Looks old…because it is. In one form or another, Nissan’s venerable Frontier can trace its origins back to the mid-Noughties. Yet in some respects, its design is even more dated than that. To these eyes, there’s something deeply unhappy about the way the cargo bed sits behind the two-door cab – almost as though two unrelated vehicles have been welded together. Four-door models are slightly more coherent, but there’s still little about the Frontier’s design that would have been surprising in the Nineties. Here in the 2020s, in an age of Rivians and Ridgelines, the big Nissan’s design is way behind the times.

The all-important bed can be either five or six feet in length, taking almost 1,500 lb of cargo weight. Adding a crew cab costs $1,300, while all-wheel drive will increase your sticker price by $3,200. These increments must be offset against competitively low starting prices, with S trim retailing at $30,485. However, it’s not the model we’d buy.

Mid-range maestro. In its cheapest S guise, the Frontier is nowhere near as spartan as entry-level RAMs or Silverados. It comes with LED lighting, power locks and windows, an eight-inch touchscreen and a seven-inch digital instrument panel. Even so, we’d move up to mid-tier SV trim, whose goodies include alloy wheels and a power-adjustable driving seat. It’s much better value than the off-road-focused Pro-4X model, with its Bilstein shocks and locking rear diff; prices can easily pass $45,000 if you start ticking options boxes in the dealership. For instance, a Fender audio system and sunroof are bundled together with leather trim for $2,790.

Speaking of value, the Frontier’s economy is pretty poor. Though it may not concern many truck buyers, you’re looking at 20 MPG combined in RWD models and 19 when all four wheels are driven. Don’t expect environmentalists to salute as you roll past.

Decent road manners. The Frontier is the latest in a long line of highly capable off-roaders to wear the Nissan badge, but its retro looks bely surprisingly sophisticated road manners. Let’s start with the engine – a powerful 3.8-liter V6 which generates over 300 hp and over 280 lb-ft of torque. It’s smooth, paired to an equally creamy nine-speed automatic transmission, yet it can pull a 6,570-lb trailer. Despite still using leaf spring suspension at the back (with independent front suspension at least acknowledging the 21st century), the ride is acceptable, though it’s on the firm side of comfortable.

By the (admittedly low) class standards, the Frontier is good to drive, mainly thanks to meaty steering which retains hydraulic assistance. Like the aforementioned leaf springs, this is seriously outdated technology in an age when most vehicles use electric steering. It also poses challenges at low speeds, where a degree of upper body strength is required to turn the wheel.

2023 Nissan Frontier Interior

Not the best for families. If you’re buying an Extended Cab, rear seat occupants will be greeted by the sight of two drop-down seat bases and recessed lower back sections, surrounded by hard plastic with vertical headrests bolted on top. This is a pretty grim place to sit if you’re a biped, though dogs won’t mind too much. Crew Cab configurations have actual seats, but ignore the central rear belt – it’s a red herring. Two people will be squashed in here, and a third person would need Vaseline to get in and out.

You wouldn’t expect Lexus-like luxury in a Frontier, and that’s a good job because you won’t get it. Hard plastics and drab colors abound. The sea-of-gray dash is a good case in point, though at least the eight-inch infotainment screen is integrated into the dash rather than awkwardly perched on top of it. Cheaper trims have too many blank plastic switches, while materials get increasingly brittle and scratchy the further down you look.

Final thoughts. Between the $30,000 and $40,000 price points, you can choose from a variety of underwhelming trucks. The Frontier is right at home amid mediocre opposition like the Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado, since it’s equally hard to recommend. Awkward styling and awful rear seat accommodation are allied to a perfunctory warranty, poor gas mileage and safety that’s summed up by a rare four-star NHTSA rating. It looks dated because it is, and forthcoming rival replacements will betray its age even further.

Reasons to buy one? The Pro-4X model delivers serious off-road prowess, while every model rides competently and grips impressively. Power is smooth and refined, with decent towing credentials, and base S models are better equipped than some entry-level trucks. Otherwise, pluses are mostly canceled out by minuses. It’s good to see automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection on the standard equipment list, but blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise are options. The heavy steering is fun on a winding road, but a chore in a car park. In conclusion, the Frontier will do a job – but rivals will do it better.

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