By on August 23, 2016

2016 Nissan Frontier

At a recent Nissan truck and SUV event in Carmel, a senior Nissan rep indicated there is zero chance the Smyrna, Tennessee based operation will alter its winning mid-size pickup formula.

When asked about the prospects of a unibody Frontier, Dan Passe, Senior Manager of Nissan Brand Communications, laughingly responded, “We don’t normally comment on future product, but a unibody Frontier is not happening.”

Honda is encountering strong demand for its recently launched, second-generation unibody Ridgeline, but Nissan will not follow Honda down the dedicated lifestyle truck path.

The Frontier is in its 11th year and short on refinement, but it is a real success story.

Midsize truck sales are surging, accounting for 17 percent of the overall pickup market, versus 14 percent in 2015. Ridgeline aside, which was all but unavailable in 2015, no mid-size pickup is pacing for stronger growth than Frontier. The aging truck is tracking up 34 percent over 2015 and will likely move 94,000 units this year, topping its previous 80,000 unit high-water mark set in 2006.

Why mess with success?

Building on a winner and not battling an increasingly dynamic segment to carve out a niche for a fundamentally altered Frontier is Business 101. But developing a product strategy for Frontier that balances Nissan’s portfolio strategy, CAFE compliance, and profitability is no small task.

Honda elected to continue with a unibody architecture hosting a single cab and bed configuration. And at a glance, the Ridgeline benefits massively. It offers a car-like ride and 21 miles per gallon in combined driving, versus 17 mpg for the current Frontier. A similar approach for Nissan would certainly net similar refinement and mileage. Unibody architecture may also appeal to bean counters, as a unibody truck could ride on an existing architecture, such as Nissan’s ubiquitous D platform that underpins Pathfinder, Murano, and others.

However, a deeper look reveals that an updated Frontier can deliver competitive fuel economy without alienating traditional Frontier owners, commercial customers, or the Nissan finance department.

If we use the new Toyota Tacoma as a fuel economy proxy for the next-generation Frontier, it becomes clear that a traditional body-on-frame truck can deliver 20 mpg in combined driving. Moreover, if Nissan employs the global Navara’s platform, which has been in production since mid-2014, it can mitigate the significant cost associated with developing an all-new pickup.

Nissan dubbed 2016 its Year of the Truck, a term that might apply industry-wide. Nissan launched the new segment-defying 2016 Titan XD in late 2015 and followed up last month with its all-new Titan half-ton and Infiniti QX80/Patrol-based Armada. Next up for Nissan, a new CUV announcement (Kicks anyone?), which will likely be followed by the new Frontier.

And the automakers believe there is more growth on the horizon.

Ford is investing in reprising the Ranger. A Wrangler pickup will soon be a reality. And even Mercedes is taking an interest in the segment.

We look forward to the new body-on-frame Frontier.

[Image: Nissan]

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41 Comments on “Nissan: Next Frontier Will Be Body-on-Frame...”

  • avatar

    “versus 17 mpg for the current Frontier.”

    I can’t get past the MPG for that VQ40. It’s simply not acceptable by modern standards. Large V8s can put out similar or better figures.

    You almost have to admire them for staying the course, and selling you something from 2003 if you really desire. Used values seem oddly high as well. The ones with four doors and the PRO-4x package look purposeful, if dated.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a BoF 2005 Pathfinder, back when the Frontier, Xterra, and Pathfinder used the same frame. Gas mileage on that VQ40 was one of the reasons I sold it. My lifetime average was around 15.5MPG, with minimal towing, some cross country trips (not towing), and daily driver duties. That said, I’m still glad they’re soldiering on with this formula, because it offers a lot of capability for not a lot of money – and that engine has a ton of low end torque. If they could somehow improve to Toyota 4.0L MPG levels, they would have a winning combo.

  • avatar

    My first reaction was, “Of course it will be, why wouldn’t it be?” But then I thought about it: The Pathfinder seems to have semi-successfully made the jump from BOF SUV to unibody CUV, and the Frontier wouldn’t have much to lose if it went the Ridgeline route.

