Back in the 1980’s, little pickup trucks were all the rage – a remnant of the oil crisis, the small, nimble and very-useful trucks were ubiquitous. Over time, as oil prices fell, the little trucks fell out of favor as well. A few are still available here, and actually mirror offerings from around the globe. This Nissan Frontier, even though it was redesigned in 2014, is essentially unchanged since 2004. And in some ways, that’s a good thing; especially if you get a base model like our test truck.
When I say base model, I mean it – we’re talking crank windows, no power locks – a real throwback to the way this truck would have been in the 80’s and 90’s. The only real giveaways are the (small) LCD-screen display on the radio, mandated backup camera and traction control.
Even the transmission is only a 5-speed (manual). We found this somewhat endearing in this day and age of $50k-and-up pickups. Here’s an under $20k truck, with room for more than two adults and a decent bed for payload.
If you have work to do in the city, what better way to squeeze into the tight spaces you’re going to encounter. No problem with roof clearance in garages – easy to parallel park. There are no frills, no systems to break down and keep you from getting to the job. This is a perfect city work truck. And you don’t have to break the bank to get one.
Powered by a 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder, the Frontier’s base engine is a bit buzzy under full acceleration. With 152hp, there’s enough to move this lightweight truck, but don’t try to go anywhere in too much of a hurry. There are some bigger engine options, but they come with a much higher price tag of entry as well. The 4.0-liter V6 starts at $25k, so if the little 4-banger doesn’t do it for you, there are options. Interestingly, the V6 only loses a few MPG, down from 19/23 City/Highway to 16/22. We were a bit disappointed by the mileage on the smaller engine, although if you’re using it every day for work – every bit of savings matters.
The looks of this Nissan can only really be described as utilitarian. There’s nothing exciting to look at, and there’s an air of ‘sameness’ about the design over the years. But if we’re honest, nobody is buying this exclusively for the design. It’s also not a bad-looking truck, and in these days of ‘vintage is cool,’ it almost ticks that box as well.
Inside it’s as simple as it gets. There’s nothing more than you’ll need, and nothing less. Even the aforementioned LCD-screen infotainment system has Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity, a nice surprise in this basic of a model. Beyond that, there are precious few power outlets for a truck that’s mostly going to get used for work. The materials are all decent, but it’s no secret when you sit inside that you’re in the base model. We’d love to try a higher spec version and report back to you about that as well. But for now, we’re happy with this throwback, basic, bargain work truck. In fact, it’s kind of great to see something that isn’t trying to win the award for most features, biggest engine or highest price tag. Sometimes, it’s just nice to get exactly what you need and nothing more.