Unique and functional interior, good build quality, a solid and sturdy ride, plenty of power from the big V6 engine, and plenty of off-road capability.
The Nissan Frontier represents one of the longest-lived model generations of any pickup truck we’ve ever covered here. Today, in 2018, the Nissan Frontier remains on sale, largely unchanged from the 2005 model year units that kicked off this generation of Nissan’s little pickup.
Frontier competed with the likes of the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, Mazda B-Series, and GM Colorado/Canyon twins for the dollars of shoppers after pickup truck capability in a smaller package.
Numerous body styles, powertrain configurations, upgrade packages, and special edition models were available, providing plenty of selection for shoppers. The Frontier is backed by a wide range of dealer accessories for even further customization.
Two- or four-door models were available, and special models like the Pro-4X upped Frontier’s off-road capability. Some models offered the SV Premium Package, which added more upscale feature content including dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming mirror, and cargo management system. Other feature content touches included leather seating, navigation, and more.
On the capability front, look for Hill Descent Control, an available Dana 44 limited-slip axle, and an off-road traction management system. Towing capacity was rated at 6,500 lb when properly equipped.
Engine choices included a 2.5L four-cylinder engine with about 154 hp, or a punchy 4.0L V6 with about 265. Depending on the model and year, transmission choices included a five-speed automatic, five-speed manual, or six-speed manual.
What Owners Like
Frontier owners tend to comment positively on the unique and functional interior, good build quality, a solid and sturdy ride, plenty of power from the big V6 engine, and plenty of off-road capability.
What Owners Dislike
Common complaints include the Frontier’s immense turning circle, which some owners figure is even bigger than that of a full-sized pickup. If you’re after a small truck that’s maneuverable in tight quarters, this is not the truck for you. Other gripes include heavy fuel consumption on some models, tight rear-seat space on four-door models, and a low-budget feel to many of the interior plastics and trimmings.
Here are some Nissan Frontier Owner Reviews, where many owners rave about a truck that’s solid, fun, and feels built-to-last.
Remember that, while Frontier looks to be a proven and solid little truck, long-term reliability and confidence have less to do with the fact that Frontier is a Nissan pickup, and more to do with how well the vehicle was cared for and maintained by past owners. Seeking out a used model with full service records that proves the truck was consistently and continually cared for by all past owners is ideal for maximum peace of mind.
Test Drive To-Do List
Have the Suspension Checked Professionally
Shoppers are advised to have the suspension on the used Nissan Frontier they’re considering assessed professionally before purchase, and especially if any unwanted clunking sounds, popping sounds, or poor steering feel are noted during the test drive. In quick order, a professional technician can expertly detect any signs of worn out components – including shocks, bushings, and ball-joints – that may require attention. This inspection may cost a few dollars, but could reveal hundreds of dollars’ worth of potential repairs.
Wonky Fuel Gauge
If the fuel gauge moves sporadically or becomes inoperative during your test drive, or later during ownership, the likely culprit is a bad fuel-sending unit. The solution is replacement of the unit. This issue seemed to affect 2005–2008 models.
Confirm Warranty Coverage
In some situations, a seller may have voided or “black-flagged” any remaining warranty coverage, possibly without their knowledge. Note that some modifications can compromise or void parts of the Frontier’s warranty coverage, and that vehicles used in serious off-road settings may have their warranty voided or compromised, particularly if they’ve been used to cross deep water.
There’s some suggestion that dealers may even monitor local off-road club postings on the web and social media, where photos and videos show customer trucks (typically identified by licence plate) used in warranty-voiding situations. Ask your local dealer to check, via the VIN number of the Frontier you’re considering, to make sure any remaining warranty is still in effect – especially if the unit you’re considering has been used frequently in an off-road setting.
Note that off-road driving won’t compromise the warranty, but that stupidity on the part of past owners, particularly in regard to travelling through deep water and mud, just might.
