2010 Nissan Frontier Expert Review:Autoblog
Small pickups occupy an odd and oft forgotten spot in the over-hyped, Biggie-Sized truck segment, but making a case for their existence remains easy. Not everyone needs a larger vehicle or has the space for a full-size truck, and small pickups offer the utility weekend warriors require without necessitating an organ exchange at the pump. Although not as diminutive as their forebears, today's more compact dimensions are easier to cope with behind the wheel, and in this economy, moving down a rung in the pickup hierarchy is sure to save you a few dollars in monthly payments and insurance premiums. But is it just about a small footprint and an easy to swallow sticker? Or is just best to bite the bullet and option up for what some consider to be a "real" pickup? We test the 2009 Nissan Frontier to see if this squat truck has more than just measurements on its size to woo punch-drunk pickup buyers away from the latest and greatest in the full-size segment.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
While the Frontier is comfortable and easy-driving, it won't skip town in the middle of the night if challenged to a showdown – there's serious hardware here. Solid foundations are provided by the fully-boxed F-Alpha platform, the same frame that gives the full-size Titan its rigid, dare we say, sporty demeanor. Sharing the Titan's bones, it's no surprise the Frontier drives like a two-thirds scale version of its big brother, which is to say it's pleasing to gearheads who value direct steering and a communicative ride.
The Frontier is exactly what it feels like: a smaller version of the Titan. It drives with a solid and willing feel that's roughly akin to the Maxima of trucks. A 4.0-liter version of the company's ubiquitous VQ engine kicks this thing around with plenty of authority, and the real four-wheel drive rig underneath lends more billy goat ability than most buyers will ever put to use. 261 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and, more importantly, 281 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, are churned out with an authoritative voice while burning cleanly enough to earn LEV2/ULEV emissions ratings. There is a four-cylinder version of the Frontier for buyers seeking a bit better fuel economy, but our sampler was an SE-trim 4x4 with a five-speed automatic and V6.
The Frontier comes in extended King Cab or true four-door Crew Cab configurations. There's enough space in the demi-door King Cab for the average buyer, with plenty of storage cubbies and a roomier feel than even a full-sizer from 15 years ago, but the jump seats are only suitable for occasional use. If truck-pooling is part of your usage brief, go right for the Crew Cab, which has the side benefit of more creature comforts than the King Cabs. The materials in our SE were good for the class, if not gobsmackingly fantastic. In the end, it's a truck, and while it can be dressed up with cushier trappings, it's still a working-class vehicle first and foremost.
With a surprisingly sprightly 4,315 pound curb weight and a 58/42 weight distribution, the facts and figures sound more sporting than trucklike, and the Frontier is car-easy to drive. Fuel economy of 14 city mpg and 19 highway in the configuration we tried brings you back to full-frame, four-wheel drive reality. Four cylinder Frontiers can reach into the low 20s on the highway, though the economy is about what's expected given the specs.
Disc brakes all around are something that's becoming more common on trucks, and our Frontier arrived packing 11.7-inch rotors in front and 11.3-inchers in back. In practice, braking performance falls short, likely due to limited traction from the BFG Long Trail tires. SE four-bys get standard 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 265/70 tires. While the ride is comfortable and quiet, and there's traction for wilderness excursions, hard stabs at the brake pedal cause the rear end to skate before the ABS kicks in. The danger with the Frontier's braking performance, at least in the guise we sampled, is that there's plenty of go power and the handling borders on sporty, so it's a surprise to step on the whoa pedal and be met with a wimpy showing. The steering, however, is direct and communicative, a surprise, and the firm chassis pleasing.
The other pedal is the fun one. Squeeze the skinny treadle and the DOHC six puts its shoulder into it with a growl, delivering a firm shove ahead. While Nissan has figured out how to squeeze a V8 into the Frontier's Pathfinder platform-mate, and the Chevrolet Colorado and Dodge Dakota offer eight-pack thrills in the mid-size arena, there's no need for any more engine in the Frontier. Even the tow-crazy will have little to complain about; 4WD V6 Frontiers can drag around 6,300 pounds, slotting neatly between the Colorado's 6,000-pound maximum and the Dakota's 7,200-pound peak.
