Nissan trucks haven’t always been on my radar when it comes to off-road adventures.
It’s not to say that I don’t like them, they’ve just never stood out as something I was really compelled to go out and drive. Aside from the old Pathfinder from a few generations ago, I had yet to get into one that was suitable for going out in the woods.
So when the folks at Nissan gave a shout about a Frontier heading my way in their fully equipped Pro-4X trim, I jumped at the opportunity. Built on the same chassis as the rough-and-ready Xterra, the new Frontier seemed to be just the right fit for a bit of torture testing both on and off the beaten path.
As with most factory-prepped all-terrain-capable trucks, the Frontier Pro-4X definitely looks the part. Sure, there are the usual beefy roof racks, high ground clearance and some seriously meaty BF Goodrich Rugged Trail T/A tires, but when you get right down to it, Nissan has done just enough to the bodywork to make it look tough yet understated. This is a good thing, because the bold black, white and yellow Pro-4X decals definitely make it impossible to hide.
The combination of a full four-door crew cab and the five-foot truck bed might not be the most practical setup for all truck buyers out there, but it’s certainly one of the better-looking configurations. Anyone planning on hauling a dirt bike or ATV around may want to opt for the King Cab option, which extends the bed to just over 73 inches.
Being all too familiar with the flimsy hollow doors of a couple decades’ worth of budget mid-size trucks, I was pleasantly surprised by a resounding thunk upon entry as I closed the driver’s door. The entire cabin seems surprisingly well put together. Aside from the gearshift appearing a bit outdated and the stitched Pro-4X decals on the seats being a bit cheesy, the remainder of the interior looks sharp.
The rear seats easily fold up and out of the way for extra cargo space, and when extra seating is required, the rear seats provided perfectly acceptable space, even for adults over six feet tall. Equipment ranges from Nissan’s slick and simple touchscreen infotainment system to the much-needed backup camera and parking sensors.
Although it was in no way built for duties as an urban ute, the Frontier proved quite comfortable through the weekly grind. Nissan’s 4.0-litre V-6 provides plenty of grunt for muscling its way in and out of traffic, and with just shy of nine inches of ground clearance, visibility is never much of an issue. Add to that the extra-loud Rockford-Fosgate 10-speaker stereo setup, which comes standard on the Pro-4X, and all in all I was one happy camper.
As a commuter, I really have only one complaint. The steering ratio in this thing borders on ridiculous. With a ratio of 20.4:1, the Frontier seems to take an eternity to turn from lock to lock. Depending on where you drive, this may not be much of an issue, but if you spend a fair bit of time weaseling in and out of parking spots, it’s likely to become an annoyance.
Out on the trails, things really get entertaining in the Frontier Pro-4X. Much like Toyota’s 4Runner and the FJ Cruiser I tested recently, Nissan has also stuck with the five-speed auto gearbox with high and low range — not great on the street, but perfectly suited to a low-speed environment. Add to that an electronic locking rear differential and hill-descent control and the Frontier can easily keep up with the competition when the going gets tough.
Most impressive was the level of silence in the passenger cabin as I bounced and jolted my way to the top of a mountain. Just about every other off-road excursion I’ve enjoyed — other than the LR4 — has led to at least a little creaking and rattling inside the cabin, but even when carrying some decent momentum, the Frontier was dead quiet.
By now, a number of these trucks have made it into my good books, but other than a couple small issues, the Pro-4X has muscled its way to right near the top of the heap. Aside from being refined and capable, Nissan has loaded quite a bit of equipment into it without gouging buyers with pricey options.
Add the recent price drop of roughly $4,300 on each trim level and you’ve got a serious contender in the mid-size truck market.