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Photo: Nissan
Truck YeahThe trucks are good!  

The Nissan Frontier is a fine pickup truck, but its biggest problem is that there’s not really a compelling reason to get a 2019 model over a 2009. I don’t know why Nissan can’t be bothered to revise the vehicle, but I do like its newest take on it: the Nissan Destination Frontier. It’s not a new official trim level, rather a smart lean on the aftermarket to try and bump the truck’s appeal without spending any real money.

The Destination Frontier is just an off-the-shelf $33,000 2019 Frontier Crew Cab SV 4x4 Midnight Edition decked out for overlanding with a bunch of cool aftermarket parts. And it’s how Nissan will squeeze just a little more life out of its decade-and-a-half old pickup platform.

Overlanding is an automotive subculture enjoying its moment right now. You can conceptualize it as extreme off-road car camping, but the look is getting popular with casual car fans in general. It’s kind of the same as when tuner culture went pseudo-mainstream around the year 2000.

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Overland Expo West, an annual convention where people gather to show off expedition rigs and sell each other accessories, is happening right now and Nissan’s parked its truck there to be part of the scene.

Nissan is far from alone. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have been wise to this moment for a some time–the Expo was a stop on the 2015 Ram Rebel launch drive. Honda’s getting in on the action now too, decorating its a 2019 Passport and Ridgeline with adventure farkle for this year’s event. They look pretty decent!

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Honda, I might add, is also smartly showing off its generators and SxS and motorbikes in the camping ambiance per its press release. And even the new electric truck company Rivian is in the mix.

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Both Honda and Nissan’s strategies seem smart to me here. Any older vehicle, including the fresh-for-2005 Frontier, looks better loaded for bear with knobby tires and rescue equipment bolted to it. Parked among the Jeeps, Toyotas and Land Rovers that typically dominate this scene, the Destination Frontier becomes cooler by association.

Then maybe when people go shopping for a new Wrangler and realize the good spec costs, like, $50,000, they’ll remember how cool a cheaper Frontier can look. At least, that’s what I assume Nissan’s counting on.

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Annoyingly, Nissan’s press release pitches the Destination Frontier as “built on a budget” that “can be created for around $40,000.”

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I don’t want anyone to think $40,000 equals “built on a budget.” In fact, I find that suggestion a little offensive. The phrase implies inexpensive, and this truck has more money in upgrades alone than I spent to buy, fix up, register and operate my own overland SUV. And honestly, I don’t think a 2019 Frontier is significantly more technologically advanced than my ’98 Montero.

If you really want to talk budget overlanders, see David Tracy, who has covered thousands of miles on pocket change. (And a swimming pool’s worth of his own sweat, but still.)

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Anyway, a lot of Nissan’s hardware is ancient compared to its competitors, which would be a good explanation as to why its sales lag. In 2018 Nissan reported selling 79,646 Frontiers, while Toyota sold 245,659 Tacomas and GM sold 168,334 mid-sized trucks–134,842 Chevy Colorados and 33,492 GMC Canyons. And of course Ford’s Ranger is in the mix now for 2019, too.

I would imagine Nissan dealers have a lot of room to cut discounts and incentivize sales of Frontiers, but people still need motivation to go to the company’s showrooms in the first place.

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Redesigning the truck would be one way to make that happen, but decking-out and decorating the truck the company already builds works, too. Trying to pass off $7,000 in upgrades on a $33,000 truck as an inexpensive build is lame, but participating in a flourishing enthusiast scene ain’t bad.