Nissan is often the underdog when it comes to capable off-road vehicles as Toyota and Jeep typically take the lead and earn the most recognition with iconic models like the Tacoma and the Wrangler. However, Nissan has been quietly building some impressive off-road vehicles for years. Like many underdogs, things are quickly changing as Nissan carves its place on the trail with models like the 2021 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X. Built rugged and ready for adventure, the PRO-4X is part of Nissan’s 2021 lineup that lays the foundation for the next generation of the newly redesigned 2022 Frontier.
The Heart of the Beast
The heart of the 2021 Frontier PRO-4X is a powerful 3.8-liter V6 engine and 9-speed automatic transmission that deliver best-in-class 310 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque standard. Both the engine and transmission were introduced to the Frontier lineup in 2020 and set the stage for the Frontier’s growing capability. Nissan engineers didn’t stop there, however. “With enhancements such as an expanded lockup area, a new high-response electro-hydraulic system, long input shaft, and a 99 percent larger gear range, the transmission offers quick, crisp, and direct shift response throughout the entire gear range,” Nissan announced.
The Body of the Beast
Built with a high-strength, fully-boxed steel frame, the PRO-4X is designed to tackle any terrain and environment with ease. With the standard Frontier engine already delivering plenty of power, Nissan focused on upgrading other components for the PRO-4X and teamed up with Bilstein to develop an exclusive set of high-pressure shocks that would deliver better control and a more comfortable ride on even the bumpiest and most challenging trails. This enhances the control and comfort provided by the Frontier’s rugged all-steel double-wishbone front suspension, solid-axle rear suspension, and over slung leaf springs.
Off-road enthusiasts appreciate a reliable e-locker or electronic locking rear differential because of its ability to get a truck or SUV out of questionable situations, like when you’re fender-deep in a mud pit and the tires are only good for slinging mud. In instances when the PRO-4X doesn’t have enough traction or power to pull the truck out of the mud, the electronic locking rear differential can make a huge difference. How? E-lockers allow both rear wheels to turn at the same speed, which provides additional traction to propel the truck forward and out of a sticky – or muddy – situation.
Of course, when you’re talking traction, that brings up the subject of tires, and no off-road truck is ready for the trail without a quality set of all-terrains. Nissan outfits the Frontier PRO-4X with rugged mud and snow-rated all-terrain tires. The tires wrap around 16-inch off-road, machine-faced aluminum alloy wheels and give the PRO-4X the best grip possible to tackle every condition from mud and snow to rocks, dirt, sand, and beyond.
Skid Plates and More
So, let’s say that you get the PRO-4X stuck in a dicey situation. How much should you worry about damaging the undercarriage of the truck? While mud isn’t usually an issue, rocks and debris can be detrimental to the truck’s vital components. Fortunately, Nissan thought of everything and added solid steel skid plates under the truck to protect the four-wheel-drive transfer case, the oil pan, and the fuel tank. Nissan also added fender flares to provide additional protection for the PRO-4X.
Off-roading can require a lot of gear, especially if you take off for an overnight or weekend adventure. Off-road enthusiasts often find themselves hauling extra fuel as well as tents, sleeping bags, food, ice chests, air tanks, shovels, and a variety of other equipment they may need should their vehicle get stuck or should they choose to camp out on the trail. Whatever the reason, hauling a lot of gear can be cumbersome in an off-road vehicle that’s already being pushed to its limits. That isn’t the case with the Nissan Frontier PRO-4X.
Nissan realizes that people haul a lot of stuff, whether it’s for a weekend project around the house, an overnight camping trip, off-roading with friends, or a family vacation. With the Frontier PRO-4X capable of hauling up to 1,020 pounds and towing up to 6,290 pounds, there’s no question that the truck is capable. Nissan also included the Utili-Track Channel System to simplify cargo hauling. The system utilizes five rails that are mounted in the bed of the truck and four movable cleats to create a flexible system to secure cargo of all shapes and sizes. The system offers more rails than any other competitor and gives drivers a world of options when hauling gear.
Tech on the Go
The Nissan Frontier PRO-4X isn’t only off-road ready; it’s loaded with technology that you can take with you on the trail. The truck comes with a color touchscreen display that’s home to the NissanConnect infotainment system and the Nissan Navigation System. The PRO-4X also includes Siri Eyes Free technology, hands-free text messaging, voice recognition, Bluetooth capability, and trial subscriptions to SiriusXM Radio and SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link.
The PRO-4X’s technology extends beyond entertainment to an array of safety and driver-assist features that give drivers more confidence as they venture down the highway or off the pavement. The PRO-4X comes standard with a rearview camera, cruise control, and rear sonar system. Drivers also gain more stability and control with features like Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, Vehicle Dynamic Control with Traction Control, and Active Brake Limited Slip.
Measuring Up to the Competition
While the Nissan Frontier might have been an underdog in the past, that’s no longer the case, thanks to the latest PRO-4X. Built for every adventure, whether on or off the road, the PRO-4X easily shares the spotlight with other road beasts like the Toyota Tacoma and Jeep Gladiator. But how does the Frontier measure up to the competition?
For starters, the 2021 Frontier PRO-4X offers best-in-class standard horsepower by delivering 310 ponies. This pushes the Frontier further ahead of the competition. The 2021 Tacoma only provides 159 horsepower standards, and even the optional V6 tops out at 278 horses. The 2021 Gladiator does a bit better with its standard V6 engine, but 285 ponies still fall short of what the Frontier brings to the table.
When it comes to ground clearance and off-road capability, the PRO-4X’s most important competitor is the Tacoma, and it’s a neck-and-neck race. The Tacoma offers 9.4 inches of ground clearance, while the PRO-4X betters that distance at 10.1 inches. This is a huge advantage in the world of off-roading, but the Frontier’s prowess doesn’t stop there.
Off-roaders like to know all about angles – namely approach, breakover, and departure angles. These are the angles at which the vehicle can approach, climb, or come down an obstacle. For example, the Frontier has a 32.6-degree approach angle that makes the PRO-4X capable of crawling over a large obstacle like a boulder without dragging or damaging the front of the truck.
Of course, the front isn’t the only point of concern when off-roading, as drivers must also take into account the departure angle. The PRO-4X’s 23.2-degree departure angle gives the truck plenty of clearance to climb down an obstacle like a boulder without the rear bumper hitting the boulder or the ground. The difference in these angles could mean the difference between driving off the trail with a truck fully intact or driving home needing a new bumper.
An Underdog Upset
The 2021 Frontier PRO-4X teaches us never to discount the underdog as a top performer. While the Nissan is often left off the many lists of top-performing off-road trucks and SUVs, that’s no longer the case thanks to the PRO-4X. Designed to tackle any terrain, the PRO-4X is built for adventure and proves as much with its powerful engine, sturdy frame, off-road components, and innovative tech. From here, Nissan promises the PRO-4X will only get better with time – and seeing as how it measures up to the competition, we can’t help but agree!