2020 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X Crew Cab - Bowing Out at the Right Time

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2020 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X Crew Cab Fast Facts

3.8-liter V6 (310 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm; 281 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm)
Nine-speed automatic transmission, part-time four-wheel drive
17 city / 23 highway / 19 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
13.8 city, 10.2 highway, 12.2 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$37,490 (U.S) / N/A (Canada)
As Tested
$38,745 (U.S.) / N/A (Canada)
Prices include $1,095 destination charge in the United States. The 2020 Nissan Frontier was not sold in Canada - the brand stopped sale of the Frontier in 2019, with sales to resume with the 2022 model. The 2020 model did undergo fuel-economy certifi

As you know by now, the 2022 Nissan Frontier is all new.

I haven’t yet gotten my hands on one, and nor has, it appears, most of the rest of the automotive press. But I did get to sample one of the last-gen trucks before it moved into the dustbin of history.

The model-year of the vehicle I was loaned was 2020, but 2021 Frontiers carryover (although with apparently with a small price increase). Consider this review instructive if you’re in the market for one of the outgoing trucks and not interested in waiting for the 2022s to drop.

It’s no secret that the old Frontier was derided as being out of date and out of step with the times. With a new model on the way, Nissan didn’t do much to the outgoing truck to change that impression, though it did dump a new powertrain in.

That powertrain is a 3.8-liter V6 (310 horsepower, 281 lb-ft of torque) and nine-speed automatic transmission. All-new for 2020, Nissan claims it’s a preview of what’s on tap for 2022. So, in a sense, the old truck previews the new.

If that’s the case, you get a smooth V6 that’s a bit loud – though pleasingly so – in this application. Quick, it is not, despite having the low-end grunt truckers like. The good news for those looking towards the future is that the 2022 truck is likely to have better sound-deadening, and it’s likely that it will feel swifter than an ancient chassis, thanks to some combination of weight loss and gearing.

The nine-speed itself seemed mostly behaved, though the manumatic mode seemed useless – the truck would just shift to whatever gear it wanted to be in, no matter what I told it to do.

The fully-boxed ladder frame does make the Frontier feel “truckish” for better or for worse, and it did feel its age. That said, the Frontier remains stout enough even in its dotage that I helped someone move a bunch of stuff and the truck never blinked, even with a laden bed.

The next Frontier (hah!) promises to be at least up to date when it comes to modern cabin amenities, and thank goodness for that, since Nissan hardly bothered to keep up over the years. The plain-Jane interior harkens back to when I was sitting at a desk in a Nissan dealer’s service department in the mid-to-late Aughts. It’s rolling history, really. At least it’s functional, if you can live without some of the conveniences and features that other mid-size trucks offer now.

It should shock no one that a truck rides like a truck, especially when it’s soldiering on using a platform introduced during the Dubya Bush years. That said, the Frontier is just barely on the right side of “acceptable” when riding around town. It also offers up unusually heavy steering that is somewhat devoid of road feel.

I kept wondering who would buy the aging and semi-neglected Frontier when the other mid-size trucks on the market, even those that also seem long in the tooth – hello, Ranger; I see you, Tacoma; and ahem, Canyon and Colorado – don’t feel quite so out of date. The obvious answer seemed to be value – the Frontier could still offer up basic truck toughness and utility for fewer dollars.

Which, it does. Depending on options and trim, of course. The PRO-4X here cost around 37 large before fees, which gives the truck a price advantage over most of its rivals – though not much over a judiciously optioned Tacoma Sport, so there are exceptions.

That may be the outgoing Frontier’s biggest strength. It’s no mere placeholder – it’s a cheap truck for the bargain hunter who doesn’t need frills. Aging cabin aside, it does the truck stuff – hauling cargo and being tough – well enough.

If you need, or think you need, or just flat-out want the PRO-4X package, it includes 16-inch wheels, a rear differential locker, Bilstein high-pressure off-road shocks, white gauges with chrome accent, PRO-4X badging, and skid plates for the oil pan, fuel tank, and transfer case.

The only option? Floor mats for $160.

A lot of tradespeople will be sad to see this generation of the Frontier go – they got a no-frills tough truck for a decent price. The 2022 Frontier will likely be better in every way. But it won’t be relegated to the bargain bin.

That’s good for Nissan, and good for most buyers. But for a select few, the current Frontier’s swan song will be bittersweet.

The bargain-hunting mid-size truck intender might be sad, but the rest of us won’t. Nissan pushed the limits of an aging truck as far as it could, and did better than anyone would’ve expected.

Now it’s time for a change.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Apr 15, 2021

    Nissan needs to just make this generation as the value leader and offer the newer Frontier as more refined and upscale. Old generation should be the good, simple, and honest truck starting at just below 20k. Nissan at this point needs a truck that will sell in enough volume to matter.

  • JD-Shifty JD-Shifty on Apr 16, 2021

    I like it, but I'd rather have a Ridgeline or Tacoma

  • Zipper69 Current radio ads blare "your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer" and the facias read the same. Is the honeymoon with FIAT over now the 500 and big 500 have stopped selling?
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh hmmm get rid of the garbage engine in my chevy, and the garbage under class action lawsuit transmission? sounds good to me
  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
  • Groza George Stellantis live off the back of cheap V8 cars with old technology and suffers from lack of new product development. Now that regulations killed this market, they have to ditch the outdated overhead.They are not ready to face the tsunami of cheap Chinese EVs or ready to even go hybrid and will be left in the dust. I expect most of their US offerings to be made in Mexico in the future for good tariff protection and lower costs of labor instead of overpriced and inflexible union labor.
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