Big upgrades bring more gravitas to the midsize pickup with the design team drawing on the original Nissan Hardbody truck of the 1980s for inspiration

Nissan’s 2022 Frontier looks ready for business. With a more confident stance and bold design cues, the mid-sized pickup hopes to take on best-selling rivals in the US such as the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado.

“When we started thinking about the next Frontier, we knew the role of this midsized pickup vehicle has changed,” says Nissan senior vice president of global design Alfonso Albaisa. “Now it’s more about lifestyle, and redefining this was our opportunity to blend technology and adventure.” Nissan Design America (NDA) in San Diego, California contributed significantly to the Frontier redesign, with Hiren Patel leading the exterior team. Patel says he was inspired by the original Nissan Hardbody truck of the 1980s, which coincidentally, was the first full-production program done by the NDA studio.

“The Hardbody looked far and away like the most modern, forward-looking pickup truck on the market, and that was a benchmark that we had set for ourselves, that when the new Frontier launched it would have a similar impact in the segment,” Patel explains.

But designers didn’t want the new Frontier to be retro. Instead, they applied certain elements from the Hardbody in a modern way, such as the solid block construction with clean parting lines and strong panels. “Everything on the truck is in a more lifted manner,” Patel says. “The stance, the attitude of it – it’s very chiseled, very stacked, and we really paid attention to where the tyres are in relationship to the body.”

Keeping the design cohesive was a priority for Patel and his team. “From far away, we really wanted this feeling of a solid block volume, so the volume of the hood, the volume of the cabin and the volume of the bed feel like they’re all of one,” he says. “Take the line at the top of the headlamp – that turns into a continuation of the beltline and then continues on to the top of the bed. There’s a careful relationship between where the headlamp sits in space and where the tail lamp sits in space, all the way through the vehicle.”

Those lamps, along with the Frontier’s new front grille, help to telegraph a much more rugged, technical look when compared with the outgoing model. “A lot of what we worked on were these mechanical, interlocking volumes, panels and elements that actually feel like a puzzle and fit together in a mechanical, tough way,” Patel says. “All of the lamp pieces clamp on to the body rather than just siting there.”

Those layered and interlocking volumes are echoed in the interior, where designers wanted to invoke the feeling of athletic gear, fitting the Frontier with a mix of digital and rugged elements, such as a new 9-inch touch screen and grab handles. Antonio Manzari, design manager at NDA, explains the theme of the IP is called an “X-frame,” a structural cage that inspires safety and integrates the new display. On the seats, Manzari says the headrests interlock into the backrest “just as a football helmet nests between the shoulder pads of the player, and the embossed pattern (on the upholstery) resembles a spine-protector.”

Thanks in large part to customer feedback, the redesigned centre console features a wireless charger and a front storage bin with a capacity of four litres, nearly double that of many same-sized pickup trucks. The new Frontier also boasts more interior space overall. On the engineering side, the new Frontier has the chops to live up to its tough-guy looks with a 310-hp 3.6 liter V6 and a new 9-speed transmission that enable a towing capacity of up to 6,720 lbs. When it goes on sale in the U.S. later this summer, the 2022 Nissan Frontier will be available in a four-seat king cab version or a five-seater crew cab with an optional long bed.