Is newer better?
That is the fundamental question many car shoppers ask themselves, and roundly find that Yes is the answer.
But for truck owners, newer is far less likely to be automatically better.
For the 2016 Nissan Frontier, the proven mechanicals, extra-tough frame and V6 4×4 setup is as trusty as your best friend.
And luckily, it is almost as fun!
We threw the Frontier into a few wild off-road donuts just minutes after its arrival… and came out that cloud of dust and dirt with rekindled love for the Nissan mid-size truck in 2016.
Yes, even more than a decade since the Frontier arrived… this loaded Pro-4X Crew Cab 4WD V6 Automatic has deep charm, skill and capability to be great even ten years from today.
Let’s dive in to find out where the Frontier’s drivetrain, chassis strength and even its exterior style still strike all the right chords.
We have three HD drive videos to prove this on film… but there is a caveat to buying a 2016 Frontier that is important to consider as well.
Section headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary are the structure of this review — along with some of the most-beautiful beach photographs we’ve ever snapped!
HD Drive Review – 2016 Nissan FRONTIER Pro-4X V6 4×4 Automatic
There is real machismo and classic handsomeness in the Frontier, even after all these years. You can’t help but like the Frontier’s widebody looks in Pro-4X form. A fairly narrow upper cab is contrasted beautifully with the big-rig integrated fender flares all around. There is a real purity to the way the rounded front fenders flow cleanly into the chopped front overhang and cbody-colored bumpers. With 31-inch tires atop 16-inch Off-Road alloys in this trim level, the Frontier stands tall and proud. There is a huge sense of ground clearance and go-anywhere ability to its high floor and shrouded engine and transmission points down beneath the steel. The oil pan, gas tank and transfer case all stand protected from rock damage via dedicated skidplates in Pro-4X Frontier form — putting substance behind its brash jawline.
A satin-effect V-motion grille is also intensely masculine and aggressive — even though the look is now shared across the Pathfinder and other much comfier crossovers from Nissan in 2016.
Tinted windows and a manually-sliding rear window vent are solid standard equipment elements, but do not help the style nearly as much as the $2100 Pro-4X luxury package upgrades. Why?
The sweet Xterra-like round roof rack and crossbars that the lux pack includes. It seems simple, but this detail piece really enhances the design appeal of the Frontier.
Automatic headlamps, lower foglamps and cab-mounted bed lighting are all useful elements, but are woefully yestertech in their appearance. Actual lighting performance on the road is fine, but even plopping the lamps into their high-beam setting is a big throwback versus the latest auto-highbeam tech that is going mass-market from its launch in luxury cars.
A total lack of LEDs outside or in also sets the Frontier down a few notches in our style ranker — particularly compared with the new Toyota Tacoma’s LED DRLs. The new F-150 LEDs, Silverado LED DRLs and other innovations all set a high bar for truck modernity — and the Frontier falls flat here, despite being loaded and carrying an ambitious mid-$30s as-tested price.
The cabin of the Frontier Pro-4X will either be a just-right, Goldilocks fit for tech-averse people… or an incredibly dated throwback to the early 2000s — depending on your perspective. There are fairly durable-looking and soft-touch plastics selectively employed in the Frontier dashboard, but there is a huge sense of econobox cheapness when you start poking and knocking around the lower plastics, doors panels and other details.
The cockpit of the Frontier with this Lux pack included leather seats with special Pro-4X logos, heated seats up front and eight-way power controls for the driver’s seat. Four-way power controls for the passenger are semi-premium…. and help you get comfortable fairly easily. An adjustable-rake steering wheel lacks telescoping adjustment, however.
The seats themselves have some issues too. Our main complaint? They are mounted far too high! Even for the much-ballyhooed ‘command’ driving position of a truck or SUV… the Frontier perches its driver about four inches higher than we’d prefer. You are definitely sitting “atop” the seats rather than in them, too. This is a problem for long-trip support under your thighs, and a major issue around corners.
The Frontier actually loves to pivot and change direction on or off road at the flick of your wrist. But with this slippery leather option and the lack of lather support bolsters…. a roundabout/traffic circle taken at more than walking pace will send you flying around the seat.
