We recently had a chance to testdrive Nissan's latest generation of midsize 4x4s, the Frontier pickup and Xterra SUV. You can read our impressions of the Xterra on page 26 of this issue, and while we've always been big fans of the Frontier, we were a bit dismayed when we heard through the grapevine that Nissan was discontinuing its Nismo Off-Road package for the 2009 model year. As it turns out, though, it's all in the nomenclature, not in the parts bin.
Now called Pro-4x (adios, Nismo), the new Off-Road package reflects Nissan's attempts to form closer branding connections (or "greater synergies," in corporate-speak) with the fullsize Titan Pro-4x, which utilizes the same F-Alpha truck chassis. And while the name has changed, it's thankfully still the same terrific grab-bag of Nismo goodies we've tested and loved in the past: Bilstein high-pressure shocks, pushbutton rear locking diff, full underbody skidplating, and 75-series BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires on newly designed 16-inch alloy rims; Pro-4x King Cab models also get the Utilitrack inbed tie-down system with adjustable cleats, which is standard on all Crew Cab versions. All told, it's a $1,970 dealer check-off, but in our view, it's well worth the added scratch if you plan on taking the Frontier over serious terrain.
Speaking of which, the Pro-4x package includes Hill Descent and Hill Hold/Assist controls, both of which are a boon on steep inclines. We tested both systems recently on an '09 model, and they're both quite effective, though the solenoid-happy Descent Control is a little "poppy" and loud-it works just fine once you get used to it, though.
The rest of the truck boasts the same reliable and versatile powertrain we've tested and appreciated for years: 4.0L 261hp V-6 with either a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission, two-speed transfer case, and stout-for-a-midsize Dana 44 rear axle. Unfortunately, you can't get the six-speed with the Pro-4x package anymore, a move which we'd likely attribute to cost savings, given the limited number of Pro-4x Frontiers that Nissan expects to sell. Still, with the five-speed automatic, there's ample gearing flexibility, and the Frontier's trail manners are as good as any truck you'll find in its class. And no matter what you call it, the Pro-4x Off-Road package makes a great little truck even better in the backwoods.
Vehicle/model: 2009 Nissan Frontier
Base price: $24,910 (base 4x4)
Engine (tested): 4.0L DOHC V-6
Max hp & torque (lb-ft):261/281
Transmission(s): Six-speed manual/Five-speed auto
Transfer case(s): Part-time two-speed
Low-range ratio: 2.63:1
Frame type:Steel ladder
Suspension, f/r: IFS, double wishbone/Dana 44, leaf springs
Ring and pinion: 3.36:1
Max crawl ratio: 33.9:1 (five-speed automatic)
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Brakes, f/r: 11.1-inch vented disc/11.7-inch vented disc
Wheels (tested): 16-inch alloy
Tires (tested): 265/75R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A
Wheelbase (in): 125.9
Length (in): 205.5
Height (in): 69.7
Base curb weight (lb): 4,355
Max approach/departure angles (deg): 33/23
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.9
Max payload (lb): 1,245
Max towing capacity (lb): 6,300
EPA mileage figures, city/hwy (mpg): 15/19
Fuel capacity (gal): 21.1
Six-speed manual transmission, tons of storage space for a small rig, Pro-4x off-road package.
No six-speed available with the Pro-4x package (waaaaahhhh!).
Still one of the best midsize platforms ever devised, the Frontier is more creature-comfortable than ever-and still a beast in the dirt.