    Oh, wait, no, they still need to sell King Cab 4x2s to the electric company, water, or railroad fleets.

    • 0 avatar

      “The Pathfinder seems to have semi-successfully made the jump from BOF SUV to unibody CUV”

      I just wish they had not bastardized the Pathfinder name. Call it the Murano XL or something instead.

      The 96-04 Pathfinder (also unibody, interestingly) struck the perfect balance of on-road refinement and handling mixed with serious offroad capability (solid rear axle, transfer case with low range, good clearance and angles). Even available with a 5spd stick hooked up to the VQ35 motor. Sadly lacking in rust-proofing, but really versatile vehicles.

      • 0 avatar

        And the QX4 looked so sharp. :O

        • 0 avatar

          I used to have a ’94 Pathfinder. The X-Terra is its closest living relative. It had a few issues (especially at the end) but was a solid and capable truck for the most part. Good thing gas was cheap back then because it did about the same as a modern F350.

          • 0 avatar

            Those gen1 pathys are total beasts, built like brick sh*thouses. For whatever reason, they never quite built up the following of Toyota’s 4runner even thought that first generation was every bit as tough and capable. The available rear limited slip made it even more capable than the contemporary (90-95) 4runner of that era. Sadly, both trucks rust prolifically, wd21s particularly on the frame, 4runners on the sheetmetal of the body.

          • 0 avatar

            Perfect “so 90s Japan it hurts” rally footage of some old WD21 Pathfinders ripping it up on rally stages with Gran Turismo-y musical accompaniment:


          • 0 avatar


            That’s not the link you meant to put!

          • 0 avatar

            LOL Corey, that is perhaps the best possible clip to accidentally link to someone.

            The correct one, for who ever reads page 2 of TTAC:


          • 0 avatar

            Oh, you want some offroading? I’ll Rick Roll you to some fckin GOP!

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Here the new Pathfinder change appears to have had a larger impact. The previous Pathfinder was okay, but like the Navara is limited off road. The new CUV Pathfinder are few and far between. I agree the Pathfinder name should only of been used on a SUV for off roading.

        I think the best ever Pathfinder was the unitary model previous to the D40 Pathfinder. The orignal D20 Hardbody Pathfinder was relatively popular, the torsion bar suspension that Nissan persisted with for decades destroyed its off road capability.

        These were the most popular Pathfinder in Australia and very reliable.

        I did read an article here that if Nissan built to good a Pathfinder it would of taken Patrol sales away. But, I think that was the opinon of an auto journalist.

        We never had the X Terra. It would of been a nice vehicle to have. We do have a few Nissan Terranos floating around. These where the EU version of the Pathfinder using a D20 chassis. They had a more conventional wagon style and didn’t look to bad.

        • 0 avatar

          I’ll agree with you Al that the D40 (alternatively R51) Pathfinder was quite compromised by its independent rear suspension, and I personally find the interior surprisingly cramped and awkward to sit in. For folks in the US that need to haul a boat or pop up camper or that like to go somewhat off the beaten path without getting TOO crazy, they are still a good option in a bang for the buck sense. I’d say $7k cheaper on average on the used market than a comparable 4Runner.

          The R50 with the unibody was definitely a ‘goldilocks’ sort of combination of superior on-road manners to the latter BOF R51, but at the same time closer in offroad capability to the original boxy WD21 trucks, if not quite as tough/durable when really pounded on. The Torsion beam front ends may have poor articulation, but they are tough as nails from what I understand, particularly when compared to the R50’s McPherson struts up front.

