The Sports Car of 4x4s
After wadding up our long-term Nissan Titan on the side of an icy highway in Utah, we figured we might have fallen from Nissan's good graces. But, our friends at Nissan didn't even blink when we asked them to let us sample the new-for-'05 Frontier for a year. After a few discussions over the phone, a Nissan representative dropped off our cool Electric Blue Frontier at our Los Angeles office and willingly handed over the keys.
Our 4x4 King Cab arrived with Nissan's class-leading 4.0L DOHC V-6, making 265 peak hp at 5,600 rpm and 284 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, backed by a sweet-shifting six-speed manual transmission. When optioned with the Nismo package (Nissan's answer to the Tacoma TRD), Nissan ups the Frontier's capability with Bilstein monotube shocks, an electronic locking rear differential, and BFGoodrich P265/65R17 (32-inch) tires. Like our long-term Titan, our blue Nismo also came with the factory bedliner option and Utili-track systems for cargo-carrying flexibility.
The first thing we noticed about the Frontier is how much fun it is to drive. This is an amazingly nimble package for a pickup, let alone one with four-wheel drive. Imagine driving a vehicle that has low range and a 6,300-pound tow rating, yet easily slices through LA traffic. And, it is a truck. The responsive engine, while not quite as smooth as the 4.0L V-6 in our long-term Toyota Tacoma, revs happily and puts the power down in every gear.
Once the highway opens up, the Nissan happily cruises at 80 mph, and is one of the quietest vehicles in our fleet. The ride is taut but not harsh, and the seats are right up there with the Tacoma as the most supportive and comfortable chairs in the segment.
While the ergonomics in the interior are some of the best in class-with all of the buttons and switchgear where you would expect them-the interior has a more trucky feel to it than the ultra-refined Tacoma. While a few testers commented that the interior isn't as nice, others pointed out that the Frontier feels more durable and trucklike, not a bad thing.
On the trail, the rear locker and gobs of torque get the little Frontier over everything we have attempted. We only wish the body was a little higher to keep pesky rocks from kissing its rockers. Fortunately, Nissan engineers had the dirt enthusiast in mind when designing the Frontier, as all of the vitals are tucked up safely within in the framerails, which give the Frontier over 10 inches of running ground clearance.
The Frontier offers a lot of capability and truck for the price, and is arguably the best midsize truck on the market. We are looking forward to an exciting year of service with it.
REPORT: 1 of 4
Previous reports: None
Base price: $22,100
Price as tested: $26,050
Four-wheel-drive system: Rotaryswitch-activated, electronic two-speed
Miles to date: 4,651
Miles since last report: None
Average mpg (this report): 16.0
Best tank (mpg): 17.9
Worst tank (mpg): 13.7
3,750-mile service, Cost: $28
Problem areas: None
WHAT'S HOT,WHAT'S NOT:
Hot: We love how much fun the Frontier is to drive, and the awesome drivetrain leaves the competition-and some larger trucks-in the dust. The sturdy F-Alpha platform, shared with the Titan, and well-protected underbody make this a good choice for backcountry forays.
Not: Interior materials could be nicer, and we'd appreciate more interior storage space, but so far there isn't much to criticize about the Frontier.
"Wow, you can chirp Third gear in this truck."
"I can't believe how quiet the Frontier is on the highway."
"In my opinion, this is the best midsize truck on the market."
"Car wash guys have a problem finding Reverse."
"Too low for John Bull Trail."
"Handles great, rides good, goes fast-what else is there?"