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Nissan Frontier pickup moves into the midsize range

February 28, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

For 2005, it's business as usual at Nissan, which can mean only one thing: a host of newly designed products including the junior-sized Frontier pickup.

In fact, the Frontier joins this year's Pathfinder and the Xterra - half of the company's truck/sport-utility-vehicle lineup - as recipients of full-on makeovers.

Maintaining a frenetic pace of product development is what Nissan is all about these days, a far cry from its near dormant position a few years ago. It's also a corporate edict to develop platforms and engines that can be shared with as many of the company's brands as possible.

The Tennessee-built Frontier is no exception to this rule and is now based on the same rugged chassis as the Pathfinder and Armada sport-utes as well as the full-size Titan truck.

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As a result, the compact pickup category has been abandoned as the Frontier gains close to 10 inches - yes, 10 - in wheelbase and nearly a half-foot in overall length, compared to the '04 model. Other than toting bigger loads, the added size will be appreciated in the restyled cabin, which is considerably more spacious than that of the outgoing pickup.

The newly minted midsize Frontier now finds itself in close proximity to Toyota's equally fresh Tacoma and reshaped Dodge Dakota haulers. GM's Colorado and Canyon trucks have also gone midsize and other manufacturers, including Mitsubishi, are taking the same approach.

The bigger size still means two variations in cab design, however. Extended King Cab models include two rear-hinged openings for easy access to the back seat while the four-door Crew Cab has a rear bench seat and a front-passenger bucket that folds to accommodate bulkier cargo.

The Crew Cab is obviously best at transporting people to the job or camp site, but its 5-foot bed gives up about a foot to the extended King Cab.

Starting things out is the Frontier XE King Cab, which is available in rear drive only and with a 154-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. From there, you quickly move up, with thrust supplied by a new 4.0-liter V-6 that produces 265 horsepower.

The midsized platform combined with the big power delivered by the V-6 allows the Frontier to tow up to 6,500 pounds.

The stout powerplant is standard issue on SE, LE and NISMO (Nissan Motorsports) models. The latter is essentially an off-road-equipped Frontier with protective skid plates and a hiked-up suspension that uses special performance shocks. As with the SE and LE, NISMO is available in two- or four-wheel drive, but an electronic locking rear differential is standard on 4x4 versions.

A five-speed manual transmission comes standard on the XE, while a six-speed gearbox is standard on all V-6 Frontiers except the luxury-oriented LE that carries a mandatory five-speed automatic (optional on other models).

Opting for a Frontier with a four-wheel drive/automatic transmission combo gains you access to Nissan's Hill Descent Control, a system that keeps the truck from freight-training down steep slopes. Also available is Hill Start Assist that gives the driver two full seconds to lift off the brake pedal and step on the gas without rolling backward.

No doubt, the significant upgrades in size, load capacity and power will enhance the Frontier's popularity with truck buyers seeking a rugged, all-around performer that's less expensive to buy and operate than a full-size rig. The fact that the Frontier is blessed with the good looks of its siblings can only help out the cause.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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