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2005 Nissan Frontier Nismo Review

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on April 1, 2006
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Photographers: Ken Brubaker

The last time we reviewed our long-term Frontier Nismo, we were raving about the Nismo Off Road package that outfits the Frontier with a rear locking diff, premium Bilstein shocks, and BFG Rugged Trail T/A tires. But three months later, we've changed our minds. While we still like the Nismo package, no doubt, we have to confess it's not what sets our hearts aflutter when we climb into the driver seat, turn the ignition, and stomp the skinny pedal.

To us, the centerpiece of this truck is its class-leading 265hp 4.0L V-6 and six-speed manual transmission. Combined with the six-speed's close ratios, the engine provides neck-snapping acceleration on demand, with gobs of usable torque across the powerband and in every gear. The six-speed has garnered praises for its buttery-smooth shift characteristics and conveniently wide-spaced gate pattern. For the weak-kneed among us who prefer automatics, this gearbox has been a potent reminder of how much fun a manual can be, even when we've needed to row repeatedly through gears in urban traffic. Steering feel is light to the touch but precise and firm-tracking, and the rigid F-Alpha architecture keeps the Nismo's stance upright amidst high-speed slaloms. All of these factors have made the Nismo the one truck in our long-term fleet that begs to be driven like a Baja prerunner (don't try this at home), and the one truck we all look forward to driving to work each day without reservation.

The clever bed-floor tie-down rails have been handy on more than one occasion.

A couple of minor gremlins have sprung up in our tester-not surprising, considering how hard we've wheeled it over the past few months. A squeak can be heard somewhere in the suspension-one staffer thinks it's in the front, while another swears it's in back-but only when cycling severely over bumps. Also, the "low tire inflation" IP warning lit up about a hundred miles ago, accompanied by an obnoxious intermittent buzzer. This wasn't too surprising, as this often happens in computerized rigs after you've messed with the factory tire pressure.

Speaking of hard 'wheeling, the Nismo was along for the ride at our 2006 Pickup Truck of the Year test (Jan. '06), where it was pressed into service hauling our intrepid Web dudes and all their gear for the week. From the truck-eating Olancha Dunes to the ancient bristlecone pine groves of the Inyo National Forest, from sea level to 10,000 feet up, our Frontier kept pace easily with our '06 PTOTY entrants, though the pavement-tuned chassis gives a roughish ride over extremely bumpy terrain. Even so, when we asked ourselves at the end of the test, "So who wins our award this year?" more than one pair of eyes were focused on the truck in our group that wasn't even eligible.

Report: 2 of 4
Previous reports: Jan. '06
Base price: $22,100
Price as tested: $26,050
Four-wheel-drive system: Electronic part-time two-speed transfer case

Long-Term Numbers
Miles to date: 8,919
Miles since last report: 4,268
Average mpg (this report): 14.91
Test Best tank (mpg): 18.58
Test Worst tank (mpg): 13.73

This period: None
Problem areas: Mystery squeak, ECU gremlins; to be addressed at 10,000-mile service

What's Hot, What's Not:
Hot: Neck-snapping acceleration, sporty six-speed, grippy tires, high fun factor.
Not: So-so visibility, mediocre mileage, plasticky interior.

Logbook Quotes:
* "Transmission and shift linkage work very well."
* "You'd think this thing came with a blower from the factory!"
* "Closely-spaced B- and C-pillars create driver-side blind spot."
* "Can be a bit bouncy on the freeway."
* "6th to 4th downshift, and you can pass anything!"
* "What's that rodent doing in the suspension?"
* "I would buy this truck ... Nissan got this Frontier right!"

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