          The Xterra is a very honest rig. A bit small for an overlanding type of vehicle, but a very sturdy and simple chassis that is easy to modify and repair. They’re nowhere as polished to drive as even an R51 Pathfinder, let alone a modern 4Runner. I’d put them closer to a Wrangler Unlimited in driving feel. I’ve driven a new Pro-4X with the Bilstein shocks and Hankook RF10 ATM all terrain tires, a simpler trim with highway tires would probably drive smoother. The most surprising thing is that how soft the rear suspension is on the supposed offroad trim. It felt like I was close to bottoming out just driving on the street with an empty truck, I can’t imagine what it’d be like with a full camping load driven quickly down dirt roads. Bump-stop city I bet. Easy enough to rectify with aftermarket leaf packs thankfully. 6spd manual paired with the 4.0L motor is super fun to drive. Simple part time transfer case with electronic dash-mounted knob actuation is simple to use, although a manual lever would be more fitting (last seen on Xterras in ’04). Pro-4x gets factory skid plates and most importantly a rear diff lock.

          Overall if the Xterra had about a foot more trunk length, I think I’d have bought one.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            How much is an Xterra in good nick?

            And does a Frontier dash fit, along with the front end?

            If it does I might have found my “Grey Import” to take back to Australia from Seattle next year.

            If it all works I can buy a wrecked Navara and convert the Xterra to a right hand drive.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            Better still drop a Navara 3 litre V6 diesel into the Xterra.

            Now that would be different.

          • 0 avatar

            It’s funny their resale took a decent up-tick as soon as they were discontinued. I think if you’re looking for as clean and as new of a Pro-4X as you can, $23k ish for a low mile ’12-13 with a 6spd would be possible. If you’re willing to go a bit older, say 2010 or so with something like 75k miles, then you’re in the low-mid teens price-wise.

            All are Off-Road or Pro-4X package trucks with stick shifts and rear lockers:

            2010 with 60k miles for $16,8:

            2012 with 84k for $17:

            2011 with 43k miles for $20:

            2012 with 42k for $20,5:

            2014 with 47k for $23,8:

            Knock off a few thousand for a lesser non-locker equipped trim.

            They made some mechanical upgrades to address some timing chain tensioner/guide issues in ’08, I think there’s also some sort of electrical issue tied to a “IPDM” module.

            Although I’m not sure why anyone with access to the likes of Y60 Patrols would even cast a glance at the Xterra!

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz


            You are correct about the Patrol. But then my current 4be will pretty much do what an Xterra can do and maybe more.

            I was considering buying a vehicle that would be unique. I have seen only one or two Xterra in Australia so far.

            There is one vehicle I would definitely own. That is an Aussie Ford Falcon 4×4 from the early 70s. They are as scarce as hen’s teeth I think only one hundred or so were ever built.

            Check it out. It’s a unitary built 4×4 and it looks the part with fantastic ground clearance. But, you will park it in the garage and let it appreciate and drive it on special occasions.



            Work will provide a rental, most likely one of those disgusting FWD Town and Country Dodge/Plymouth things.

          • 0 avatar

            Big Al, the low production 4x4s are near and dear to me. In the Soviet Union and later Russia, these sorts of low production run factory specials were common.

            M72 Pobeda:

            GAZ-24 Volga:

            Moskvitch 410 4×4:

            Given the condition of “roads” especially away from metropolitan areas, these things made a heck of a lot of sense. Although given their crude construction with solid axles, I doubt they ride a whole lot better than a military UAZ jeep. The best of the breed remains the Lada Niva. A commendably smooth and (relatively speaking) controlled ride.

            More recent variants:

            Izh 2126 Oda 4×4:

            Off road review of a quite ratty one bought for 50k rubles ($750):

            The Oda 4wd is the ultimate bizarre parts bin concoction made up of Niva 4wd hardware (center locking diff but no low range), Niva motor, Moskvitch brakes, Samara cooling system and headlights. Even the front CV axles are a mixup of Samara and Niva units (diff end is Niva, hub side is Samara). The steering shaft is a driveshaft from an Ural motorcycle! The underside of the car is comical in how “homebrew” this factory solution looks. The lift is achieved with enormous rubber spring spacers. Some of the rear axle linkages look other-wordly. It honestly reminds me of something you’d find for sale on Craigslist in a trailer park.

