2008 Nissan Frontier Pick-up Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2008 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4x4 LE Long Bed

Timing is everything. My week with a 2008 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab LE pickup in 4x4 trim coincided with the first serious storms of the season. Heavy rain, strong winds, deep standing water, and streams crossing the road were the order of the day. The Frontier was the perfect vehicle for those less than lovely conditions.

It has been a while, like seven years, since I last drove a Frontier. Nissan had the first compact pickup in the country back in 1959. It was just a little ahead of the curve in the days of tailfinned Detroit behemoths, and its Japanese domestic market-spec 500-pound payload and 37 horsepower didn't exactly make a dent in the American market. But when compact pickups gained popularity after the fuel crises of the 1970s, Nissan was well-placed. It had the first long-bed compact truck in 1975, and the first extended cab - called "King Cab" by Nissan - in the small truck field in 1977. In 1998, the Nissan pickup got a name - Frontier - and in 1999, the Frontier became the first small crew cab truck offered for sale in the U.S.

Today's Frontier is the culmination of all of that Nissan truck history and more. It's gone a bit upscale, now offered in King Cab and Crew Cab form only, with 4x2 and 4x4 drivetrains. While the base XE and SE 4x2 King Cab models can be had with a 2.5-liter, 152-horsepower four-cylinder engine, the SE, LE, and Nismo trim levels come only with a 4.0-liter, 261-hp V6. 37 hp is probably the starter motor rating. Regular or long-bed versions of both cabs are available, with the long bed a useful six feet in length, 13 inches more than standard. In all Crew Cab and the upper King Cab models, the bed features a spray-in bedliner and the Util-track(tm) tie-down system.

When the 2008 Frontier Crew Cab LE showed up for the week's test drive, I noticed one very important detail as soon as I drove it down my rather narrow driveway. The Frontier is no longer a "compact" truck. It has gotten wider and taller, and equipped with the six-foot bed it's over 18 feet in length. Nissan calls it "the mid-size solution". Later, parked to a late-model full-size domestic brand extended-cab pickup, I eyeballed the size difference. It was maybe three or four inches in most measurements, maximum.

What that means is that there is no lack of space for people inside, even in the rear seat. And that rear seat cushion not only hold people in comfort, it flips up for secure inside cargo storage. If longer wheelbase and the six-foot bed length means that parking lot maneuverability is more like full-size pickup than compact car, it also means that more can be carried. And the built-in tie-down system, and available racks, trays, and storage systems add utility and versatility, as does a 6100-pound towing ability.

It probably won't be a contractor's special, living at construction sites, as it's not quite large enough, but the Frontier Crew Cab makes a lot of sense as personal transportation for active, outdoors-oriented people. It's more refined, quiet, and comfortable than ever. With the 4.0-liter engine power is never a concern, and there plenty of space for camping, climbing, bicycling, or fishing equipment. With a little ingenuity, small dirtbikes, folding kayaks, or even surfing or wind surfing paraphernalia could fit.

APPEARANCE: With styling cues in common with the other Nissan trucks and SUVs, particularly the full-size Titan pickup, there will be no doubt as to the Frontier's manufacturer. A massive-looking chromed "angled strut" grille, flanked by bright rectangular headlights, dominates the front view. The lines of the struts continue upward to the hood bulge, while the bodywork directly beneath the grille blends back to the front fender flares. The LE Crew Cab's front bumper is body-colored plastic, while the SE and Nismo have more traditional chrome. A tubular roof rack is a standard Crew Cab feature, and side steps, if fitted, match. The overall look is rugged, but not cartoonishly so. Body-to-bed proportions add to the look for both bed lengths, but the long-wheelbase long bed model is more conventionally proportioned. All Frontier models have a very useful locking, detachable tailgate.

