Full 2013 Nissan Frontier Review
What's New for 2013
The 2013 Nissan Frontier receives a few engine and aerodynamic tweaks that improve fuel economy slightly. Inside, there are some new available features, including a rearview camera, dual-zone climate control and a navigation system. Nissan has also revised the truck's trim level names and option packages, including the addition of a new Desert Runner trim.
Being a midsize pickup, the 2013 Nissan Frontier is considerably smaller than traditional full-size pickup trucks. Even so, you'll find it's still quite capable of tackling all sorts of workhorse duties thanks to its powerful V6 engine, relatively nimble handling and rugged body-on-frame construction.
Of course the Frontier is capable of more than just off-the-beaten-path exploration. Thanks to plenty of different variations, Nissan's smallest pickup works equally well in the city whether you're looking for a no-nonsense work truck or something to schlepp teenagers around in. In fact, the biggest negative you're likely to find here is that the rear seats force occupants to sit bolt upright, especially in extended cab models.
All this isn't to suggest you shouldn't take the time to examine your options. Topping the list of alternatives is the 2013 Toyota Tacoma pickup, which is the most direct rival now that GM has discontinued the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon twins. If you're looking for the practicality of a truck with the more refined road manners of a car, the 2013 Honda Ridgeline is also worth a look. But for a truck that's less expensive than the typical full-size model yet still plenty capable, the 2013 Nissan Frontier is an excellent choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Nissan Frontier is a compact pickup truck that's offered in extended-cab (King Cab in Nissan-speak) and crew cab body styles. King Cab models come with fold-down rear jump seats and a 6-foot cargo bed, while crew cab versions get a 60/40-split-folding rear bench and a choice of a standard 5-foot or optional 6-foot bed. There are also five trim levels available: S, SV, Desert Runner, Pro-4X and SL.
The entry-level S is a rather bare-bones affair, with a standard equipment list that includes 15-inch steel wheels, variable intermittent wipers, rear privacy glass, a flat-folding front passenger seat and cloth upholstery. The S Preferred package adds air-conditioning and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player.
Stepping up to the SV trim level gets you the contents of the Preferred package, along with 16-inch wheels (steel on models with four-cylinder engines and alloy on V6-powered versions), a sliding rear window and keyless entry. Inside you'll find nicer cloth upholstery, cruise control, full power accessories, a tilt-only steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity, satellite radio and an additional 12-volt power outlet. Options for the SV (V6 model) include a Value Truck package that adds foglights, rear parking sensors, a sliding bed extender, enhanced cargo tie-downs, a Class IV trailer hitch, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a rearview camera.
The Desert Runner (two-wheel-drive only) gains special exterior and interior styling details, Bilstein shock absorbers, off-road tires and an eight-way manual driver seat. For those who plan on taking the road less traveled, there's the Pro-4X, which features the off-road tires and Bilstein shocks along with a locking rear differential, underbody skid plates, automatic headlights, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer and a first aid kit. The Pro-4X Luxury package (crew cab models only) adds a sunroof, roof rack with cross bars, heated mirrors, leather upholstery, heated power front seats (eight-way driver, four-way passenger), a rear-seat center armrest, Bluetooth audio connectivity, Pandora radio capability and a navigation system.
The top SL trim, which is only offered on crew cab models, loses the Pro-4X's off-road-oriented equipment but retains most of the items in the Pro-4X Luxury package except for the sunroof, which is available as an option. Additional standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels and side steps that make for easier access to the cab.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Nissan Frontier is offered with a choice of two engines. Extended-cab S and SV models come standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder good for 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual and rear-wheel drive are standard, and a five-speed automatic is optional. EPA fuel economy estimates are 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 other models is a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. The S, SV and four-wheel-drive Pro-4X can be had with either a standard six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic, while the two-wheel-drive Desert Runner and SL are automatic only. Also available is a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 15/20/17 for two-wheel-drive automatic-transmission-equipped models, while the ratings drop to 14/19/16 for four-wheel-drive models fitted with the automatic. The manual achieves 16/20/17 with rear-wheel drive and 15/20/17 with four-wheel drive.
Properly equipped, four-cylinder models can tow up to 3,500 pounds, while V6-powered versions can tow as much as 6,500 pounds. In Edmunds performance testing, a V6-powered Pro-4X Crew Cab went from zero to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds.
Every 2013 Nissan Frontier comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length 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 two-wheel-drive 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.
The Frontier received the top rating of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside the 2013 Nissan Frontier you'll find a good balance between comfort and practicality. The dashboard and various cabin controls in the Frontier are basic and functional. They're easy to find and operate, but they do seem a bit outdated.
Extended King Cab models feature rear-hinged doors that swing open to reveal a pair of fold-down jump seats that are really only useful for an occasional short trip due to their vertical seatbacks and limited legroom. The Crew Cab's rear seat is better for folks who regularly carry more than one passenger, though it's still not all-day comfortable because of the severely upright angle of the seatbacks, low bottom cushions and lack of headroom. In short, if the comfort of backseat passengers is important to you, you'll probably want to look elsewhere.
When it comes to transporting cargo instead of people, the Frontier gets higher marks. For items you'd rather not leave in the bed to tempt sticky fingers, the rear seats in both body styles fold to create a secure storage area. As far as the bed itself is concerned, the 6-foot version available as an option on Crew Cab models is the way to go if you plan to do any serious hauling. The available movable tie-downs offer added flexibility when it comes time to secure that load.
On the road, the 2013 Nissan Frontier's performance depends on what's under the hood. While the 2.5-liter four-cylinder will go a couple of miles farther on a gallon of gas, the significantly more muscular 4.0-liter V6 delivers much more satisfying acceleration and towing capacity. Though we applaud the availability of the five- and six-speed manual transmissions, we think most folks will be better served by the well-tuned five-speed automatic.
Complementing this powertrain are steering and suspension hardware that make for a fairly agile driving experience as trucks go. Ride quality is better than you'd expect on most Frontier models, the notable exception being the trail-ready Pro-4X.