The Nissan Frontier has been with us for 17 years and is still one of the most affordable and reliable trucks around. But should you buy used or new?
It may come as a surprise to you that the current Nissan Frontier debuted in 2005, and it hasn’t changed much since then. Its owners love the still handsome old-school compact pickup for its reliability and consistency with models that get well over 200,000 miles of service. Chicago resident Brian Murphy’s 2007 Frontier hit 1 million miles on January 27, 2020. His 2.5-liter 4-cylinder 5-speed Nissan Frontier King Cab is still rolling with its original engine and transmission.
You may not keep yours for 1 million miles, but is it still worth taking a chance on a pre-owned, well-loved, and respected Frontier? Or would you want to make a place with your own million-miler and start new? To help you make the decision, we’ve decided to compare the new with the like new.
For the used Nissan Frontier, we decided to focus on the 2018 model. The 2018 Frontier is 13 years old, as car generations go, so it’s well established. By 2018, its engine had grown to include two versions, a 152 horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and a powerful 262 horsepower 4.0-liter V6. You won’t confuse this pickup with a Nissan Versa, but the pair of engines gas mileage ranged from a decent 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
In 2020, the 2.5L 4-cylinder and 4.0L V6 went away because the competition was producing stronger engines. For new Frontiers, Nissan brought the heat with an all-new 3.8-liter V6 that filled the powertrain needs for each trim. The increased torque raised the towing capacity, while the gas mileage stayed the same. The fun to drive quotient, however, went up.
The 2021 Frontier may be 16-year-old technology, but it’s still fun to play around in. The chassis is still rock-solid, and there’s tons of fun in the new V6 engine. Its 3.8-liters of 310 horsepower and 281 lb-ft torque will do some quick work with what you want to carry, and we love the speed-sensitive power steering that felt like a rack and pinion system. It was very communicative and much quicker than expected in a truck like this.
For off-road and even if you want a more impressive look, the PRO-4X or 2018 Desert Runner will be your choice. Both have Bilstein shocks, a two-speed transfer case, and off-road wheels and tires. Those combos with the hill climb and descent control will give you the confidence to go through anything.
No one is going to accuse a new or used Nissan Frontier of being a luxury pickup. Its interior design is outdated, there’s hard plastic everywhere, and the infotainment screen isn’t big. But it’s a truck and not a luxury barge. On the good side, everything is solid, the seats feel very comfortable, and there are ample amounts of space to store stuff.
We suggest you spring for the crew cab regardless of the year model. It has 33.6 inches of legroom in the second row compared to the 25 inches in the King Cab. The King Cab is very tight for two rear passengers. The Frontier knows it’s a good, solid truck whether it’s new or used. Maybe the lack of pretentiousness is what makes it charming to those who own it.
When you go in knowing that the last Frontier update was 2005, you realize that things haven’t changed much at all. For 2021, you won’t have the 2018 Desert Runner, which is essentially a rear-wheel-drive version of the PRO-4X. For used Nissan Frontiers, you also had the Frontier SL, a luxury version with all the non-off-road items from the PRO-4X. Other than the Rockford Fosgate 10-speaker system and very comfortable seats, there wasn’t much that was special. None of the used models from 2018 had Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but you can use Bluetooth to play through your tunes.
Literally nothing was changed on the newer 2021 model, except for a 7-inch touchscreen replacing the older models 5-inch. Other than size, no other functionality of software updates would cause you to choose the new one.
For 2021, with the Desert Runner gone, the PRO-4X will be your best fun to drive and most capable choice. If you’re looking for basic transportation in new or used models, forgo the base S version for the SV trim. You get nicer wheels, body-color bumpers, and convenience items like heated seats and electric windows, locks, and mirrors. All of the new 2021 Frontiers are going to give you Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
For safety features, it’s 2005 all over again. The Frontier has never had the full suite of what Nissan offers for driver assistance. For new or used Nissan Frontiers, the SV trim and up gives you the option of rear parking assistance to go with the backup camera. If you get too close to something, you’ll hear the Frontier scream at you. Both 2018 and 2021 have 4-star crash test ratings from the NHTSA, so not much has changed there either.
Given the storied longevity of the Nissan Frontier, your decision to buy new or pre-owned won’t center too much around whether or not it will last. Most likely, you’ll be looking at the new V6 vs the 4-cylinder in an S model or maybe the inclusion of some safety features in the most recent editions.
The 2018 and 2021 are almost identical, other than a new car warranty. The Frontier has a 37.8% depreciation rate (in comparison, a Tundra is 37.1 %), so you’ll have to factor that into your new car consideration.
2018 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X – carsforsale.com | Shop Nissan Frontier on Carsforsale.com
In the end, we suggest saving your money by picking up a pre-owned Frontier. If you can score a PRO-4X, you’ll have a machine that can do almost anything you ask of it. It’s handsome, athletic, and will take you through many miles on the road if you do basic maintenance.