Nissan, under the name of Datsun, introduced Americans to the small pickup truck way back in the 1960's. These small trucks have proliferated and grown, and Nissan's Frontier became the latest iteration of its compact hauler. Now, following on the heels of the aptly named Titan that debuted last year, comes a new Frontier, which is bigger, more powerful, and much more interesting to look at, too.
The new midsize pickup, which is built in Smyrna, Tennessee, has the most powerful V6 engine in any truck sold in the USA today. That's right-four liters of displacement crank out 265 horsepower and 284 lb.-ft. of torque. The award-winning engine, built down the road in Decherd, Tennessee, has already gained many fans in Nissan's 350Z, Maxima, Altima, Murano, and Quest.
If you want something a little more frugal, Nissan offers a 154-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine in the base model.
The Titan full-size pickup flaunted groundbreaking style when it debuted, with sharply drawn lines, plenty of chrome, a bold, angular face, a laid-back windshield, and an attractive interior. The Frontier is its little brother, and sports a generous family resemblance.
Frontiers can be had in a Crew Cab or King Cab configuration. The Crew Cab has four individual doors that hinge in the front, while the King Cab has smaller, rear-hinged back doors that can be used after the fronts are opened. Both models are essentially the same size, and ride on a nearly 10-inch longer wheelbase than the previous Frontier, which creates much more comfort for rear passengers. Width is up by a little over an inch and a half, and the trucks sit about three inches taller.
You can get two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive on your Frontier. The four-wheel-drive models use a shift-on-the-fly system with 2WD, 4HI, and 4LO modes, easily selected from a dash-mounted dial. Four-wheel-drive models come with an off-road traction system with advanced four-wheel limited slip, which directs engine power to the wheel with traction with the going gets slippery.
Transmission choices include five- and six-speed manuals, depending on model, and a five-speed automatic.
The last selection for buyers, before the long options list appears, is the trim level. The starting point is the XE, in King Cab only, with the SE the next model up, followed by LE and NISMO. Each step up adds more equipment, and of course, cost.
My Storm Gray test unit was a four-wheel-drive Crew Cab at the LE level with the five-speed automatic. With the muscular V6, it hauled itself around town and on the road with gusto, and remained impressively quiet inside the cabin. The V6 is rated at 15 City, 20 Highway in the EPA's test cycle, but I saw a real world 15.7 mpg using premium fuel. This is no economy car.
The new Frontier's interior has plenty to admire and enjoy. The design uses cylinders for items like the chrome-topped shifter and the turn signal stalk. The dash itself leans away from the driver like a bigger cylinder, with a dimpled hood over the full gauges and dual glove compartments. The effect is rugged, but with a designer touch.
I especially liked the hefty, stove-style knobs for the heater/air conditioner system. The mirror on my car carried the emergency Homelink system as well as a compass. The beefy leather-wrapped steering wheel had handy buttons for the cruise control and audio system. That audio system was the optional Rockford Fosgate Premium Audio Package ($850), and it shook the cabin with its 380 watts of power coming through eight speakers, including two under seat 6-inch subwoofers.
For utility's sake, the bed features a factory-applied sprayed-in liner, and the Utili-track tie-down system. Using two "C" cross-section rails in the bed, two more on the sides, and one on the back of the cab, you can set up attachment points almost anywhere but straight up! You can buy other things to attach to the rails, like bed dividers and storage units. The tailgate is removable and lockable.
As with most trucks, prices range widely. My test unit, with optional side and curtain airbags ($550), power sunroof ($700), traction package ($700), and the nice leather seats with power adjustment and heating ($1,700), came to $31,630. You can get the most basic XE King Cab with manual transmission and two-wheel drive for just about exactly half that ($15,600). Other models work their way between them. The NISMO models, with some stylish items and some other items dropped, come in just a hair higher than the LE models.
I might have liked slightly better mileage, and for the price, I would have expected a full climate control system, but the Frontier is mighty impressive, and will surely make Nissan trucks, no longer small, a big factor in the 21st century.