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When Nissan decided to redesign its Frontier pickup, it scrapped the tired, old platform and started fresh. The 2005 Nissan Frontier doesn't have a single part carried over from 2004. Smart move since new midsize pickups from Dodge and Toyota have recently raised the bar. Another smart move was turning to its award-winning, new-for-2004 full-size Nissan Titan, for inspiration and hardware.
Nissan had already spent millions developing the F-Alpha chassis for its big truck, so it shortened and narrowed the Titan's frame rails to create the foundation for the new, larger Nissan Frontier. Utilizing a modified boxed-steel full-size frame in a midsize truck has never been done before, and the result is one of the most robust platforms ever offered.
To answer complaints about the previous Frontier's lack of power, Nissan started with the 3.5-liter V6 from the 350Z sports car and redesigned it for maximized bottom-end power. Displacement was increased to 4.0 liters, and a new continuously variable valve timing control system was designed. Output is a class-leading 265 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque, enough for a 6,500-pound tow rating.
Buyers can choose between an electronically controlled five-speed automatic and a close-ratio six-speed manual, which is a modified version of the Nissan 350Z transmission.
For off-road aficionados, all of the underbody gear, like the gas tank, has been tucked up above the bottom of the frame rails for maximum ground clearance, which has been increased to 10.1 inches on four-wheel-drive models. Front and rear overhangs have also been shortened to provide best-in-class ramp angles.
Optional features include an electronic locking rear differential; four-wheel traction control; Hill Descent Control, which keeps the vehicle from gaining speed down steep hills; and even Hill-Start Assist Control, which prevents the Frontier from rolling back when starting up a hill.
Although the highway ride is a bit choppy, the new double-wishbone front suspension really improves high-speed stability. This truck feels as solid at 90 mph as it does at 60 mph. We also like the crisp feel of the speed-sensitive power rack and pinion steering, and the appropriately throaty exhaust bellow. And off-road, the Nissan Frontier climbed over obstacles that took our breath away.
If you dream of driving in the Baja 1000, order the optional off-road package developed by Nissan's racing division, NISMO. It adds larger 16-inch alloy wheels, 265/75R16 BFGoodrich tires, Bilstein performance shock absorbers, the previously mentioned locking rear differential as well as skid plates on the oil pan, fuel tank and transfer case.
Two body styles will be offered, a Frontier King Cab with flip-up rear jump seats and rear-opening back doors, and a larger Frontier Crew Cab with four full-size doors and a spacious rear bench. Storage space is plentiful. The rear seats on both models flip out of the way, the front-passenger seat can fold flat and a large storage tray is tucked under the rear seats.
Cupholders and other little nooks and crannies abound, and the glovebox is split into two separate sections. A rugged spray-in bed liner is available, four tie-down hooks are standard and Nissan's outstanding Utili-trak locking tie-down system pioneered on the Titan is optional.
Four trim packages will be offered. Nissan says prices won't change significantly from 2004, which means somewhere in the low- to mid-$20Ks should buy you a nice truck.
A low-cost XE trim level is only available on King Cab models and comes standard with a 154-hp, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine; body-color grille; and blacked-out bumpers. The Nissan Frontier SE is traditionally the big seller, however. It'll add the V6, an AM/FM/CD stereo and chrome exterior trim.
Stepping up to the Nissan Frontier LE adds foglamps, cruise control, keyless entry, power-adjustable driver seat, power windows and door locks, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, compass and trip computer and an overhead console. The aforementioned NISMO package includes everything an LE gets, plus a full array of off-road gear and a first aid kit.
We wrangled some time in a NISMO four-wheel-drive King Cab on the cracked asphalt highways and off-road trails of Central Texas, and found it to be fun, comfortable and confidence inspiring. The V6 is smooth, quiet and linear as it is in the 350Z, and has plenty of punch. This is a fast truck.
Only NBA-size giants would call the new, larger interior cramped, and we love the deeply padded and softly upholstered bucket seats. The large, comfortably padded steering wheel is packed with thumb-operated controls, and secondary controls like the turn signal, wipers and cruise control are well within reach.
Our only complaint with the Nissan Frontier is that every interior panel is made of rock-hard plastic. The fit and finish is stellar, and everything looks nicely sculpted, but the complete lack of soft-touch material is noticeable.
But let's face it: These are minor hang-ups in a truck that's as tough as Texas, especially one that turned the roughest Texas territory into a joyride. If you've got truck shopping to do this season, you'll have a lot of choices, but the 2005 Nissan Frontier belongs on your short list.