Back in the 1970’s, Nissan, then known as Datsun, was first to market in the U.S. with a compact pickup — well before Ford, Chevy, Dodge — or Toyota. That truck has morphed into today’s Frontier.
Nissan seriously upped the ante in 2005, redesigning the Frontier, and capturing the leading edge of this market segment. The Frontier is built on the same rugged F-Alpha platform as the full-size Titan pickup, Armada and Pathfinder SUVs. Naturally, they share a number of significant features including fully boxed all-steel, body-on-frame construction.
2009 saw the debut of the PRO-4X off-road model, along with new Crew Cab LE/PRO-4X, and a group of Value Truck Packages (VTP) offering menus of popular optional equipment at greater values than if purchased separately.
The Frontier, which is built in Smyrna, Tennessee, is offered in both King Cab and Crew Cab configurations with 4×2 and 4×4 drivelines, for a total of eight model choices.
Walkaround: Frontier boasts the same proud profile as the Titan. It also shares its aggressive, wide stance, chrome grillwork and most other styling cues as the rest of the Nissan truck-based lineup. The only exterior cosmetic changes for 2010 are subtle refinements.
While the Frontier remains a compact pickup by government standards, it’s one of the largest trucks in this segment, inside and out, boasting a 125.9-inch wheelbase that enhances ride comfort and stability. Its overall length of 205.5 inches is the perfect “activity size” for people who don’t need a true full-size pickup.
The King Cab and Crew Cab both have large rear doors, and like the full-size Titan, the King Cab rear doors are hinged in back while Crew Cab open forward like a sedan.
Do-it-yourselfers, gardeners and tradesman will all appreciate Nissan’s innovative 5-channel Utili-track multi-configuration bed — complete with a standard spray-in bedliner. It has tie-down brackets that slide in the channels, offering an infinite combination of possibilities. There’s also an optional sliding bed divider and cage-style bed extender.
Interior: The roomy interior comes with a choice of power-adjustable cloth or leather seats, plus optional heated seats and mirrors. The King Cab features flip-up rear seats and both cab styles offer excellent storage, with removable storage boxes tucked beneath the rear seats, while the front passenger seat folds flat for added load carrying capacity (not available on leather-trimmed models). There’s a lockable dual glove box, plus center console storage. A one-liter bottle holder is integrated into the front doors with a multitude of standard cupholders and power points.
The Crew Cab offers an available leather interior and optional tilt and sliding moonroof.
The Crew Cab PRO-4X VTP adds black leather-appointed front seats with red stitching, plus an 8-way power driver’s seat, 4-way power passenger’s seat, heated front seats, dual heated outside mirrors and rear fold-down center armrest.
Instrumentation is Nissan’s signature amber and easy to read. Sound and climate controls are ergonomically positioned and easy to figure out. Sirius/XM satellite radio is offered with the standard AM/FM/CD, and optional Navigation.
Under The Hood: There’s two engine choices: the base 2.5-liter, 152-horse, DOHC inline 4-banger available in the King Cab 4×2; and the same, award-winning, 4.0-liter, 261 horse, high-output Nissan VQ series V6 powerplant used in the 370Z, Maxima, Altima, Murano and Quest, as well as Infiniti vehicles, but specifically tuned for truck use. It features fully variable valve timing and Nissan’s Induction Control System (NICS), for excellent fuel efficiency and smooth operation.
The Frontier comes with three transmission choices — an advanced 5-speed automatic, 6-speed manual, and a 5-speed manual (King Cab I4 model).
Frontier 4×4 models include shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel drive with 2WD/4HI/4LO modes operated by an electronically controlled part-time transfer case. As I found out in Texas, overall off-road capability is substantial, including a Hill Descent Control (HDC) similar to Land Rover for descending hills without using the brake pedal. HDC is engaged by the driver flipping a switch, and is available only when the transfer case is engaged in 4HI or 4LO. Cool features include it working in both forward and reverse and activation at speeds up to 31 mph in 4HI and 15 mph in 4LO.
Behind The Wheel: I’ve driven the Frontier numerous times in all versions, under a wide variety of conditions, from freeway to dry riverbeds, up and down steep, rocky hills and in city traffic. The V6 performance, as well as the Frontier’s off-road capabilities, are impressive. There aren’t too many places the Frontier won’t go — or get you back from.
On the highway, it’s exceptionally quiet for a pickup this size — even at speeds in excess of 100 mph. The longer wheelbase, wider track and heavier, Titan frame give it an added measure of stability at those speeds as well. It comes standard with power rack-and-pinion steering that doesn’t feel too heavy or over-compensate, and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS.
Whines: With so many configuration and option choices, the price of a Frontier can run up pretty quickly, but the VTPs help.
Bottom Line: The Nissan Frontier offers excellent on and off-road capabilities, terrific handling, serious utility, exceptional comfort and above average quietness for a truck this size. It’s not a Titan, but being built on the same platform gives it a lot of attributes of its full-size sibling. I believe it’s the very best, most versatile, and capable truck available in this segment.