2012 Nissan Frontier Review and Prices

Last Updated: Oct 5, 2010

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2012 Nissan Frontier Buying Advice

The 2012 Nissan Frontier is the best compact pickup for you if your appetite calls for a tough slice of disappearing history.   

The 2012 Nissan Frontier is an old-school compact pickup that punches above its weight for hauling and off-road aptitude. It’s also very likely reached the end of its rope. Sources say Nissan is preparing to cease production of this truck by the end of calendar 2012. Depending on how the automaker shuffles the model-year paperwork, that would mean that either the 2012 Frontier or 2013 Frontier would be the last edition of this appealing little bulldog.  

Should you wait for the 2011 Nissan Frontier or buy a 2011 Nissan Frontier? Buy a 2011 Frontier. The 2012 Frontier isn’t likely to add anything worth waiting for, and if Nissan is indeed measuring this truck for the grave, the 2012 lineup could be pared of some trim or equipment variations. Buying a 2011 Frontier would insure you the widest choice in body styles, models, and features.

2012 Nissan Frontier Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Nissan Frontier’s styling almost certainly will carry over from the 2011 Frontier. It’ll retain a muscle-T attitude reinforced by an ironworks-inspired grille and been-to-the-gym fender flares. No car-type unibody crossover engineering for Frontier: this is an unabashed truck that bolts its body to a strong, separate frame.

Even Nissan probably can’t predict precisely how a possible end of production would affect the 2012 Frontier model offerings. At least it’ll be working from a rather simple starting point of just two body styles, two bed lengths, and one 125.9-inch wheelbase. The Frontier King Cab is an extended-cab with two half-sized rear-opening back doors and two small rear seats. The Frontier Crew Cab has four conventional doors and a small rear bench seat. The King Cab has come only with a 6.1-foot-long cargo bed. The Crew has been available with the 6.1-foot bed or a small 4.9-foot box.

The 2012 Frontier will return with a choice of trim levels, and if it repeats the 2011 roster those would be the base S model, midline SV, off-road-oriented PRO-4X, and top-line SL. The S has come only as a King Cab, the SL only as a Crew Cab. The SV and PRO-4X have been available in both cab styles.

Mechanical: The 2012 Nissan Frontier would likely retain its refreshingly straightforward combination of four- and six-cylinder engines and rear-wheel drive (2wd) or four-wheel drive (4wd). Expect 2wd models to again be available only with the four-cylinder engine. It’s a 2.5-liter that should again be rated at 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. Both 2wd and 4wd 2012 Frontiers are likely to again be available with the four-cylinder or a V-6. This is a 4.0-liter that should repeat at 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Both engines should again come with manual transmission – a five-speed with the four-cylinder, a six-speed with the V-6 – or with a five-speed automatic transmission.

The 2012 Frontier’s 4wd would remain a pickup-conventional “part-time” system not for use on dry pavement but equipped with low-range gearing for off-road use. Four-wheel disc brakes with antilock technology for better control in emergency stops would return as standard. V-6 Frontiers would additionally be equipped with an antiskid system designed to mitigate sideways slides. A return of the PRO-4X model would provide a 2012 Frontier boasting multi-surface tires, Bilstein-brand shock absorbers, additional skid plates, and a limited-slip rear differential with electronic locking. PRO-4X Frontiers have been limited to the V-6 but should continue available in both cab styles and with 2wd and 4wd.

Tow ratings wouldn’t change for model-year 2012: V-6 Frontiers would again be rated to pull 6,500 pounds and four-cylinder versions 3,500 pounds. Expect 2012 Frontier SL models to continue standard with 18-inch alloy wheels while other models repeat with 16-inch wheels and tires.

Features: The 2012 Nissan Frontier isn’t apt to offer fewer features, per se. But depending on Nissan’s strategy as it ponders this truck’s future, the 2012 Frontier’s available features could be reconstituted into more limited packages.

No matter what Nissan decides, the 2012 Frontier would retain a fairly broad array of equipment for a compact pickup. All models would again come with head-protecting curtain side airbags for both seating rows. Both cab styles would retain flip-up rear seat cushions and a fold-flat front passenger seat.  

