On- and off-roading
Around town, the Frontier Pro-4X rides softly thanks to its tall sidewalls. After all, that Hankook rubber is sized at a very meaty 265/75R16. The structure feels tight and solid, even after this many years, and its hydraulic steering is surprisingly quick. It feels more nimble than its 43-foot turning radius suggests. The Frontier is also quieter on the highway than I expected and it tracked straight and true even in a hefty crosswind in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Underhood, the 4.0-liter V-6 delivers an acceptable 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. It rumbles at idle but furnishes decent passing power, aided by the smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic. The torque peaks at a reasonably low 4,000 rpm, which helps the Frontier feel more torque-rich than its figures would suggest. It's not a flat curve like you'd find from a boosted engine, but the Frontier's 6-speed will quickly downshift to get the revs up for easy highway passing.
The tires' adhesion limits are easy to reach on pavement, but they come progressively and naturally. There's an inherent athleticism to the Frontier that becomes more apparently on an unpaved surface.
Like its competitors, the Frontier only offers part-time four-wheel drive. A twist of a knob engages the front axle. Stop, go into neutral, and twist the knob further for 4-Low. A tap of the rear-differential lock button provides an added safeguard when the going gets really rough.
We noticed more body drumming over washboard terrain in the Frontier than in the Toyota 4Runner TRD Off Road that we recently took over the same terrain, but the Frontier never gave up grip and bounded over obstacles like a jackrabbit. Its V-6 provides decent grunt at low engine speeds, which helped us lope over rocky terrain.
A decent 8.9-inches of running ground clearance helps the Frontier bound over rocks, but it's a bit strange that the Pro-4X doesn't ride any higher than a standard four-wheel drive Frontier. In fact, aside from its locking rear differential, the Frontier Pro-4X doesn't offer much that couldn't be replicated with a visit to a tire shop in a Frontier SV or SL.
Why you'd buy one
Think of the Frontier like a pair of old jeans. It's a little tight in some places and a little loose in others, and its look isn't quite ready to come back in style yet. But it's comfortable, a default go-to.
In our eyes, the Frontier Pro-4X isn't the one to buy. Stick with a modestly optioned, $32,000 Frontier SV with four-wheel drive and you'll have the basics, plus a few luxuries like heated seats and dual-zone automatic climate control, at a price point where you're still sticking the key in the door to gain access to your Chevy Colorado. If off-roading's your thing, the Toyota 4Runner and Tacoma TRD Off Road offer a hair more capability at similar prices.