How does an automaker go about making a great compact pickup even better? Give it more power, more utility and more off-road prowess.
And that's exactly the route Nissan took with its complete redesign of the Frontier this past year.
The 2005 Frontier, which went on sale in December, is better than its predecessor in almost every aspect, which is surprising considering how good the previous model already was.
The all-new Frontier, which returns unchanged for 2006, represents a solid progression forward in the design of Nissan's popular compact, which is built in Smyrna, Tenn., where Nissan has been making pickups since the mid-1980s. It was the first U.S. assembly plant for a Japanese automaker, and it has been turning out high-quality products since Day One.
This newest Frontier got its exterior styling straight from its new big brother, the Titan pickup that was introduced in mid-2003 as Nissan's first entry in the full-size truck market.
"The award-winning Titan sets the standard for innovation in pickup design, regardless of size -- which, in turn, set the tone for the creation of the 2005 Frontier," Mark McNabb, vice president and general manager for Nissan North America, said during a media introduction of the Frontier.
"With the debut of the all-new Frontier, we're solidifying Nissan's truck presence in both the full-size and compact truck segments -- essentially giving buyers the same tough truck in large and extra large."
The Titan is quite beefy, and the new Frontier gets that same aggressive styling -- which makes it look much bigger than before even though it's really just slightly larger than the 2004 model it replaces.
Its new ruggedness comes from the new body-on-steel-frame arrangement that is based on Nissan's F-Alpha chassis, which is the same one used for the Titan.
To go with the beefier looks, the Frontier will come with a more powerful engine for 2005, a 4.0-liter, double-overhead-cam V-6 rated at 250 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque (according to preliminary specifications, subject to change when the production model is released, Nissan says).
That's a 70-horsepower increase in power over the 3.3-liter V-6 used in the current model.
The extra power and the rugged F-Alpha chassis allow the new Frontier to tow trailers weighing up to 5,500 pounds.
Besides borrowing styling cues from the Titan, the new Frontier also will get a standard factory sprayed-in bedliner, as well as the utilitrack bed tie-down system. The Titan, which is built at Nissan's new factory in Canton, Miss., was the first truck to be offered with a factory installed spray-in bedliner.
Nissan offers the Frontier in King Cab and Crew Cab styles, and in either two- or four-wheel drive configurations. Our test model was the Crew Cab two-wheel-drive version.
Nissan introduced the first Frontier Crew Cab model almost four years ago, and it was a best-seller almost overnight. Where most pickup sales as recently as 10 years ago were of regular-cab models (with only a front seat), most now have a least the rear-opening back doors and seating for kids behind the front seat, as in the King Cab model, or, as in the case of the Crew Cab, a full-length back seat with two real rear doors, hinged at the front.
Most automakers who sell compact pickups have introduced crew-cab versions since 2000, including Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet/GMC, Dodge and now, even Honda. (Even Ford has one, but it's not part of the company's compact Ranger lineup; it's the Explorer Sport Trac.)
With the redesign of the Frontier, there is no regular-cab model in the lineup. While the King Cab was expected to be the best-seller, the company predicted that the Crew Cab would account for at least 40 percent of sales.
We found that two adults and a child could sit comfortably in the back seat of the Crew Cab, with two more adults riding quite comfortably up front. Essentially, the Crew Cab is the Xterra from the nose to just behind the rear seat, where the pickup bed begins. Therefore, it's as roomy and comfortable as the SUV.
The new Frontier's wheelbase is 9.8 inches longer than that of the 2004 model, while the overall length is 2.6 inches longer for the King Cab and 5.6 inches for the Crew Cab. Also shared with the Titan is the Frontier's new all-steel double-wishbone front suspension and rigid-leaf rear suspension with overslung leaf springs optimized for off-road driving.
Standard is power rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel antilock disc brakes. As for the new engine used in the 2005 Frontier (and the new Pathfinder and Xterra SUVs, as well), it is based on the VQ engine series used in the 350Z, Maxima, Altima, Murano and Quest. It has been specifically tuned for truck use, Nissan says. It has an aluminum block.
A base King Cab model is offered with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, but Nissan expects the majority of sales to be Frontiers equipped with the V-6, which is the only engine available in the Crew Cab version.
Transmission choices are the same five-speed automatic used in the new Pathfinder and Xterra, or a six-speed manual. Ours came with the smooth-shifting automatic, though, which is the only one offered in the uplevel LE model we drove; the base SE can have either the manual or the automatic.
Frontier four-wheel-drive models get a shift-on-the-fly system with low range capability, which is a requirement for a serious off-road machine. It's the same system we recently tested on the new 2005 Xterra, which essentially is the same vehicle underneath as the new Frontier.
A new, advanced off-road traction system is available on the Frontier, along with performance gas shocks and alloy wheels with off-road performance tires.
Several choices of wheels and tires are offered, including 17-inch wheels with 265/65R17 tires.
Our test model, the Crew Cab LE, carries a base price of $23,900 (plus $580 freight). It comes very well-equipped at that price.
Standard equipment includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes; power rack-and-pinion steering; body-color bumpers, mirrors, door handles and side molding; tubular step rails and roof rack with cross bars; fog lights; Utili-Track bed-tiedown system with spray-in liner; locking detachable tailgate; chrome exhaust tip and splash guards; reclining front bucket seats with eight-way adjustment for the driver's side; AM/FM/compact-disc player with six speakers; air conditioning with second-row outlets; power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote; automatic headlights; leather steering wheel; cruise control; tilt steering wheel; front center console with storage and armrest; front map-reading lights and trip computer; automatic day/night mirror with compass and outside-temperature display; universal garage/gate opener; tire-pressure monitoring system; fold-flat front passenger seat and flip-up rear seats; three 12-volt power outlets; advanced air-bag system; and four cupholders plus front and rear door storage pockets.
Extras on our vehicle included side-curtain (front and rear) and side seat-mounted air bags (front), a $550 option; limited-slip rear differential ($300); Rockford Fosgate premium 380-watt audio package with six-disc, in-dash CD changer with MP3 playback, eight speakers and steering-wheel controls ($850); power tilt-and-slide sunroof ($700); and a leather interior package ($1,700), which also brought an eight-way power driver's seat and four-way power passenger seat (instead of the standard fold-down seat), as well as heated outside mirrors.
Total sticker was $28,850, including freight and options.
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the automatic-transmission V-6 model we tested were 16 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway; SE two-wheel-drive Crew Cab models with manual transmission are rated at 17 city/21 highway. The tank holds 21.1 gallons of fuel, and unleaded regular is acceptable.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.
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At a Glance 2005 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab LE 4x2
The package: Compact, four-door, five-passenger, rear-wheel drive, V-6 powered pickup.
Highlights: Redesigned for 2005, this is the latest generation Nissan's ever-popular compact pickup line. The Crew Cab is as roomy as a five-passenger SUV inside, and overall, the revised Frontier is more powerful and more capable than ever.
Negatives: Four-cylinder engine not available in Crew Cab configuration for those who want better fuel economy or a lower price.
Engine: 4.0-liter V-6.
Transmission: Five-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 265 hp./284 foot-pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Length: 205.5 inches.
Curb weight: 4,257 pounds.
Towing capacity: 6,300 pounds.
Cargo-bed capacity (5-foot bed) : 27.1 cubic feet.
EPA fuel economy: 16 city/20 highway.
Fuel capacity/type: 21.1 gallons/unleaded regular.
Base price range: $23,900 plus $580 freight.
Price as tested: $28,580, including freight and options.
On the Road rating: ***** (five stars out of five).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary according to manufacturer and/or dealer rebates, discounts and incentives, if any.
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