• Will a 2WD Nissan Frontier Make It Up the Gold Mine Hill Off-Road Trail? (Video)

    2017 nissan frontier king cab 2wd final video off-road review test
    2017 Nissan Frontier King Cab 2WD

    Do you have to have a 4×4 pickup truck to get to a remove place off the beaten path? We take our long-term 2017 Nissan Frontier 2WD “Final Frontier” to the Gold Mine Hill off-road trail to find out.

    Gold Mine Hill is a moderate off-road trail high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains (around 9,000 feet above sea level). It’s comprised of three stages, and it trips up most AWD crossovers and FWD cars.

    The first stage is a steep rocky path. A front-wheel-drive Fiat 500X could not complete this climb. The second stage is an off-camber steep 90-degree turn. We always come to a full stop before the turn to make it more difficult. Some AWD crossovers struggle here. The third and final stage is a narrow and steep articulation section with a large dip that is too much for most crossovers and SUVs. High ground clearance and a capable 4×4 or AWD system are basically a must here.

    Will a rear-wheel-drive Frontier make it up this test? The 2.5L I4 engine is great and efficient for around town deliveries, but it does struggle for power at high elevations, such as at this trail.

    How about if we air down the tires to get more traction?  Yes, we could have also added weight to the back of the truck for more traction, but this test was mostly about 2WD system and the tires themselves.

    Andre Smirnov
    Andre Smirnov
    Andre Smirnov is an Automotive Enthusiast, Producer, Reviewer, Videographer, Writer, Software Engineer, Husband, Father, and Friend.

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    34 thoughts on “Will a 2WD Nissan Frontier Make It Up the Gold Mine Hill Off-Road Trail? (Video)

    1. Toss a locker in the back axle along with some weight in the bed and it can do 90% of what a 4×4 can do

      1. Daniel – – –

        Bingo! Fully agree. I have vehicles with both 4WD and 2WD, and can tell you that, in over 40 years of driving each, 4WD is way over-rated for snow, ice, and most easy to moderate OR use.
        A decent 2WD manual-transmission truck with:
        1) 500-lbs of load in the back;
        2) either locker or LSD;
        3) decent, new all-season tires; and
        4) moderately low gearing (granny or diff) —
        — is all that most people really need. And you still have the better fuel mileage and mechanical simplicity of the 2WD system.

        After all, how did our forefathers get around in snow-belt Buffalo NY in the 1930’s and 1940’s when 4WD was not available for either cars or trucks? They sure didn’t stay home in a snow-storm when they had appointments or needed to go food shopping, did they?

        4WD really shows it virtue for SEVERE OR driving, — say, if you live up an isolated mountain and don’t much of a way to get up there in very heavy snows and rains that cause mud-outs.

        But I think car and truck OEM’s are laughing all the way to the bank selling expensive AWD/4WD vehicles as though they were panaceas, miracle- workers, or something (^_^).

        In 22 years of commuting to work in WI Winters, there were always three types of vehicles that slid off highways or roadways in icy conditions 1st: small FWD econoboxes; large SUV’s; 4WD pickups. It seems that the FWD systems tend to “mask” or numb the road feeling, giving people the illusion of security when there wasn’t any. But when my 2WD pickup started “wiggling its tail”, I felt it and slowed down. Never slid off any where.


        1. Bernie, you and I remember things differently. Before the advent of FWD, people stayed home far more frequently. In the 1930s and 40s, if it snowed badly, you walked to work. Tires sucked back then.

          My wife is back to AWD from her previous 2WD car. It’s simply allowing better traction for corners, acceleration and getting up our steep driveway. It’s not even a debatable subject. The traction and stability in snow is better in all avenues except braking.

          SUVs and 4WD trucks are in the ditch because these people drove like idiots. FWD does not mask the road feel one bit. If it slips, it slips. The FWD vehicle will have better traction because more weight is on the drive wheels. Also, pulling the vehicle won’t cause fish-tailing like a RWD vehicle is prone to.

          The “econoboxes” are less expensive. They are driven by people usually less able to afford snow tires, alignments and new ball joints. That’s how they end up in the ditch.

