The suggested dealer price for the Nissan Frontier King Cab S is just over $20,000, making it the least-expensive new pickup truck for sale in the U.S.
Trucks.com drove the truck for a week just to see what comes, and what doesn’t, in the lowest-price truck in America. Our test vehicle, a loan from Nissan, had a list price of $19,965 including the destination charge. It came with one $150 option — carpeted floor mats. That tips the price as tested just over the $20,000 mark.
By comparison, the average transaction price for a mid-size pickup truck in the U.S. in 2017 was $32,960, according to J.D. Power.
There’s a reason this truck costs so much less than rivals from other automakers. It’s the oldest in the segment. This generation of the Frontier first went on sale as a 2005 model. The vehicle has undergone some improvements since then, but buyers are basically getting a vehicle that is a generation behind its rivals.
The good news is that even without a major redesign the Frontier has remained competitive in the segment, as demonstrated by its sales. Frontier sales are up more than 40 percent calendar year-to-date. This has allowed Nissan to milk its investment in the pickup. The cost of tooling and design work for the vehicle were recovered long ago, making the roughly 80,000 units it will sell in the U.S. this year very profitable.
The other big players in the midsize truck segment are the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon— General Motors siblings — and the Toyota Tacoma. They are all more powerful and more technologically sophisticated than the Frontier. But they also have higher price tags. The starting price for the Chevy tops $20,000; the GMC, $21,000; and the Toyota, $25,000.
Because of its low price, the base Frontier King Cab S might be expected to be very spartan. After driving it, we discovered that’s true about some aspects of the truck but not others.
Following a trend in the midsize truck segment, the Frontier is not offered in a two-occupant regular cab model. It comes only as a four-passenger extended cab model. In addition to its two conventional front doors, the King Cab has rear-hinged rear doors for access to the rear seating area. The very rudimentary rear seats with vertical seatbacks flip up to reveal individual storage bins.
The base powertrain is a 152-horsepower 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission. The powertrain seems like a remnant of a prior era.
Yet it has unexpected features like limited-slip differential and electronic brake force distribution. The engine-speed-sensitive electric power steering rack-and-pinion steering is a modern system
Compared with other midsize trucks, the Frontier has the shortest wheelbase, 125.9 inches. At 205.5 inches, it also has the shortest overall length. Its 59.5-inch bed is the shortest among competitors. Its payload is 900 pounds, also at the low end of the segment.
On the other hand, the Frontier has a significant array of modern features. The AM/FM/CD six-speaker audio system has WMA/MP3 capability, an auxiliary input jack and it supports Bluetooth for both hands-free calling and audio streaming. It also supports Apple’s Siri Eyes Free.
The Frontier also offers a federally mandated rear-view camera projecting in a 5-inch full-color display with helpful gridlines. Both audio and Bluetooth controls are steering wheel-mounted. The dash has full instrumentation, including very legible, round tachometer and speedometer. The instrument panel also houses a 12-volt power outlet and a USB port.
There are two cupholders between the fabric-covered front bucket seats and two cupholders between the rear seats. Both driver’s and passenger seat are manually adjustable four ways. Manually controlled air conditioning is standard.
On the safety front, the base Frontier King Cab has dual-stage supplemental front air bags with seat belt sensors and an occupant-classification sensor. The inflation rate of the air bags adjusts depending on crash severity and seat belt usage. The Frontier also has roof-mounted curtain side-impact supplemental air bags with rollover sensor and front seat-mounted side–impact supplemental air bags. The rear seating area has the LATCH child-safety seat anchoring system.
There are no modern electronic safety features such as blind-spot alert or forward-collision alert with automatic emergency braking.
Functionally, the Frontier King Cab S has a Class IV receiver hitch and hitch ball provision on the rubber and chrome rear bumper. There are four tie-down hooks in the truck bed. The bed floor is painted steel. A spray-on bed liner is an option. The tailgate is both detachable and lockable. The truck’s painted steel wheels are shod with P265/70R16 all-season tires.
For those expecting the least-expensive new truck available in America to be a stripped model with rubber floor covering, no air conditioning and no radio, the level of equipment in the Frontier King Cab S is a pleasant surprise.
But items such as an automatic transmission, power windows and power door locks that most truck owners take for granted these days are missing from the Frontier.
Also missing are keyless entry, push-button start and automatic on-off headlights.
Driving the Frontier King Cab S was like stepping back a decade. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine isn’t all that willing at low engine revolutions, so the driver must compensate. Acceleration could be described as relaxed.
The rudimentary suspension is designed with an eye on cargo-hauling versus taut handling, as it should be. Steering is a bit slow but takes little effort. Braking was more than acceptable in our test drive in the truck without cargo in the bed.
Is the $19,965 2018 Nissan Frontier King Cab S a bargain? We’d say a conditional yes. The key condition being the owner’s ability to live without some of the features most drivers desire. For about $2,000 more, one could purchase a King Cab with automatic transmission and other amenities that would make it more pleasurable and easier to sell later.