2002 Nissan Frontier Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Ready for the long haul with long-bed Crew Cab.
Now you can haul four passengers and a full load of cargo at the same time because the Nissan Frontier Crew Cab is available with a 6-foot long-bed.
This new, longer bed addresses one of the biggest drawbacks to the new crew cab compact pickups: short cargo beds. In the past, buyers have had to accept a short bed to gain real back seats: the bed on the Nissan Frontier Crew Cab short bed is less than 5 feet long (56.3 inches). That's not an issue for many buyers, but those who need a long bed really need a long bed.
Nissan's Frontier line offers a lot of excitement with bold, industrial styling and an optional supercharged engine. Frontier was redesigned for 2001. For 2002, the model line includes 19 configurations.
Two body styles are available, King Cab and Crew Cab. Each is available in three trim levels: XE, SE and SC. King Cab and Crew Cab models offer a choice of three engines: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, a 3.3-liter V6, and a supercharged 3.3-liter V6. Each is available with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Desert Runner 4x2 V6 models are also available.
King Cabs offer front bucket seats and additional seating for two passengers in fold-down rear jump seats. King Cab beds are 74.6 inches long (6 feet, 2.6 inches).
Crew Cab Long Bed models are the biggest news for 2002. The long bed adds a 74.6-inch full-size bed (6 feet, 2.6 inches) to the full-size cabin with four forward-hinged doors.
The standard Frontier Crew Cab offers a 56.3-inch bed (4 feet, 8.3 inches).
Crew Cabs are available in XE, SE and SC trim. Frontier Crew Cabs are built on the heavy-duty four-wheel drive Frontier chassis, but are available in 2WD or 4WD. All Crew Cabs use the 3.3-liter SOHC V6 engine, with the SC having the factory-installed supercharger made by Eaton, a company with a lengthy history designing and building superchargers.
Desert Runner models are also available. Essentially a 4x2 King Cab V6, a Desert Runner is modeled after specially prepared off-road race trucks used to pre-run Baja and other big desert races. Desert Runners are two-wheel drive, but feature the same heavy-duty chassis, ride height and stance as the rugged Frontier 4x4 models. At roughly 500 pounds lighter than a 4x4 Frontier King Cab V6, Desert Runners offer the best power-to-weight ratio of any Frontier pickup. Desert Runners come with fender flares, skid plates for the engine and fuel tank, a full-size spare and four-wheel ABS (4-channel/3-sensor). Special badges distinguish Desert Runner models, which are available in XE, SE, and S/C models. The S/C model includes a supercharged 3.3-liter V6 engine that produces 210 horsepower, with 246 foot-pounds of torque with automatic transmissions or 231 foot-pounds-feet of torque with five-speed manual gearboxes.
XE trim comes standard with the 143-horsepower 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine. Five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are available.
Frontier prices start at $12,799 for a base 2WD King Cab with a four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual. You may want to add another $1199 to that figure, however, for the Basic Gear package that includes air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD stereo. The base model comes with 15-inch wheels. XE starts at $13,799 and offers a slightly higher level of trim.
SE adds cruise control; tilt steering wheel; in-dash six-disc CD changer and steering wheel audio controls. Leather is optional with the SE, not available on XE; the SE comes with 16-inch wheels.
S/C models come with 17-inch wheels and that supercharged engine delivering more horsepower and torque.
The top King Cab model, with supercharger and four-wheel-drive, is $22,949. The Crew Cab starts at $18,199 and the supercharged, long-bed 4WD version is $26,349.
Most buyers (about 70 percent) are opting for the Crew Cab, according to Nissan, with half of those buying the short bed, half buying the long bed.
The 2002 Nissan Frontier presents a bold design. The big bold front end and fender flares offer a sporty industrial look, a cross between a power tool and a boxing glove. This truck won't go unnoticed like the bland Toyota Tacoma.
The powerful look begins in the body-colored grille, which incorporates a faux bash guard made of tough plastic, an original design. The front end comes off as bulky without being big, and the rounded edges further suggest that pow!-in-your-face boxing-glove look. The hoodline is tall, the clear halogen headlights and round Maxima foglights are oversized, and the turn signals goggle-like. The large fender flares with integral mud flaps span radial wheel arches, and have a finish that's deliberately duller than the body. They're attached by prominent tabs that look like bolt heads, which cause people to walk up and see if they twist. There's something right about any design feature that draws people to touch it.
At the back, a new tailgate cover comes standard with a tailgate lock; the lock is designed to keep the tailgate itself from being stolen, not what's in the bed. Because tailgates get smashed so easily the demand for them is high, which keeps thieves busy; the lock should slow them down at least. The gas tank opening is boldly notched into a fender flare.
Four-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels use a simple cross pattern, and are fitted with P255/65R16 tires on the 2WD SE; 4WD models come with wider and taller 265/70R16 tires. The supercharged S/C, either 2WD or 4WD, is planted to the ground with tires that are both tall and wide, P265/55R17.
Crew Cab long beds are 74.6 inches long (6 feet, 2.6 inches), just like the standard-length bed on the Frontier King Cab models. Crew Cab short beds are about 20 inches shorter than standard six-foot Frontier beds. The Crew Cab short bed holds just 33 cubic feet of cargo space, compared with 44.1 cubic feet for the remaining models.
