What's New for 2011
The 2011 Nissan Frontier returns without any major changes other than new names for existing models and a couple of new option packages.
Quite simply, the 2011 Nissan Frontier does an awful lot of things well. Whether you need a no-frills four-cylinder truck for your business, a rough-and-ready off-road model for hitting the Pismo Beach sand dunes or a loaded crew cab comfortable enough to do double duty as the family car, the lineup of Frontier trucks has something that will fill the bill. Its combination of a gutsy V6 engine, solid build quality, nimble handling and a long list of standard features and options delivers a well-rounded pickup, regardless of cab style or trim level.
To put the Frontier's well-rounded nature in perspective, it helps to take a look at its competition. While the Chevrolet Colorado and Dodge Dakota may have one or two advantages -- a more powerful V8 engine and a roomier backseat, respectively -- their other shortcomings make them hard to recommend. The ancient Ford Ranger is completely outclassed, while the Honda Ridgeline has a carlike ride and handling but lacks true workhorse abilities.
True, the well-regarded Toyota Tacoma pretty much matches the Frontier's abilities, but even so, the Nissan has a stronger work ethic while the Toyota emphasizes comfort and style.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Nissan Frontier is a compact pickup truck that's offered in an extended cab (King Cab in Nissan-speak) with a pair of flip-down seats in back, and a crew cab with a full 60/40-split-folding three-person bench. A 6-foot cargo bed is standard on King Cab models, while Crew Cab buyers have a choice of a standard 5-foot bed or an optional 6-foot version.
For 2011 the trim level designations have changed. Now the base S model is complemented by the midrange SV, off-road-oriented PRO-4X and the top-of-the-line SL (crew cab only).
The entry-level S is a rather bare-bones affair, with a standard equipment list that includes 15-inch steel wheels, front bucket seats and cloth upholstery. Opting for the S Preferred package gets you air-conditioning and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player.
Stepping up to the SV trim level adds 16-inch steel wheels with the inline-4 engine and alloy wheels with the V6, plus upgraded tires, a chrome front bumper, a sliding rear window, keyless entry, cruise control, full power accessories, upgraded cloth upholstery and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel. Options for the SV include a new Premium Utility package, which includes a spray-in bedliner with adjustable tie-down points, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth and an upgraded six-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer, satellite radio and steering-wheel controls.
For those planning on taking the road less traveled, there's the PRO-4X, which features 16-inch alloy wheels with off-road tires, a body-color grille, foglights, a locking rear differential, Bilstein off-road shocks, underbody skid plates and spray-in bedliner with Utili-Track tie-downs. Besides these hardware upgrades, the PRO-4X gets many of the SV's options as standard equipment, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-way manual front seats, a two-tone interior, white-faced gauges, a trip computer, a first aid kit and a Rockford Fosgate premium audio system. The PRO-4X Luxury package adds a sunroof, roof racks and cross bars, leather upholstery, heated power front seats (eight-way driver, four-way passenger), heated mirrors and a rear center armrest.
The top SL trim, which is only offered as a Crew Cab, deletes the PRO-4X's off-road-oriented bits but keeps most of the Luxury package items (other than the separately optional sunroof). Additional standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and side steps for easier cab access.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Nissan Frontier is available with two engines. The extended-cab S and SV trims come standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder good for 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual is standard and a five-speed automatic is optional. Rear-wheel drive is mandatory. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined with the manual transmission, and 17/22/19 with the automatic.
Optional for the SV extended cab and standard for all PRO-4X and crew cab models is a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. The S, SV and PRO-4X 4x4 can be equipped with either a standard six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic, while the PRO-4X 4x2 and SL are automatic only.
The V6 comes with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Properly equipped V6 models can tow up to 6,500 pounds. In Edmunds performance testing, a V6-powered PRO-4X Crew Cab went from zero to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined with two-wheel drive and the automatic, while the ratings change to 14/19/16 for a 4WD automatic.
Every 2011 Nissan Frontier comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. Also, V6 models have a brake-activated limited-slip differential. Hill descent control and hill start assist are included with the automatic-equipped 2WD SL and PRO-4X. In Edmunds brake testing, a Frontier PRO-4X came to a stop from 60 mph in 128 feet -- impressive for a truck.
While it hasn't been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedure, the Frontier King Cab's 2010 frontal crash-test scores (which aren't necessarily comparable) were four out of five stars for driver protection and five stars for front passenger protection. The Frontier Crew Cab earned just four stars in these same tests. Both scored a perfect five stars in side-impact tests, although the King Cab was not tested for rear side protection. In testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, both Frontier body styles received the best rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
As with virtually all pickups, the 2011 Nissan Frontier's interior is a compromise between utility and comfort. King Cab models feature reverse-opening rear doors that offer access to a pair of fold-up jump seats behind the front buckets. Their combination of vertical seatback angles and limited legroom means they're really only useful in a pinch. Open the Crew Cab's front-hinged rear doors and you'll find a backseat that's wide enough for three adults, though it's not all that comfortable either due to its upright backrests and low seat bottoms. In short, if a roomy rear seat is important to you, you might want to have a look at the Honda Ridgeline or Toyota Tacoma.
When it comes to hauling cargo, the rear seats in both body styles flip up or fold down to provide a place for valuable items you don't want to leave in the cargo bed. When it comes to that bed, we'd strongly suggest opting for the longer 6-foot version if you expect to be hauling much more than a couple of beach chairs and an ice chest. The movable tie-down anchors that come with the available Utili-Track cargo rail system are also recommended if you plan on using the truck to do a lot of schlepping.
Most will find the powerful V6 engine the best choice for the 2011 Nissan Frontier. With its abundant torque, this engine greatly improves the truck's performance and capability, including improving towing capacity to more than 3 tons. The automatic transmission is also a good match for this engine, delivering well-timed shifts whether you're negotiating a rugged backcountry trail or just driving home from work.
The driving experience is enhanced by precise steering that offers good feedback. The Frontier's ride quality is also better than you'd expect. The off-road-oriented PRO-4X feels harsh in comparison, of course, but then it can tackle everything from ruts to rocks when the pavement runs out.