Towing and mudslinging are ways to put this puppy-friendly vehicle to work, and the Frontier laps it up without complaint. Owner complaints are likely to be few and far between, too. Consumer Reports rates the Frontier as a recommended pick and projects very good reliability. Heading off-pavement, too, is another area where the Frontier is as happy as a black Lab in a mudpuddle. Our dirt ventures were child's play for the Frontier. Dialling up low-range four-wheel drive is as easy as twisting a rotary knob, and the truck was comfortable and controllable up and down some mild terrain. Approach and departure angles aren't Wrangler-steep, but when you're poking around with a borrowed vehicle without a winch, you tend not to take extreme chances.
Nissan has carried out a naming shuffle for the hardcore offroad trim level. What used to be known as the NISMO package has been replaced by the PRO-4X for 2009. Bilstein shock absorbers, extra skid plates and a locking Dana 44 rear axle bolsters the mechanicals for stump-bumping. PRO-4X interiors are detailed with white-faced gauges, a trip computer and leather wrapping with red stitching on the steering wheel. Manual transmission equipped PRO-4X models also get a leather shift knob, and Crew Cabs with the package can also be luxed up with power-operated heated seats covered with the thematic leather. Outside, the rock-chewing Frontiers get obligatory stickering on the bedsides, along with color keyed grille, bumpers, mirrors and door handles. Foglamps, a sprayed bedliner and the Utili-Track cargo system are also part of the PRO-4X.
The trouble with mid-size trucks is that full-sizers can be had for much the same money, especially in these times of screaming deals on just about anything. Our well-equipped tester started at $24,110 and was equipped with the SE Value Truck Package for $1,330 that added the SE Power Package of keyless entry, power windows, locks, and mirrors, plus cruise control. Also in the SE VTP is a brake-based limited slip, 16-inch alloy wheels, bedliner and floor mats. Safety was tuned up with the $550 airbag package that fits seat-mounted side bags and roof-mounted side curtain bags into the Frontier, and Nissan also requested $745 for destination charges for a grand total of $26,735. That kind of money will easily put you into an F-150, Silverado, Tundra or even Titan. It would be a stretch, however, to get into one of those bigger pickups for the same price as our Frontier with an extended cab and four-wheel drive, let alone the other niceties included in the value package.
Well-equipped and reasonably priced, with options for both luxury and rock-hopping, the Frontier covers a lot of bases. It's handsomely styled, even if it's not the freshest face on the block, and Nissan's entry-level truck identity has matured to the point where it's got a purposeful, bulldog stance that comes off as both rugged and dignified. The Frontier's well-behaved chassis handles driver inputs better than some cars we've sampled, and although our biggest gripes are centered on the Frontier's fuel economy, braking performance and bed size – likely sacrificed at the altar of human comfort – is a reasonable tradeoff for a daily driver.
For those who appreciate performance, the Frontier may well be the only choice in pickups. Among a class that includes such varied choices as the Ridgeline, Ranger, a Chevrolet with a V8 similar to what you'll find in a Corvette, and the Dakota with its uber-punchy eight-cylinder mill, the Frontier scraps successfully as a well-rounded offering, continuing to prove that good things can come in small packages.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Solid midsize pickup with power and features.
The Nissan Frontier is a midsize pickup truck that offers notably good power, the capability to tow a fairly good-sized trailer, and a variety of trim levels and features that should appeal to a wide range of buyers. There are two engine choices: A 2.5-liter four-cylinder of 152 horsepower that is EPA-rated at 19 mpg City, 23 mpg Highway with the manual transmission, and a quite strong 4.0-liter V6 of 261 horsepower that, with two-wheel drive, is rated at 20 mpg on the Highway.
The Frontier is available in two body styles – a King Cab with rearward-opening rear doors and flip-up rear seats, and a Crew Cab with a conventional four-door layout. Depending upon trim level, the Crew Cab is available with a short or a long cargo bed; all King Cab versions have the longer of the two cargo-bed sizes. The Frontier is available with two-wheel or four-wheel drive, has a maximum towing capacity of 6,500 pounds and a maximum payload of slightly over 1,500 pounds.
