We were ambitious, committed, determined to get the job done. We didn't care that the Nismo, the top truck in Nissan's midsize Frontier line, got 15 miles per gallon in the city and 20 miles per gallon on the highway. We dismissed its ride, which was somewhere north of brutal, especially on broken city streets. We simply wanted to use and abuse it, to exploit its hauling and towing power.
But we did absolutely nothing.
We didn't remove one box, one bag of seldom-used clothing, one ancient computer from the basement's clutter.
The Frontier Nismo -- shorthand for Nissan Motorsports -- is designed for hard work and extreme play. Its fully boxed steel frame makes it the perfect truck for off-road use. But we didn't do that, either.
Instead, we used all of the Frontier Nismo's toughness to do what we easily could have done in a fuel-efficient, subcompact sedan.
We visited shopping centers, went to restaurants, visited relatives and went to church. And in the end, we tallied the cost of our week-long profligacy -- $63.30 to fill the Frontier Nismo's 21.1 gallon tank with regular unleaded gasoline at a cost of $3 per gallon.
How many people buy trucks like the Frontier Nismo with noble intentions that have as much chance of fulfillment as the average political promise? How many salivate over horsepower and torque, the latter being the real measure of a vehicle's ability to haul and tow, only to be weighted down by beer, pretzels and burgers and a media-room sofa that has the gravitational pull of a black hole? How many actually go off-road, putting the Frontier Nismo's considerable prowess to the test? And if they dare leave paved highways, how often do they make such trips?
Nissan's publicists swear that Frontier Nismo owners are atypical, meaning that they are not like the pickup truck poseurs who abandoned their rugged four-wheel-drive steeds when regular gasoline prices topped $2.50 a gallon. Frontier Nismo owners, like their Hummer H3 counterparts in the General Motors Corp. camp and FJ Cruiser devotees in the greener-than-thou Church of Toyota Motor Corp., actually go off-road to snowboard, mountain climb and windsurf, Nissan's publicists say.
Maybe they are right. But it's a hard claim to prove by empirical observation.
I have come across a few Frontier Nismo owners in wild places -- mostly outside of bars and at tailgate parties in Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and that part of Virginia, from Richmond on down, that believes the South won the Civil War.
On vacation last month, I met a Frontier Nismo owner at the Walden Pond State Reservation near Concord, Mass. He was a naturalist and a swimmer. I wonder what Henry David Thoreau would have thought about his truck, parked on a lot across from a park latrine proudly labeled with notices that it used no water in its disposal of human waste.
But I'm being cheeky.
The Frontier Nismo is one of the best-built, best-priced, midsize four-wheel-drive pickup trucks available. It can carry a payload, the weight of cargo onboard, of 1,381 pounds. It can tow a trailer weighing 6,500 pounds. It can -- and I know this, because I've done it with earlier Frontier Nismo models -- crawl over rocks; move through mud, snow and dust; and climb steep mountain trails.
But I, like most people, including many Frontier Nismo owners, am not inclined to do any of those things on a regular basis.
Claims to the contrary make good advertising copy. But after schlepping around Northern Virginia and environs in a pickup truck that weighs 4,455 pounds and barely gets 20 miles per gallon on a lightly loaded highway run, I'm left wondering if the Frontier Nismo and all of the extreme-sports, extreme-ride hype attached to it make any sense, let alone a sensible contribution to a sound national energy policy.
Nuts & Bolts 2006 Nissan Frontier Nismo
Complaints: The Frontier Nismo rides like a rugged truck, especially on ruined city streets. Also, test-drive assistant Ria Manglapus didn't like the weight of its optional sliding bed extender, which can be used to handle larger loads.
Ride, acceleration and handling: It has no pretensions of sedan-like comfort. Acceleration is excellent. But all of that torque can spin the heck out of the truck's rear wheels on wet roads when it is in two-wheel-drive. It handles ponderously -- like a truck.
Head-turning quotient: It has the demeanor of a physically fit young man who has enough money, time and sense of adventure to do and go where he wants when he wants. That's its ultimate appeal.
Body style/layout: It is a compact front-engine, midsize, short-bed pickup available with rear-wheel drive or on-demand four-wheel drive. It can be bought as a King Cab with narrow rear-access doors, or as the tested Crew Cab, with larger, more traditional, forward-hinged rear doors (and more interior space). The Nismo is the top of the Frontier line, which includes the Frontier XE (base), SE (popularly equipped) and LE (luxury edition).
Engine/transmission: The Frontier Nismo comes with a 4-liter V-6 engine that develops 265 horsepower at 5,600 revolutions per minute and 284 foot-pounds (pound-feet to you purists) of torque at 4,000 rpm. The engine can be mated to a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual.
Capacities: There is seating for five. Maximum payload is 1,381 pounds. Maximum towing capacity is 6,500 pounds. The fuel tank holds 21.1 gallons of unleaded gasoline.
Real-world mileage: We averaged 16 miles per gallon in city/highway travel.
Safety: Standard equipment includes ventilated disc brakes front and rear, antilock braking system and traction control.
Price: Base price on the 2006 Frontier Nismo Crew Cab with automatic transmission is $27,200. Dealer's invoice price on base model is $25,155. Price as tested is $30,765, including $2,960 in options (including Rockford Fosgate sound system, side air bags, stability control, Sirius satellite radio, sliding bed extender) and a $605 destination charge. Dealer's invoice price as tested is $28,257.
Purse-strings note: It's a high-quality off-road toy, essentially a sport-utility vehicle with a short cargo bed. Compare with top-line models of the Chevrolet Colorado, Dodge Dakota, Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma Pickups. For that matter, also compare with the Hummer H3 and Toyota FJ Cruiser SUVs.