and for a tall guy the seats was the worst on Nissan. I now have a crew cab 2016 and it was cheaper then 1993 Nissan XE but I got the same color white. Now I have a SV Shortbed. I don't use all the bells and whistles I use it for what it needs to be used for. God bless

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