• 2012 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X: finding the sweet spot among mid-size pickups


    2012 nissan frontier pro-4x crew

    Does the 2012 Nissan Frontier have what it takes to save the shrinking mid-size pickup truck segment and return it back to the glory days? This Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab has the right dimensions.  It’s got a comfortable interior and a variety of practical features.  The trusty 4.0 V6 up front provides adequate grunt to allow the Frontier to carry and tow big loads.  And the rugged Pro-4X off-road package turns this truck into a mountain goat.  Yet, this generation is nearing the end of it’s life cycle, and the drive-train is showing is age.

    Dimensions:

    I was relieved when this Crew Cab fit into my standard sized garage with about 2 feet of length to spare.  At least I could walk all the way around it while carrying a few grocery bags.  This was not the case when I had Frontier’s rich uncle, the 2012 Infiniti QX56, in the same garage spot.  On a serious note, the dimension of the mid-size truck is the main differentiating feature from the full-size crowd.  Let’s see how Frontier measures up to it’s bigger brother, the Nissan Titan.

    Length Wheelbase Width Height Ground Clearance
    2012 Frontier Crew Cab Pro-4X  205.5 125.9  72.8 69.7 10.1
    2012 Titan Crew Cab Pro-4X 224.6 139.8 79.5 76.6 11.3

    Even as the Frontier has grown over the previous generations, it’s size is clearly smaller than a full-size Titan.  This has several advantages.  First, it’s easier to maneuver in traffic and crowded parking lots.  And it can easily fit into a standard garage.  Also, this special off-road edition of the Frontier can go places where the Titan cannot.  Why?  Because it’s almost 7 inches narrower and can fit on narrow mountain or forest trails.  Also, its shorter wheelbase is better suited for more serious off-roading.  I experienced this first-hand when I drove this same Frontier Pro-4x on trails during the 2012 4xFall Off-Road event high in the Rocky Mountains.  Interstingly, the step-in height of this Frontier is not overly high as to require a side step or running boards.

    Interior:

    When you get inside the Frontier, the minimalist and functional interior reminds you that this is a pick-up truck.  It’s not a bad thing.  The radio and HVAC controls are simple and easy to use, and so are the off-road accessories.  This truck is fully equipped with electronically locking rear differential, 4-Hi/4-Lo transfer case, Hill Decent Control, and Hill Start Assist.  You also get modern creature comforts like Bluetooth phone connectivity.  My only complaint was that the driver side door pull handle was somewhat obscured by the steering wheel and a bit awkward to reach.

    2012 nissan frontier crew cab pro-4x with motorcycle

    Exterior:

    This generation’s exterior styling has been with us since its 2005 introduction practically unchanged.  Still, I think this design has aged very well and looks rugged and modern even after all these years.  Other notable exterior features include the factory spray-in bed liner, and very beefy and cool Utili-Track cargo tie-down system.  It includes 5 channels and 4 movable heavy-duty cleats, that can handle many loads – including this dirt bike.

    Handling/Capability:

    I was pleasantly surprised with how well the off-road tuned Bilstein shocks make this truck ride on pavement.  The suspension smoothed out the expansion joints and other rough pavement better than most cars.  Of course, it also works very well on a dirt “washboard” surface road, as well as flexing over ruts and rocks on a mountain trail.  If there is a downside to this suspension setup, then it’s the healthy amount of lean while cornering.  This is something to be expected of this type of vehicle.

    Frontier is a steel frame based truck, and it can work like one.  The 4.0 liter motor provides 261 hp at 5,600 rpm and 281 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.  The 4×4 model equipped with the automatic is rated to tow a maximum of 6,100 lbs or carry a maximum 1,078 lbs of payload.  If you get the 2 wheel drive King Cab configuration, you can tow as high as 6,500 lbs or carry as much as 1,524 lbs.  Lets compare the capacities against the Titan.

    Max Tow (lbs) Max Payload (lbs) Passenger Interior Volume (cu ft)
    2012 Frontier Crew Cab Pro-4X 6,100 1,078  101.1
    2012 Titan Crew Cab Pro-4X 9,300 1,900 125.6

    So, the Titan can tow approximately 35% more, carry 45% payload, or hold about 20% more of interior volume.  Roughly speaking, the mid-size Frontier can do about two thirds as much work as the full-size Titan.

    Please see this pickup doing the TFLcar 0-60 Mile High test:

    Powertrain:

    If you look at the big picture, Frontier’s engine and transmission combination is showing its age the most, while at the same time making the proposition of buying a mid-size truck less attractive.  The VQ family V6 motor in this Crew Cab does not like to rev very high, it gets noisy and reluctant above 4,000 rpm.  When combined with the 5-speed automatic, it also delivers poor fuel economy by today’s standards.  This model is rated at 14 MPG city / 19 MPG hwy.  I averaged 17.1 MPG after one week of mixed city and highway driving.  While this is better economy than the Titan, full-size “half ton” competitors from other manufactures can either match or do better than the mid-size Frontier.

    Value:

    What closes the deal for most mid-size pickup buyers is the lower entry price.  This Pro-4X Crew Cab tested is listed at $31,275 MSRP (including destination charges).  A similarly optioned Titan Crew Cab Pro-4X rings the bell at $39,265. The Frontier has about 20% advantage.  The Frontier has the upper hand when compared to the Toyota Tacoma Double Cab TRD Off-Road.  The similar optioned Tacoma comes is at about $1400 more.

    Competition:

    Speaking of competition, there is not much of it left.  The mid-size segment has recently seen the exit of the Dodge Dakota and the Ford Ranger.  Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon are getting a redesign, but they are still one or more years away.  Ford’s thinking is that customers who used to buy the Ranger, can opt for an entry level F-150 that gets better economy and can do more work.  This may not be the correct approach, as Tacoma, Frontier, and Chevy Colorado sales grew significantly this year and may have picked up some previous Ranger owners.

    On the TFLcar scale of:

    • Buy it!
    • Lease it!
    • Rent it!
    • … or Forget it!

    I give it a Lease It!  I like this truck, but it left me wanting a more efficient and more modern powertrain.  If I had my way, it would be awesome to have a small diesel that Frontier uses in other countries.  But having a smaller displacement turbo or supercharged motor would also work (remember the supercharged Frontiers from previous generation?)  As long as I am writing my wish list, I would like the 6-speed manual to stay, and a newer 6 or 7-speed automatic be added.  I think if the mid-size trucks make a significant improvement in MPGs, this segment will be alive and thriving for many more decades.

     

    Andre SmirnovAndre Smirnov is a life-long automotive enthusiast, writer, and software engineer. On the weekends – you may find him at a car show, an auction, watching a race, or tinkering with a car in the garage. When not working or spending time with the family – he often scours the internet and other media for various automotive, mechanical, and computer related information.

    Andre Smirnov
    Andre Smirnov
    Andre Smirnov is an Automotive Enthusiast, Producer, Reviewer, Videographer, Writer, Software Engineer, Husband, Father, and Friend.

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