Most trucks and SUVs nowadays are swapping archaic hardware for more modern underpinnings. Unitizing the body and frame, moving to an independent rear axle, and eliminating bulky, low-range transfer cases all save weight and improve ride quality.
But if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
I have discovered that the 2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X abides by the basic principles of work truck utility. It can tow (6,100 pounds) and haul (up to 33.5 cubic feet in the bed), and it works off-road (low-range transfer case).
In a real world filled with grit and grime, the Frontier PRO-4X proves that compact pickup trucks can still play with the big boys.
From the outside, the 2012 Nissan Frontier appears essentially the same as it has since it was redesigned in 2005, providing a boxier, tougher-looking alternative to its competitors, primarily the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon and the Toyota Tacoma.
Propulsion is supplied by Nissan’s venerable VQ40, a longitudinally mounted DOHC V-6 that puts out 261 HP and a whopping 281 lb-ft. of torque.
Standard on all but the top-level Frontier SL is a six-speed manual transmission (6MT) with a 42.33 first-gear crawl ratio. Combined with a clutch-start interlock feature, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), and a locking rear axle on the PRO-4X, the 6MT makes for effortless rock climbing.
My test car came equipped with the optional five-speed automatic transmission (5AT), which matches revs on downshifts, and features hill start and hill descent assist programming on 4X4 models. Likewise, the 5AT PRO-4X features a locking rear axle and VSC.
The 2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X features an exclusive, trail-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers. In the front sits an independent double-wishbone setup, while in the rear, the PRO-4X employs a multi-leaf Dana 44 axle with an overslung arrangement for greater flexibility.
Despite its serious off-road hardware, the Frontier PRO-4X still rides and handles with remarkable confidence on-road. Most of the credit, I feel, is due to the communicative hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering system, as well as an excellent 56/44 front/rear-weight distribution percentage.
Within the compact truck segment, my $31,275-as-tested 2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X 5AT does provide good value. A comparably equipped 2012 Toyota Tacoma V6 Double-Cab 5AT, with 4X4 TRD and SR5 packages, rings in at a more ambitious $33,775.
After more than 450 miles of driving, I saw a 17.5 MPG average in our Frontier PRO-4X. The EPA rates my Frontier at 14/19/16 city/highway/combined MPG. This number is a good amount lower than the aforementioned Toyota Tacoma, which is rated at 16/21/18, respectively. The Tacoma does make do with a smaller 239-HP V6, however.
Overall, I find the 2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X provides an excellent balance of both on- and off-road utility. Although its design may be a bit long in the tooth, the rugged Frontier still provides a reliable alternative to its well-established competition.
On the TFLcar.com recommendation scale of:
-Rent it or
I give the 2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X a BUY IT!
With its rugged, go-anywhere architecture, compact dimensions, solid on-road handling, and competitive value, the Frontier provides an excellent alternative to the more popular Toyota Tacoma.
Daniel Buxbaum has had a life-long passion for all things automotive. Dan’s passion for automotive journalism recently secured him a position as customer service director and contributing writer for Parts & People, a multi-region automotive trade publication. Dan also writes for Examiner.com, maintains his own blog (straightlineconcepts.wordpress.com), and is an active member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP).