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2012 Nissan Frontier ReviewThe Good
A strong constitution, potent V6 engine, comfortable front seats, surprisingly adept handling and decent 4-cylinder mileage all contribute to the 2012 Nissan Frontier’s popularity.The Bad
Some low-rent interior materials, cramped rear quarters and the lack of a 3-passenger Regular cab trim continue to plague the otherwise nifty 2012 Frontier compact pickup.
The CarGurus View
When a full-size behemoth of a truck is too much, the 2012 Nissan Frontier fills in nicely. Economical, practical, rugged, affordable and, in its PRO-4X trim level, downright fun, this Japanese-made compact pickup offers the refinement and capability that the Canyons and Colorados of the world don’t. A big fish in a small pond, market-wise, this little workhorse remains a solid choice.
At a Glance
If there’s one thing Japanese automakers do well, it’s turn out a perfectly practical, rugged and refined compact pickup, of which the 2012 Nissan Frontier is a perfect example. Tough, dependable, practical and even quasi-comfortable, this little truck has it all. Again delivered in four utilitarian trim levels, the base S, the lower-midlevel SV, the quasi-posh SL and the off-road-capable PRO-4X, there’s a Frontier trim for everyone who doesn’t need the often unwieldy size and the sometimes unjustified expense of a full-size beast of burden. Further, all trim levels except the SL can be delivered in either 4-seat King cab (aka Extended cab) versions with rear-opening back doors or in 5-passenger Crew cab versions with 4 independently opening doors. Alas, no 3-passenger Regular cab is offered in the Frontier lineup, but the usual 6-foot bed is standard with the King cab and offered as an option to replace the standard 5-foot bed on Crew cab versions. Finally, all trim levels are offered with a choice of either a manual transmission or an automatic, with all trims except the PRO-4Xs further offered with standard rear-wheel drive (RWD) or available on-demand 4-wheel drive (4WD). The terrain-taming PRO-4X, needless to say, is delivered only with 4WD.
New stuff for the 2012 Frontier lineup includes a Sport Appearance package for the SV trim level, with 4-cylinder-equipped trims now flaunting standard stability control. Let it be said here that there are those who opine that a few tweaks to the aging exterior design and a lot less hard plastic in the cabin, not to mention a bit more passenger room in the rear seats, might soon be required.
In any case, the 2012 Frontier can hold its hood high in comparison with Chevrolet’s Colorado and its GMC Canyon twin, but won’t be quite as posh as Toyota’s legendary Tacoma, considered the Frontier’s most worthy competitor. But then this little Nissan pickup won’t be quite as expensive as its Japanese competitor either, and it's considered more workaholic by the majority of reviewers.
Standard in S and SV King cab RWD editions of Nissan’s 2012 Frontier is a variable-valve-timed (VVT) 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine (I4). Mated with the standard 5-speed manual transmission, this able four-banger throws out 152 hp at 5,200 rpm and 171 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. A 5-speed automatic transmission boasting the same power numbers is also available with the I4. With the proper equipment, towing with either gearbox is maxed out at 3,500 pounds, while mileage is estimated at 19 mpg city/23 highway with the stick-shift and 17/22 with the automatic.
Powering the SL and PRO-4X trims, as well as the SV V6 in King and Crew cab versions and the Crew-cab-equipped S trims, each sporting either RWD or 4WD, is a 4.0-liter V6 with variable valve timing that pounds out 261 hp at 5,600 rpm and 281 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Under the management of either the standard 6-speed manual transmission or the available 5-speed automatic, look for towing capacity to be maxed out at 6,500 pounds with the proper equipment. Mileage is estimated at 16/20 for RWD V6 stick-shift trims, 15/20 with manual-equipped 4WD versions and 14/19 with automatic-equipped 4WD versions.
The available on-demand 4WD system, finally, features auto-locking hubs and electronic hi-lo gear selection and can be conveniently shifted on the fly between RWD and 4WD. Further, all V6-equipped editions flaunting the 5-speed automatic come with standard descent control and hill-start assist, while V6-toting versions all come with a standard brake-activated limited-slip differential.
Testing found a V6 Frontier going from 0-60 in a fairly average 8.3 seconds, but reviewers are quick to point out that the I4, mated with either the stick or the automatic transmission, is perfectly adequate for light duties and sedate highway cruising. The standard stick-shift gives the four-banger a little more scoot, according to most reviewers, not to mention a couple of extra miles to the gallon.
The V6, according to virtually all reviews, is not only admirably strong, but remains well-suited to the smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic. This slick automatic also makes life easier in maneuvering downtown, while providing plenty of passing and merging oomph on the highway. And reviewers note that the six-banger's extra 2,500 pounds of towing capacity sure do come in handy sometimes.
Ride & Handling
Look for 2012 Frontier S King cabs to roll on standard 15-inch steel wheels, with the S Crew cabs, the SV in all configurations, and the PRO-4X in both King and Crew cab versions boasting 16-inch alloy wheels. The high-end SL, meantime, sports 18-inch alloy wheels, while all trims cruise on all-season tires except the PRO-4X, which flaunts trail-busting all-terrain rubber. Meanwhile, a double-wishbone front independent suspension is complemented by a solid live axle rear end in all Frontier trims, with stabilizer bars front and rear.
