Third Runner-Up: Nissan Frontier Crew Cab
Nissan scooped the competition by being first to the market this year with a compact crew-cab pickup. The compact crew-cab truck configuration has been a hot seller for more than 10 years in other parts of the world, and for many buyers, it simply makes sense. It really made sense for Nissan as a way to jazz up its image in the United States and give buyers a new reason to walk into their local Nissan dealerships.
Our Baywatch Yellow (not the official name of the color) Frontier was like the attractive young Hollywood star of the group, causing commotion wherever it went. Civilians raved about this little yellow truck, from Malibu lifeguards to jaded fullsize truck owners. As one observer noted, "This thing is just cool." Despite its being the smallest pickup with the smallest motor and smallest bed, we thought it was cool too. But adding doors does not necessarily make a good truck. Thankfully, Nissan had a solid compact truck platform to start with. Based on the extended-cab regular-bed chassis that placed Second only to the new fullsize ½-ton GM twin's in last year's Pickup Truck of the Year test, Nissan simply traded some bed for two more doors.
And the members of our staff found the chassis as capable in the rough as they did last year, tying for First Place in one book and besting the Tundra overall for the category. This was due in part to the truck's soft springs and easy-as- can-be lever-shifted transfer case and automatic hubs. Although some poo-pooed the backup procedure necessary for disengagement of these hubs, we liked the fact that manual hubs could be an easy aftermarket conversion.
On the trail, the Nissan won over some of the other units simply because it fit where the others did not. And despite the low-slung nerf bars, we never made contact. Although we like to see deeper low-range cogs than the 2.02:1 gears in the Nissan's 'case, the automatic tranny helped multiply the torque and allow the V-6 compact to follow our V-8 pack up the steepest climbs.
Equipped with Nissan's corporate 170-horse 3.3L V-6 and four-speed automatic shared with the larger Pathfinder as well as the new Xterra, our Crew Cab generated 121 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque at the dyno. Although this sounds lackluster, it was enough power to bring the 4,280-pound pickup to 60 mph in 12.35 seconds and across the quarter-mile mark in 18.99 seconds at 75 mph, nary a tick slower than the brawny 5.9L Ram. However, compared to the muscular Dakota and Tundra, our little Nissan left testers a bit uninspired in all-out acceleration and passing.
The payback for pony deficiencies is usually mileage. And the Nissan was no different, scoring Second in that category with an average 15.8 mpg for our 600-mile test. In the twisties, just as on the trail, the Nissan's inherent nimbleness made it a lot of fun for testers.
The soft suspension we enjoyed on the trail rewarded testers with a highway ride that scored in the top two spots in nearly every tester's book. This could be attributed to a low payload rating. Yet, with the ability to haul nearly 1,000 pounds (and tow 5,000), it seems that if it will fit in that little bed, the Nissan will haul it.
Although the interior was sparse compared to some of the leather and wood cabins in our test, staffers appreciated the basic and straightforward controls. The only real stickler inside was the seats, which lost a few points for being under-padded compared to the other thrones in the test. Although it has room for three adults in the back, testers agreed that for ingress and egress as well as long-term comfort, it was better suited to smaller folk.
Aside from this, the fun personality of this truck hit a home run for Nissan and is sure to appeal to those looking for a sporty, economical runabout that can hang with the big dogs on the trail.
Stuff We Liked
Nissan Bed X-Tender
Although the Nissan had the smallest bed of the group, this handy bed extender allowed us to stuff an extra foot of stuff behind the cab. The unit simply folds up and into the bed when not in use and is an option we recommend for Nissan Crew Cabs.
Nissan Automatic Hubs
While manual hubs are our favorite for simple and trouble-free 4WD engagement, automatic hubs come a close second. The main benefit to hubs (manual or auto) is that if anything in the front-drive system breaks (CV joint, differential, and so forth), the hubs will allow you to drive home. With a center axle disconnect or full-time system, at least half of the front-drive system will turn, and most likely so will the broken part.