About 16 inches of bed length can be gained on any of them with an optional bed extender, a hinged aluminum rack that effortlessly flips back 180 degrees to frame the end of the lowered tailgate. Flip the bed extender forward, close the tailgate, and it provides a contained area for groceries or other small cargo. When you want it out of the way, the bed extender is quickly removed. Unlike a solid tailgate, however, the bed extender won't hold back dirt or anything that can slip between the aluminum tubes.
On the roof is a beefy tubular rack, first featured on the Xterra; it can be fitted with Yakima attachments to carry skis, snowboards and mountain bikes. A bed-mounted bike rack is also available.
The engine compartment is tidy and roomy, and everything looks well balanced and accessible. The hood closes with a solid thunk, as do the four doors.
Frontier's interior effuses an industrial look that complements the exterior. The instrument panel is striking with a two-tone titanium-colored background. At night the numbers illuminate, but because they're outlined in white instead of being bold, they're difficult to read. The tachometer stretches to 8000 rpm despite the engine's 4800 rpm power peak, with a redline beginning at 6000 and running in a big pointless streak to eight grand. The digital clock is positioned so it's virtually impossible to read in the sunlight, and the little green lights indicating air conditioning are too dim and tiny to read.
The console layout is tidy and handsome. The center dash and instrument panel is a big improvement over the silver plastic used last year, which looked like someone painted it with a can of spray paint.
The CD changer holds six CDs, which can be selected with the six radio station buttons. There are two cool buttons for the emergency flashers and rear window defogger, rectangular and totally flat on the face of the panel. The heater controls are three big switches with wings, easy to operate when wearing gloves.
There are front and rear auxiliary DC outlets in addition to the cigarette lighter. Big fixed cup holders are provided front and rear; the front cup holders on the center console work well. There's another tray ideal for a cellphone forward of the shift lever. Three grab handles are provided for climbing in and out, and available running boards make the step up easy. Radio and cruise controls are located on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, with wide spokes located at 3, 9, 5 and 7 o'clock. The whole padded center is the horn, the best and safest operation because of quick access.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive. Leather is available in the Crew Cab. The leather seats are truly excellent, however. Long trips are comfortable.
Short trips in the back seats of the Crew Cab are fine for adults, but long rides may leave them feeling confined. We wouldn't want to ride very far back there. The rear seat space is tight in terms of knee room, but there's good head room and elbow room. We've found children are comfortable in the back seat of the Crew Cab. It provides for the secure installation of a child safety seat, something that can't always be found in extended cabs. Bigger people find little legroom in back. Technically it's a five-seater, but don't count on it. Don't count on even two adults being comfortable for long in the back seat if they're taller than five-foot-two. Getting in and out of the back seat is awkward for adults as they have to swing their feet around the B-pillars behind the front seats.
The rear and backseat windows are privacy glass, standard, with a rear window defogger. The optional flip-up sunroof ventilates, but doesn't fully open to the sky; it's covered from the inside with a removable headliner with plastic tabs.
Nissan's Frontier rides and handles very well, for a truck. It feels nimble in corners, and the steering is responsive. The front wheels stay glued to the road when cornering and the rear end never feels light over bumps. It rides like a truck and you can feel road vibration through the steering wheel and seat of pants.
The Crew Cab is a bit heavier than two-door Frontiers; its 56-44 weight distribution is marginally better than the King Cab's 57-43. The Crew Cab also gets a rear stabilizer bar in addition to the standard front stabilizer bar. Low-profile tires probably make a significant contribution to the Frontier's handling prowess.
Solid is the word that keeps coming out of our driving notes: Consistent high ratings in every aspect, can't find a single quirk or flaw. Tight, smooth, consistent.
The anti-lock brakes do the job, although the Frontier uses less-expensive drum brakes in the rear.
The four-speed automatic transmission upshifts sharply, as smoothly as an expensive sedan when your foot's on the floor, and doesn't hunt a lot when the engine is being challenged on hills.
The standard 3.3-liter V6 accelerates with reasonable lightness, and a steady 70 mph comes at just 2700 rpm. But the engine growls like it's working pretty hard when the automatic transmission kicks down to tackle a hill. The 170 horses pulling this 3916-pound truck will be enough for most people, but more power is always nice.
The supercharged version of this engine improves acceleration performance, but it doesn't make the Frontier a hot rod. The additional 46 foot-pounds of torque should improve the towing performance.
Nissan's reputation for compact truck leadership remains on solid ground with a bold lineup of Frontier pickups. The styling looks great. These trucks handle well.
The Crew Cab increases versatility, though backseat legroom is lacking.
XE, SE, SC.
Options As Tested
Rockford Fosgate Audio Package ($549) includes 300-watt premium audio system, 9 speakers including subwoofer, 6-disc CD changer, steering wheel-mounted audio controls; Leather Package ($1199) includes leather seating surfaces, sunroof, removable sunshade, security system; bedliner ($309); floor mats ($79).
Frontier SCV6 4x2 with 6-foot bed ($23,749).
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