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road test

2022 Nissan FrontierJeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Progress doesn’t suit everybody. Just look at politics. Some people believe that policies intended to create a better world for everybody are actually a bad thing. And in the automotive world, not all of us are thrilled that everything is being downsized and turbocharged, digitized and electrified, idiot-proofed and autonomized.

If that’s your world view and you’re in the market for a new mid-size pickup that still feels like an honest, down-to-earth mechanical machine, relatively uncomplicated by finicky newfangled technology, check out Nissan’s new Frontier.

Of course, you may also want to take a look if you’re an existing Frontier owner and you’ve been waiting forever to replace it with a newer model. The last-generation Frontier dated back to the 2005 model year, and although it got a new engine for 2021, that was available only in the United States. In fact, 2019 was Frontier’s last model year in Canada.

All this to say that, despite the age of the design it replaces, the 2022 Frontier is surprisingly little changed beneath the fully restyled body. It still has a brawny, naturally aspirated V6 and a shift-on-the-fly, part-time dual-range four-by-four system. The frame is basically unchanged and – almost unheard of these days – the steering is still hydraulically power-assisted, not electric.

The 2022 Frontier is surprisingly unchanged beneath the fully restyled body.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

What has changed is the engine, which has been downsized slightly from 4.0 to 3.8 litres, yet produces more power – a best-in-class 310 horsepower – while a nine-speed automatic replaces the previous five-speed. Manual transmission is no longer available but four-wheel drive is standard in Canada. The suspension has been retuned and gets a rear stabilizer bar, while the steering is more direct (that is, less steering-wheel input needed for the same change-of-direction output) and new hydraulic cab mounts reduce road vibration by a stated 80 per cent.

The absence of electric assist nixes any advanced driver aids that involve autonomous steering inputs by the truck, but the safety inventory doubles down on everything else you can think of that involves warnings and/or automatic braking, plus adaptive cruise control. As well, infotainment technology is well up to contemporary standards. An eight-inch touchscreen is standard, with nine-inch available.

As before, the Frontier comes in extended (King Cab) and full Crew Cab configurations, starting at $39,998 and topping out at $47,498: King Cab S, SV or Pro-4X; and Crew Cab SV or PRO-4X. Convenience, Sport and Luxury packages are available for specific trims, plus an array of 80 accessories.

This new Frontier doesn’t establish a new state-of-the-art in mid-size pickups, but it’s a well-equipped, solid all-rounder that should be welcomed by existing Frontier loyalists, and is modern enough to deserve a spot on the shortlist of anyone else shopping in this corner of the market.

Tech specs

2022 Nissan Frontier

Base price: $39,998 – $47,498

Engine: 3.8-litre naturally-aspirated V6

Transmission/drive: Nine-speed automatic/part-time, dual-range four-wheel drive

Fuel consumption (litres per 100 kilometres): 13.7 city/10.6 highway

Alternatives: Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Hyundai Santa Cruz, Toyota Tacoma

Ratings

Looks

Although wheelbases and box lengths are unchanged, the 2022 is 12 centimetres longer than its predecessor, mostly in the nose. It’s handsome enough, though arguably more generic and less distinctive than before. Surprisingly, the PRO-4X off-road treatment doesn’t include a suspension lift.

Interior

Whether King Cab or Crew Cab, the Frontier’s back seats are more hospitable than Tacoma’s, less so than the offerings from Detroit. The Crew’s rear bench provides knee room comparable with a subcompact car’s, but enforces a straight-backed and knees-up posture. The front seats are comfortably padded, but with only six-way adjustment, and no telescopic steering adjustment, there may not be enough variability to suit everybody. Luddites will appreciate clear analogue main gauges (though there’s a seven-inch screen at centre for additional information) and plenty of conventional switch-gear for audio, heating and air conditioning. Oddments stowage is generous, and four of the eight beverage holders can handle one-litre bottles.

The dash features analogue main gauges, as well as a seven-inch screen in the middle for additional specs.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Performance

The dirty portion of our test route was more rugged trail than actually off-road, but while it didn’t much challenge the Pro-4X’s in-extremis traction and rock-climbing skills, it did demonstrate commendable suspension comfort and composure on the ruts and rocks. Back on pavement, “expressive” driving through a tortuous combo of twistiness and roughness failed to provoke the expected rear-axle hop or side-step. It was even quite good fun, with good ol’ fashioned feel through the old-tech steering (though steering effort is rather challenging at parking speeds). The big V6 is decently refined and propels the Frontier with linear effectiveness while highway kilometres are put away with less than 2,000 rpm on the tachometer. The display showed 11.4 litres per 100 kilometres after our 170-kilometre ramble through the Papineau region of southwest Quebec (official combined fuel consumption is reduced 12 per cent to 12.3 L/100 km)

Technology

Screens go up to nine inches, and there are both -A and -C USB ports, plus two 120-volt outlets, while wireless phone charging and Wi-Fi are also on the menu. Standard driver aids include forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear emergency braking, trailer sway control and adaptive cruise control, plus blind-spot, lane-departure and rear-cross-traffic monitoring. The bird’s eye-view camera now includes moving object detection and an off-road mode.

Cargo

All Frontiers have a six-foot bed, except the Crew Cab PRO-4X’s five-footer. The bed sides are 35 millimetres taller for 2022 but still allow easy reach-in for most adults, and the tailgate is now dampened. Four standard floor tie-downs can be supplemented with an available three-channel Utili-Track system. Other factory options include a spray-on bedliner, and a trailer hitch; the tow rating is 6,490 pounds and payload 1,430 pounds – both at the low end of the segment.

All Frontiers have a six-foot bed, except the Crew Cab PRO-4X’s five-footer.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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