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Nissan thinks big with new Frontier

March 19, 2005|by TIM SPELL/Motor Matters

Often a manufacturer's claim of "new" actually means fresh sheet metal shrouding old technology. In the case of Nissan's 2005 Frontier, nothing is a carryover but the name.

Not even its classification remains the same. Frontier has graduated from the compact to midsize segment.

"The Frontier has essentially grown from every direction," said John Stramotas, model line manager for Nissan marketing. "It's the first to offer full-size hardware in a midsize package."

Nissan's new Frontier stretches out on frame rails shared with its full-size Titan pickup sibling. At 126 inches, its wheelbase is almost 10 inches longer than its predecessor's. With Frontier's 205-inch overall length, the King Cab is nearly 3 inches longer and the Crew Cab is 5.6 inches longer than the 2004 model.

Fittingly, the beefier Frontier gets an exterior favoring the Titan's. Designers pumped up macho with a chrome Titan-style angle-strut grille, large steel fender flares, chrome bumpers, and short front and rear overhangs.

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Body sides are cleanly sculpted, and feature Titan-inspired strap door handles and a horizontal channel grooved into each of the lower door sides. The fuel-filler door, which has been switched to the driver's side, bends with vs. cuts into the rear fender flare.

This emphasis on big - and more importantly what's hot - erases the need for a regular-cab configuration and limits four-cylinder power to a single base model. Nissan covers the bases with a large selection of in-demand styles and prices to fit a range of budgets.

Frontiers are offered in a base XE 2WD King Cab model, and SE, LE and offroad-ready NISMO models with a choice of King Cab or Crew Cab and 2WD or 4x4 configurations. King Cabs are base priced at $15,500 in 2WD XE, I-4 form, and the 2WD SE Crew Cab V-6 has a $20,550 starting price. The NISMO, short for Nissan Motorsports International Offroad, 2WD King Cab model starts at $22,100.

Bed lengths are about 6-foot-1-inch long for King Cab models and a half-inch shy of 5 feet for Crew Cabs. A spray-on bedliner is standard on Crew Cabs and LE King Cabs, and optional on NISMO King Cab models. Flexibility for securing cargo is offered with an available Utili-Track C-Channel System.

Frontier enters the midsize segment, where three-quarters of the industry's sales are five- or six-cylinder models, with a V-6 that Nissan touts as more than competitive. This 4.0-liter V-6 cranks out an impressive 256 horsepower and 284 lbs.-ft. of torque.

It's offered with six-speed manual and five-speed automatic transmissions. A 2WD model with a manual transmission gets a fuel economy rating as high as an estimated 17 miles per gallon, city, and 21 mpg, highway. Towing capacity is up to 6,500 pounds.

The 2.5-liter four-cylinder, offered only with the XE model, delivers 154 horsepower. and 173 lbs.-ft. of torque. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or the five-speed automatic. Fuel economy with a manual transmission is 22 mpg, city, and 25 mpg, highway.

Along with big muscle, Nissan places an engineering focus on off-road capability. The top-flight NISMO touts trailblazing credentials in both 2WD and 4x4 form. These enhancements include: 10.1-inch ground clearance; BFGoodrich P265/75R-16 Rugged Trail tires; 16x7-inch Off-Road Design wheels; heavy-duty, NISMO-spec Bilstein shocks; rear locking differential; Active Brake Limited Slip; fog lamps; mud guards; bed-side decals; and skid plates covering the oil pan, transfer case and fuel tank.

An optional Traction Package is available to add surefootedness to NISMO and LE models. It includes: Hill Start Assist, which holds the vehicle in place for up to 2 seconds on hill starts; Hill Descent Control, which allow 4x4 hill descents under constant speed; and Vehicle Dynamic Control, which, in adverse conditions, controls individual wheel brakes or cuts engine power to aid stability.

While the Frontier treks through the rough stuff, passengers enjoy a roomier, more comfortable interior. Front buckets are offered with an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat and four-way power-adjustable passenger seat, and a heating feature. A center console and fold-flat passenger seat are standard on all models, and all but the XE have seat height adjustments and adjustable driver-seat lumbar.

NISMO King Cab models feature flip-up rear seat cushions and all Crew Cabs offer the flexibility of 60/40-split flip-up cushions and fold-up rear seatbacks. Cloth is the standard upholstery and leather is optional on LE models.

Nissan's "think-big" philosophy, with greater interior and exterior dimensions, and more V-6 workhorse grunt, allows the consumer to buy a capable midsizer that closely shadows Nissan's full-size Titan.

(Tim Spell is the automotive writer for the Houston Chronicle Cars & Trucks section.)

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2005

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