Full 2014 Nissan Frontier Review
What's New for 2014
There are minor standard and optional equipment updates on the 2014 Nissan Frontier, and trucks equipped with the factory navigation system have enhanced voice control and smartphone app integration features.
Although full-size trucks dominate the pickup kingdom, there's also a small but stable population of midsize trucks like the 2014 Nissan Frontier. Along with its rivals, the versatile Frontier is aimed at shoppers who don't require maximum towing and hauling abilities -- and don't want to pay extra for a truck that has more than they need.
That said, short of pulling a 10,000-pound trailer, the Nissan Frontier can take on most any truck-related task. The base S model will serve small business owners well as a light-duty work truck, while the Frontier Pro-4X is one of the most capable and entertaining off-road vehicles on the market. In addition, you can equip Nissan's midsize truck with features like moveable cargo tie-downs, a spray-in bedliner and a sliding bed extender that enhance its utility. Along with all that, the Frontier is surprisingly comfortable as a daily driver. Although it's starting to feel dated on the inside, Nissan has added amenities like a rearview camera and, for 2014, smartphone app integration and voice control to help modernize it.
However, the Frontier hasn't received a major overhaul since 2005, and compared with newer trucks, it feels pretty rudimentary. Drive it on a road with tight turns, and you can't ignore its slow steering and low handling limits -- typical hallmarks of an old-school truck. In addition, if you're considering the Frontier alongside its main rival, the 2014 Toyota Tacoma, you'll notice that Nissan doesn't offer a regular cab body style. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you'll likely find the Frontier crew cab's backseat smaller and less comfortable than the roomier quarters in the Tacoma Double Cab.
If rear-seat space is truly a priority, the carlike 2014 Honda Ridgeline is also worth considering, though in most respects, it's not as capable as the others. And come 2015, the midsize truck class will get significantly more competitive when General Motors rolls out its new-generation 2015 Chevrolet Colorado. For now, though, the 2014 Nissan Frontier remains a very viable midsize pickup choice, especially if off-road capability is on your must-have list.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Nissan Frontier is a compact-to-midsize pickup truck that's offered in extended cab (known as the King Cab) and crew cab body styles. King Cab models come with fold-down rear jump seats and a 6.1-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 6.1-foot bed. There are also five trim levels available: S, SV, Desert Runner, Pro-4X and SL.
On two-wheel-drive (2WD) King Cabs with a manual transmission, the entry-level S trim level includes 15-inch steel wheels, rear privacy glass, front bucket seats (with a flat-folding front-passenger seat) and cloth upholstery. Automatic transmission-equipped S King Cabs also come with air-conditioning, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary input; these items can be added to the manual version via the S Preferred package (late availability). Meanwhile, S crew cabs add the V6 engine, 16-inch steel wheels, a sliding rear window and a six-speaker audio system as standard.
Stepping up to the SV trim level gets you all of the above (though the V6 engine is optional on SV King Cabs), along with 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, full power accessories, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, satellite radio with a 4.3-inch color display, a USB/iPod integration, 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 rearview camera, a sliding bed extender, adjustable cargo tie-downs, a Class IV trailer hitch, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and two extra speakers on King Cabs.
The Desert Runner (2WD V6 only) builds on the base SV equipment list, adding special exterior and interior styling details, foglights, Bilstein shock absorbers, off-road tires and an eight-way manual driver seat. The SV Value package equipment isn't available on the Frontier Desert Runner.
For serious off-roaders, there's the four-wheel-drive-only Pro-4X, which features the off-road tires and Bilstein shocks along with a locking rear differential, underbody skid plates, automatic headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, a first-aid kit and everything in the SV Value Truck package, except the trailer hitch and bed extender (which are optional). Pro-4X crew cabs get a 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system as well. The Pro-4X Luxury package (automatic-equipped crew cabs only) adds a sunroof, roof rack with cross bars, heated mirrors, leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats (eight-way driver, four-way passenger), a rear-seat center armrest, Bluetooth audio connectivity, a navigation system (with a 5.8-inch touchscreen display and traffic data), voice control (nav and audio functions), smartphone app integration and hands-free text messaging.
The top SL trim (automatic crew cabs only) 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 ease access to the cab. The trailer hitch and bed extender remain optional on the Frontier SL.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2014 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-estimated fuel economy with the manual transmission is 21 mpg combined (19 city/23 highway), and 19 mpg combined (17/23) with the automatic.
Optional for the SV extended cab and standard for all other models is a 4.0-liter V6 engine that produces 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. The S, SV and Pro-4X can be had with either a standard six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic, while the Desert Runner and SL are automatic only. In Edmunds performance testing, an automatic-equipped Pro-4X crew cab went from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, which makes it a little slower than a comparable Tacoma.
Except for the specialized Desert Runner and Pro-4X models, the V6 Frontier gives you a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive. The Frontier uses a part-time 4WD system with a low-range transfer case. Automatic 4WD models also have hill start assist and hill descent control, while the Pro-4X has a locking rear differential.
EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg combined (16/22) manual-shift 4x2 V6 models, while the ratings drop to 18 mpg combined (16/21) with 4WD. Automatic-equipped V6 Frontiers rate 18 combined (16/22) with rear-wheel drive and 17 combined (15/21) with 4WD.
Properly equipped, four-cylinder models can tow up to 3,500 pounds, while V6 versions can tow as much as 6,500 pounds.
Every 2014 Nissan Frontier comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Also standard is a brake-activated limited-slip differential. Rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are available on all Frontiers, except the S and Desert Runner models.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Frontier Pro-4X came to a stop from 60 mph in 134 feet -- a typical distance for an off-road-oriented truck with all-terrain tires.
The Frontier received the top rating of "Good" in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Its seat/head restraint design was given the second highest rating of "Average" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside the 2014 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. The interior plastics feel a bit hollow, though, and some of the controls fail to provide the weighty, tactile feedback you'd expect in a sturdy truck. Modern tech features like Bluetooth audio connectivity and smartphone app integration are available, but you have to pony up for a loaded Pro-4X or SL model to get them.
King Cabs 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 more hospitable, though it's still not all-day comfortable because of the severely upright angle of the seatbacks, low seat-bottom cushions and lack of legroom.
When it comes to transporting cargo, the Frontier gets higher marks. For items you'd rather not leave out in the open bed, the rear seats in both body styles fold to create a secure storage area. As far as the bed itself is concerned, the 6.1-foot version that's standard on King Cabs and available on crew cabs is the way to go if you plan to do any serious hauling. The available movable tie-downs and sliding bed extender offer added flexibility when needed.
On the road, the 2014 Nissan Frontier's performance depends on what's under the hood. While the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine 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. Although the six-cylinder Tacoma has quicker 0-to-60-mph times, the V6 Frontier is quite satisfying in real-world driving situations and even with the extra weight of the Pro-4X off-road hardware, this truck feels quick. Though we like the availability of the five- and six-speed manual transmissions, we think most owners will be better served by the well-tuned five-speed automatic.
Ride quality is better than you'd expect, even on the Pro-4X model, but when you're going around turns, the Frontier's heavy, slow steering is a hindrance, and there's no disguising the fact that this truck would rather be going straight. In addition, the brake pedal has a spongy feel that doesn't inspire confidence, even though actual stopping performance is adequate. Wind noise is also intrusive at highway speeds, and if you choose the Pro-4X or Desert Runner, you'll also get some noise from the knobby all-terrain tires.
Of course, nearly all of these faults are forgiven when you get the Nissan Frontier on an off-road trail. With 8.9 inches of ground clearance and a capable suspension, the Frontier Pro-4X is not only highly capable, it's seriously fun.