The Frontier is a stylish truck, yet clearly a truck meant for work, and in a tidy size. In front is a distinctive grille and over the tires are pronounced fender flares that give it a certain robust appeal. Inside is a continuation of the purposeful look, with all the controls in places that make them easy to reach and operate. Interior storage space is enhanced with a dual-level glove-box arrangement on the passenger's side.
We found the interior comfortable and well arranged, with good rugged standard fabric upholstery. The King Cab's wide-opening auxiliary doors give access to the two small folding seats, while the four-door Crew Cab has a three-person bench in the rear (three, that is, depending upon the sizes of the persons) that offers decent comfort but limited legroom – remember, though, this is a midsize pickup.
The ride is good with all models, and we drove them all, including the PRO-4X Crew Cab with off-road shock absorbers and rugged trail tires. The handling is tight and fairly nimble. On gravel roads, we found the 4WD works well and enhances traction and control.
For 2010 the changes are focused on standard safety and security features. Side-impact airbags and side-curtain airbags are standard on all models, and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Nissan's electronic stability control that can help reduce skids on slippery surfaces, is standard on all Frontiers with the V6 engine. Other changes include the availability of a five-speed automatic transmission on XE models, the addition of two-wheel or four-wheel Active Brake Limited Slip (ABLS) as standard for all SE and LE trim-level V6 models, and the addition of Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control as standard on all SE and LE models with four-wheel drive and the automatic transmission. Finally, there is a new color, Night Armor.
Depending upon trim levels and other specifics, the 2010 Nissan Frontier is available two body styles, two wheelbase lengths, with two cargo-bed lengths, two engines, two-wheel or four-wheel drive and four trim levels. Within those choices are different transmissions and other features. But, of all that, not every mathematically possible version is available, as Nissan offers those combinations which are more likely to be most popular.
The Frontier King Cab XE ($17,540) is the base model, has the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, and steel wheels, wind-up windows, and no air conditioning. The XE Preferred Package ($990), which includes air conditioning and an AM/FM/CD audio system, is the major option for the XE. Other options for the XE, and available either as options or standard equipment for the rest of the line, include a bed liner ($430), bed extender ($260), splash guards ($130), and floor mats ($105). Four-wheel drive is not available on the XE.
The King Cab SE ($19,640) upgrades with the air conditioning and sound system of the XE Preferred Package, plus a chrome front bumper, slider rear window and other features. An automatic transmission is optional ($1,050). The King Cab SE is not available with 4WD, but there is an optional Power Package ($1,080), which includes power windows, door locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry, and cruise control.
The King Cab SE V6 ($20,440) has the V6 engine as standard. There is an SE V6 Value Truck Package ($1,330), which adds a Class III hitch receiver, 16-inch alloy wheels, bed liner, floor mats, an in-cabin micro filter and all the features of the SE Power Package.
For all trim levels, four-wheel drive is an additional $2,700, and an automatic transmission, if it's not standard equipment, is $1,050.
The King Cab LE ($24,920) adds, as standard, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, 265/60R18 tires, fog lights, chrome door handles and power mirrors, step rails, eight-way power driver's seat, cruise control, first aid kit, Utili-track Bed Channel system, and power windows, door locks and remote keyless entry. Available as an option with the LE is the Technology Package ($950), which includes Bluetooth, AM/FM/six-CD audio system with six speakers, auxiliary input jack, MP3/WMA capability and XM Satellite Radio, and a vehicle immobilizer.
The King Cab PRO-4X ($25,010) has Bilstein off-road shocks, skid plates for the oil pan and transfer case, locking rear differential, and its own 16-inch alloy wheels with BFGoodrich P265/75R16 Rugged Trail tires. Also standard is a spray-on bed liner and tough fabric seats with red stitching, as well as cruise control, remote keyless entry, and power windows, door locks and mirrors. Optionally available for the PRO-4X is a six-speed manual transmission, which must be ordered with four-wheel drive. The PRO-4X is also available with the Technology Package.
Generally, the Crew Cab models parallel the King Cab models, except there is no availability of the four-cylinder engine with the Crew Cab body style; all Crew Cabs are powered by the V6 with either the six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. There is also no XE Crew Cab; the trims levels are SE V6, LE and PRO-4X.
