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2022 Nissan Frontier: Hands-on with a great-looking midsize truck

Our in-person walkaround of Nissan's Tacoma and Ranger rival suggest there's a lot more to love and only a few quibbles.

In February, Nissan revealed the new Nissan Frontier, which replaces the company's existing second-gen midsize pickup, a model that's been kicking around America's roads for a scarcely believable 17 years. Due to the pandemic, the reveal of the new truck didn't take place at an auto show, or even in person -- it was done virtually. Thankfully, Nissan kindly shipped the new truck to Detroit for individual media to check out in person this week, and the automaker even brought along a bunch of other future models, including the stunning Z Proto sports coupe, Ariya electric SUV and the heavily refreshed Pathfinder. As we suspected from seeing it digitally, the new truck looks sensational in person -- crisp, modern and muscular. This pickup has a lot going for it, and it should stack up far better against arch rivals like the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado

Nissan looked all the way back to its Hardbody compact pickup of the 1980s to give the new Frontier some design personality and, we've got to say, the styling influence totally works. This new model is a bit longer overall than the outgoing one, adding about 5 inches, most of which is ahead of the dashboard. Even so, the 126-inch wheelbase remains the same. We're totally here for the new front fascia with its blocky LED headlamps, and we like how the bumper cuts away to reveal more of the tires. The sculpted and dampened tailgate has a place to stamp "Frontier" into the sheetmetal, and the nameplate stretches across the width of the truck.

The 2022 Frontier will be available in S, SV, Pro-4X and Pro-X trims -- more on that last one in a minute. Both Crew and King Cab body styles will be available with a choice of 5- and 6-foot bed lengths. Do note that the off-road-oriented Pro-4X model that we got to check out in person is the one that receives the Lava Red accents, LED front lighting and black-painted grille. The rest of the Frontier lineup won't have such distinctions.

Nissan launched the new Frontier's engine in the outgoing generation's waning days, so we already know what we're in for here. The 2022 Frontier features a 3.8-liter V6 with 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Power gets to the ground through a nine-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, a manual transmission won't be offered.

Horsepower-wise, that means the Frontier bests its key competitors. The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins offer 308 hp and 275 lb-ft from their 3.6-liter V6, and the Toyota Tacoma makes do with 278 hp and 265 lb-ft from its 3.5-liter V6. The Ford Ranger's 2.3-liter turbo I4 has 270 hp, but the Blue Oval's rig scores an all-important torque victory, offering a healthy 310 lb-ft.

The cabin is much nicer, but it would've been nice to see Nissan splurge on nicer materials.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The new Frontier has a maximum payload rating of 1,610 pounds and tow rating of 6,720 pounds and trailer sway control comes standard (believe it or not, this is the first time it's been made available). That payload number beats the Chevy and Ford, but the Frontier falls slightly short with those two in terms of towing. The Tacoma has a few configurations that can both tow and haul more than the Nissan, but by and large, the Frontier stacks up competitively within the class. For more spec checks against rivals, be sure to check out our comparison feature.

The 2022 Frontier should be a much more pleasant to drive thanks to new hydraulic cab mounts which Nissan officials say reduces road vibration by 80% compared to the old truck. The Frontier has a larger front stabilizer bar and a new rear stabilizer bar for better handling, and the power-steering ratio is increased by 16%. Interestingly, the 2022 Frontier still relies on hydraulic power steering, instead of today's more common electric power setup. This old-school tech should help deliver better steering feel, albeit at the expense of fuel efficiency. Overall, the Frontier features a bevy of tidy upgrades that should improve its on-road manners.

As for off-roading, Nissan hasn't shared the full engineering specs yet, so we don't have key information like ground clearance or approach and departure angles. What we do know is that the Pro-4X will only be offered with four-wheel drive, Bilstein shocks, skid plates on the front, a two-speed transfer case and, of course, a rear locking differential. The Pro-4X's tires are beefier, too: Hankook all-terrain 265/70-series rubber is wrapped around 17-inch wheels. A new off-road mode on the Frontier's newly available 360-degree camera works at slow speeds in four-wheel-drive low range. The goal? To give drivers a view of rocks and other obstacles scattered in close to the vehicle (those new dips in the front windowline should help a little in this regard, too).

The Frontier's mandatory 3.8-liter V6 produces 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque.

Nissan

The Frontier's aforementioned Pro-X trim, meanwhile, only comes with two-wheel drive. Nissan says this is for the customer who wants the rugged look of the Pro-4X trim seen here, but doesn't need the off-road capability. The Bilstein shocks and front skid plate are part of the package, but that's it.

Hill-start assist is standard on every Frontier and hill-descent control comes on all four-wheel-drive models. If you want to improve your rig, Nissan's Nismo division will offer a whole slew of hop-up parts for the 2022 Frontier, including suspension upgrades, lighting, step rails and rooftop racks and tents.

As for the interior, what seemed "par for the class" in photos is actually somewhat better in person, but while preferable to its aging rivals, this cabin still isn't head-and-shoulders above them. The design appropriately still favors function over form, but it's missing a few tricks, too, including some basics like a telescoping steering column. The car-based Honda Ridgeline is really the only midsize truck with a cabin that could be called premium, but it's hard to argue that many buyers would cross-shop this Nissan with that unibody soft-roader. Suffice it to say, if you're coming out of any other midsize body-on-frame truck, you'll be pretty happy with what you see in the Nissan. If you happen to own any of the newer full-size trucks on the market, however, you're probably going to be a little surprised at the shortfall in the material quality, not to mention the lack of a few options.

The new Frontier might just be the best-looking midsize pickup on the market.

Nissan

Storage, at least, is plentiful, with 4 liters of volume in the center console, 5.7 liters in the rear door pockets and 6.5 liters in the front door pockets. Plus, there's a little cubby on top of the dash and storage under the rear seats. Nissan's super-comfy Zero Gravity seats are standard on all trims, too. The Pro-4X features a unique embossed pattern on the seatbacks, along with contrast stitching.

The Frontier finally gets with the times with a standard 8-inch touchscreen running the NissanConnect infotainment system supplemented by Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which sadly only allow for wired connections. Drivers can opt for the larger 9-inch touchscreen seen here, and wireless charging is available on the Pro-4X and Pro-X. As for other charging options, the front seats get one USB-A and one USB-C port along with two 12-volt outlets. The rear of the King Cab doesn't have any outlets, save for a 110-volt, 400-watt plug, but the Crew Cab has two additional USBs. There is a second outlet in the bed for powering tools, air compressors, what have you.

Nissan's Safety Shield 360 suite offers a solid amount of safety tech, with things like blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic rear braking. Thing is, it's all optional. A lot of these features are standard on the Honda Ridgeline, Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma. Adaptive cruise control is available on the Frontier, too, but's an extra add-on on top of the Safety Shield package.

The Frontier looks well-equipped to battle the Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma and other midsize trucks.

Nissan

If you're looking for Nissan's hands-on ProPilot Assist active safety system, keep on looking. Nissan says Frontier buyers aren't really interested in having the truck control the steering, throttle and braking in stop-and-go traffic, but the cynical-minded among us couldn't be blamed if they thought that might be an excuse -- ProPilot requires electric power steering, which is unavailable.

We're still waiting for official pricing and fuel economy data, but Nissan says the Frontier should average somewhere around 20 miles per gallon with two-wheel drive and 19 mpg with four-wheel drive, just like the current Frontier. We'll have the final MSRP details closer to when the Frontier hits dealers this summer, but for now, check out our new video for more in-person impressions.