In the automotive industry, most makes and models age about as well as milk left out at room temperature. After a few years on the market, they get long in the tooth and consumers expect updates and complete re-designs. There are always a few vehicles that buck this trend, however, and this week’s 2022 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X road test is an example of one such thing. While it’s been heavily updated for this year and is officially defined as a new third-generation model, many of the basic underpinnings are essentially the same. This is not necessarily a bad thing, considering that the second-generation chassis and frame has proved itself over 16 model years between 2005 and 2021.
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While the base Frontier S King Cab (extended cab) trim level starts out at $39,998 Canadian before taxes and fees, the flagship PRO-4X Crew Cab rang in at $49,798 as-tested. The PRO-4X is kitted out with heated seats, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a remote engine starter, wireless phone charging, a power sliding moonroof, a spray-in bedliner, LED headlights, and LED fog lights.
While four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case is standard on all trims, PRO-4X specific off-road equipment includes Bilstein performance shock absorbers, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, underbody skid plates for the front, transfer case, and fuel tank, and an electronic locking rear differential. The $2,000 PRO-4X Luxury Package adds leather seats with unique stitching, premium Fender audio, Homelink garage door capability, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Boulder Gray Pearl paint was an extra $300.
Although it debuted for the 2020 model year with the previous-generation model, all 2022 Frontiers get a 3.8-litre V6 engine that replaced the older 4.0-litre unit. While technically still a classic “VQ” series V6, the latest powerplant gets direct fuel injection and pumps out 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission – licensed from Mercedes-Benz, no less – and is a wonderful setup to do business with. The engine is responsive and revs playfully as if it was a sports car. The transmission is smooth, doesn’t hunt for ratios, and the combination makes the Frontier feel much more premium than its cost suggests. By comparison, the Nissan powertrain is considerably more refined and eager than its archrival, the Toyota Tacoma.
During evaluation for the Canadian Car of the Year for the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, we got an opportunity to take a Frontier PRO-4X on an off-road course that included plenty of ruts, divots, and tight angles. As a pickup truck, one can’t expect it to maneuver and approach obstacles as well as say, a Jeep Wrangler, but the Frontier’s 4X4 system tackled everything with confidence. For towing and hauling aficionados, the PRO-4X Crew Cab tows 2,839 kilograms (6,260 pounds), and payload capacity is 558 kilograms (1,230 pounds) in the five-foot bed.
On-road performance of the Frontier is nothing to scoff at, either. The Bilstein performance shock absorbers, revised jounce bumpers (bump stops), and improved hydraulic cab mounts make daily driving surprisingly comfortable for an off-road oriented pickup truck. New front and rear stabilizer bars help in the handling and traction department, and unlike the Tacoma, four-wheel disc brakes are standard across all trim levels. The Toyota still makes do with drums in the back, which is a good thing or a bad thing depending on your stance on durability, simplicity, and off-road water ingress.
The interior of the 2022 Frontier is pretty down to earth, with a no-nonsense design that gets the job done with good ergonomics. Other than the 9-inch infotainment screen, every common function is operated by a knob, button, or rocker switch. Sadly, this simplistic approach isn’t all that common anymore, so props to Nissan for making the cockpit extra useful in the real world. For those who want to stay connected, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone pairing is standard equipment on all trims.
Driver and passenger comfort is about average in the Frontier, although the front seats feature better thigh support than the Tacoma. Rear leg and knee room is decent for a truck of this size, although taller drivers will definitely want to double-check whether forward or rear-facing child seats will work well enough for them. In particular, expect front-seat passengers to have to slide their seats relatively far forward in order to accommodate a rear-facing infant seat.
In the area of safety, the new Nissan is brought up to speed in terms of driver assistance systems. While traffic sign recognition and an around-view monitor (360-degree camera) with an off-road mode is standard on the PRO-4X, Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 is standard on all trim levels. It includes forward-collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and rear automatic braking. There’s also adaptive cruise control, trailer sway control, automatic high beams, and a rear sonar system.
Even though pickup trucks these days are getting more and more advanced, the 2022 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X updates an old fan favourite in all the right ways, while keeping the best parts intact (Taylor’s Version). While the back seat is pretty tight for family use, the new 3.8-litre V6 and nine-speed automatic are phenomenal, the ride and handling is up to modern snuff, and the pricing is considerably cheaper than the Toyota Tacoma’s various TRD off-road packages. Add to that a bunch of modern safety features, and the end result is a great road and off-road workhorse that is sure to satisfy buyers who want a real truck, but don’t necessarily want to step up to a big, lumbering half-ton.