What's New for 2009
The 2009 Nissan Frontier receives minor styling updates that include a new front fascia, headlights and instrument panel. Also new is available leather seating and the PRO-4X trim level, which is essentially the same thing as last year's Nismo package.
Trying to get the best of both worlds seems to be an eternal struggle in automotive circles. Whether it's a sports car with practicality, a family car that doesn't look like you gave up on your dreams or a pickup that's as useful in the city as it is out on the range, people want a vehicle that can do everything. Of course, no vehicle can actually achieve this, but the 2009 Nissan Frontier comes pretty close for a midsize pickup.
Available in numerous combinations of body styles, bed sizes and trim levels, the Nissan Frontier likely has a configuration that fits your needs. Whether you're looking for a work truck that can also haul the family or a commuter truck that can also scream through the woods on the weekend, the Frontier stands tall among compact trucks with its versatility and ingenuity.
The Frontier's advantages clearly outweigh its faults, with its clever features, off-road prowess and plentiful V6 power overcoming inferior plastics in the cabin and a frustrating options structure. The Frontier's closest rival, the Toyota Tacoma, is certainly worth a look when truck shopping, but we found the Frontier to have better on-road manners and a more functional interior.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Nissan Frontier is a compact-class pickup truck that is offered in King Cab (commonly known as extended cab) and Crew Cab (four-door) configurations. A 6-foot bed is standard for the King Cab, while the Crew Cab comes with a 5-foot bed, with the 6-footer available as an option. The entry-level Frontier is the XE, with more amenities progressively added to the SE, LE and PRO-4X trims. In typical Nissan fashion, options are only available via large and expensive packages.
As the bare-bones model, the Frontier XE is available only as a King Cab, with a four-cylinder engine and manual transmission and very little in the way of creature comforts or accessories. Included are 15-inch steel wheels, front bucket seats and cloth upholstery. Adding the XE Preferred Package gets you an AM/FM/CD audio system and air-conditioning.
The four-cylinder SE trim level adds 16-inch wheels, a chrome front bumper, a sliding rear window, air-conditioning and a tilting steering wheel. Options for the SE include the Power Package, which consists of remote keyless entry, full power accessories and cruise control. For V6-powered SE Frontiers, the Value Truck Package is available and equivalent to the Power Package, but also includes a bedliner and 16-inch alloy wheels.
For those actually planning on taking the road less traveled, the PRO-4X is capable of tackling most off-road conditions. Upgrades include 16-inch alloy wheels with rugged off-road tires, a locking rear differential, Bilstein off-road shocks, underside skid plates, splash guards and white-faced gauges. Besides the off-road bits, the PRO-4X package shares many amenities with the LE trim level, including foglights, a spray-on bedliner, the Utili-track cargo-management system, keyless entry, full power accessories, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer and a first aid kit. However, the LE trim trades the PRO-4X's off-road equipment for 18-inch alloy wheels, body-colored side molding, chrome exterior trim, tubular step rails and a power driver seat.
Options for the PRO-4X and LE models include the Technology Package, which includes a 10-speaker sound system with a six-CD/MP3 changer and an auxiliary jack, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, satellite radio and Bluetooth. This year's new Value Truck Package includes the Technology Package's equipment as well as leather seating, heated front seats and a power front passenger seat. The Traction Package is available with the Technology Package -- but only in 4x4 models with automatic transmissions -- adding hill-start assist, hill descent control and stability control.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Nissan Frontier comes with a choice of two engines -- a 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, or a 4.0-liter V6 producing 261 hp and 281 lb-ft. The V6 is the only engine choice for Crew Cabs and four-wheel-drive variants, while the four-cylinder is available only in 4x2 King Cab models. The four-cylinder models are offered with a standard five-speed manual transmission with an option for a five-speed automatic on the SE. The V6 is equipped with either a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic, depending on the trim level and configuration.
Of the entire Frontier line, the King Cab V6 4x2 has the highest towing capacity at 6,500 pounds. EPA-rated fuel economy for automatic-equipped four-cylinder models comes in at 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined. V6-equipped models with the automatic and 4WD rate 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined.
Antilock disc brakes are standard on all Frontier models, with side and side-curtain airbags available as an option. Stability control is offered only as an option for LE and PRO-4X models.
In government crash tests, the 2009 Nissan Frontier earned four out of five stars for driver protection in frontal collisions and a top five-star rating for side impacts. Front-passenger protection was rated at five stars for the King Cab and four stars for the Crew Cab. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Frontier a "Good" rating (the best rating possible) for frontal impacts but only a "Marginal" rating for side-impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2009 Nissan Frontier King Cab utilizes small, reverse-opening doors to allow rear passenger access to the fold-up jump seats. The Crew Cab employs conventional rear doors that open to a larger rear cabin. As expected, the smaller rear passenger quarters in the King Cab are rather cramped but offer extra seating in a pinch. The otherwise roomy cabin is attractively designed, with intuitive controls and comfortable front seats. However, the liberal use of cheap, hard plastics detracts from an otherwise successful execution.
Anyone planning on a fair amount of cargo hauling would be well advised to spring for an options package that includes the spray-on bedliner and Utili-track system. Using two "C" cross-section channels running the length of the bed floor, one channel on each side bed rail and one channel mounted on the rear of the cab, the Utili-track tie-down system employs removable cleats and a host of accessories like dividers, trays, storage bins and bike racks, providing a very flexible cargo storage solution.
The Frontier's four-cylinder models make it a fair choice as an inexpensive light-duty work truck, especially considering higher fuel prices. However, for those who need anything above "just getting around," the V6 is really the only choice. Providing an abundance of low-end torque, six-cylinder models are up to most any task, with a competent automatic transmission delivering well-timed shifts whether you're tearing up the sand dunes, hauling supplies to a work site or navigating a morning commute. Ride quality is unexpectedly pleasant for a pickup truck and steering is precise, with ample feedback. Frontier 4x4 models are capable off-roaders, thanks to a maximum ground clearance of 10.1 inches and an abundance of suspension travel. For those seeking an even more accomplished off-road ride, the PRO-4X model is definitely the pick of the litter.