Nissan and its trucks have a well-established history in the Second Biggest State. With Houston as a major port of entry for Asian importers, and the very real need for Texas ranchers and farmers to have something in their garage or barn with a bed, Nissan enjoyed a receptive audience for its first small pickups in the early ?60s. And for Nissan's trucks those warm and fuzzy feelings continue, amped up by the offroad-specific talents of Nissan's PRO-4X family.
Of course, constructing an offroad-capable small pickup or SUV isn't rocket science. But to provide credible off-road capability in combination with composed on-road comfort takes a special menu and, if trying to stay within a reasonable price point, special discipline. At a small event outside of Bandera, Texas, Nissan took the opportunity to remind us that established models with just a hint of fine tuning can continue to make a viable argument for both their initial purchase and long-term ownership.
Site for the evaluation was Medina River Ranch, featuring a Texas-specific mix of exotic wildlife, rugged terrain and spectacular vistas. Within an hour of downtown San Antonio or its airport, the ranch is a world away when taken at a 30-degree angle in 4-Lo. And with Nissan's midsize Frontier, full-size Titan and compact XTerra locked and loaded, the demonstration provided a compelling argument for two trucks and an SUV often overlooked by what are known in the industry as ?bottom of the funnel' shoppers.
Our first drive was in the PRO-4X Frontier. Described by Nissan as offering "full-size hardware with compact pickup value," the Frontier in any of its four guises (S, SV, PRO-4X and SL) is overbuilt, with a fully boxed frame, five bed rails and the most horsepower, via its 4.0 liter V6, than any other truck in the segment. As on the XTerra SUV, the PRO-4X features 16-inch wheels, BF Goodrich Rugged Trail tires, a rear locking differential and four skid plates. When added to the Frontier's rugged construction, the end result is a go-anywhere/do-anything pickup in either extended or crew cab configuration.
At the time of its introduction, Nissan's Titan was intended to wake up an industry, offering Japan's first full-size competition to America's Big Three. And while a number of industry firsts, including wide opening King Cab rear doors, an OEM spray-on bedliner, and Utili-track tie-downs generated enthusiasm, Nissan has lacked both follow-through and follow-up. Today's Titan PRO-4X remains surprisingly competent, but in a competitive landscape always shifting the Titan seems to be locked in a truck variant of Ground Hog day.
The evergreen XTerra PRO-4X delivered the day's biggest dose of surprise and delight. Like its Frontier stablemate, for '12 it receives little more than cosmetic tweaks. However, the XTerra continues to pack a lot of features into its compact footprint. The fully-boxed frame, shift-on-the-fly 4WD, Hill Start Assist/Descent Control and electronic locking rear differential certify its off-road credibility, while a rigid body structure and surprisingly supple suspension give it decent manners on the asphalt. You won't confuse the end result with Nissan's Rogue, but then, the XTerra's target customer wouldn't grab the Rogue for much more than a daily rental.
None of these Nissans constitute state-of-the-art entries in their respective segments. But for those preferring functionality to fashion we'd proffer PRO-4X, Nissan's dirty little secret.