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Euro Drive: The 2018 Nissan Navara makes you wonder where the next Frontier is

Ever since Japanese pickup trucks have had names – past the time when just “truck,” “pickup,” or in Nissan’s case, “hardbody” would do – Nissan has had a Frontier. The midsize workhorse has soldiered on globally as a reliable, sturdy option for those not interested in the likes of the Tacoma, Colorado, and previously (and now more recently), Ranger.

A mid-cycle facelift notwithstanding, the current Frontier has been available as-is for the last 13 years, and believe it or not, sales have increased recently thanks to America’s insatiable need to buy anything remotely truck-like, and the Frontier’s diminutive base price of just $18,990. That’ll get you proven engineering that’s been good enough for many for over a decade, but also styling, materials, and safety equipment that hail from the mid-2000s. Yikes.

Strangely, Nissan has chosen not to bring the current global-market Navara – which sports Nissan’s current styling and features as well as the Frontier’s same basic frame, and has been the global name for the frontier for decades – over to the States just yet, holding out for an “all-new” truck that they will likely build on our shores. Whether that truck will actually be all-new or just new to the U.S., like the Ford Ranger, is yet to be seen, but it does beg the question: Why hasn’t Nissan brought over the Navara?

After a week and several hundred kilometers around Sweden in a 2018 Navara, where I resided for the past year, I was left asking myself the same thing.

While we Americans know them as everything from grocery getters to luxury vehicles, pickups are still marketed and sold abroad as commercial vehicles – granted, ones that you can get with a decent amount of options. The Navara I tested was darn near fully loaded, sporting a double cab, chrome trim, leather upholstery, Bluetooth infotainment with navigation, and 18-inch wheels. It also packed some of Nissan’s active safety technology, such as adaptive cruise control, active blind-spot monitoring, a 360-degree surround-view camera, and more.

This options list alone makes the Navara a great candidate for a family pickup truck, though the rear seats are somewhat upright and tight, and the front seats are hard and flat, making longer drives a bit more difficult than in lavish full-size pickups like the F-150.

Introduced in 2014, the Navara has been tweaked once or twice by Nissan to get the formula just right, swapping out a traditional rear leaf spring suspension setup for a coil spring configuration. As a result, the 2018 Navara is a solid-handling pickup, with more athletic chops than the Toyota Tacoma, and at least on-par with the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon fraternal twins.

This design, despite being coupled with the frame from the old model (or current U.S. model), makes for a payload capacity of about 2,270 pounds and a respectable towing capacity of 7,716 lbs., which actually bests even the diesel version of the Colorado and Canyon, as well as the gas-only Tacoma.

Of course, much of this is thanks to a torquey, turbocharged diesel engine, available only in 2.3-liter configuration in Sweden and either 160- or 190-hp flavors, and about 300 or 332 lb.-ft. of torque, respectively, and a heavy-duty 7-speed automatic transmission with 4-wheel drive.

Let’s get this straight: the Navara is an updated version of the current Frontier’s platform, complete with more modern (and handsome, in my opinion) styling, features, technology, and best-in-class load and towing capacities, thanks to a tough and efficient turbodiesel engine. So why hasn’t Nissan brought it over yet as the new Frontier?

Frankly, my dear reader, I don’t have a damn idea. Nissan says the “new” Frontier is at least a few years off, and that timeline leads me to believe it will be an all-new truck built specifically for America. But when you’ve got a perfectly good formula going in the rest of the world, why not save some money and bring it over? Americans have proven for years now that they’ll buy pickups at the drop of a hat, despite the ever-impending promise of gas prices shooting back up, as evidenced by the fact that a 13-year-old midsize truck has had some of its best sales ever in recent years.

The Navara toes the line well between modern features and rugged engineering, and while it loses style points for things like excessively hard plastics and outdated infotainment, the truth is that this truck is as solid as they come. In fact, the Renault-Nissan Alliance has seen fit to turn the platform into the basis for Renault’s first true pickup truck, the Alaskan, and even Mercedes-Benz has claimed the platform as the basis for its X-Class.

Midsize truck buyers could do a lot worse than the Navara, and Nissan could arguably sell even more Frontiers if they brought it overseas tomorrow. Whatever their reasoning, the next Frontier better be good, because buyers have had to wait long enough.

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