FORT WORTH, Tex. -- At the bottom of a quarry cut deep into Texas plains west of Fort Worth, a rutted trail runs in stair-step sequence up a stone-cluttered slope. The path looms like a military barricade to challenge the track of a brawny PRO-4X rendition for Nissan's Frontier truck outfitted with a big V6 engine and sure-footed traction of a 4-wheel-drive system that applies the engine's muscle to every BFG Rugged Trail tire.
The trail appears as a daunting incline that's multiple stories high and far too steep for a conventional vehicle to conquer -- but it's not too tough for the Frontier PRO-4X.
Shifting down to 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 those nubby all-terrain tires claw into loose dirt, and Nissan's mighty truck deftly scampers up the slope.
So what's a PRO-4X?
Packing V6 firepower and a 6-speed manual shifter or 5-speed electronic automatic, the Frontier PRO-4X edition with King Cab or Crew Cab configuration and a 73.3-inch Long Bed cargo box scores a part-time 4-wheel-drive system controlled electronically with 2WD/4H/4LO modes.
The PRO-4X edition also totes off-road tuned Bilstein high-pressure performance gas shock absorbers, skid plates (oil pan, fuel tank, transfer case), electronic rear differential locker and limited-slip brake with machine-finished 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.
This truck delivers a smooth but rock-solid ride quality which begins with the rigid chassis underpinning Frontier. The F-Alpha platform, actually an abbreviated version of the chassis used for Nissan's full-size Titan truck, is a ladder-type frame forged from high tensile-strength steel with twist-resisting boxed side rails.
With wheelbase stretching to 11.7 feet and body length for Crew Cab Long Bed configuration extending to 18.3 feet, Frontier measures up to the mid-size segment of pickups as extra inches mean more room for passengers in the cab.
Nissan's experience in building trucks for America traces back to 1960 and a teeny compact truck, the Datsun 1200 Pickup. Frontier's nameplate emerged in 1997 on a compact-class pickup built by Nissan North America Manufacturing at a production facility in Smyrna, Tenn.
Frontier's 2016 issues present a bold truck body with sheetmetal incorporating styling points of Nissan's larger Titan -- note those V-angled struts in the grille, big corner headlamp clusters with flat brows, crimped overhangs fore and aft plus bold geometric fender flares.
Most of the 2016 Frontier iterations draw from a Nissan V6 engine which cranks up serious power. Nissan's VQ40 V6 is a dual-cam design with lightweight aluminum block. It displaces 4.0 liters and uses Nissan's induction control system (NICS). The plant sparks with high output of 261 hp at 5600 rpm plus 281 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
Coupled to the V6 is a slick 6-speed manual shifter for Frontier SV 2WD/4WD and PRO-4X 4WD models or a 5-speed electronic automatic that's standard for Frontier Desert Runner 2WD and Frontier SL Crew Cab 2WD/4WD.
Several Frontier King Cab 2WD models (S and SV) employ a thrifty twin-cam 2.5-liter in-line-4 engine. The 4-pack delivers 152 hp at 5200 rpm with torque of 171 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. It links to a 5-speed manual transmission or optional 5-speed electronic automatic.
Power assistance applies to the rack and pinion steering system, while the 4-wheel disc brakes link to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and active brake limited slip (ABLS). The V6 editions also get Nissan's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device, plus hill descent control (HDC) and hill start assist (HSA).
Cab designs divide into King Cab and Crew Cab formats and each brings the option of 2WD or 4WD traction. Frontier King Cab adds cabin space behind front bucket seats with a pair of fold-down jump seats and access via rear-hinged doors. Frontier Crew Cab carries a rear bench seat with room for three riders and front-hinged back doors.
Length of the truck bed varies with the cab style. For King Cab, the bed stretches to full-size length at 73.3 inches, while Crew Cab carries either a brief bed trimmed to 59.5 inches or the Long Bed at 73.3 inches.
Nissan's MSRP chart for 2016 Frontier models ranges from $18,290 to $35,610. The 4WD PRO-4X Crew Cab lists for $31,840 (MT6) and $32,890 (AT5).