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2002 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Longbed S/C Review - Driving Impression

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on October 1, 2002
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The fundamental theory behind the Nissan Frontier 4x4 Supercharged Longbed pickup is brilliant. Begin with a four-door, five-passenger pickup, add a versatile fullsize 6-foot-long bed, spice up the exterior with some eye-catching styling, give the interior a sports-car look and feel, drop in a supercharged V-6 engine, and then keep the whole shebang priced at, or below, the competition's levels. Sounds like a recipe for success, right? Who better to pull it off than Nissan, because after all, these are the folks who have never been afraid to take chances and start trends in the automotive market. Cases in point, the Datsun Z cars, which revolutionized the compact sports car market, and let's not forget the successful Hardbody pickups and the durable Pathfinder SUV.

Unfortunately, the Frontier is like a box of chocolates; some individual aspects are very appealing, while others leave you wondering, "What were they thinking?"

The 3.3L supercharged V-6 cranks out 210 hp at 4,800 rpm, which is enough to adequately pull the 4,295-pound Crew Cab, but not create a powerhouse. The engine requires 91-octane fuel, unfortunately, and the four-speed electronically controlled transmission could stand to be tweaked for stiffer shifts to maximize the power created by the engine.

The Nissan Frontier was a contender in Four Wheeler's 2002 Pickup Truck of the Year competition. It qualified for that competition due to its fresh new longbed and redesigned interior. These mods follow up the previous year's exterior facelift and introduction of the industry-first-in-a-compact-pickup factory-installed supercharged engine. The Frontier didn't fare too well against the other five competitors, though. It finished at the tail end of the pack when the scoring was tallied (Four Wheeler, Jan. '02).

We thought it was time to revisit this truck, but this time from a different perspective. We decided to sample it through the environmental lens of our Midwest Bureau, located in northern Illinois farm country near the Illinois/Wisconsin state line. For a week it served duty as hauler of hay, kids, quad, dirtbike, and wood. It was used to explore some of the unpaved, muddy rural roads that still exist much as they were at the turn of the last century, and we even used it to corral some stubborn horses that were grazing where they weren't supposed to.

The first thing you'll notice is that the Frontier leaves no doubt that on top of the engine rests a supercharger. In fact, it says so no fewer than seven times on stickers, plastic badging, and the stitched front seats. When the badging is combined with the industrial look of the exterior styling and the tubular roof rack and step rails, it creates a truck that makes people gawk.

The first time we became aware of this was when we had to answer questions about the truck while fueling it at the Korner Kupboard in Davis, a tiny Illinois farm town. It seems that a few of the townsfolk were quite taken with the Frontier's beefy look. This bold exterior makes for a handsome vehicle, but we were dismayed at the lack of factory towhooks on either the front or rear of the Frontier. We became painfully aware of this after stumbling across a very lost Chicago delivery van that was stuck in the mud on one of our rutted, muddy, isolated roads. There was simply nowhere to safely attach a towstrap to either the front or the rear of the Frontier, so we called for a tow truck.

Our friends at Freeport Honda/Kawasaki in Freeport, Illinois, loaned us a new Honda Rubicon with which to test the Frontier's spacious 6-foot, 2-inch bed. With the Rubicon tied down in the cargo area there was more than 6 inches of room between the ATV's tires and the bedsides. Lengthwise, we had to leave the tailgate open due to the almost 7-foot length of the Rubicon.

A bone of contention that has surfaced in our previous excursions with the Frontier is the supercharged engine. The in-your-face badging insinuates that neck-snapping acceleration and jet-engine-like whine are on the menu, when in reality the Roots-type supercharger (developed in conjunction with Eaton Corporation) is a mild performance inducer at best. It raises the horsepower rating of the 3.3L V-6 engine by a claimed 40 ponies (210 at 4,800 rpm) over the normally aspirated standard 3.3L engine (170 at 4,800 rpm), while torque is said to improve by 46 lb-ft over the 200 lb-ft rating of the normally aspirated version. Once you accept the engine for what it is, you'll find that it is adequate for day-to-day driving. And for us, that's the problem. Ponying up for the supercharger option ought to bring more than performance that's merely adequate. Off highway the engine generates enough horsepower and torque to easily and smoothly pull the truck in 4-low or 4-high, but in either on-road or off-highway situations we feel that the Corporate four-speed electronic transmission needs to shift quite a bit more firmly. This would enhance the power coming from the engine and contribute to overall better performance. Our testing generated fuel mileage numbers that were in line with EPA estimates: We averaged 16 mpg in off-highway and on-road driving.

