Mid-size pickup truck sales are holding strong. Along with entries from the Big Three, all major Japanese manufacturers have one, and there are rumors the Koreans are planning to get in the act. Part of Nissan's plans are to focus on truck sales, and the Frontier has enough going for it that dominance in the segment is not such a far-fetched idea. For a starting price of $15,900 for the King Cab, there's a lot of truck to enjoy. The Frontier features a 3-year/36,000-mile limited warranty.
First Glance: Built Like Big Brother Titan
Nissan's claim that the Frontier offers "full-size hardware in a mid-size package" can be validated easily. First, the F-Alpha platform, which serves as the Frontier's frame, is straight from the Titan full-size truck. Frontier also shares some of the Titan's component designs, such as the double-wishbone front suspension and solid rear axle. If you look at the front of the trucks, the only way to tell them apart would be primarily size. Both feature the angled strut chrome bars that dominate the facades of all Nissan pickups and SUVs. Short front and rear overhangs along with fender flares give the Frontier an aggressive look. The NISMO (Nissan Motorsports) edition that served as our test vehicle receives unique 16-inch alloy wheels with BFGoodrich off-road tires, as well as NISMO badging, a front skidplate for underbody protection when traveling off road, a spray-in bedliner, Bilstein shocks, and other NISMO-specific items. The Sunroof package for $900 also includes the roof rack with crossbars for storing luggage and other items you don't want to get dirty on the trail when heading to the campsite. We also would opt for the $300 lightweight sliding bed extender, which allows more cargo-carrying options.
In the Frontier's Driver's Seat
2006 Nissan Frontier NISMO© B.J. Killeen
The first thing you notice in the cabin is the spaciousness, not something most pickups are known for offering. The driver's seat is especially pleasant since the cutout on the door panel and the low center console tunnel means your legs aren't being pushed or stabbed by anything hard and plastic. Being able to stretch the gams on a long journey really makes a tremendous difference. The cool (both in looks and air circulation) fabric honeycomb pattern seats look good and provide good support, again, something that manufacturers usually include on sedans but forget about in pickups. I liked the steering wheel-mounted controls (audio buttons are part of the Premium Audio Package for $850), and the instruments are clean and easy to read. There's storage all over the cab, including under the back seats in our Crew Cab test model, and a first-aid kit that might come in handy when off road and out of cell phone range. The only things missing on this interior were an MP3 auxiliary jack (have iPod, will travel), and outside temperature gauge (I know I can just roll down the window and check, but it's a girl thing), auto on/off headlamps, and a navigation system, all of which I'm sure will be on the next-generation version.
On the Road in the Frontier Truck
I've always been a pickup kind of girl. From the moment I saw how cool my friend Heidi looked in her little red standard cab oh so many years ago, I knew that was the ride for me. Alas, as a teenager, I was vetoed by my dad, who said the ride is miserable, and there was no place to put anything. That was then and this is now. Ride quality on this Nissan is so impressive you'd be hard-pressed to tell it from a mid-level sedan. The suspension's damping characteristics were well-controlled, and the steering felt tight and responsive, even when slicing up the canyon roads through the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains. I drove the Frontier on the press intro event about two years ago; I remembered how much I liked being in it then, and how my opinion had not changed a bit. The engine is responsive, but is not stealth when pinning the throttle to the carpet, but once at cruising speed regains its composure nicely. My drive through the mountains and past the world famous Rock Store on Mullholland Highway eventually dumped me out at Pacific Coast Highway, where the need for pickups is evidenced by all the surfers with longboards in the beds. The BFG tires were a tad noisy on the asphalt, but provide needed grip in the mud and dirt.
2006 Nissan Frontier NISMO© B.J. Killeen
Whether you choose the XE model with the 2.5-liter 154-hp engine or the VQ40 4.0-liter 265-hp SE, LE, or NISMO model, you won't be disappointed. In the nearly 50 years Nissan's been building trucks, it's clear the engineers know what it takes to make a great pickup. For comparison, the Frontier's max tow rating of 6,500 on the 4x2 model (6,300 on 4x4) pounds ties the Toyota Tacoma with the tow prep package, but beats both the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Throw in the Utilitrack bed channel tie down system that adjusts to carry different cargo, available Hill Descent Control that does downhill braking for you, or the Hill Start Assist that keeps the vehicle from sliding backward when on a dirt hill, and there are two more reasons why this is a great everyday pickup. As with all trucks, the variety of configurations is mind numbing. Start with the XE King Cab (Frontier isn't available in a Regular Cab) 4x2 with the inline four, and you'll pay under $16,000. Go whole hog with the NISMO Crew Cab V6 4x4, and it's $27,200. Toss in all available options, and you land just under $33,000. Which means for about 20 grand, you'll get everything you need and many things you want in this impressive mid-size truck.