Solid, Sporty and Full of Power
For years, Nissan has built a good truck platform from which the Frontier arose. According to Nissan engineers, the Frontier's design resulted from the consumer's need for a light-duty, compact pickup truck that was affordable. Unlike many other model pickups, it actually drove like a truck, not a car. The company was successful with the Frontier, but the truck quickly developed a reputation for lacking horsepower.
When consumer needs for a compact pickup changed, the Frontier remained a great value, but still lacked some of the sophistication that was present in the line of newer model imports and domestic pickup trucks. Nissan took many of the complaints to heart regarding the Frontier and worked on improving the truck to present a new-and-improved model for 2001. It was the rumor of a supercharged V-6 and a redesigned body style that really motivated us to get a closer look at one of these trucks.
At first glance, the 2001-model Frontier is quite different than the previous year's model. It has a bolder refined look, widened fender flares, composite headlamps, and a slightly lower hoodline. Although the new Frontier is still available in a Regular Cab, a King Cab, or a Crew Cab model, the new Desert Runner designation is available in two- and four-wheel drive and comes only on King Cab models.
The most exciting news about the new Frontier, however, is that it boasts a new 3.3L SOHC V-6 engine. Pop open the hood and you stare right down at an Eaton supercharger that sits on top of the intake. According to Nissan engineers, the Eaton supercharger provides 6 to 7 pounds of boost, but is capable of more. Although the 210 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque from the blown V-6 are enough to really motivate this truck into the high-performance category, the obvious question was: How much more power is possible?
Nissan engineers responded that there's about 40 extra hp available. The transmissions, however - a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic - aren't yet capable of handling more power. Some hints about using the QX4 SUV transmission were discussed, and it leads us to believe that the Frontier's horsepower levels will increase as time goes on.
The Frontier is also built along the same lines as the Xterra, using heavier gauge steel construction on its frame and outer sheetmetal. This gives the Frontier a solid feel as you slam its doors and tailgate. It's quite obvious that Nissan is serious about its trucks when it comes to horsepower and building a solid vehicle that will last long and compete with domestic trucks
The new look takes some of its styling cues from the Nissan Maxima. The redesigned headlights feature integrated foglamps and clear lenses. The rear received a new tailgate skin and a locking handle. Up front, the integrated bumper flows up into the grille and up to a slightly taller hood that is required to clear the supercharger pulley. The fender flares give the Frontier a bolder look, but we would have liked to see them without the bolts. Nevertheless, the combination of the flares with the optional 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels (standard equipment when ordered with the supercharger) give the Frontier an aggressive appearance that fits its power potential.
Inside, the Frontier's interior was redesigned to include optional leather bucket seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Bright-red stitching on supercharged models adds a dramatic flare to the seats. The dash includes the titanium-face gauges that are found on the Maxima and the 2001 Pathfinder.
The 100-watt stereo system is another well-engineered piece that is incredibly easy to use and features a six-disc CD capability that loads CDs individually from the front of the unit's face. The stereo also features an alphanumeric display that's easy to read and adds a high-tech look to the Frontier's interior. Furthermore, the stereo's audio controls were added to the steering wheel for ease of operation.
The air-conditioning and vent operation is accomplished by a silver-faced center pod that accents nicely against the black dash. The knobs are big but easy to reach and read, while maneuvering through traffic.
On Crew Cab models, the rear seats are also available in leather and can be folded up to provide additional cargo space. Also, the Frontier has a remote keyless entry vehicle security system and an optional pop-up sunroof with a removable sunshade.
The Frontier's suspension remains the same as previous year's models, using a double wishbone front and a dual leaf rear suspension. Rear antilock brakes are standard on all models, while four-wheel antilock is available on V-6 models and Crew Cab models. Aside from the 3.3L supercharged V-6, the Frontier is also available with a non-supercharged 3.3L that produces 170 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque and a 2.4L inline four-cylinder that produces 143 hp. With fuel economy estimated at 18 to 20 mpg and a price tag estimated around $24,000 for a fully equipped supercharged version, the Frontier offers more for the money and is an excellent value.