The Nissan Frontier is a value-packed offering for drivers who like to venture off-road and tow the occasional trailer. The crew cab four-by-four model approaches the functionality of the full-sized Nissan Titan, in a smaller, more practical package.
Value-conscious buyers can opt for the base XE king cab model with rear-wheel drive, that retails for $17,460, not including a $695 destination charge. The four-wheel drive SE grade tested starts at $21,540.
Power comes from a four-liter V-6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. A control on the center stack allows drivers to shift between rear-wheel, four-wheel high and low modes on the fly. The four-wheel high gears give drivers extra traction on ice and snow, while the low gears provide the extra torque necessary for off-road trails.
Geared to Active Lifestyles
Nissan's design studio is located in San Diego, giving its staff good access to people who spend lots of time out of doors. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Xterra sport-utility vehicle and Frontier pickup.
Both have the versatility athletes look for without a lot of comfort and convenience features they might not want to invest in.
The cargo bed on the Frontier is a perfect example: it comes from the factory with a waterproof bedliner and cargo tracks with tie-down cleats for securing large cargo. An optional bed extender that slides along the cargo tracks can divide the cargo bed into two sections, or make it longer.
A low liftover height makes it easier for women to load up the back. Optional cargo trays and modular storage units make the bed as functional as the back of many sport-utility vehicles.
Easy to Take Off-Road
Engineers located all of the sensitive underbody components inside the frame rails: the Frontier has just under nine inches of running ground clearance. They also modified the V-6 engine that the Frontier shares with the Maxima, Altima, Murano and Quest, giving it a longer, smoother torque curve.
The five-speed automatic transmission includes a large overdrive gear to boost highway fuel economy: about nineteen miles-per-gallon on the four-wheel drive model. Its forty-five hundred pound curb weight and its two-box design hurts the Frontier's overall gas mileage. Sixteen mile-per-gallon fuel economy is at the low end for vehicles in its segment.
The engine reaches peak torque at fairly low speeds, giving it excellent acceleration in the twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range. The Frontier can tow up to 6500 pounds: double our ALV minimum requirement.
The durable engine block requires minimal maintenance: it includes a timing chain in lieu of a belt, a forged steel crankshaft, and spark plugs rated up to 105,000 miles.
Front tow hooks and a full-sized spare are important features for anyone who drives off-road. Buyers can opt to add hill descent control and hill start assist, enhancing directional control on steep grades.
Nissan added a Pro-4X grade to the Frontier line-up last year, with enhanced off-road features. It adds skid plates under the fuel tank and oil pan, trail-rated tires, high-pressure shocks, and a limited-slip rear differential.
Small Enough for City Driving
The mid-sized Frontier rides on a 126-inch wheelbase . It fits easily in the average parking slot, and is more maneuverable on crowded urban highways than a full-sized truck.
The solid rear axle has a harsher ride than a fully-independent suspension, but it improves the truck's handling when towing a trailer.
Standard four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the truck in a firm, linear fashion. Sixteen-inch wheels and tires provide a big enough footprint on and off-road. Buyers can dress up the exterior by upgrading to eighteen-inch alloy wheels.
A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel gives drivers a better forward view. Manual seats on the test truck have surprisingly good lower lumbar support.
Speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering makes the Frontier maneuverable in parking lots, and gives it a positive on-center feel at speed.
Forward and rear visibility are surprisingly good. The wide B-pillar on the crew cab creates a large blind spot next to the driver which I found annoying. The side mirrors don't compensate for it well: I had to look through the rear side window for oncoming traffic before changing lanes.
The standard cloth trim on the SE grade is attractive and easier to clean than leather. I was surprised by how good lower back support was on the manually adjustable seats.
All four doors have molded-in bottle holders. Both rows of passengers have access to large cupholders: in the floor console and in back of the center console bin. Rubber inserts are an annoyance: they cling to bottles and often end up outside the truck.
Two-twelve volt outlets allow the driver and front passenger to recharge portable electronic devices on the go. There are plenty of small compartments around the two front seats for stowing compact discs, cell phones and PDAs.
A two-piece glovebox holds maps and paperwork: the bottom section locks, providing secure storage for a wallet at the trailhead.
The standard audio system includes an AM/FM radio and single-slot CD player. Buyers can upgrade to a Rockford /Fosgate system that adds satellite radio, MP3 jack, Bluetooth compatibility, and a six-disc player.
Both front and rear passengers get overhead reading lamps. Designers put handles on both the A and B pillars, easing access and egress for smaller passengers. Crew cab doors are hinged at the front: the rear seats are quite easy to get in and out of.
An optional sunroof brings additional ambient light inside: a boon for second-row passengers. The second-row seats have ample head and legroom in the outboard positions. The middle seat is workable for short trips or holding a child safety seat.
The SE grade comes standard with front airbags, active front head restraints, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Vehicle stability control is available as part of an option package that also adds hill descent control and hill start assist. Side curtain airbags are a stand-alone option.
Nissan builds the Frontier at its Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant.
2009 Nissan Frontier 4X4 CC SE
Likes: A mid-sized truck designed for active lifestyles. The cargo tie-down system in the cargo bed makes the Frontier easy to load up with bicycles and other large cargo. Nissan includes everything the driver needs to go off-road out of the box.
Dislikes: Poor overall fuel economy. The large B-pillar creates a blind spot on the driver's side that the mirrors don't compensate for.