          If RWD was really suitable for the snow, why is my truck so much more stable after I switch from 2WD to 4WD in the snow?

          1. I have to agree.I’m originally from upstate NY.I remember as a kid some rare times when NOTHING was on the roads due to ice and snow.I used the snowmobile to go to the nearest country store and pick up some stuff for my folks.

            And then,just this past march,my wife and I had to go to a family function up in Newport Or.We live in southern Oregon.We took my 2015 Ram Promaster City Wagon for the road trip,3 days.

            On the way home on I5 we were hit with a hell of a snowstorm.And on the last,and nastiest mountain pass,(7%)all came to a stop.18 wheelers jackknifed,a large class A motorhome,and lots of pickups and cars,all stuck.

            I put my ZF 9 spd into manual,used second gear,went between the stuck vehicles and made it to the top,and cruised all the way home.That is with the stock XL tires that came with the vehicle.

            My point: If you know how to drive in snow,you get where your going,pretty much driving anything with good tires.And yes,my little van is front wheel drive.

            1. Hell i’ll just stay home from work, harness up the Huskies to the canoe and good have some fun.

        2. 2 examples where 4wd is needed would be Appalachian muddy or snowy hills and off road coastal areas where sand bogs you down. That front axle makes a huge difference.

    2. So far I’m impressed. I always have 4WD to deal with snow so I had no idea that it could make it this far up the hill.

    3. Shame on you!
      You take a faithful little puppy like the 4 Cyl.Nissan Frontier and make it do things it was not designed for.
      You can, to a degree, make up for lack of 4WD traction by beating the heck out of the truck by trying to do it with speed and momentum. This will lead to early demise of the truck’s components. DO NOT DO THIS not only are you beating up a faithfull friend but are setting up an example of what NOT to do without properly explaining why you should not do it…
      I know it isn’t some crappy little Honda that will overheat on a little hill, or a Chev that will spray it’s guts all over the trail, but is that the way to treat a nice little machine? I think not!!!

      1. Am I in trouble too? I used a 2002 Frontier for a long while for work. I hate parking big trucks. It was overloaded almost every day. Got it stuck so deep I broke a brake line. I hit the underside on rocks countless times. I thought it was almost unbreakable.

        Then, my wife thought she was qualified to teach my daughter how to drive in that truck. Sigh.

    4. This is the best automotive website IMO by far. I get to see bare bones work trucks and 2wd capabilities. Always keeps me interested, great work TFL

      1. I live in the snowy northeast and traded my 2016 SRW Super Duty for a 2017 DRW Super Duty. Everyone always told me dually trucks were worse in the snow. I find my new dually seems to do equally well…I’ve had it since last October and we had a decent winter this year.

        1. Thank you very much for the information. I am glad to get info from experience rather than pure opinion. Is your SD 2WD or 4WD.

        2. Yeah, the duallies are barely different than their counterparts. My DRW scrap trucks never appear different. Maybe even better on rough roads.

          The idea that duallies are worse in snow probably comes from the same misconception that wide tires are worse in snow too. It’s just not a fact.

    5. Great video TFL! I used to have a 2WD Ford Explorer and I definitely took it off-road. Quite limited in what it could do, but with decent tires (and it did have a limited slip rear end) it was able to get further than most people figured it could.

      When driving off-road, the best upgrade is tires. Tires and air pressure have more to do with if a vehicle “makes it” or not than anything else. I’d sure take off-road tires over lockers any day of the week.

      I know its steep, but Nathan doesn’t seem super smooth on the clutch. Driving a 2WD off road requires some finesse. I’m not sure that is shown here. Aside from airing down the tires, adding weight to the rear would definitely be helpful.

      This little Nissan’s relative success makes the Power Wagon’s achievements here seem less impressive.

      1. Troverman – – –

        T: “I know its steep, but Nathan doesn’t seem super smooth on the clutch. Driving a 2WD off road requires some finesse. I’m not sure that is shown here. Aside from airing down the tires, adding weight to the rear would definitely be helpful.”

        Yeah. Sure seemed that way. But I think part of Nathan’s clutching dilemma may be the steep “sand-and-loose rock” trail, coupled with a crawl ratio for the 2WD Nissan’s 5-speed MT that is ONLY ~ 15-to-1, despite the 4.08 rear end.

