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2013 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X Rocky Mountain Review

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By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

…4WD performance is beyond reproach and quite useful in less-than-perfect weather

The small truck market in recent years has contracted quite a bit. With the retirement of the Ford Ranger and the Chevy Colorado / GMC Canyon on hiatus until at least the 2015 model year, there are fewer choices than ever for folks looking for an option smaller than a half-ton pickup truck.

This week we look at the Nissan Frontier. Long a good option for a small truck, the Frontier has remained largely unchanged since the 2005 model year – an eternity in the automotive industry – receiving only minor updates since then, and in doing so, a good choice in this segment has managed to remain attractive. Its design still manages to feel fresh and contemporary. Its boxy shape and limited use of chrome emphasizes its nature as an understated, tough vehicle without appearing unattractive – even the bumpers are color-keyed rather than truck-chrome so as to carry this message.

Our tester came to us in crew cab PRO-4X configuration – four real doors, and Nissan’s upgrade package featuring not just off-road additions like beefy tires, Bilstein shocks, a locking rear differential, and skid plates, but also nice add-ons like automatic headlights, parking sensors, a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a trip computer. Our tester took this one step further by also carrying the upgrade to the upgrade – the PRO-4X Luxury Package, which adds a sunroof, a roof rack, heated mirrors, leather seating and trim, heated power front seats, and a navigation system with Bluetooth capability. Clearly, the Frontier is not lacking in toys, but these toys cost money – at an as-tested price of $35,645, we have the distinction of being just ever so slightly shy of double its $17,990 base price.

In this configuration, the Frontier brings a sprayed truck bed measuring just shy of five feet with a handy system of tracks along the bottom and sides to secure cargo tie-downs. Being a smaller truck, the bed is also lower than you’d expect if you’re used to half-ton and larger pickups, which is nice in that it makes it very easily accessible. We also had an optional sliding bed extender which flips open atop the tailgate and lengthens the bed to about six and a half feet. The bed extender is undoubtedly handy for longer loads, and it’s quickly removable – in fact, maybe too quickly – as it can be removed in just a couple of seconds, making it an easy target for theft.

Inside the cabin, we find a veritable sea of hard plastics – not bad looking and certainly not out of place in a truck, but even with our PRO-4X luxury package, soft-touch surfaces are hard to come by. Being a small truck, the cabin does feel a bit cramped – particularly for rear passengers, who will be forced to sit fairly upright and may have their knees in contact with the seat in front of them – but this serves to place controls within easy reach. The driver’s seating position is upright as well, although more comfortably so, and visibility is excellent forward and to the sides, although a bit limited to the rear owing to the large headrests for the rear passengers.

Controls consist of fairly simple toggles and the in-dash navigation and entertainment system, which is easier than most to use. There are particularly thoughtful small touches in the interface of the navigation system which make it easy to use, such as preset buttons for the stereo being visible on the navigation map display. We did find the instrument and center console control lighting in the cabin to be somewhat distracting when driving at night – particularly the climate controls which reflect amber light against the back window and right into the driver’s view in the rear-view mirror.

The Frontier is available with either a 152-hp 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, or a 261-hp 4-liter V6. Being an uplevel trim, the PRO-4X is only sold with the latter. The V6 has a nice sound to it and we found it to be more than adequate in taking the Frontier through everyday tasks. In addition a towing capacity of just over 6,000 lb will enable the Frontier to handle smaller trailers with ease.

On road, the Frontier is fairly well mannered, although the Bilstein shocks and BFG Rugged Trail T/A tires supplied with the PRO-4X trim conspire to bring out every nook and cranny of the road surface – not to mention the solid live axle in the rear. The Frontier’s very wide turning radius makes suburban parking lots something of a challenge, and it’s predictably easy to spin the rear wheels in 2WD mode with an empty bed but 4WD performance is beyond reproach and quite useful in less-than-perfect weather. We did have an opportunity to take the Frontier into the mountains west of Denver on some dirt roads made fairly rough by recent storms, and it handled quite well, only vague and uncertain on washboard left from runoff, which caused the Frontier to feel as if it were going to shake itself right off the roadway. We averaged 18 MPG during our time with the Frontier, splitting the difference of the 15 / 21 city / highway EPA estimates.

We’ve been told of the departure of the small truck from the market. After a week with the Nissan Frontier, we’d say that the small pickup is indeed alive and well, and as good as ever. Under its somewhat utilitarian work-week disguise, it’s a truck that loves to have fun in the backcountry as well, and is an excellent choice for both or either out here in the mountains.

2013 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X

Base Price: $17,990.00
Price as Tested: $35,645.00
Engine Type: DOHC V6
Engine Size: 4.0 Liter
Horsepower: 261
Torque (lb-ft): 281
Transmission: 5-Speed Automatic
Wheelbase / Length (in): 125.9 / 205.5
Curb Weight: 4,548
Pounds per HP: 17.43
Fuel Capacity (gal): 21.1
Fuel Requirement: Regular Unleaded
Tires: BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A; P265/75TR16
Brakes, front/rear: Ventilated disc / Ventilated disc
Suspension, front/rear: Double wishbone / solid live axle
Ground clearance (in): 8.9
Drivetrain: Shift-on-the-fly 4WD system with 2-speed transfer case and electronic locking rear differential
EPA Fuel Economy - MPG city / highway / observed: 15 / 21 / 18
Towing capacity (lb): 6,100
Base Trim Price: $31,270.00

Options and Charges

PRO-4X Luxury Package: $2,850.00 (Nissan navigation system with 5.8” color display, streaming audio via Bluetooth®, leather-appointed seats with PRO-4X logo, 8-way power heated driver seat, 4-way power heated front passenger seat, dual power remote-controlled heated outside mirrors, power sliding glass moonroof w/ tilt, roof rack w/ cross bars)

Bed Extender / Trailer Hitch Package: $560.00 (Sliding bed extender, class IV hitch receiver)

Floor Mats: $120.00

Delivery: $845.00

Price as tested: $35,645.00