The Crew Cab SE V6 ($22,290) has the six-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. The SE V6 and LE are available with the longer cargo bed (73.3 inches instead of 59.5 inches) which is fitted onto a chassis with a longer wheelbase (139.9 inches instead of 125.9 inches). Crew Cabs are available with a moonroof ($700), and the Crew Cab SE V6 is also available with an optional Value Truck Package ($1,380).
The Crew Cab LE ($26,620) includes even more features and is available with the LE Value Truck Package ($1,600), which includes Bluetooth, a Rockford Fosgate AM/FM/six-CD audio system with ten speakers, steering wheel-mounted controls, auxiliary input jack, MP3/WMA capability, and XM Satellite Radio. Most of the rest of the features which are optionally available on the lower trim levels are standard on the LE, including a full range of power features.
The Crew Cab PRO-4X ($26,360) is available only with the shorter cargo bed and shorter wheelbase. Optional for the PRO-4X is a Moonroof and Roof Rack Package ($900), and a PRO-4X Value Truck Package ($1,970), which includes the Rockford Fosgate sound system, leather, eight-way power driver's seat and four-way passenger's seat, heated front seats and outside mirrors, and rear fold-down center armrest.
For the Crew Cab models, as with the King Cab models, four-wheel drive is an additional $2,700, and the automatic transmission is $1,050.
Safety equipment on all Frontiers includes two-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, a tire-pressure monitor, and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution. Crew Cab models have three-point seat belts for all rear-seat occupants, including the center position, plus the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) child seat anchor system. Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), which helps to maintain control on slippery surfaces, is standard on all Frontiers equipped with the V6 engine.
There's a family resemblance between the midsize Nissan Frontier and the full-size Titan, but the Frontier is two feet shorter and feels it. After climbing out of a Titan and into a Frontier, it seems like a nice, tidy size that is probably perfectly fine for most light to moderate jobs, unless you need an eight-foot bed for work or need to tow a big trailer.
The grille, headlights, front fascia and alloy wheels convey an assertive look. The fender flares are big and smooth. The front end is clean, and the wheels have a lot of style. The Crew Cab looks rugged and purposeful with the optional roof rack.
King Cabs have rear-hinged auxiliary doors behind the front doors, for access to the two small forward-facing seats. Crew Cabs have four full doors and a roomy and comfortable rear passenger compartment that seats three. The standard-length King Cab cargo bed and the longer Crew Cab bed are the same, at 73.3 inches, or just over six feet; the standard, shorter bed for the Crew Cab measures 59.5 inches, or just under five feet.
The available Utili-track Bed Channel tie-down system uses five rails (two on the floor and one on each side and forward bulkhead) and cleats that slide in the channels, and allows all kinds of cargo to be tied securely in place.
The instrument panel places all the necessary controls where they are easy to see, reach and operate. The standard seat fabric is rugged and very livable, and reasonably easy to clean – depending, of course, on what gets spilled on it.
The PRO-4X has stylish red stitching on its black fabric seats. The bucket seats fit well; hours could be spent in them pleasurably, presuming they're not all off-road hours, but even if they were, the PRO-4X would make the time bearable on the backbone.
The front seat layout is excellent, with a console having gauges that are attractive and easy to read, and controls that are easy to operate. The center console is deep, there are cubbies forward of the shift lever, cupholders galore, good armrests and door handles, and a very thoughtful dual-level glovebox that offers lots of storage space. The nice steering wheel has optional controls and short sturdy stalks, and there are convenient grab handles on the A pillars. The vinyl dashboard is less attractive in brown, but just fine in black.
We spent some time in a Crew Cab model and feel that rear-seat passengers should do just fine. They'll have cupholders, map pockets, grab handles, and an optional folding center armrest, although not necessarily a lot of knee room.
The rear seats in both the King Cab and Crew Cab fold up, and the front passenger seat folds flat, to create additional cargo space.
We got into the Nissan Frontier after stepping out of a full-size Titan, and we must say that the Frontier made the Titan feel huge. And for the week we were in the Frontier, it never felt too small. So we might suggest that among the first things you should consider in choosing a Frontier (or any truck) are the size of the bed you need, and the seating capacity. (That's assuming you don't need the full-size Titan for towing.) Remember that tailgate extenders are available, if you occasionally need a longer bed for larger cargo.
