If the 2017 Nissan Frontier had a theme song, we could imagine it being the triumphant anthem from the movie Rocky. After all, this midsize pickup is something of an underdog, going up against superior talent with little more than grit and determination.
While that may be a little too much anthropomorphism for your taste, the fact remains that the Frontier is at a distinct disadvantage compared to its recently updated competitors. Both the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins and the Toyota Tacoma have received extensive makeovers in the past two years that have left the decidedly dated Frontier design eating their dust.
Which isn't to say the Frontier doesn't have its high points. Topping that list is the rugged Pro-4X model, which has a well-earned reputation for being a rather stout and reliable off-roader. The available Desert Runner model offers many of the same rugged styling cues, but is strictly two-wheel drive.
As you'd expect, the Frontier is offered in both two- and four-wheel drive, and with a choice of inline four-cylinder or V6 power. Tow ratings run from a fairly typical 3,500 pounds with the four-cylinder engine, to a respectable 6,500 pounds on V6 models.
EPA fuel economy estimates range from 21 mpg combined (19 city/23 highway) for the 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated to a five-speed manual transmission and two-wheel drive, to 17 mpg combined (15 city/21 highway) for the 4.0-liter V6-automatic transmission combo with four-wheel drive. To put those numbers in perspective, several competitors manage to wring more miles out of a gallon of gas.
As for other downsides, it bears noting that the Frontier feels somewhat unrefined with on-road handling and steering, which don't inspire a great deal of confidence. Somewhat counterintuitively, the Frontier's ride quality is actually quite good.
Both extended cab (a.k.a. King Cab) and crew cab body styles are offered, but legroom is in notably short supply even in the crew cab's backseats. Limited seat and steering wheel adjustability may also make it difficult for some drivers to find an ideal driving position.
Elsewhere in the interior, the large swaths of hard plastics give the cabin a low-budget look. On the upside, gauges and controls are well-placed and user-friendly. Out back, an available spray-in bedliner, bed extender and a well-thought-out system of adjustable cargo tie-downs add flexibility when it comes time to secure a variety of different-size items in the bed.
Ultimately, while the 2017 Nissan Frontier may not be leading the pack of midsize pickups, it remains a viable alternative to newer models, primarily in its rugged off-road-oriented Pro-4X trim level, which has more than enough guts to make Rocky Balboa proud.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.