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1999 4x4 of the Year: Nissan Frontier

Posted in Project Vehicles on February 1, 1999
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Photographers: 4-Wheel & Off-Road Staff

Nissan Frontier

•Tight limited slip
•Stable and comfortable on highway
•Straightforward interior controls

•Not enough power throughout band
•Extremely untidy underhood
•Transmission shifter too tall for such low seating position

The Frontier was pretty much a party of one on the test, since it was the only compact pickup truck entered. But size didn't matter-instinctual comparos were constantly being made to the big ol' trucks, such as "It's better than the fullsizes on the highway" and "Lots of cargo room for its size but lacks the features of others." Yet the little Nissan took no offense to any remarks about how it stood alongside the other pickups-it had set out to rival the offerings of its own class, particularly in the field of grunt. It did so by pumping itself up with the Pathfinder-based 3.3L V-6, available in SE and XE King Cab 4x4s.

But let's set aside how it performed against vehicles that packed a wholloping 6.8L V-10 or 5.4L V-8-the 3.3L had reasonable power in the upper rpm, yet it simply wasn't available all the time. Around town, it had enough go but not enough get-up for twisty, hilly roads without keeping it tached fairly high. It fell to third slowest in the acceleration ratings, which felt about right for its perceived available power too. Even though it didn't have pep on road, it hugged corners, handled noticeably well, and was described with an F word-fun.

When we backed off the throttle on sand or dirt hillclimbs, the V-6 didn't have the strength to follow through, although its strong optional limited slip did help it scale that much farther than the Chevy but what seemed like miles behind the Kia. The SE in our competition came equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission that many of the testers griped had too narrow gates and poorly spaced gear ratios. And while that limited slip excelled in curvy situations, minimal wheel travel hurt the Nissan at rockcrawling.

Four-wheel-drive engagement was very sure and one of the better of the group, but it couldn't ace the category because some people weren't expecting to be required to push the lever down and into place and because it blocked the cup holder once in low range. Wheelhop was negatory, and the ride over the whoops and high-speed stuff was the best of the pickups, although less bottoming out and front-skidplate testing would have been preferred, as would not having to take a beating from the sunroof cover as it fell off and smacked the unsuspecting over the berms.

Bottom line
A budget downsize pickup with an enjoyable ride and improved power.


Manufacturer Nissan
Model Frontier King Cab SE
Base Price $20,190
Price as Tested $22, 698
Options as Tested Off-Road Package
(P265/70R15 tires; limited-slip differential; tachometer; tailgate finisher; and 4x4 off-road decal); SE Power Package (power windows, door locks, and mirrors; vehicle security system; remote keyless entry; and cruise control); Sport Package (flip-up sunroof and premium 100-watt AM/FM/cassette/CD with subwoofer); and floormats.

Type SOHC V-6
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 3.3/201
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.602x3.268
Compression Ratio 8.9:1
Induction Type Sequential, multiport fuel injection
Fuel Requirement/Capacity (gallons) 87 Octane
Unleaded regular/19.4
SAE Peak Horsepower 170 @ 4,800 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 200 @ 2,800 rpm

Type Five-speed manual
Model FS5R30A
Ratios First: 3.580:1; Second: 2.077:1; Third: 1.360:1;
Fourth: 1.000:1; Fifth: 0.811:1; Reverse: 4.375:1

Transfer Case
Type Part-time two-speed
Model Nissan
Low-Range Ratio 2.020:1

Front Type IFS
Rear Type Solid
Hubs Automatic
Ratio 4.375:1

Front Double wishbone with stabilizer bar
Rear Leaf springs

Type Power-assisted recirculating ball
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.5/17.6:1
Turning Radius (feet) 39.0

Size (inches) 15x7
Material Alloy

Size P265/70R15
Brand BFGoodrich Long Trail

Brake System
Front 10-inch power-assisted vented discs
Rear 11-inch power-assisted drums

Advertised GVWR (pounds) 5,202

As Tested (mpg) 14.68

Standing 1/4-mile (seconds @ mph) 18.76 @ 72.34

60-0 mph (feet) 116.22

Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 115.5
Overall Length 201.5
Overall Width 78
Overall Height 66.25
Front/Rear Track 60.5/60
Front/Rear Overhang 19.5/36.625
Minimum Front Ground Clearance 8.25

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