Bracing yourself against the door, hanging on to the G35-inherited steering wheel, and generally hunkering down can help keep you in place around those fast corners. But other trucks do it much better in 2016 — namely the Chevrolet Colorado. The Chevy has a much, much better drive position, a lower floor and fully adjustable steering wheel.
The end result? Far more comfort and confidence when driving hard.
There are other major Frontier cabin issues in 2016, too. These include the extremely primitive trip computer, only ‘decent’ NissanConnect 5.8-inch touchscreen, and atrocious refinement at speed. The Frontier bounces around quite a bit on smooth roads that other trucks do not mind. It is also quite loud at speed. There is a symphony of intrusive noise from above 40-mph, and it is slightly deafening at double that speed. Tire roar is a constant, wind noise enters almost unobstructed, and the engine shouts up its rev range like it’s shouting right in your ear.
This is a shame, because the 261HP 4.0-liter V6 engine pulls hard and purrs nicely on throttle… but never calms down or drives like a modern truck thanks to these cabin issues.
Off-Road Drive video (iPhone-shot)
The 4.0-liter Nissan DOHC V6 is still a gem of a motor. Its 281-pound-feet of torque comes in low in the rev band, and is perfectly matched to the five-speed automatic’s gear ratios and spreads.
So much so, we’d gamble that the Frontier is still a bit quicker than the Tacoma V6 in a dragrace. But both will be looking at the sleek tails of the GMC Canyon or Chevy Colorado if the race were four-wide.
Beyond the still-good power and pace, the Frontier’s old-tech engine and transmission have a major downside at the fuel pump. 15/17/21 are the city/combined/highway EPA MPG stats for the test Frontier — which is very poor in 2016. Even for mid-size trucks.
Driven hard, as we do in the below video, absolutely chugs fuel. The Tacoma V6 is a bit better in this regard for 2016 with a part-adkinson-cycle engine upgrade, while the Colorado’s optional 3.6-liter V6 and its 300-plus ponies are far less thirsty on full throttle.
The Frontier needs aggressive inputs to make good speed, too. We didn’t calculate our mileage scientifically, but generally were in the low teens. That is serious thirst for such a relatively lightweight truck. That speaks to the lack of aerodynamics as much as it does the old-school drivetrain.
The tradeoff for a very “proven” engine and chassis? Awesome, mechanically-based off-road systems that skip cheap electronic mods in favor of classic capability. Bilstein off-road shocks in the Pro-4X, shift-on-the-fly (!) 4wD system with low and high ranges, plus an electronically-locking rear diff are all great aces to have on your back pocket.
Hill start assist and hill descent control also jion the fun, with 4-wheel TCS that acts as a limited-slip functionality.
The end result? This Frontier absolutely LOVES life off-road. It snorts, it rips turf 30-feet away, and it makes you smile all throughout.
Here is the giant caveat with buying a Frontier Pro-4X in 2016: the price. Were this truck discounted $10-grand, it would be the deal of the century.
But at the $33k base price and $36k out-the-door price, we have a really hard time calling it good value.
A silver lining certainly exists, however, in the form of major discounts available on the Frontier. A giant chunk of cash in the truckbed heals many wounds — and is somewhere that Nissan is playing to win versus the no-discount mentality of the new Chevy/GMC trucks and the even-newer 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
So, if ‘newer’ does not always mean ‘better,’ how does the Frontier stack up in 2016?
It certainly is not new, that is for sure. We love certain elements of the truck — like its macho lines, playful off-road demeanor and great steering feel. We also enjoyed the carefree nature of driving such a tough and unbreakable truck off-road and on.
The Frontier only needs a fairly small update to be at the top of its class — and this is widely expected for the 2018-ish model year. Cabin insulation to remove the loud engine/road/wind noise, a better seating position, better seats in general… and perhaps some intense off-road LEDs? Those tweaks would work wonders at keeping the Frontier top-of-mind for mid-size truck shoppers.
As it stands here, however, the sticker price is hefty (before discounts). The style is near-invisible it is so familiar on the roads. And the costs of ownership — in terms of fuel economy and DIY upgrades to its looks — are just too steep for the Frontier to be a top pickup.
2016 Nissan FRONTIER Pro-4X V6 4×4 Automatic
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.