The Nissan Frontier is a true mid-size pickup. Re-engineered just last year, the Frontier shares much of its inner architecture with the full-size Nissan Titan.
A powerful 4.0-liter V6 comes on all but the base model. Nissan's V6, rated at 265 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque, tops any straight-5 or V6 the competition has to offer, and rivals the output of the Dodge Dakota's optional V8. Pair this with its strong chassis, and the Frontier offers up to 6500 pounds of towing capacity and 1500 pounds of payload. Yet it's maneuverable and easy to park.
Frontier is available with rear- or four-wheel drive, and in either King Cab or Crew Cab configurations. King Cabs come with two forward-facing rear seats and a 73.3-inch standard bed. Crew Cabs feature a roomy passenger compartment with amenities much like those you'd expect in a sport-utility vehicle, yet still provide a truck bed nearly five-feet long, even with the tailgate in its upright and locked position.
Frontier offers a Nismo (Nissan Motorsports) model, with special shock absorbers and tires, underbody component-protecting skid plates and an active traction system with technologies such as hill descent control and hill start assist.
Frontier was redesigned and launched as an all-new model for 2005 and there are no significant changes for 2006.
The 2006 Nissan Frontier is available in four versions: the base XE, the well-equipped SE, the more luxurious LE, and the Nismo off-road model. All except the XE are available in King Cab (an extended cab with auxiliary rear doors) or Crew Cab (four full-size doors) configurations, in rear-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD), and are powered by a V6 engine.
Frontier XE ($15,600) comes as a King Cab 2WD with a 154-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine though there is a choice of five-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic ($16,650). XE has manual-crank windows and 15-inch wheels. For 2006, the glove box has been upgraded with a lamp and lockable door with dampened opening. Options include cruise control ($250); a preferred package ($1,500) that includes air conditioning, AM/FM/CD audio system, tilt steering column, sliding rear window and privacy glass. New for 2006 is a power package ($750) that combines cruise control with power windows, locks (with keyless entry) and mirrors.
Safety features include an optional airbag package ($550) with side-impact airbags for torso protection and side-curtain airbags for head protection.
Frontier SE comes as a 2WD King Cab ($18,500), 4WD King Cab ($21,200), 2WD Crew Cab ($20,650), or 4WD Crew Cab ($23,350). Standard equipment includes air conditioning, chrome front bumper and grille, a sliding rear window, an AM/FM/CD audio system, tilt steering wheel. The 4.0-liter V6 produces 265 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard. Options for SE King Cab include a five-speed automatic transmission ($1,050), 16-inch alloy wheels ($300); a power package ($750) that incorporates windows, locks, mirrors and cruise control; and side-impact and side-curtain airbags ($550). Choose the Crew Cab and the option lists expands to include a sunroof ($700) and the power package with vehicle security system ($900).
All Frontier LE models come with automatic transmissions, including the 2WD King Cab ($22,300), 4WD King Cab ($25,000), 2WD Crew Cab $24,000) and 4WD Crew Cab ($26,650). LE models come with all the standard features of the SE plus power mirrors, windows and locks; fog lamps; chrome exhaust tips, door handles and exterior mirrors; remote keyless entry; height- and lumbar-adjustable driver's seat; leather-wrapped steering wheel; illuminated vanity mirrors; compass and temperature readouts; trip computer; sunglasses holder in an overhead console; driver's side seatback map pocket; and a first aid kit. LE options include an upgraded audio system with MP3 player and six-CD changer for the King Cab ($550); a Rockford Fosgate system for the Crew Cab ($850); a leather package for the Crew Cab ($1,700); and XM or Sirius satellite radio ($400).
The Nismo model is available as a 2WD King Cab with automatic transmission ($22,100), a 4WD King Cab with manual ($23,750) or automatic ($24,800), a 2WD Crew Cab with automatic ($24,150) or a 4WD Crew Cab with automatic ($26,850). All share most of their standard and optional equipment with the LE grade, but add as standard equipment special off-road wheels and tires, Bilstein shock absorbers, skid plates, and Nissan's Advanced Off-Road Traction System, which consists of limited-slip traction control, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control and Vehicle Dynamic Control.
The Advanced Off-Road Traction System is an option on SE and LE Frontiers with 4WD.
Options for all models include a sliding cargo bed floor tray ($220), a hard tonneau cover ($1,030), a sliding bed divider ($270), a non-sliding bed extender ($250), a sliding bed extender ($290), a tow-hitch receiver ($380) and bed rail caps and under rail bed liner ($430).
Safety is improved for rear-seat passengers when you order the optional side-curtain airbags that cover both front and side windows in the event of a side impact, providing head protection.