The transfer-case lever is easy to access and easy to use. It's on the left side of the center console, and it smoothly engaged the Corporate two-speed transfer case. The 'case uses a 2.02:1 low-range ratio, that when factored with the axle ratio of 4.64:1 creates a crawl ratio of 26.1:1. Power is transferred to a solid rear axle that is suspended by leaf springs with gas shocks, while the front IFS is comprised of dual A-arms, torsion bars, gas shocks and an antiroll bar. The supercharged engine package includes 17-inch aluminum wheels with P265/65R17 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires, a rear limited-slip differential and a specially tuned suspension with in-creased ground clearance. Speaking of ground clearance, the Frontier's minimum ground clearance is 7.7 inches, which is a bit less than average for a vehicle of this type. Therefore it required us to pay more attention to protruding trail obstacles.

The newly redesigned interior of the Frontier is handsome and functional. The supercharged version features brushed aluminum trim dash accents and sportscar-style red-on-charcoal stitching on the seats. The optional 300-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system seems to be worth its $549 premium because it includes a six-disc CD changer, nine speakers (including subwoofer), and steering-wheel-mounted controls. The center console is well laid out, and includes an easy-to-operate transfer-case lever mounted just to the left of the transmission shift lever.

Inside the Frontier, the newly redesigned interior is handsome, and it puts all the important levers and switches at the driver's fingertips. The new three-gauge cockpit-style instrument cluster is reminiscent of a '70s Z-car's cluster. But we recall being able to see the Z-car's gauges clearly during the day. The Frontier's were difficult to read due to their gray and black design and being so heavily shrouded that little daylight reaches them. The front seats are comfortable and easily adjusted, but the rear seats offer tight quarters even for short passengers.

Finally, our tester came equipped with the new Rockford Fosgate audio package that has nine speakers, including a subwoofer, and it sounded so good that as we rolled along listening to the "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack, we thought the Soggy Bottom Boys were jammin' in the back seat.

The Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Longbed 4x4 took us everywhere we wanted, hauled all we wanted to haul, and it looked dapper in the process. This optioned-up Frontier totaled $27,826, which is a pretty darn impressive figure when you factor in all you get. If it made a few more horsepower and offered tow hooks and a bit more ground clearance, it would be an even better value.

Check It Out If:
You want a reliable truck that'll get you noticed.

Avoid It If:
You plan on carrying adults in the back seat or if you expect the supercharger to rock your world.


Vehicle model Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Longbed S/C
Base price $26,349
Price as tested $27,826
Options as tested Rockford Fosgate Audio Package (300-watt premium audio system, nine speakers including subwoofer, six-disc in-dash CD changer, steering-wheel mounted controls), floormats, bedliner K/C under-the-rail

Type Supercharged SOHC 24-valve V-6
Displacement (liter/ci) 3.3/201
Bore x stroke (in.) 3.60 x 3.27
Compression ratio 8.7:1
Intake SEFI
Mfg. power rating @ rpm (hp) 210@4,800
Mfg. torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft) 246@2,800
Mfg. suggested fuel type 91 octane

Transmission Corporate four-speed automatic
First 2.79:1
Second 1.55:1
Third 1.00:1
Fourth 0.69:1
Reverse 2.27:1
Axle ratio 4.64:1
Transfer case Corporate
Low-range ratio 2.02 :1
Crawl ratio 26.1:1
Engine rpm @ 65 mph 2,200

Frame Ladder
Body Steel

Front Dual A-arms, torsion bars, gas shocks, antiroll bar
Rear Live axle, leaf springs, gas shocks

Type Power recirculating ball
Turns (lock-to-lock) 3.4
Ratio 17.6:1

Front 10.9-inch discs
Rear 11.6-inch discs
ABS Four-wheel

Wheels (in.) 17x7 aluminum
Tires LT265/65R17 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A

EPA city/highway 15/18
Actual combined, city/highway/trail 16

Weight (lbs.) 4,295
Wheelbase (in.) 131.1
Overall length (in.) 217.8
Overall width (in.) 71.2
Height (in.) 74.0
Track f/r (in.) 60.0/59.3
Minimum ground clearance (in.) 7.7
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft.) n/a
Bed dimensions (LxWxH) (in.) 74.6 x 59.8 x 17.1
Approach/departure angles (deg.) 27.0/24.0
GVRW (lbs.) 5,420
Payload (lbs.) 1,100
Maximum towing capacity (lbs.) 5,000
Seating 5

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