Get in your favorite easy chair before you start reading this. The new Frontier may be setting new standards in the compact truck market. With the market for trucks and sport utes being the fastest growing segment in the automobile industry, passenger comfort is a high priority. For a small truck, the Frontier is meeting that "comfy feeling" goal.
In its seventh generation, the new Frontier is the first significant change for Nissan in nearly 10 years. They have carried over the frame with improvements to reduce noise and vibration. New frame stiffness allows for softer spring rates and shock valving without compromising its intended purpose as a utility vehicle and a truck.
Its all-new body may be the best looking of all small pickups. The lines are simple and purposeful. It has a massive, sleeker look without a lot of busyness. Large fender flares and mudguards add to its aggressive appearance. This new cleanliness vaults the Frontier to the head of its class in the looks department.
Inside, drivers and passengers will be rewarded with some of the most comfortable seats ever found in a small pickup. The upgraded XE had bucket seats that conformed to my body as well as my much smaller wife, Kim. She made special mention of the unexpected comfort in the "front office" accommodations.
Nissan also did their homework in the design of the new dash. The driver's pod contains a large center speedo flanked by a tach to the right and fuel and temp gauges to the left. Beneath all four gauges is an annunciator panel of warning lights. Since this vehicle follows my test of the MBZ ML 430, I couldn't help but noticed the striking similarity between the two panel layouts.
To the right are the HVAC controls, with a special warning light displayed prominently for the right seat airbag being disabled (a key switch on the lower console does the disabling). Beneath is the sound system, with a single play CD and cassette. With its rear mounted sub woofer, the sound quality was quite full with clean highs and deep bass.
The center console has three cupholders in the front, with a special design with cutouts for mug handles and two cupholders in the rear seating area. Access to the rear is without a third door but not that difficult, at least for kids. Nissan chose to keep the price down and not offer a third door. I hope they made the right decision.
Another nitpick was the design of the emergency brake. Located under the dash and near the steering column, it was awkward to use and difficult to release.
The rear seats fold down from the sidewall and are just right for kids. They could be used by an adult in a pinch as they certainly beat walking. But my eight year old thought they were really "cool" and chose to ride in the rear.
V-6 power is new for 1999 and is a welcome addition to the 2.4L inline four. The new 3.3L SOHC, 12 valve, V-6 puts out a stout 170 hp at only 4,800 rpm and 200 ft-lb of torque at a very low 2,800 rpm. This means an engine of great flexibility with a wide powerband. When compared to the four, the V-6 produces 27 more horsepower at 400 less rpm and 46 more ft-lbs of torque at 1,600 less rpm. The V-6 is worth the extra money, if not for the power then for the extra smoothness, quiet and utility.
Performance numbers bear the fruit of the extra power. 0-60 averaged 10 seconds flat with the five speed manual. Passing times are also responsive. 50-70 mph averaged 5.9 seconds and passing up a grade will slow that time to 10.2 seconds (all done in third gear). Expect the four cylinder to be at least a second slower to 60.
EPA rates fuel economy at 16/19 city/highway. I averaged about 17.5 during my test with lots of deep throttle usage and not much highway driving.
This Frontier had a five speed manual tranny. Its large shifter looks ungainly sticking out of the console, but its positioning was not hap hazard. The shift handle falls readily at hand and the throws are precise, relatively short and smooth. The clutch action was light, progressive and easy to modulate. Smooth shifts were a breeze.
Next to the shift stick, was a smaller lever for the four wheel drive. Shifting on the fly from two-wheel high to four-wheel high is permissible without the clutch. Moving into or out of four-wheel low requires stopping the Nissan and depressing the clutch pedal.
My test vehicle came with the Off Road Packaged ($525) which included huge 265/70X15 all season radials mounted on good looking six spoke, seven inch wide alloys. In the snow the Frontier strutted its stuff with confident precise handling with a go anywhere ability. Standard ABS and four-wheel drive with a limited slip made fear non-existent. Hard braking with ABS means control can be maintained in all but the most severe conditions.
With its new softer suspension, the ride is surprisingly smooth, supple and well controlled. Ponderosa Road was reasonably smooth with little jarring and unpleasantness. In bumpy corners the rear end stayed put. The tight body exhibited no rattles or creaks. Its highway ride was smooth and quiet with no porpoising over tar strips or expansion joints.
Cornering power and grip were excellent. The twisties of Green Valley Road and the byways of Apple Hill were easy and could be attacked at speed without any twitchiness. The power steering gave good road feel with some predictable understeer partly due to a weight bias of 57/43 percent towards the front end. With its balance of a comfy ride, high fun quotient, reasonable economy and extensive utility this unit would make a great everyday driver.
Now for the good news. This pickup is reasonably priced. The base price of my test rig is $18,290. It came with five packages starting with the power package of windows, doors, locks and mirrors with a security system and remote ($780). The value package is a $949 bargain which includes AC, chrome bumper and grille, privacy glass, 15 inch alloys, sliding rear window and more. The sport package at $749 adds a premium sound system with sub woofer and CD and a flip up and removable glass sunroof. The comfort package at $399 adds cruise, tilt and intermittent wipers. The off road package for $525 (a bargain and a necessity for a 4X4) includes the 265/70 tires, limited slip differential and tach.
Also with the truck were floor mats ($59) and a nifty Nissan bedliner for $299. With destination of $490 the total was $22,540, a real value in today's market. This is a loaded 4X4 sport truck with great looks, lots of utility and the added bonus of some real comfort.
The same truck with a four cylinder engine is priced a $1,000 less than the V-6 and the four speed automatic will add $1,050.
Nissan Frontiers not only come with a three year 36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty, but also have a five year, 60,000 mile powertrain warranty. A nice bonus.
Frontiers start at $11,490 in a regular cab, 4X2, four cylinder five speed manual all the way to about $23,500.
SPECIFICATIONS Price $11,490 to about $23,000 Engine 3.3L, SOHC V-6, 170 hp @ 4,800 rpm 2 valve heads 200 lb-ft of torque @ 2,800 rpm 2.4L, DOHC I-4, 143 hp @ 5,200 rpm 4 valve heads 154 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm Configuration Longitudinal front engine rear wheel drive, four wheel drive Transmission 5 speed manual 4 speed electronically controlled automatic Transfer case 2 speed, manual controlled, part time system Dimensions Wheelbase 116.1 inches Length 196.1 inches Width 71.9 inches Height 65.9 inches Ground Clearance 9.3 inches Curb Weight 3,967 pounds GVWR 5,202 pounds Tow Capacity 5,000 pounds (automatic) 3,500 pounds (manual) Fuel Capacity 19.4 gallons Performance 0-60 10.0 seconds 50-70 5.9 seconds 50-70 uphill 10.2 seconds Top Speed Faster than I want to go in a car or truck on public roads Fuel Economy EPA 16/19 mpg city/highway. I estimate 17-18 mpg in El Dorado County driving. Highway mileage of 20 plus should be possible at 65-70 mph.