On the road, the all-aluminum dohc V6 engine has very strong acceleration when you put your foot down; as it should, with its 261 horsepower. At 4.0 liters, it's a larger version of the award-winning 3.5-liter engine that's used in other Nissans. It has all the right stuff: Aluminum block and heads, Teflon-coated pistons, Continuous Valve Timing Control (CVTCS), Nissan variable Induction Control System (NICS), silent timing chain and micro finished camshaft and crankshaft surfaces, digital knock control system, and 105,000-mile spark plugs.
There's 281 pound-feet of torque, but it is isn't fully there at lower rpm, so you do have to put your foot down to find all the power, and that doesn't come without a price in fuel efficiency. With four-wheel drive and an automatic transmission it's EPA-rated at 14 mpg City and 19 mpg Highway, so if maximum fuel efficiency is your goal you probably ought not to be looking at a truck in the first place.
The four-cylinder engine with manual transmission gets an EPA-rated 19/23 mpg. It's available in a nicely equipped SE King Cab, so this might be a choice for a buyer who needs a tidy truck but not a whole lot of power.
The five-speed automatic transmission shifts in and out of fifth gear frequently, even at fairly low speeds during casual driving, but always smoothly and often invisibly. A manual mode would be useful, but isn't available.
On the highway, we drove Frontiers with both the short and long wheelbase, as well as our week in the PRO-4X with the off-road Bilstein gas-charged shock absorbers and big BFG trail tires, and we didn't encounter any bumps or situations that made us say: This thing rides like a truck.
The handling is also good, tight, never flabby or wallowy. The chassis is a boxed-in steel ladder frame, with double wishbone front suspension and solid rear axle with leaf springs.
The part-time four-wheel-drive system, which can be easily shifted on the fly, is there to be used. Don't even think of driving off the pavement without engaging it, because it makes a world of difference. Even when you don't need it to keep from getting stuck, it transforms the Frontier; on gravel roads the Frontier in 2WD may not be at its best, but in 4WD it's stable.
On those gravel roads, riding as a passenger in a 4WD King Cab, we found things a bit rough. Later, driving the PRO-4X for a couple hours on fire trails in the Pacific Northwest, no problem. Lots of fun. The good seats were a relief. But that's when we most would have liked a manual mode in the five-speed automatic transmission.
We also got on a closed off-road course, with specific steep challenges. We used 4WD in its low range to get over some ridges and ruts, and found that it allowed higher speeds than some other systems; but also found that it wasn't really needed except in the most extreme situations, because 4WD in high range is good.
We tested the Hill Descent Control that allows you to travel down a steep hill and rely on electronics to slow and keep the truck safe and steady at about 5 mph, with throttle control and ABS automatically applied, meaning all the driver has to do is steer. If you live in a place that has snowy and icy hills in winter, HDC could be of real benefit.
Hill Start Assist allows you to start moving forward on a steep uphill, without coasting backwards. It keeps the brakes applied for two seconds after you lift your foot off the brake pedal. However, with an automatic transmission, starting on hills is not really a problem, because you can use two feet on the two pedals.
The Nissan Frontier offers a lot for a midsize truck, namely a lot of power, payload capacity and towing capability, though with a price in fuel mileage. The Frontier interior is comfortable and arranged well, and the rear seat of the Crew Cab offers good room for three passengers. Off-road, the Frontier is very capable, with its two-speed transfer case using part-time 4WD that can be shifted on the fly, plus Hill Descent Control on some models. It rides and steers well on gravel roads in 4WD, and on pavement, its ride is nice and its handling tight. It's a very commendable truck in its size and price class.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com.
Nissan Frontier King Cab XE ($17,540), King Cab SE ($19,640), King Cab SE V6 ($20,240), King Cab LE ($24,920), King Cab PRO-4X ($25,010), Crew Cab SE V6 ($22,290), Crew Cab LE ($26,620), Crew Cab PRO-4X ($26,360); for four-wheel drive, add $2,700; for automatic transmission, add $1,050.
Options As Tested
PRO-4X Value Truck Package ($1,970), Moonroof and Roof Rack Package ($900).
Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Pro-4X 4WD ($29,060).
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