2003 Frontier New Car Test Drive
Nissan's Frontier pickup offers a lot of excitement, with bold, industrial styling and an optional supercharged engine.
Frontier continues to be a leader in innovation among compat pickups. Last year, the Nissan Frontier became the first compact pickup that didn't force you to give up bed length in order to gain a full-size back seat. The Crew Cab model is available with either a 4-foot-8-inch bed or a standard-length 6-foot bed.
Now the 2003 Frontier is also the first compact pickup to offer electronic stability control, and the first to offer a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Nissan claims more than a dozen enhancements for 2003. Among them: Frontier's optional 3.3-liter V6 engine is more powerful and gets better gas mileage.
Nissan builds Frontier in nearly three dozen possible permutations of cab style, bed length, driveline, and trim level. Retail prices range from $12,989 to $26,939. Frontier does not, however, offer what most pickup manufacturers call a standard cab. Instead, buyers choose between extended King Cab or four-door Crew Cab. King Cabs have two doors, 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 models come with something closer to a standard-size back seat and four full-size, forward-hinged doors. To keep its overall length compact, the standard Frontier Crew Cab features a shorter-than-standard 56.3-inch bed (4 feet, 8.3 inches). But the Long Bed Crew Cab, introduced last year, comes with the same 74.6-inch bed as the King Cab. The longer bed addresses one of the biggest drawbacks to the new breed of compact crew cab pickups. In the past, buyers have had to accept a short bed to gain real back seats. That's not an issue for many buyers, but those who need a long bed really need a long bed. Nissan says most Frontier buyers choose the Crew Cab, with half of those buying the short bed, half buying the long bed.
Three engines are available: The 3.3-liter single-cam V6 is rated 180 horsepower (10 more than last year) and 202 pounds-feet of torque. A supercharged V6 increases output to 210 horsepower and 246 pounds-feet (231 lb.-ft. with manual transmission). A 2.4-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine is available only with a 2WD King Cab XE, rated 143 hp and 154 lbs.-ft. of torque.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard with all three engines. A four-speed automatic is optional. Automatic transmission is standard on supercharged Crew Cabs. 2WD and 4WD are available with V6-powered Frontiers.
XE base-level trim is pretty basic. Power steering is included but even air conditioning is an option ($1199, which includes a radio and CD player). XE has 15-inch painted steel wheels and single-channel ABS for the rear wheels only.
SE comes with air conditioning, audio, and cruise control; four-wheel, three-channel ABS; automatic transmission; 16-inch alloy wheels; tilt steering with a leather-wrapped wheel; power windows; and other amenities. SE prices start at $20,569 for the King Cab, $22,289 for the Crew Cab.
Supercharged Frontiers are designated S/C and come with most SE equipment, plus 17-inch aluminum wheels with P265/55R17 (4x2) or P265/65R17 (4x4) BF Goodrich Rugged Trail tires, specially tuned suspension with raised ground clearance for 4x4 models, limited-slip differential, 100-watt AM/FM/CD audio system and titanium-colored gauges. S/C prices start at $20,819 for the King Cab and $23,789 for the Crew Cab. Leather-appointed bucket seats with red-on-charcoal stitching are an exclusive S/C option. New for 2003 is the Frontier SVE (for Supercharged Value Edition), a premium supercharged 4x4 model starting at $21,409 for the King Cab and $24,419 for the Crew Cab.
Desert Runner is based on the 4x2 King Cab V6 and emulates the specially prepared trucks used by teams to pre-run big desert races. Like those trucks, Desert Runners have two-wheel drive, but feature the same heavy-duty chassis, ride height and stance as the rugged 4x4 models. Nissan claims that the Desert Runner is roughly 500 pounds lighter than a standard Frontier King Cab V6 4x4 (eliminating four-wheel-drive alone saves 296 pounds), giving it 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. Special badges distinguish Desert Runner models, which are available in XE, SE, and S/C trim.
Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) with traction control ($749 on XE, $549 on SE and S/C) is a new option for 2003 Frontier 4x4s. VDC controls brake pressure and engine torque automatically to reduce understeer or oversteer in slippery sit.