For several years, consumers in Thailand, Brazil and certain other overseas markets have been able to purchase and drive a vehicle never sold in the United States - a compact pickup truck with a full four-door cabin. Never sold, that is, until Nissan recently unveiled its 2000 Frontier Crew Cab. Until now, other manufacturers - notably Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. - have offered so-called rear access doors on selected models. But the Frontier is the first compact truck in the United States to feature four full-size forward-hinged doors.

And that's about the best compliment we can pay to a truck which otherwise is strictly middle-of-the-road.

He: There's just not much to set the Frontier apart from the competition. This would otherwise be just a two-star design, but I'm giving the Crew Cab three stars because Nissan is the first to offer a real four-door model in this segment. That's not to say the Frontier still isn't full of compromises.

She: For the first time in my life, I was thrilled that I didn't have a driver's-side vanity mirror. I was a victim of a bad haircut and when I got out of the salon and tried to examine myself in the mirror, there was nothing there. God works in mysterious ways. Or should I say, Jerry Hirschberg and the Nissan designers. I'm really surprised. Wasn't he a former rock star? You'd think he'd be vain enough to want a vanity mirror in there.

He: He probably designed it on a bad-hair day, too.

She: I know I'm probably shallow for starting on that harangue, so I will temper that with a compliment. The Frontier is lots of truck for under $20,000. Our test vehicle had a base price of $18,340 and a bottom line of $19,940. The seats were cloth and the interior was fairly austere. But if you need to haul up to five people and lots of equipment comfortably, this is a decent truck - even if you do give up about 18 inches of bed space for that extra room in the cabin. But the Frontier still has no personality. Couldn't they at least have thrown a couple Tasmanian Devil decals on it, or something?

He: Maybe they should have just hired you, the Hamtramck Devil, to do their marketing. But you didn't finish telling people what they get for their 20 grand. The Frontier Crew Cab has the single-overhead-cam 3.3-liter V-6, which makes 170 horsepower. Our test vehicle was fitted with the standard five-speed manual gearbox, but you can order a four-speed automatic. With either transmission, however, the V-6 still feels underpowered, especially if you have more than one or two people on board. And even with the manual, you get only about 16 miles per gallon in city driving, according to the EPA. Nissan carried over the suspension and most of the sheet metal on the 2000 model, which has the odd feel of being built with yesterday's technology. Nothing really looks or feels fresh on this truck.

She: So why are you giving it three stars?

He: Because I can haul my svelte c arcass into the rear without having to squeeze through one of those awful rear half-doors, like you get on the Ford Ranger or the Chevy S10.

She: You mentioned the old suspension. Nissan uses the regular 4x4 chassis for the Crew Cab, so even the two-wheel-drive model sits up high. That stopped me from picking up my grandma for church on Sunday because I knew I'd never get her up into it. And it reminded me of those compromises you were talking about. The Crew Cab has an old-style leaf-spring suspension with a solid axle in the rear. Without getting too technical, I can tell you the ride was bumpy and bouncy. Don't be fooled by the four doors. You won't get a sedan ride. You're going to feel like you're driving on a Texas back road in this truck.

He: If you think about it, that's probably a large part of the Frontier's appeal. I mean, all you have to do is look at the name. It evokes images of the Wild West and freedom and all those goofy guy things. What manly truck owne even want a vanity mirror, for Pete's sake?

She: I was glad there wasn't a vanity mirror, remember? I was just a little bit bummed that our test vehicle didn't have some of the neat Nissan accessories. You can get a tubular-style roof rack to carry skis or snowboards. And a bed-mounted bike rack. And a bed extender - every man's fantasy.

2000 Nissan Frontier 4x2 XE Crew Cab

Anita's rating: acceptable

Paul's rating:above average

Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup truck

Price: Base, $18,340; as tested, $19,940 (including $520 destination charge)

Engine: 3.3-liter V-6; 170 hp at 4,800 rpm; 200 lb-ft torque at 2,800 rpm

EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city/19 mpg highway

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,133 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Smyrna, Tenn.

What we liked: Full four-door design enables much easier access to rear compartment; lots more legroom for rear passengers; four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard; fairly austere cabin, but the under-$20,000 sticker is attractive

What we didn't like: Nondescript styling; V-6 engine feels anemic; no side air bags available; two-wheel-drive model sits as high as a 4x4, making climb up into; cabin difficult for short people; feels like yesterday's technology.