Cross-Contaminated Transmission Fluid and Coolant
Some owners of 2005–2010 models have reported a potentially serious issue with fluid cross-contamination. In simple terms, compromised plumbing may allow automatic transmission fluid and engine coolant to mix, via the transmission cooler, which can be disastrous. The culprit seems to be a leak that allows the two fluids to mix together. This can cause extensive and very pricey damage to the radiator and cooling system, and the Frontier’s transmission, if left undetected. If not covered by warranty, the repair costs could be well into the thousands.
Your best defence is a professional assessment of the transmission and engine coolant condition and levels. If the transmission fluid and/or engine coolant look like a strawberry milkshake, or a frothy, foamy sludge, move to another unit. Other warning signs include engine overheating, fluctuating engine coolant temperature readouts, or unwanted vibrations and hard shifting from the automatic transmission.
Note that the majority of Frontier owners do not report having this issue, but it’s worth being aware of. Some owners pre-emptively modify the transmission cooling system to prevent potential issues.
Timing Chain Issues
Some owners of earlier models in this generation have reported problems with the timing chain and associated components on the V6 engine. This issue seems fairly sporadic, and may stem from a manufacturing defect in the timing chains on some earlier models. The owner’s community suggests that this issue seems most common on 2005–2010 models, particularly at higher mileage – perhaps 70,000 kilometres or more.
Listen to the engine idling with the hood popped. If you detect a whining noise, perhaps similar to a band-saw, or a rattling, metal-on-metal sound coming from the front of the engine, you may want to move to another unit, or have a professional make a further assessment. Note that some owners have reported timing chain issues resulting in expensive repairs, but that many have not. For maximum peace of mind, seek out a 2011 or newer unit if possible, or a four-cylinder Frontier if you’re looking at an older unit.
Other checks should include confirmation that all door locks, handles and switches are in proper working order, confirmation that all power windows operate consistently as expected, and that there’s no clunking or banging sound present when the vehicle is shifted between Park and Drive or Reverse, or between Reverse and Drive. Also, be on the lookout for a vibration that appears consistently at a particular speed range, which could indicate an issue with a driveshaft or bearing in the driveline, which will require attention.
Other Useful Checks
Change All Fluids if Needed
If the service history of the used Frontier you’re considering is unclear, budget for a full fluid change – including brake fluid, transmission fluid, engine coolant, power steering fluid, and differential fluid. Running fresh fluids in all components is a great way to ensure the long and trouble-free life of all associated components.
Many pickup truck owners modify their vehicles with non-factory provisions, including suspension kits, aftermarket lighting, performance engine parts, and more. The average owner is best to stick to a stock model for maximum peace of mind. Many upgrades or modifications can cause problems down the line, especially if the quality of the non-factory parts or their installation is sub-par. If you’re dead set on a used Frontier with some modifications, you’re best to have a professional look the vehicle over first.
Check for Rust
Give the Frontier you’re considering a good check-over for rust, both on the painted surfaces, and in sneaky areas where rust likes to hide – including the inner, lower edges of the doors and hood. An on-the-hoist inspection for excessive rusting of frame rails, brake lines, and other components is a great idea too – especially on older or higher-mileage units, and even more so if they come from a northern climate with heavy road salt use.
Here’s a fairly lengthy list of recalls. Check that the vehicle you’re considering has no outstanding work to be performed.
Frontier seems to be a solid and reliable pickup enjoyed by thousands of happy owners, though some potentially serious issues have been reported, even if relatively rarely. Your best bet for maximum peace of mind will likely be a 2011 or newer unit with a clean bill of health after a pre-purchase inspection that focuses on the points above. If you’re considering an older or higher mileage unit, we’d recommend sticking with the four-cylinder engine and manual transmission, if feasible.
Crash Test Ratings
IIHS: Safety ratings here
NHTSA: 4/5 Stars (2-door model, 2005 model year)