The Nissan Frontier has a bold, aggressive stance, just like its big brother, the full-size Nissan Titan, though in less intimidating dimensions. The Frontier's wheelbase is more than a foot shorter than the Titan's but its overall length is some two feet shorter. This means the Frontier's wheels are closer to its corners, enhancing not only its stance on the road but its clearance for dealing with obstacles while away from pavement.
Frontier uses a bold grille design noticed by other drivers as it emerges and enlarges in their rear-view mirrors. Body-colored steel fender flares contribute to the Frontier's presence.
All Frontiers have four-door access to their passenger compartments. King Cabs have rear-hinged auxiliary doors while Crew Cabs have four forward-hinged doors much like those on a sedan or sport-utility vehicle. (There is no regular cab version.)
Frontier cargo beds are 18 inches deep and 44.4 inches wide between the inner fenders of the rear wheels, as well as 58.8 inches wide at the tailgate and 61.4 inches wide between the tops of the bed rails. Beds are 73.3 inches long on King Cabs and 59.5 inches long on Crew Cabs. All Frontiers have tailgates equipped with a door-style lock.
A spray-on bed liner and Nissan's Utili-Track cargo security system come factory-installed on Crew Cab and LE King Cab models. Utili-Track includes special C-section rails: two in the bed floor, one along each top inner edge of the bed side rails, and one in the top of the bed header panel. Sliding cleats can be locked into position within the rails to secure a variety of cargo shapes, sizes and configurations. It's a great system and Nissan offers accessories that lock into it.
The Nissan Frontier interior was designed to be as versatile as its cargo bed. Climbing in is aided by grab handles on either side of the interior windshield support (A-pillar), with an additional grab handle in the interior roof just above the passenger-side door.
The front seats are comfortable yet supportive. The driver grasps a nicely sized steering wheel with a rim that has a tab-like enlargement on each side, right where you want to rest your thumbs to maintain a proper 9 and 3 o'clock driving position. The gauge array is large and complete, and has been dressed up a bit for 2006 with satin-chrome outlines around the dials and air vents. Controls for heating and ventilation systems have large knobs that are easy to find and to use. Similarly, the knob for switching between 2WD, 4WD, and low-range 4WD is easily accessible.
Defroster vents on the A-pillars are designed to quickly clear side windows in winter or humid weather conditions. Sun visors have extenders to help cover the full width of the side windows. A deep dotted matrix behind the interior rear-view mirror helps protect the driver's eyes when driving into the sun.
A covered storage tray sits on top of the center part of the dashboard. The Frontier has a pair of glove boxes, with additional storage in the door pockets and center console. Three power outlets are provided. Cup holders have removable inserts so they can handle large beverage containers.
Unlike earlier Frontiers, the new model has a standard, lever-operated handbrake, easy to grab even in the winter with gloves on and preferable to the pull-handle style used on some competing models.
Passengers riding in the back seat of the Crew Cab shouldn't be complaining about being cramped, not with 33.6 inches of legroom. Adults riding in the two forward-facing rear seats in the King Cab might not be eager for a long drive, but still have more than two feet to stretch their legs.
Entry into the rear seat is aided by grab handles built into both B-pillars (the vertical pillar alongside the front seat backs). Rear-seat passengers in all Frontiers have access to a pair of cup holders. The windows in the rear doors of Frontier Crew Cabs power down all the way.
Storage containers are built into the nearly flat rear floor beneath the rear seats in both cab styles, and the seat bottoms can be flipped up to provide additional cargo space.
The Nissan Frontier is built on the company's F-Alpha platform, which is shared with the Titan, Armada, Pathfinder, and Xterra. This F-Alpha architecture gives the Frontier a solid foundation that can be tuned for hauling cargo, traversing rough trails and for providing a comfortable ride around town or at expressway speeds. For the Frontier, the frame was shortened so the mid-size truck fits into a standard garage.
The Nismo off-road model we drove seemed as capable at highway speeds as it was driving through nearly two feet of rushing water flowing from creeks across Texas ranch roads. The Nismo's trail capabilities include a 31.5-degree approach angle.
Technology further enhances its worthiness off the beaten trail. Hill Descent Control walks the vehicle down steep descents. Hill Start Assist holds your position when you lift your foot off the brake while heading uphill. Limited-slip traction control helps redirect engine torque to the non-slipping drive wheels on low traction surfaces. It operates on the rear wheels on 2WD Nismo models and on all four wheels on 4WD models.
