Used 2016 Nissan Frontier King Cab Review

Edmunds expert review

The 2016 Nissan Frontier offers a brawny V6 engine, surprisingly good ride quality and, in Pro-4X trim, solid off-road capability. However, it trails behind the recently redesigned GM and Toyota trucks in most respects.




What's new for 2016

For 2016, the Nissan Frontier returns with minimal changes. There are new colors, and a sunroof has been added to the SV model's standard equipment list.

Vehicle overview

The compact pickup segment was effectively in stasis for about a decade, with its handful of trucks coasting along year after year with only minimal updates. As such, even a particular truck was staler than week-old doughnuts; so, too, were its competitors. That changed last year. GM completely redesigned its trucks and now Toyota has followed suit for 2016, leaving Nissan at a distinct disadvantage with its unaltered 2016 Frontier.

Despite its advanced age, the 2016 Nissan Frontier still has some appealing qualities.

This is especially evident inside the Frontier, where antiquated controls, lackluster materials quality and booming noise levels give the Frontier a bare-bones look and feel that those competing models have risen above. The front seats also lack adjustability and the backseat feels cramped even in four-door crew cab models.

The Frontier also shows its age with its unrefined V6 engine, cumbersome handling, slow steering and spongy brake pedal. On the plus side, the ride is surprisingly good and the off-road-oriented Pro-4X model performs well when you decide to leave the pavement behind. A number of functional details like adjustable cargo tie-downs, a spray-in bedliner and a sliding bed extender add to the practicality that most buyers expect in a pickup.

But overall we think buyers would be well advised to check out the Frontier's rivals, including the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins, both of which offer a new diesel powertrain this year. The freshly redesigned 2016 Toyota Tacoma keeps all the outgoing model's strengths and adds a more powerful V6 engine, improved road manners and a greatly improved cabin.




Trim levels & features

The 2016 Nissan Frontier is a midsize pickup 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 seat 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 extended cab models with a manual transmission, the base S trim level includes 15-inch steel wheels, rear privacy glass, front bucket seats (with a flat-folding front passenger seat) and cloth upholstery. Select the automatic transmission and you'll also get standard air-conditioning, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. These items can be added to the manual version via the S Preferred package. Meanwhile, crew cabs with the S trim 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 for SV extended cab models), along with 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, power windows/locks/mirrors, a tilt-only steering wheel, upgraded cloth upholstery, a sliding rear window, a 5-inch NissanConnect touchscreen interface with Bluetooth audio connectivity and smartphone-integrated apps, a USB port, a media player interface, satellite radio and an additional 12-volt power outlet.

Options include a sunroof on the crew cab and, for the V6-powered SV, a Value Truck package that adds foglights, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a sliding bed extender, a spray-on bedliner, 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 extended cabs.

The Desert Runner (two-wheel-drive V6 only in either cab configuration) builds on the base SV equipment list, adding special exterior and interior styling details, foglamps, high-performance shock absorbers, off-road tires and an eight-way manual driver seat. The SV Value package equipment isn't available here.

The Pro-4X trim level comes with off-road-ready hardware, including special tires, shocks and skid plates.

For serious off-roaders, there's the four-wheel-drive-only Pro-4X, which features the off-road tires, specially tuned shocks, a locking rear differential, skid plates, automatic headlights, a 5.8-inch NissanConnect touchscreen with navigation, satellite radio and voice controls, the eight-way driver seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 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 also get a 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system.

The Pro-4X Luxury package (automatic-equipped crew cabs only) adds a sunroof, roof rack with crossbars, heated mirrors, leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats (eight-way driver, four-way passenger) and a rear-seat center armrest.

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, including a sunroof for long-bed SLs (the sunroof is a stand-alone option for short-bed SLs). 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.



Performance & mpg

The 2016 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 rated at 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 earns 21 mpg combined (19 city/23 highway), and 19 mpg combined (17/23) with the automatic. Four-wheel drive is not available with the four-cylinder engine.

Optional for the SV and standard for the rest of the extended cab lineup (as well as every Frontier crew cab) is a 4.0-liter V6 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.

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 four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case. Automatic transmission-equipped four-wheel-drive 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 (17/22) for manual-transmission rear-wheel-drive V6 models, while the ratings drop to 18 mpg combined (16/21) with four-wheel drive. Automatic-equipped V6 Frontiers rate 18 combined (16/22) with rear-wheel drive and 17 combined (15/21) with four-wheel drive. All of these estimates are lower than the respective versions of the Tacoma and Colorado/Canyon.

Properly equipped, four-cylinder models can tow up to 3,500 pounds, while V6 versions can tow as much as 6,500 pounds.

Safety

Every 2016 Nissan Frontier comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are available on all Frontiers except the S, SV four-cylinder and Desert Runner models. The available NissanConnect interface can be upgraded with a suite of emergency communications services that includes automatic collision notification, an emergency call button, stolen vehicle locator and remote alarm notification.

In Edmunds brake testing, a Frontier Pro-4X came to a stop from 60 mph in 134 feet, a fairly common stopping distance for an off-road-oriented truck with all-terrain tires.

The Frontier crew cab 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 "Acceptable" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.

Driving

As for driving the 2016 Nissan Frontier, the experience has much to do with what's under the hood. While the 2.5-liter four-cylinder will eke out a couple of extra miles per gallon, its lackluster performance makes it hard to recommend. We think most buyers will be happier with the gutsier 4.0-liter V6's noticeably better acceleration — not to mention its enhanced payload and towing capabilities — which comes with very little in the way of fuel economy penalty. Well, at least compared to the four-cylinder. It's ultimately less efficient than competitor V6s.

The 2016 Nissan Frontier delivers capable acceleration with the optional V6 engine, but rivals offer better overall performance.

When it comes to handling, the Frontier's slow, heavy steering makes it seem anything but nimble. The soft brake pedal feel can also be a bit disconcerting, though actual stopping power is adequate. The ride quality on the other hand is surprisingly good. There's a fair bit of wind noise at higher speeds, however, along with tire noise from the aggressive tread on models like the Desert Runner and Pro-4X.

Leave the pavement behind and you'll find both these models excel off-road, thanks in part to nearly 9 inches of ground clearance and a well-tuned suspension.

Interior

The 2016 Nissan Frontier offers comfortable and supportive front seats, but adjustability is limited and the steering wheel does not telescope (it doesn't adjust at all in the base model). The rear seats are even less appealing, as extended cab models feature rear-hinged half doors that allow access to old-school fold-down jump seats with bolt upright seatbacks and minimal legroom. Crew cab models offer four full doors and more practical rear seats, though the seatbacks are still awkwardly vertical and legroom is in shorter supply than in competing models.

The 2016 Frontier's interior design and trim are from an earlier era at Nissan, but most of the controls are user-friendly.

As far as the rest of the interior goes, it's a no-nonsense affair with subpar quality materials throughout. On a positive note, the design and layout of gauges and controls is intuitive, though some of the switchgear lacks the solid heft you'd expect from such a rough-and-ready truck. The latest technology, including Bluetooth audio connectivity, hands-free text messaging and smartphone app integration is available on most models, but the same can be said of its competitors.

The Frontier is particularly adept at hauling cargo, especially with the 6.1-foot bed that's standard on extended cab models and optional on crew cabs. We're especially fond of the flip-out tailgate extension and slick adjustable tie-down cleats that make hauling motorcycles or other bulky items easier. A storage area under the rear seats makes a handy place to stash valuable items, while features like adjustable tie-downs and a bed extender/divider give the cargo hold added flexibility.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.