G. Chambers Williams

Nissan’s Frontier Pro-4X midsize pickup has just what the off-road explorer needs

The 2016 Nissan Frontier continues to be a leader in the midsize truck segment, combining premium hardware, extraordinary power and an exceptional level of on- and off-road performance.
The 2016 Nissan Frontier continues to be a leader in the midsize truck segment, combining premium hardware, extraordinary power and an exceptional level of on- and off-road performance. Wieck

Off-road driving has always been a passion of mine, even before I even owned a vehicle with four-wheel drive. I explored much of the wild areas of West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains driving Volkswagen Beetles and Buses during my youth.

But now I’m used to driving well-equipped four-wheel-drive, off-road-capable vehicles when I go off the beaten track, and Nissan’s Frontier pickup with the Pro-4X package (base price $32,690 plus $885 freight) is right up there with the best.

For 2016, the Frontier — in all of its variations — continues to be a popular staple in Nissan’s U.S. lineup.

Available in either King Cab or Crew Cab body styles, with a choice of two bed lengths, the Frontier has standard rear-wheel drive, with a highly capable four-wheel-drive system is offered on all models.

Besides our Pro-4X tester, other trim levels for 201 include the base S model, the SV, the Desert Runner, and the top-of-the-line SL. The Pro-4X and SL are available only in the Crew Cab versions.

Prices for 2016 begin at $18,090 (plus $885 freight) for the base Frontier S King Cab rear-drive model with a four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, or $20,760 with a five-speed automatic.

They range as high as $35,410 for the Frontier SL Crew Cab LWB (long wheelbase) version with four-wheel-drive, V-6 engine and five-speed automatic gearbox.

In between are the SV, Desert Runner and Pro-4X models in King Cab and Crew Cab configurations, with either rear- or four-wheel drive, four-cylinder (S and SV only) or V-6 (SV, Desert Runner, Pro-4X and SL) engines, and either five- or six-speed manual transmissions or the five-speed automatic. SL models come only in the Crew Cab configuration.

New exterior colors for 2016 include Forged Copper, Gun Metallic and Magnetic Black, among eight colors total. A moon roof package has been added to Frontier Crew Cab SV model.

Engine choices are either a fuel-efficient 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 152 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque (available only on base two-wheel-drive King Cab models) or a great-performing 4.0-liter V-6 with 261 horsepower and 271 foot-pounds of torque.

Transmission include a five-speed automatic with either the four- or six-cylinder engine; a six-speed manual with the V-6; and a five-speed manual with the four-cylinder.

Our 2016 Pro-4X tester came with the new Forged Copper exterior color.

Standard was the factory sprayed-on bed liner and the nifty Utili-track cargo tie-down system, which was great for hauling some home-improvement supplies during our week with the Frontier. It includes four adjustable tie-down cleats.

The Frontier is offered with a long list of optional features that can dress it up for everyday city life or make it as tough as necessary for serious trail driving, which was the case with our Pro-4X.

Our tester came with the Pro-4X Luxury Package ($2,100), which added leather seats with Pro-4X logos on the front seatbacks; an eight-way power driver's seat and four-way power front passenger seat; dual heated outside power mirrors; the power tilt/slide moon roof; and a roof rack over the cab with cross bars.

The Pro-4X with the Crew Cab has four full-size doors and room for up to five people -- two in the buckets up front and three on the rear bench. The rear seatback folds up to allow for hauling cargo inside the cab. We tried that successfully with some small furniture items and a flat-screen HD TV in a big box.

Its shift-on-the-fly part-time four-wheel drive is activated by turning a knob on the dash to the right of the steering column, and there are both 4WD high- and low-range modes, along with a two-wheel-drive setting.

The best fuel economy is provided by the two-wheel-drive models with the four-cylinder engine and the manual gearbox -- EPA estimated at 19 mpg city/23 highway.

Our tester, which came with the V-6 engine and automatic transmission, had ratings of 15 city/21 highway/17 combined. During our week with this truck, we averaged just over 17 mpg, with a combination of city, highway and off-road driving.

Last year, the Frontier received a number of enhancements, including standard NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps on the Pro-4X:

For 2016, standard amenities on our Pro-4X included a tinted front window, rear privacy glass, a hitch-ball slot on the rear bumper, a cargo-bed light, fog lights, automatic headlights, electronic-locking rear differential, and 16-inch alloy off-road wheels with B.F. Goodrich Rugged Trail T/A tires.

Also included were cruise control, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a Rockford Fosgate premium audio system with 10 speakers and satellite radio, 60/40 split-fold-up rear seat, a 5.8-inch color touch screen for the audio and navigation (including rearview camera system), dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter.

There is also a manual sliding rear window, a satin-chrome front grille, body-color bumpers, a rear sonar system, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and outside temperature readouts.

There are removable storage boxes beneath the rear seats, a locking dual glovebox, a small center console storage bin with 12-volt outlet and USB/Aux inputs, two big cupholders in the center console, a device tray in front of the shifter and a phone slot to the left of the shifter, singe bottle holders in each of the doors with separate storage, and other 12-volt outlets.

We took the Pro-4X on a variety of dirt and gravel roads in some state and national parks and forests, including some Appalachian mountain trails where we made good use of the Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control features.

This vehicle’s four-wheel drive performed flawlessly on steep slopes and on some especially rocky terrain we encountered.

The V-6 engine provided plenty of power both on the highway and on the trail, and the automatic transmission shifted smoothly.

The Frontier’s ride was surprisingly comfortable, considering this vehicle has an off-road suspension and tires.

Even without the leather upgrade, the cabin is well-appointed and comfortable, with front seats bolstered enough to keep us firmly in place (along with the seatbelts, of course) on the trail.

We had up to five people on board for part of our test week, including four adults and a teenage grandson who loves to go four-wheeling on the most-rugged trails we can find. Even our rear passengers enjoyed the trips and had no complaints about their accommodations. The middle position in the rear would be a tight fit for a full-size adult, however.

Our Frontier allowed us to tackle those rocky trails with no problems, thanks to the Pro-4X’s skid plates protecting important underbody components, which are above the frame rails. The vehicle has 8.9 inches of ground clearance.

Although we didn’t do any towing, the Pro-4X can handle trailers weighing up to 6,100 pounds

Safety features include Zone Body construction with front and rear crumple zones, front seat-mounted side air bags, and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags with rollover sensor for front and rear. Tire-pressure monitoring and child-seat tethers are included.

Besides the Pro-4X Luxury Package, our vehicle had a three-piece floor mat set ($135) and the Pro-4X Graphics Package ($465).

Total sticker price was $36,275, including freight and options.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com.

2016 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab pickup

The package: Midsize, four-door, V-6 powered, four-wheel-drive, five-passenger pickup truck.

Highlights: Nissan's midsize pickup in the Pro-4X configuration includes a Crew Cab, short cargo bed, and lots of accessories for off-road exploring.

Negatives: Five-speed automatic transmission is outdated; marginal fuel economy with the V-6.

Engine: 4.0-liter V-6.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 261 HP./271 foot-pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Air bags: Front; front seat-mounted; side-curtain both rows.

Overall length: 205.5 inches.

Curb weight: 4,551 pounds.

Payload capacity: 1,049 pounds.

Towing capacity: 6,100 pounds.

Major competitors: Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon.

Fuel capacity/type: 21.1 gallons/unleaded regular.

EPA fuel economy: 15 city/21 highway/17 combined.

Base price: $32,690 plus $885 freight.

Price as tested: $36,275, including freight and options (2016 Pro-4X with Luxury Package and more).

On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.