NISMO off-road gets serious

2006, Nissan, Frontier

BRIDGEPORT, Tex. -- At the bottom of a quarry cut deep into Texas plains west of Fort Worth, a rutty two-track trail runs up a stone-cluttered slope -- rough and lumped and jagged in stair-step sequence.

The path looms like a military barricade to challenge the track of a brawny NISMO rendition of Nissan's Frontier truck outfitted with a big V6 engine and sure-footed traction of a four-wheel-drive (4WD) system that applies the engine's muscle to every BFG tire.

It's a daunting incline, multiple stories high and far too tough for a conventional vehicle, so steep in fact that a pedestrian would be challenged to scale it without ropes and climbing gear. Yet it's not too steep for the NISMO.

Shifting down low range of the 4WD system, one driver puts a foot into the pedal as both hands grip the thick steering wheel. Then that torque-heavy engine takes over as the nubby off-road tires claw into loose dirt, and Nissan's mighty truck scampers up the slope.

Actually, our NISMO zips that hill. It tilts upward at a severe angle, smothering sand and stone with deep-tread rubber while marshalling an armory of low-gear torque and directing the strength of hundreds of horses to move several tons of machinery to the rim of the quarry.

The name amounts to a merger of the words "NISsan" and "MOtorsports." But NISMO is actually a stylistic trim designation for Nissan's mid-size Frontier truck. The NISMO edition of Frontier for King Cab or Crew Cab configuration packs the V6 engine plus lots of extra equipment to tackle an off-road trail with confidence.

Gear includes special Bilstein high-performance shocks and three undercarriage skid plates to shield the oil pan, 4WD transfer case and fuel tank. Also, an electronically-controlled locking rear differential is available. NISMO trim even works on a two-wheel-drive (2WD) Frontier to achieve the look of a customized 4WD truck without the added expense of 4WD components.

Frontier's 4WD device is a part-time shift-on-the-fly system controlled electronically with 2WD/4H/4LO modes. Then add Nissan's vehicle dynamic control (VDC), an advanced stability system that operates on pavement and off to manage tire traction through selective wheel braking and throttle trimming.

And with the VDC there are additional electronic controls available to keep the NISMO tracking on steep slopes -- hill descent control (HDC) and hill start assist (HSA). Frontier's issues for 2006 show a price-conscious King Cab XE 2WD model equipped with a thrifty twin-cam 2.5-liter in-line-four engine.

Other trims -- including all NISMO variations -- draw from the V6 that cranks out best-in-class power. The impressive VQ-series V6 -- assembled at Nissan's engine plant in Decherd, Tenn. -- is a dual-cam design with lightweight aluminum block.

It displaces 4.0 liters and uses Nissan's continuous valve timing control (C-VTC) device plus a variable induction control system (ICS). This plant sparks with an output of 265 hp at 5600 rpm plus 284 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.

Coupled to the V6 is a slick six-speed manual shifter or optional electronically-controlled automatic with five forward gears. Power assistance goes to the rack and pinion steering system and four-wheel disc brakes link to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with brake assist (BA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).

NISMO trim for Frontier popped up in 2005 with new designs for Frontier riding on a larger chassis. The F-Alpha platform, actually an abbreviated version of the chassis underpinning Nissan's full-size Titan truck, is a ladder-type frame forged from steel with twist-resisting boxed side rails.

Frontier also shares Titan's suspension design with double wishbones up front and rigid leaf springs in back. Rollers for NISMO models are 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels capped by 265/75 BFG Rugged Trail tires Cab designs divide into King Cab and Crew Cab formats.

The King Cab offers additional cabin space behind the front bucket seats with a pair of flip-up jump seats and access via rear-hinged doors. The Crew Cab carries a rear bench seat for up to three riders plus conventional front-hinged back doors.

Length of the truck bed varies with each cab style. For King Cab, the bed stretches to full-size length at 73.3 inches, while the Crew Cab bed trims to 59.5 inches so both versions maintain the same wheelbase and body length.

The rear truck box of Frontier can be outfitted with utility items like aluminum channel rails ringing the rim and rugged polymer cleats that slide in or out of the channel grooves and screw tight to create an infinite number of tie-down points for securing a load of cargo.

And there's a protective bedliner in black that's sprayed in place at Nissan's truck plant in Smyrna, Tenn. NISMO-spec Frontier comes with comfort gear too -- power buttons for windows and door locks, air conditioning, chrome rings around gauges in the instrument cluster, and lots of air bags -- frontal air bags plus the optional package of seat-mounted side air bags up front as well as curtain-style air bags in headliners front/rear for rollover protection.

There's also an optional audio kit designed to blow the windows out. It's a premium Rockford Fosgate system which includes a six-disc CD changer plus eight speakers and a pair of mega-bass subwoofers tucked below the seats.

Nissan sets fair price points for a NISMO. The lowest MSRP applies to a 2WD NISMO with King Cab and the automatic shifter at $22,450, or $24,500 for the Crew Cab version. For 4WD, a King Cab NISMO with manual transmission lists for $24,100 and the top Crew Cab with an automatic tallies to $27,200.

By Bob Plunkett

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Images of the 2006, Nissan Frontier

2006 Nissan Nismo crew cab
2006 Nissan Nismo crew cab
2006 Nissan Nismo cockpit
2006 Nissan Nismo cockpit
2006 Nissan Nismo King cab
2006 Nissan Nismo King cab
2006 Nissan Nismo crew cab
2006 Nissan Nismo crew cab