Full 2003 Nissan Frontier Review
What's New for 2003
Nissan's compact pickup rolls into 2003 with many new enhancements. Most interesting is a power-operated retractable top. The "Open Sky" top -- essentially a giant sunroof -- is optional on Crew Cab models. For safety, Nissan has added standard dual-stage front airbags for Crew Cabs, standard LATCH child seat anchors on King Cabs and Crew cabs, an optional stability control system and an optional tire pressure monitoring system. Other changes for 2003 include 10 more horsepower for normally aspirated V6 models, a driver seat-height adjuster and standard Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD). King Cabs now have standard ABS, a new storage bin and a new first aid kit (V6 only).
Nissan has been building trucks for the U.S. market since 1958. Now in its seventh generation of pickup offerings, the company's 2003 Frontier-badged model is the result of constant improvement since the last major redesign in 1998. This year, Nissan has focused on safety, as well as fun. A stability control system is available, as is a tire-pressure monitor. Both are industry firsts for a compact pickup. A wide variety of bodies, features and trim levels are the Frontier's best attributes. The lineup ranges from a basic (and inexpensive) two-wheel drive King Cab to the supercharged Crew Cab long bed. The supercharged S/C trucks are pricey, which is perhaps why Nissan offers value versions (the SVE trim) for the King Cab and Crew Cab. If your compact pickup needs are quite specific, the Frontier might be your truck. But we certainly recommend shopping around. The Toyota Tacoma, in particular, is another compact pickup you'll want to consider.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Frontier is highly configurable to better match your particular needs. There are two main body styles: King Cab and Crew Cab. The King Cab is Nissan's extended-cab pickup. It has front bucket seats and additional seating for two passengers in fold-down rear jump seats. Available trim levels include the no-frills standard truck and four-cylinder XE, the V6-powered XE and SE and the supercharged S/C and SVE. The S/C is the most feature-laden. Those looking for power and a smaller price tag should consider the more reasonably priced SVE. Four-wheel drive is available on most of these models, but if you just want the tough look of a 4WD, Nissan offers the Desert Runner, 2WD King Cab featuring the same heavy-duty chassis, ride height and stance as the 4WD Frontier.
Compared to the King Cab, the Frontier Crew Cab has a larger cabin with expanded rear-seat accommodations. Rear forward-hinged doors offer improved access to seats. The V6 (normally aspirated and supercharged) is the only engine available, and trim levels are the same except that there is no standard Crew Cab. In the past, the Crew Cab only came with a truncated 56.3-inch cargo bed, but last year Nissan began offering the Crew Cab Long Bed.
Powertrains and Performance
A supercharged 3.3-liter V6 is the most powerful engine, and it makes 210 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque when mated to the four-speed automatic transmission (the five-speed manual drops the torque rating to 231 lb-ft). There's also a normally aspirated V6 worth 180 hp and a 2.4-liter four that produces 143 hp. If you want to tow, our suggestion is either V6 and the automatic transmission. This configuration gives the Frontier its maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds. Four-wheel drive is available on V6 trucks only.
Nissan has upped the safety ante for 2003 with the addition of optional Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and an optional tire-pressure monitor. ABS is standard on all trucks. The NHTSA has given the Frontier Crew Cab very good crash test scores. The IIHS, however, has indicated that the Frontier fares poorly in frontal offset crashes, as shown by its test of a 1998 Frontier regular cab.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Frontier's cabin is one of the better ones available in the compact pickup class. A common complaint for the Crew Cab since its introduction, however, has been its cramped rear seat. A shortage of rear legroom is the major culprit.
Nissan likes to tout that its supercharged V6 offers the most horsepower in any V6 compact pickup. While true, we've found that real-world results are a bit disappointing. The supercharged engine has great off-idle responses but runs out of breath quickly. Off-road performance is about average for this class of truck.