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With its numerous body styles and trim levels, the Frontier provides plenty of practicality, but power-hungry truck buyers will find its V6 engine thirsty and weak.
Wide variety of body configurations and trim levels, many safety and convenience features.
No third door on King Cabs, cramped rear seats for Crew Cabs, poor mileage from supercharged models.
Available Frontier Models
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The SE now sports 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and tires.
Nissan has been building trucks for the U.S. market since 1958. Now in its seventh generation of pickup offerings, the company's 2004 Frontier-badged model is the result of constant improvement since the last major redesign in 1998. A reskin in 2001 gave the Frontier its current look along with an available supercharged V6. Since then, the Frontier has added a long-bed version, and options like electronic stability control and a tire-pressure monitor -- all compact truck exclusives. The wide variety of body styles, 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, but lower-priced value versions are also available. The Frontier isn't the best compact truck in every category, but few trucks offer a comparable blend of modern styling, high-tech features and all-around versatility.
The Frontier comes in two body styles -- extended cab (known as King Cab) and crew cab. 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. Available only as two-wheel-drive King Cabs, the standard and four-cylinder XE models come with only basic amenities, along with front bucket seats and fold-down rear jump seats. The V6-equipped XE and SE are available with more features, including alloy wheels, air conditioning and a six-speaker CD stereo. The S/C is the most feature-laden, offering full power accessories. Leather upholstery and a 300-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo are optional on the SE and S/C. Those looking for supercharged 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, a 2WD King Cab featuring the same heavy-duty chassis, ride height and stance as the 4WD Frontier. Compared to the King Cab, the Crew Cab has a larger cabin with expanded rear-seat accommodations as well as a pair of conventional rear doors that offer easier access to those seats. The V6 (normally aspirated or supercharged) is the only engine available. Two cargo bed lengths are available on the Crew Cab -- a 56.3-inch short bed and a 74.6-inch long bed.
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 to go with the 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.
Last year, Nissan upped the safety ante among compact pickups with the addition of optional stability control (called VDC) and a tire-pressure monitor. ABS is standard on all trucks. In government crash testing, the Frontier earned four out of five stars for frontal impact protection and a perfect five stars for side impacts. The IIHS, however, gave the Frontier a "Poor" rating, the worst possible, in frontal offset crash testing.
The Frontier's cabin is one of the better ones available in the compact pickup class, with comfortable front seats and an attractive design. A common complaint for the Crew Cab, however, is 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 that's true, we've found that real-world results are a bit disappointing. The supercharged engine has great off-idle response but runs out of breath quickly. Off-road performance is about average for this class of truck.
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