COMFORT: The advantage of the Crew Cab long bed? Space inside and out. Anyone who has ever been subjected to the torture that was a compact-truck rear jump seat will appreciate the Crew Cab's rear rear seat, and if it's not holding passengers it can be flipped up for extra, and secure, inside storage space. There is even a little storage space, and a first-aid kit, underneath with it in passenger position. Up front are two good sport buckets. The driver's is power-adjustable in the LE, with the passenger's optionally so. As equipped, my test truck was a luxury personal-use vehicle with the "Leather Package", which adds leather seating surfaces, heated front seats and outside mirrors, and power adjustment for the front passenger seat. Good control layout and visibility enhance the driving experience, and the standard AM/FM/CD audio system provides news and entertainment. A higher-quality system is available separately or as a part of the new Technology Package, which also includes an auxiliary jack, XM satellite radio, and Bluetooth phone connectivity. The six-foot long bed is long enough for many items of sports equipment, or even small motorcycles with the tailgate down. It could also serve as an impromptu campsite.

SAFETY: Zone Body construction, with front and rear crumple zones and built-in passenger cabin protection, dual-stage front airbags, and four-wheel antilock vented disc brakes with dual-piston front and single-piston rear calipers are standard on the Frontier Crew Cab. Front seat-mounted side and ceiling-mounted full-length side curtain airbags are available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: No manufacturer has gotten more out of fewer basic platforms than Nissan. Its "F-Alpha" body-on-frame architecture lies beneath all of its body-on-frame trucks and SUVs, yet they are quite different in size and powerplant use. Many components are shared with the larger Titan, including the design of the independent front and solid-axle rear suspension. With a bit of cushioning effect from the large 265/65x17 tires, and the more rearward weight distribution of the crew cab, the ride is commendably comfortable, although there is little doubt that it is a truck. And yes, care needs to be taken on wet pavement, as it can lose traction momentarily at launch if too much throttle is applied. Such is the nature of a pickup. If off-road application is in mind, Nissan has thoughtfully tucked all important pieces of driveline hardware (and the fuel tank) out of harm's way at least at frame rail level.

PERFORMANCE: Nissan also gets more out of a few basic engine designs than any other automaker. If the design specs for Frontier's 4.0-liter V6 sound familiar - dual overhead cams with continuously-variable cam phasing, aluminum alloy construction, 24 valves, etc... yes, it's a Nissan VQ-series engine, cousin of that found in the 350Z. Here it's tuned more for low- and midrange torque, but it still likes to rev. And with 261 horsepower(at 5600 rpm) and 281 lb-ft of torque (at 4000 rpm) getting to the ground by means of a five-speed automatic transmission, the Frontier has no problem merging into traffic. Towing capacity is 6100 pounds, so if it doesn't fit in the bed, hook up a trailer. The 4WD system is electronically controlled by a knob on the dash, and is designed for part-time slick- and off-road use. A variety of electronically-based driver aids including Hill Descent Control and Vehicle Dynamic Control are available.

CONCLUSIONS: Nissan's little pickup has grown up, but in pickups bigger can be better.

SPECIFICATIONS

2008 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab LE 4x4 Long Bed

Base Price			$ 27,950
Price As Tested 		$ 31,660
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 24-valve aluminum
				 alloy V6
Engine Size			4.0 liters / 241 cu. in.
Horsepower			261 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			281 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		139.9 in. / 219.4 in.
Curb Weight			4552 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		17.4
Fuel Capacity			21.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P265/65 TR17 B F Goodrich Long Trail T/A
Brakes, front/rear		4-wheel vented disc, dual-piston front,
				 single-piston real calipers,
				 ABS, EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
				  solid axle with leaf springs
Ground Clearance		8.9 minimum
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine, part-time
dual-range four-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		14 / 19 / 15
0 to 60 mph				est 9 sec
Payload 			1262 lbs.
Towing Capacity 		6100 lbs.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Floor mats				$  105
Moonroof and Side/Curtain Airbag Package - includes:
  front seat-mounted side impact airbags, 
  roof-mounted side-impact/rollover air bags,
  power moonroof			$ 1,250
Side Step Rails 			$   300
Leather Package - includes:
  leather-appointed seats, heated front
  seats, 4-way power front passenger seat,
  dual heated outside mirrors, rear
  fold-down armrest			$ 1,350
Destination charge			$   705

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