  • avatar

    It sells on the value proposition, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My best friend owns (now his second) Frontier. It surely isn’t fancy, but it does what a truck does and goes about its business predictable reliability.

  • avatar

    I’m still bitter that they killed off the Xterra.

    • 0 avatar

      You and me both. Classic case of letting something wither on the vine and just dragging out the tooling/line for as long as possible by selling on price.

      Even a mild interior update and some retuned suspension (switch rear leaf pack for coils) and some sort of facelift could have prolonged its life quite a bit I think.

  • avatar

    And let me guess; it will be larger too. [sigh]

  • avatar

    They need to bring back the XTerra. Seriously. Why not try to grab some of that pie that the 4Runner and maybe the Wrangler are keeping to themselves?

    There was never anything wrong with the XTerra other than they simply let it get way way way too old.

    • 0 avatar

      It wouldn’t work. You just listed two nameplates with intense owner loyalty.

      It’s why the Xterra didn’t work the first time.
      Also why the FJ Cruiser didn’t work.

    • 0 avatar

      Keep in mind that the 4runner is roughly $5K more than the Xterra costs. It’s in a different league, with a different customer base. And of course, the Wrangler Unlimited offers the ability to go topless for a couple grand more than an Xterra, in addition to having a massively larger aftermarket.

      IMHO, they should have morphed the Xterra into a (reliable & available) Defender 90-ish vehicle It has all the right bones, and could’ve built its own brand.

      Companies these days don’t have executives that think long term OR care about the product they’re pushing.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I did read there are going to be two D23 pickups based on the same platform.

    There will be wide and narrow body versions. I also read the US will be using the narrow body version for the next Frontier. From what I can gather it is a full chassis vehicle around the same size as the D20 with a very similar appearance to the “full’er size” global Navara.

    The narrow body version was initially designed for developing nations and the US will make an Amercianised version of it.

    • 0 avatar

      We already have a wide-body Frontier. It’s called the Titan. They share the F-Alpha platform with various Nissan/Infiniti SUVs, although with different gauge steel in the frame. Fairly innovative and makes too much sense with the fine-line between fullsize and midsize. Wide platform sharing is the only reason the Titan has been able to survive.

  • avatar

    Why not use their global platform, the Navara? Their partner, Renault, is using it to launch the Alaskan. Surely if they can spread the engineering over enough volume they can be competitive?

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      The new NP300 (Y23) Navara would be a nice inclusion. I did read the US might be getting the narrow body version of the global Navara. It will be Americanised if it does happen.

      Nissan has similar issues with the Frontier as Toyota does with the Tacoma. Since the US went it alone with midsizers it has fallen behind.

      The volume of Frontiers to be manufactured is not large by modern plant capacity. More that can be made the cheaper they are. So, Frontiers numbers limit options for the US.

      It would be good if the US held a more flexible trading position on the importation of pickups, you would most likely have the newest and best pickups sold in your market.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting. I guess the cost of retooling and running a small (relatively) production volume where you still have to homogenize and regulate for the market is still a barrier, even if you can platform share.

        Is the NP300 larger than the current Frontier? Why would they go narrow body?

        Mitsubishi is majority owned by Nissan – would cynical badge engineering help boost volume, or would that just be an Equator sized fail?

        The other thought is the Daimler partnership with Renault/Nissan Alliance. Would be interesting to see Mercedes Benz add a work focused pick-up to their fleet. Allow them to take on the VW Amorak in Europe, and take a slice of the utility/WT pie here.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Why does’t Nissan just manufacture the Navara in Mexico to US standards. I would think that there would not be a lot of difference in the standards and if so then it is time for the developed countries to agree to Global safety, emission, and mileage standards. Toyota should replace the Tacoma with the Global Hilux. As for Mitsubishi a rebadged Navara might be just what they need. It makes financial sense to use the same platform in all countries because the development cost has already been paid and any future development costs can be recouped quicker. Both Nissan and Toyota have proven global platforms. If Ford eventually decides to offer a new Ranger in the USA then why not use the Global Ranger, a proven truck.

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