The Nissan pickup, redesigned ten years ago, still competes well in
a compact pickup world filled with restyled products. Where other makers
have changed their vehicles apparently just for the sake of change, the
Nissan soldiers on with respectable sales figures. It can haul
furniture, yet transport two comfortably to the movies. For a reasonable
price, it can be trimmed with most of the extras truck buyers want.
The Smyrna, Tennessee-built hauler is offered seven ways: four
two-wheel-drive models (base, XE Regular Cab, XE King Cab and uplevel SE
King Cab) and three 4X4s (XE regular and King Cab, and SE King Cab).
OUTSIDE - Although its styling is dated, the Nissan pickup has been
well accepted for a decade. So until a new design is ready (perhaps the
shape found on the new Pathfinder?), Nissan has elected to leave well
enough alone. Straight lines and creases, along with snubbed ends, make
up its exterior features. And unlike the competition, which integrates
car-like styling in their new products, the Nissan unmistakably
announces it's a pickup. Our XE King Cab tester used Nissan's popular
Value Truck Package, which features a chrome grille, bumpers, windshield
trim and outside mirrors, along with a rear step bumper and a one-piece
sliding rear window. Also part of the Package are alloy wheels and
larger tires, along with subdued bodyside graphics.
INSIDE - Inside is where Nissan's passenger car interior designs
have influenced its pickup line. A driver's airbag now rests inside the
steering wheel. The Value Truck Package includes interior niceties such
as a more powerful AM/FM cassette stereo with four speakers, tachometer,
air conditioning, trip odometer and variable speed intermittent wipers,
as well as a visor vanity mirror, locking glove box and map lights. XE
King Cab models come standard with reclining bucket seats up front, and
tiny fold-down jump seats in back. Its center console now features dual
cupholders, and a small integrated storage compartment, while the hand
brake pulls from the easy-to-use console.
ON THE ROAD - All Nissan trucks for 1996 are powered by a 2.4 liter
inline four cylinder engine, which gives 134 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of
torque. It's been reliable, and certainly powerful enough for most
applications, but Nissan truck fans will sorely miss the 3.0 liter V6
that was dropped from the line. The four cylinder engine uses a single
overhead camshaft, and four valves per cylinder. Its performance is
peppy and acceleration is quick, but when we loaded its tail with
weight, the little engine was put to the task. Tow ratings have dropped
as well, from the maximum 5000-pound rating of the '95 model, to 3500
pounds with the four cylinder. Its standard five-speed manual
transmission is simple to operate, and never missed a shift. A four-
speed automatic transmission can be ordered, which takes the work from
changing gears but at the cost of a bit of flexibility and power.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - Underneath, the Nissan Pickup is pure truck: a
solid rear axle supported by leaf springs, and an independent front
suspension with torsion links and a stabilizer bar. This no-nonsense
approach offers the ruggedness needed for light-duty work, with enough
softness designed in to protect from kidney-jarring jolts when the bed
is empty. It can carry 1400 pounds, including passengers, which is
adequate for most uses. Braking is accomplished with front discs and
rear drums, while all models feature rear-wheel anti-lock braking system
(ABS). Braking distances were good, with little or no fade even with a
maximum load onboard. It is certainly a capable hauler, and easily
handled the load we put in its tail. It's still stylish after all these
years, but has its work cut out for it in the face of recently stiffened
competition, many of whom offer dual airbags and four-wheel ABS, along
with rounded, aerodynamic shapes.
SAFETY - Along with a driver's airbag, the Nissan Pickup is equipped
with rear ABS, steel side-impact beams, and three-point seat belts.
OPTIONS - The Value Package, offered on XE models, is a $995 option,
but well worth the price. Its destinations charge adds $420, while
California buyers will find extra emission equipment that costs $150.