It has been a full year since Nissan told America it was serious about building competitive fullsize trucks, illustrating that point with the release of the Titan 1/2-ton to compete head to head with the Ford F-150. And just in case there was any doubt, Nissan has completely revamped the Frontier line to show everyone that it is also serious about midsize trucks.
For 2005, Frontier has grown in size, and the line of anemic 3.3L V-6s have been eschewed for an all-new, class-leading 4.0L DOHC unit making 265 hp and 284 lb-ft torque, all without the use of a blower. For those who enjoy the fuel economy and simplicity of a four-cylinder, a 2.5L DOHC unit is available in the King Cab 4x2 versions. Buyers can choose between a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.
Featuring a fully boxed steel frame, with all components tucked inside the framerail for maximum ground clearance and protection, the Frontier is based on the Titan's F-Alpha platform. Other Titan features include two cab configurations, two- or four-wheel drive, and a factory-applied spray-in bedliner with Nissan's Utili-track bed channel system. With this new chassis and engine, the Frontier is rated to tow 6,500 pounds or carry 1,600 pounds of payload, which is 100 more than the Tacoma.
One of the biggest changes to the Frontier line is Nissan's Nismo Off-Road package, which is aimed at off-road enthusiasts. Think of it as Nissan's answer to the TRD Off-Road package, and after spending a day in the dirt, we really feel that Nissan has hit its mark, offering a very competent and capable off-roader. The Nismo package comes in either two- or four-wheel drive and with Bilstein shocks, largest in class P265/75R16 BFG Rugged Trail T/A all-terrain tires, full skidplates, an electronic locking rear differential, four-wheel limited slip (ABLS), Hill Decent Control (HDC), and Hill Start Assist (HSA). Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) is optional. With this type of hardware, you won't need much more than a quality lift to tackle extreme trails.
Out on the highway, we thought the Frontier offered a firm but comfortable ride, if not as smooth as the Tacoma TRD we tested. Handling is about what we expected from a midsize 4x4. The operation of the new engine and transmission are exceptional together, but some vibration does reach the cabin. For those in adverse climates, the Frontier is one of the few entries in this segment that offers heated leather power seats and heated mirrors as options.
While we were pretty impressed with the Frontier over all, our complaints centered on the somewhat bland interior, which falls short of new truck buyer expectations for quality plastics and exciting looks. For example, Nissan surprised us with a very comprehensive gauge cluster and trip computer, one of the best in its category; however, they lack the style buyers are looking for when compared with the competition. Most of the testers agreed that the Frontier is a stout, go-anywhere, do-anything, functional performer, but it sacrifices a little form in the process.
From The Logbook:If you want to seat more than two, get a Crew Cab!* Senior Tech Editor Bob Ryder
The interior is basic and bland, not very exciting.* Feature Editor Travis Noack
Off-Road, the Nismo package proved that Nissan has spent its fair share of time in the dirt, mud, and over rough terrain.* Associate Editor Dan Ward
After several tries to fishtail the Frontier in the dirt, I realized that the VDC was doing its job. Thankfully, Nissan provided a switch to turn the fun back on.* Associate Editor Sean P. Holman