Reviewers claim a firm but nonetheless surprisingly compliant ride in all Frontier trims, no matter the wheel size. Smaller bumps and cracks are minimized nicely, even with an empty bed, according to reviewers, though they all caution that this is still a truck, albeit small, thus long stretches of broken pavement or dirt roads will produce at least their fair share of wiggle and shake. Of course, the terrain-busting PRO-4X, with its off-road-tuned suspension, standard all-terrain tires and rugged Bilstein shock absorbers will give a noticeably harsher ride, though it’s still not overly uncomfortable.
Handling-wise, most reviews note that the Frontier lineup provides a balanced feel to the steering wheel at highway speeds, though a few complain of some laziness in downtown maneuvering. Finally, body lean in fast corners is minimal, according to reviewers, though several claim that Nissan’s compact pickup isn’t quite up to Tacoma standards.
Testing found the Frontier coming to a stop from 60 mph in an impressive 128 feet, thus confirming reviewer opinion that brakes are powerful and true, with no abnormal pedal feel.
Cabin & Comfort
Bearing in mind that the 2012 Nissan Frontier is, after all, a truck, basic S versions are a bit on the Spartan side. Look for cloth upholstery, front bucket seats, a fold-down front passenger seat and second-row under-seat storage in King cab versions of this entry trim level, while Crew cab editions sport tilt-wheel steering and air conditioning. Four speakers (but no audio source) come with the S King cab, while its Crew cab counterpart sports a single-CD player to go with its 6 speakers.
A bit better endowed, the lower-midlevel Frontier SV, in all variations, adds remote power door locks, power windows and power-adjustable mirrors, as well as cruise control and the standard single-CD player with, again, 4 speakers in King cabs and 6 speakers in Crew cab versions.
The top-shelf, vacation-ready SLs, meantime, throw in a roof rack, heated power-adjustable front seats, leather-trimmed upholstery, heated outside mirrors, a universal remote garage door opener and a leather and simulated alloy steering wheel, along with leather and simulated alloy cabin trim accents. A premium Rockford Fosgate audio system also comes with the quasi-posh SL and boasts 10 speakers, including a subwoofer, as well as a 6-CD changer and satellite radio. Finally, the mountaineering PRO-4X trims delete the leather, keep the premium audio system, at least in the Crew cab edition, with the King cab version sporting similar but not as high-end components. Skid plates, an electronic locking rear differential and the off-road suspension components, meantime, are standard in both cab configurations.
Options for the lower Frontier trims include many items that come standard with the higher trims, while all trims are eligible for a slide-out bed extender and iPod interface. The SV trim level can be delivered with the new-for-2012 Sport Appearance Package that features 18-inch chrome wheels and added exterior chrome and graphics, as well as interior upgrades that include Bluetooth hands-free calling, added manual driver’s seat adjustments, upgraded gauges and controls and a 6-CD player with steering-wheel-mounted controls. Also available to the SV lineup is the Premium Utility Package, which tosses in a few items from the Sport Appearance Package as well as a spray-in bed liner and adjustable tie-down points.
Besides lamenting the fact that Nissan’s compact Frontier lineup remains mired in low-rent plastic and distinctly Spartan standard features, a number of reviewers claim that most standard switches and buttons don’t operate as smoothly as they’d like. Most reviews also complain of the regrettably cramped rear seating in both cab variants, with the smaller King cab version noted for its especially tight rear-seat accommodations. Finally, virtually all reviewers find the thick windshield roof pillars to impede visibility to each front quarter.
On the other hand, reviewers do concede that this little workhorse is designed more for practicality than posh, and with this in mind, most laud its front-seat head- and legroom, logically located controls and large gauges. Cabin storage, meantime, is noted by most reviewers to be adequate, with the King cab trims' rear under-seat storage gaining special praise.
All 2012 Frontier pickups are equipped with standard 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution, as well as traction control and, new for this year in both the I4- and V6-equipped trims, standard stability control. All trims also carry dual front side-mounted airbags, front and rear head airbags, and front head restraint whiplash protection. The SL adds standard front fog/driving lights that are optional in SVs and PRO-4Xs, while both the PRO-4X and SL versions get a standard remote antitheft alarm.
Only the 2012 Frontier’s rollover protection has been assessed by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), and they give 4WD-equipped King and Crew cab versions a second-best 4 stars, with RWD editions getting a third-best 3 stars.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meantime, gives Nissan’s compact pickup its highest rating of Good in front and side impact testing, as well as rollover protection and seat/head restraint configurations. Finally, the Institute gives its second-highest score of Acceptable to this mighty-mite in its “dynamic rating” (rear impact) category.
What Owners Think
Although in general owners of a 2012 Frontier pickup are favorable toward its capabilities, a few complain of its low-ball interior materials, cramped rear seats, stingy interior storage, uncomfortable front armrest positioning and some difficulties with certain standard audio components. A few owners complain that the standard all-season tires that come with the street-oriented S, SV and SL are too wide for good traction in the snow, while one or two others simply feel the exterior design could be brought further into the 21st century.
This little hauler’s V6 power is among its more praiseworthy attributes among owners, with the available Premium Utility Package also gaining its share of kudos. Ride comfort also gets a lion’s share of owner accolades, as do its decently quiet cabin, comfy front seats and slick safety scores. Finally, owners of the rugged PRO-4X are adamant in their praise of this tough little truck’s off-road prowess, citing its Bilstein shock absorbers and smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic for making molehills out of foothills.
Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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2012 Nissan Frontier Top Comparisons
Users ranked 2012 Nissan Frontier against other cars which they drove/owned. Each ranking was based on 9 categories. Here is the summary of top rankings.
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Nissan Frontier Questions
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