Base S models would likely return with manual windows and door locks and charge extra for air conditioning and a tilt steering column. Ascend the model ladder and the other 2012 Frontier trim levels would ladle on these and other features as standard equipment or options. Among these would be leather upholstery, a power moonroof, heated front seats, an overhead console, and an automatic-dimming inside mirror with compass. Crew Cabs would again be available with a tube-style roof rack. And cargo beds will again be eligible for Nissan’s factory-applied spray-in liner, its Utili-track adjustable aluminum tie-down cleats, and accessory dividers. Also available would be an upgraded audio system and Bluetooth cell-phone connectivity with steering-wheel controls. Is it too late in the game for Nissan to add a USB iPod interface?

2012 Nissan Frontier Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Nissan Frontier won’t be announced until shortly before the vehicle goes on sale. But based on Frontier’s pricing history – and assuming the basic sets of cab styles, bed lengths, and powertrains return -- expect a 2012 Nissan Frontier base price range of roughly $19,000-$33,000. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Nissan’s fee for the 2011 Frontier was $800.)

Building from the estimated starting price of $19,000 for the 2012 Nissan Frontier 2wd four-cylinder King Cab, figure this model to begin about $23,000 with the V-6 and 2wd and around $30,000 with the V-6 and 4wd.

Estimated starting prices for 2012 Frontier Crew Cabs are $24,000 with 2wd and $26,500 with 4wd.  

2012 Nissan Frontier Fuel Economy back to top

Gas-mileage estimates for 2012 models were not released in time for this review. But the 2011 Nissan Frontier fuel-economy ratings should not stray far from those of the immediately preceding years.

That suggests 2012 Nissan Frontier fuel-economy ratings for four-cylinder models of 19/23 mpg city/highway with manual transmission and 17/22 with automatic. Expect 2012 Frontier V-6 models with 2wd to rate 16/20 mpg with manual transmission and 15/20 with automatic. With 4wd, 2012 Frontier V-6 models should again rate 15/19 mpg with manual transmission and 14/19 with automatic.

2012 Nissan Frontier Release Date back to top

The 2012 Nissan Frontier should be in showrooms by autumn 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Nissan Frontier back to top

If the end of the Frontier is in sight, its resting place won’t be a lonely one. The Ford Ranger’s last model year was 2011, and General Motors is ending production of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon in mid 2012. From within Nissan’s own ranks, the Xterra midsize SUV will likely join Frontier on Boot Hill. Xterra shares this pickup’s basic chassis, and its end of production would probably coincide with that of the Frontier in late calendar 2012. A third vehicle to share this basic platform is the Nissan Pathfinder. That rugged SUV is slated to live on but for model-year 2013 it will abandon its Frontier-like body-on-frame construction for a version of the one-piece unibody architecture that underpins the Nissan Murano crossover SUV.

Frontier’s retirement from the U.S. market would mark the end of a Nissan line of compact pickups that extends to Datsun in the 1970s and to the “Hardbody” family of trucks the 1980s. The Frontier nameplate was born in model-year 1998 with the seventh-generation design. Today’s eighth-generation Nissan pickup bowed as a 2005 model and is built at the automaker’s plant in Tennessee.

Despite a temporary spike here and there, sales of compact pickups have trended steadily downward since the mid 1990s as buyers gravitated to full-size pickups. Though Nissan has made no announcement about Frontier’s long-term future, the economics of keeping it the U.S. lineup seem questionable to many observers.

Instead, Nissan is evidently intent on placing its pickup bets with its full-size Titan. Introduced for model-year 2004, this capable but slow-selling truck has experienced its own ups and downs over the past few years. In 2009, Pundits had Titan headed for the parking lot in the sky, then surviving as a re-trimmed Dodge Ram. When the Ram connection fell through, Nissan surprised many by signaling it would go it alone and now appears to be readying a second-generation Titan. It would launch as a 2015 model and likely carry Nissan’s pickup banner alone in the U.S.

2012 Nissan Frontier Competition back to top

Toyota Tacoma: The best-selling compact pickup is a plucky survivor with a loyal following and is on pace for a model-year 2014 redesign. Today’s version excels as a fine example of traditional-truck design, with appealing styling, a rugged off-road reputation, and plenty of variety, including three cab styles and capable four- and six-cylinder powertrains.

Honda Ridgeline: A crew cab is all you get with a Ridgeline. And as long as you don’t head for severe off-road trails, this roomy, refined pickup will serve surprisingly well. A lively V-6, smooth automatic transmission, and a light-duty all-wheel-drive system comprise the sole powertrain. Ridgeline’s reinforced unibody construction is unusual for this class, but acquits itself admirably. There’s no defending the goofy styling, however. Maybe the scheduled model-year 2013 redesign will do something about that.

2012 Nissan Frontier Next Steps