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2019 Nissan Destination Frontier first drive review: Overlanding on the cheap -- sort of

Nissan's go-anywhere Destination Frontier is a study in affordable adventure.

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Overlanding is a trend that's sweeping the off-road world these days. People are kitting out their trucks (and vans!) with everything they need to hit the trails and camp out in the wild. The problem? All that gear can get really expensive really quickly. Enter Nissan's Destination Frontier, a study in how folks on a budget can get in on the overlanding craze.

Nissan claims the one-off Destination Frontier can be had for right around $40,000. But that's only if you start with the most basic Frontier: an S trim with a King Cab configuration, rear-wheel drive, a four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission, which starts at $19,290. However, the build you see here uses a midgrade $30,240 SV Crew Cab model with four-wheel drive (which is absolutely necessary for overlanding), plus the more powerful 4.0-liter V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. It also has the $995 Midnight Edition appearance package. So if you figure the Destination upfit adds about $20,000 to the bottom line, that puts this truck up over $50,000. Again, this is a one-off build, but that's definitely something to consider.

The gear

The most important thing you can add to a vehicle for off-road durability is tires. Here, Nissan added an excellent set of 33-inch Nitto Trail Grappler off-road tires wrapped around 17-inch American Racing wheels. These tires have enough sidewall to withstand rocks and punctures, and meaty tread to grind through most terrain.

All the comforts of home.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Making way for those larger tires is a 3-inch lift, courtesy of Nisstec. Added reinforcements like a steel front bumper, skid plates and rock sliders should keep the truck nicely protected over rocks. Self-recovery items include a Warn winch and a pair of recovery boards.

Creature comforts include a Mt. Shasta rooftop tent and Dometic refrigerator/freezer. The bed rack provides mounting points for storage bins and extra gas and water. Extra lights on the front blaze the trail at night.

On the whole, the kit is well thought out. Warn winches are the industry standard -- that's what I run on my Baja Bug. The Dometic fridge kept my Diet Dr. Peppers and food nice and cool for the duration of my test without the annoyance of needing to buy ice every day. The rooftop tent is comfy and roomy, with plenty of windows. It was also super easy to set up, even by myself.

If I could make one change, I would swap out the recovery boards for a set of real Maxtrax. I understand Nissan is trying to keep to a budget, and the ones provided would most likely work for a while, but they are brittle and I can imagine them cracking after a few uses. I would also be sure to add a good shovel to my recovery kit, and possibly a high-lift jack to my gear. 

The truck

As for the Frontier itself, well, it's old. It hasn't had any kind of real update since 2005, a veritable eternity in the automotive world. However, it's far from a bad truck. It scrambles up loose, rocky hills with gumption and has plenty of power for paved roads. Sure, the five-speed transmission hardly makes it efficient -- we're talking about 17 miles per gallon combined -- but the 4.0-liter V6 engine puts out 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. That's plenty for this basic little truck. 

Still, for those who want advanced driving aids and convenience features, the Frontier just doesn't deliver. The Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Sierra, Ford Ranger, Jeep Gladiator and Toyota Tacoma are all available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a whole host of drivers' aids including adaptive cruise control. Heck, some of these trucks even get wireless charging and a Wi-Fi hotspot. The Frontier? Nothin'.

Yes, Nissan claims you can build a Destination Frontier for around $40,000, but I wouldn't ever buy the base truck. I would definitely start with the SV V6 model. The 152 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine just isn't going to be enough. Overlanding requires grunt, and you'll definitely want the 1,300 or so pounds of payload and 6,300 pounds of towing capability that the V6 delivers. As a bonus, the SV with the V6 is available with a six-speed manual transmission, a rarity in the class, but a much more engaging option.

If the current crop of Instagrammers is any indication, overlanding is the next big thing in truck modifications. It can be intimidating, deciding what you need and what's superfluous, but the Destination Frontier gives newbies an idea of what they can do as a total, complete package.