        I have found that, for modest OR, — whether 2WD or 4WD — you should have at least ~25-to-1 with an MT, or things may get on-again-off-again “jerky” at times, in low-traction situations. And that’s what we saw here.

        ref: http://nissannews.com/media_storage/downloads/2016_Nissan_Frontier_King_Cab_Specs_10-15.pdf


    6. When I was sixteen I had a summer job as a laborer doing pool construction. I remember one job that required traversing about 400 feet of sand lot to get to the site and somebody got stuck everyday but not me. I was assigned a regular cab Ford flat bed with a straight six and three on the floor. I took a running start and kept the pedal to the floor in second gear. Rooster tails the whole way!! I don’t remember what year that truck was but I drove it like a sports car that summer and it never broke, I wish I could find that kind of durability now.

    7. TFL has no boundaries, Chuck Norris approved video. I am left wondering how many rocks went through Andres ankle 😖

    8. Nice test for the base truck. Try again but with some weight in the bed and see if it makes a difference.

      1. It barely had the power to make it up empty, it already stalled once. No panties were removed in the making of this video.

    9. The biggest difference between 2wd and 4wd centers around laziness. 2wd will get you there, but you’re going to have to work for it, and most people don’t want to do that work. Im talking things like tires that are better suited to the conditions, winches, weight in the bed, airing down, and a number of other tricks to get your vehicle through.

      4wd and AWD definitely have advantages, and make the job easier. However, it can be done in 2wd.

      Speaking of traction, has anyone tried tire chains to get out of a tough spot when it is NOT winter?

    10. I use a 4wd for work looking at big land tracts. Where I am from off road means steep rutted / washed out roads (north Georgia) and mud (South Georgia). Recently I was looking at a 10,000 acre tract in SE Georgia. I got around fine in 2wd for 98% of the tract. I could see how that might give someone an inflated level of confidence in their machinery. It’s the 2% that gets you. Then you are stuck three miles from the farthest road with no cell service. Just not worth the risk to prove what a tough guy you are out there beating the heck out of your 2wd.

      1. Been there, down that, in the deep clay and red mud in Alabama. As a young man I kept getting stuck in my old 2WD Ford truck with mud tires on the back. One day one of the older men from the club pulled me out and patted me on the back and said “son, if I ever see you stuck again because you try to go down the 4WD only trails, I’m leaving you here”. He was serious. I was a stubborn head strung kid who got stuck again about a week later. He left me right where I was. It got freezing cold and I stayed there in my truck miles in the woods all night. We had no cell phones and no stores for miles. Afterwards, I got my first 4WD and have never looked back. Those roads were the 2%.

    11. I went to the dump about 2 months ago when we had that down pour of rain up here in Canada. Had my 7×12 Dump Trailer full with about 4000lbs of renovation material plus the trailer weighs 2000lbs dual axle. The guy at the scale warned me its at my own risk, when I got back there where I had to dump the mud was deep, I was pushing it with my axles and pulling a trailer up a hill and turning with the foot pedal on the floor hopping like a rabbit in 4×4 and the only thing saving me was the sound of gravel deep below that kept grabbing a bite. But I got the load out and didnt get stuck. Lots of complaints from other drivers that showed up and turned around after not being able to get up the hill even in 4×4. A two wheel drive truck would have pissed on the scales and turned around. It was a good day for the Tacoma she earned her keep.

    12. Yeah, I’ll take a Taco over anything not named Wrangler for off-road any day. Mine has served me well and I’ve been in deep but never stuck. I tell you, that old guy was serious when he said he wasn’t pulling me out anymore. I almost froze that night in 15 degree cold!

    13. My dad had Sonoma with 4 cylinder engine 5 SPD manual with good snow tires it did well in the snow. Oh and some flat square concrete blocks.

    14. During the winter months in the California
      Sierra mountains, I put studded snow tires on my 1986 Nissan 720 pickup and it gets me anywhere I want to go without 4WD. But Andre is right when he said it would be easier to off-road with a low-low creeper gear.

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