in 2012 Compact Pickup Trucks

Avg. Price Paid: $15,240 - $24,195
Original MSRP: $19,260 - $32,990
MPG: 14 City / 19 Hwy
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2012 Nissan Frontier Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

Test drivers are impressed with the Nissan Frontier’s performance, and say this truck manages to combine good off-road performance with a relatively composed on-road ride and handling -- something that's rare in this class. However, reviewers say that unless you’re really concerned with fuel economy, take a pass on the underpowered base engine.

  • "A solid feel pervades. Next to its rivals, the Frontier's lively steering, firm suspension, and V-6 power make it a sports car.” -- Car and Driver
  • "Credit for this flexibility goes in part to the Frontier's rugged construction, powerful V6 engine and relatively agile handling.” -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

The Nissan Frontier is available with two engines. The King Cab S and SV come standard with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. The King Cab SV V6, King Cab PRO-4X and all models of the Crew Cab have a 4.0-liter V6 engine with 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. The Frontier is available with either two- or four-wheel drive. A five-speed manual transmission is paired with four-cylinder models, while V6 models get a standard six-speed manual. A five-speed automatic is standard on the highest trim, the SL crew cab, and optional on all other four- and six-cylinder models.

The 2012 Nissan Frontier can get up to 19/23 mpg city/highway in two-wheel drive models equipped with the five-speed manual transmission and four-cylinder engine, according to the EPA. Depending on the configuration, these numbers will change. The Frontier’s worst fuel economy will likely be seen in V6 models equipped with four-wheel drive and the five-speed automatic transmission. These models will get about 14/19 mpg, according to the EPA. These numbers are about average for the class. To check out the fuel economy of a particular configuration, see the 2012 Nissan Frontier specs.

The majority of reviewers tested the 4.0-liter V6 engine and liked it, but they aren’t as kind to the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Test drivers say that if you can take the penalty in fuel economy, you’ll definitely appreciate having the two extra cylinders. Most reviewers also say the automatic transmission is more responsive than most in the class.

  • “V6 models are strong from a stop and around town, especially in the lighter King Cabs. The automatic transmission kicks down quickly for good midrange passing punch.” -- Consumer Guide
  • "The notably better fuel economy of the four-cylinder engine aside, we think more people will prefer the 2012 Nissan Frontier's gutsy V6 engine. … While it's nice to see manual transmissions still offered here, the automatic transmission is a good match for this engine, delivering well-timed shifts whether you're negotiating a rugged backcountry trail or just driving home from work.” -- Edmunds

Handling and Braking

Reviewers like the Frontier's handling, saying its steering is fairly direct and it feels more responsive than other trucks in its class. Whether buyers choose a smoother experience with the basic suspension set up or opt for more off-roading ability in the Pro-4X trim, most test drivers say the Frontier feels solid and drives a bit better than other compact pickup trucks. One tester noticed that the brakes felt a bit too soft.

  • "Responsive handling.” -- Car and Driver
  • "As mentioned earlier, the Frontier's precise steering and well-tuned suspension make for a satisfying driving experience by truck standards. The ride quality is also surprisingly good on most models, except for the relatively harsh ride of the off-road-oriented PRO-4X.” -- Edmunds
  • "Nicely balanced for a pickup truck. The steering feels weighty and direct, but is slow to react in tight U-turns and parking spots. Body lean is evident in corners but is not excessive for a vehicle of this type.” -- Consumer Guide
  • "Mushy brake feel.” -- Cars.com

Towing and Hauling

The base Nissan Frontier can tow up to 3,500 pounds with its four-cylinder engine. When equipped with two-wheel drive and a V6 engine, the King Cab Frontier SV can tow as much as 6,500 pounds. That’s about average for the class, though other compact pickups like the GMC Canyon can tow more.

Next Steps: 2012 Nissan Frontier

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