Road Test: Nissan Frontier Midnight

Road Test: Nissan Frontier Midnight

Story and Photos by Gerry Frechette

In any automotive market segment, it seems that every model year, there is a new “latest and greatest” model, such is the pace of development. The pickup segment might be the most competitive of all, with all the manufacturers trying to out-do the other guys, with trucks that make them more profit than any other vehicle.

It stands to reason, then, that at any given time, one pickup must be the oldest design, and the least technologically advanced, on the market. That truck is the Nissan Frontier, and while it may be the oldest design out there, it may surprise you to know that it has been the oldest for as long as it has.

This generation of the Frontier was introduced as a 2005 model. That’s right – the 2018 model is the  14th year of this mid-size pickup, making it perhaps the oldest vehicle currently for sale in this country. On that basis, it would be easy to write off the Frontier as a relic, not worthy to compete with all the modern pickups on the market, but that would be overlooking the value that Nissan’s truck still represents. After spending a week driving the Frontier Midnight model around rainy Vancouver, we can safely say that the positives out weigh the negatives – if you have the right mindset.

The Midnight is a dress-up package, essentially, on the regular SV Crew Cab 4×4 model with V6 and automatic, for an extra $2,900. As the name implies, everything that isn’t the main body colour (white on our tester) is black, starting with what has become a common approach these days, all-black wheels. In this case, more than just their look is changed, as they are 18-inchers (versus the standard 16s) with beefy P265/60R18 M&S tires. Other than all the black trim items, the price includes some features that are optional on SV, like the Utili-track® Channel System with four tie-down cleats, and factory-applied spray-on bedliner. So, it’s an attractive package, but is it enough to make the difference in a buying decision?

It should help attract those looking for a stylish truck, but we think that the Frontier needs to be looked at as a value proposition. For example, its engine is the well-known 4.0-litre DOHC V6 that has plenty of power for any use you could put the Frontier to. It is backed up by a five-speed automatic with no “modes,” and with the torquey engine, you don’t pay a big penalty in driveability with only the five gears, although the fuel consumption might suffer a bit. The NRCan rating for urban driving is 15.8L/100 km, but our manual calculations (since there was no trip computer to tell us) showed 19L in very easy driving. We call that thirsty.

While the exterior styling of the Frontier has held up well over the years, time has not been as kind to the interior design. Oh, the heated front seats have a good-looking cloth upholstery, and they are reasonably wide and supportive, but beyond them, what looked okay 13 years ago is not so much that now. Primarily, the dashboard and doors can be described as acres of hard plastic (the arm rests are soft, to be fair.). The rear seats have plenty of room, although the backrests are vertical and flat, not uncommon in compact crewcabs. Under those rear seats is a small depression serving as concealed storage for a small soft bag or two. There is plenty of other small storage space, with six big cup holders, and nooks and crannies all over.

There are the expected features like A/C, AM/FM//Satellite audio with that welcome 2005 necessity, a CD player, along with an Aux and USB port, two 12V outlets, and Bluetooth phone, but that was about it for connectivity or convenience on our tester. Navigation is just not available on the Midnight.

On the safety front, it has ABS, Vehicle Dynamic Control, six air bags and a Rear Sonar sensor (and now a rear camera mandated by the Feds for 2018), but that’s all. There are none of the new-fangled electronic controls and warnings like Lane Departure, presumably because it would not have been possible to adapt the old platform for all that stuff.

Unfortunately, being city dwellers, we had little chance to put the truck to the test in a low-traction situation, or with a full pick-up bed, or towing anything. But we can say that the Frontier drove acceptably well for a truck with few of the modern-day solutions to noise, vibration and harshness. Steering, brakes and throttle response all felt smooth and confident.

So, other than purchasers of work fleets, just who will be attracted to the Frontier? Well, certainly someone who appreciates a good value in a pickup, as the SV Crew Cab V6 Automatic is nearly $10K cheaper than the comparable Toyota Tacoma. It’s a basic, honest, straightforward truck, in the spirit of older trucks – because it is older. For some who might not care about all the latest technology (maybe a  “less stuff to break” point of view), the Frontier should be right up their alley.

But it won’t be for long, as we are told to expect a new up-to-date Frontier later this year. And that will change the whole equation.



Price as Tested: $35,398

Engine: 4.0L DOHC V6

Power: 261 hp @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 281 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: 5-speed auto

Cargo Space: 6-ft 1-in. box

Max. Trailer Rating: 2,817 kg / 6,210 lb.

Max. Payload: 558 kg / 1,230 lb.

Curb Weight: 2,081 kg / 4,589 lb.

Fuel Efficiency Rating: 15.8 / 11.5 L/100 km, city/hwy

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