First Drive: 2022 Nissan Frontier

First Drive: 2022 Nissan Frontier

Story and photos by Dan Heyman

The Nissan Frontier is getting a full-scale redesign for 2022 – and safe to say, it’s been a long time coming. We haven’t seen an all-new Frontier since the second-gen truck debuted in 2005 and we haven’t seen a new model-year since way back in 2019. That means it will have been three full model years since a new Frontier arrived on lots, as it should be doing by the time you read this.

To their credit, Nissan has taken this to heart and given the Frontier an all-new engine and transmission, some more creature comforts and most obviously, all-new styling.

It’s a styling change that does a nifty job of channelling the much-loved Nissan hardbody trucks of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, mixed with some proper modern styling that makes for a look that isn’t so on-the-nose retro as, say, a Ford Bronco or Mustang.

You can see some of the old truck in the new, squared LED headlamps that get DRLs above and below the main light for kind of a squinting look. The shape of the front fenders and leading edge of the hood also nods to the old truck, while the blacked-out grille with red Nissan logo – that’s a detail that only the Pro-4X trucks get – six new colours (including the Tactical Green Metallic shade seen here), two-tone wheels and DRL taillamps do their part to seat the Frontier firmly in the modern day.

Speaking of Pro-4; that’s one of three trims available (four if you include the two-door King Cab and four-door Crew Cab versions) – S King Cab ($39,998), SV King Cab ($41,498), SV King Cab Convenience ($43,498), SV Crew Cab ($43,998), SV Crew Cab Sport ($45,398) and finally the top-spec Pro-4X ($45,598 and $47,498, depending on cab style). There are also two available bed lengths – five and six feet, although for the most part those bed lengths are restricted to which cab length you select. The sides of the bed have also been lowered for ’22, making for easier liftover and lessening the need for other bed-access adds, although an additional grab handle fitted to the bed wall is available. Both the SV and Pro-4X can be had with both cab types, although the Pro-4X King Cab is Canadian-specific. Apparently Canadians – especially those in the West – like their smaller trucks.

The interior has also been redesigned for 2022, providing a more modern look and new features such as an optional nine-inch touchscreen display (an eight-inch display is standard), seven-inch in-gauge display and standard Zero Gravity seats. There’s also standard Nissan SafetyShield 360 tech (that provides standard rear automatic braking, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert), eight cupholders, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

Heated steering wheel and seats are available at the SV level, but no matter which trim you select, the steering wheel cannot be adjusted for reach, just for tilt. I found that to be a bit of a problem as coupled with the lack of any lumbar adjustment, I never quite found the perfect driver seating position. I came pretty close after a bit of tweaking – and the seats are comfortable and supportive – but I never felt like I was 100-percent seated correctly. They have, however, improved interior ergonomics by moving the shift lever closer to the driver.

Being the big daddy of the bunch, the Pro-4X gets all manner of adds such as off-road suspension with Bilstein dampers, aluminum and steel underbody skidplates, red tow-hooks outside, electric locking rear differential and some design touches inside such as more red Nissan logos and “Pro-4X” embossing. It also gets the Intelligent AroundView park assist monitor that also gets an “off-road mode” – a forward and down-facing camera that you can activate at speeds of up to 10 km/h. It’s especially helpful as you crest hills, so you can see on the monitor what’s coming, when all you can see through the windscreen is the great blue yonder. A hill descent system can be activated on the fly with the push of a button (placed somewhat awkwardly by the driver’s left knee) that allows you to focus on steering as you head downhill while the computers handle the braking and transmission.

Power from the new V6 – 93 percent of which is made up of all-new parts – is rated at 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. That’s more hp than the old truck, but the torque figure remains unchanged. The only transmission you can pair with it is a new nine-speed automatic, a partnership which makes for some great mid-range grunt but takes a little of coaxing when setting off from stop. It sounds a real treat, though, and while Nissan has spent a lot of time on reducing in-cabin noise for this generation of the truck, I don’t mind hearing a bit of a growl from the exhaust when you really get on it.

Speaking of new parts and noise reduction: Nissan says that they’ve applied 41 new parts to help in that regard, including revised engine bay and side dash insulation, new floor damping material, laminated front door glass, and quieter tires. It’s all helped reduce engine noise, road noise and wind noise by five, three and 2.5 decibels, respectively. Of course, it may be hard to picture a five-decibel reduction but know this: the Frontier is one quiet-riding truck on the highway.

Of course, if we’re talking about the Pro-4X version, then the highway performance isn’t going to be enough for all buyers; they’ll want to know how it performs off-road as well.

Simply put, it performs quite well. The suspension is well tuned for this, and the hydraulic steering does well to meter out the harshest bumps that come through the front axle. Speaking of metering out bumps: it’s here where we also really feel what the hydraulic body mounts have done. I found myself moving to and fro far less in the cabin than I would have expected considering the harshness of the cottage road I was on, and that feeling of stability makes it much easier to focus on the task at hand, and that’s getting through adverse terrain as safely as possible. Coupled with the camera and hill descent system, it’s a rewarding experience.

If you are a big off-roader and like to have control of your own gears, though, you’ll have to do so with the auto transmission’s manual mode as there is not a manual transmission available on any Frontier. That will be disappointing for some, but at this stage in the world of the car and light truck, we all know that the manual gearbox is just not the draw it once was, and manufacturers are responding by offering fewer and fewer  vehicles that come so equipped.

I doubt many will trouble themselves about the lack of a manual transmission, though. At the end of the day, Nissan has delivered a pickup that checks off many of the requirements that help pickups grow beyond the stigma of being work vehicles, but make them adventure vehicles instead. The Frontier looks very cool, it drives quietly and (mostly) comfortable and it has all the safety and infotainment tech one needs. Add the off-roadability of the Pro-4X model, and you have a very capable entrant into the burgeoning small/midsize pickup segment.