On the road, Nissan's Vehicle Dynamic Control can help the driver avoid accidents. It's set up to allow a little more sideslip than some electronic stability control systems, and we prefer this approach. Similar electronic stability control systems from other manufacturers often intervene too quickly to suit advanced drivers, but Nissan's VDC reminds us of the system in Porsches, effectively helping the driver maintain control without feeling it has taken over.
The speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering provides good feedback. The Frontier was stable and sure even when driven aggressively around curves. We found the brakes effective. The four-wheel disc brakes use big brake rotors for efficient cooling in repeated hard use.
The Frontier's 4.0-liter V6 engine is rated at 265 horsepower at 5600 rpm, which makes it the most powerful V6 in the mid-size pickup class. It provides 45 more horsepower than the largest engine available in the Chevrolet Colorado, 29 more horsepower (and while using regular fuel) than the V6 in the Toyota Tacoma, and 5 more horsepower than even the strongest V8 available in the Dodge Dakota. (The Dakota V8s develop more torque, however, important if you plan to pull a trailer.)
Nissan's six-speed manual and five-speed automatic transmissions are well-matched to the V6 engine, allowing the driver to exercise all of that power.
The Frontier XE's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine generates 154 horsepower, which is certainly adequate. In fact, it's 85 percent of the power produced by the 3.3-liter V6 available in the previous-generation Frontier.
The Nissan Frontier, all-new for 2005, boasts the most powerful V6 engine in its class, useful innovations such as the Utili-Track cargo securing system and spray-in bedliner, a comfortable cab and attractive styling. We think it's one of the best trucks in this class, sharing that mantle with the Toyota Tacoma.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Larry Edsall filed this report from Austin, Texas.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|Nissan Frontier XE King Cab 2WD 5M ($15,600); SE King Cab 2WD 6M ($18,500); SE King Cab 4WD 6M ($21,200); SE Crew Cab 4WD 6M ($23,350); LE King Cab 2WD 5A ($22,300); LE King Cab 4WD 5A ($25,000); Nismo King Cab 2WD 5A ($22,100); Nismo King Cab 4WD 6M ($23,750); Nismo Crew Cab 2WD LE ($23,900) |
|154-hp 2.5-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4; 265-hp 4.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6 |
|5-speed manual, 6-speed manual, 5-speed automatic |
|Safety equipment (Standard): |
|anti-lock brakes (ABS), dual front airbags, 3-point harness for all seating positions (with LATCH lower anchors and tethers for children child seat anchor system on Crew Cab), adjustable active head restraints for front seats |
|Safety equipment (Optional): |
|side-impact air bags, roof-mounted curtain airbags, vehicle dynamic control, active brake limited slip traction system |
|Basic warranty: |
|3 years/36,000 miles |
|Assembled in: |
|Smyrna, Tennessee |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): |
|Nissan Frontier Nismo Crew Cab 4WD 5A ($26,850) |
|Standard equipment: |
|chrome front bumper and grille, front tow hook, fog lamps, power exterior mirrors, rear-window defroster, spray-in bed liner, Utili-Track C-channel system with cleats, locking tailgate, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows/locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD audio, tilt steering wheel, driver-seat lumbar support, locking rear differential, active brake limited slip traction system, 16-inch off-road design alloy wheels, P265/75R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail OWL tires, alloy spare wheel, Bilstein off-road performance shock absorbers, skid plates (for oil pan, fuel tank and transfer case), first aid kit |
|Options as tested: |
|Traction Package includes Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control and Vehicle Dynamic Control ($500); air bag package includes side-impact and curtain airbags ($500); floor mats ($80); alloy spare credit (-$100) |
|Destination charge: |
|Gas Guzzler Tax: |
|Price as tested (MSRP) |
|four-wheel drive |
|4.0-liter dohc V6 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): |
|265 @ 5600 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): |
|284 @ 4000 |
|5-speed automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: |
|15/20 mpg. |
|125.9 in. |
|205.5/72.8/70.1 in. |
|Track, f/r: |
|61.8/61.8 in. |
|Turning circle: |
|43.3 ft. |
|Seating capacity: |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: |
|40.0/55.6/42.4 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: |
|38.7/58.0/33.6 in. |
|Cargo volume: |
|Towing capacity: |
|6500 lbs. |
|Suspension F: |
|independent, upper and lower A-arms, coil springs over gas-charged shocks, anti-roll bar |
|Suspension R: |
|live axle, leaf springs, gas-charged shocks |
|Ground clearance: |
|10.1 in. |
|Curb weight: |
|4502 lbs. |
|Brakes, f/r: |
|disc/disc w ABS in. |
|Fuel capacity: |
|21.1 gal. |