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Nissan Frontier Stays in Forefront of Its Class

By Sue Mead, February 11th, 2012

When it comes to trucks Americans' tastes vary widely. But one thing seems constant: everyone likes choices. Last year 20 percent of pickup truck buyers in its class chose a Nissan Frontier.

No longer seen as simply rural workhorses, pickups often do double- or triple-duty as family vehicles and mobile workstations, thanks to innovations in technology, safety and fit-and-finish. Nissan's Frontier is no exception.

For 2012, the Frontier has undergone a minor refresh yet features a Cheesecake Factory menu of variations on the same theme -- two cab styles, multiple drivetrain combinations and up to four trim levels. Trim levels include S, SV, SL and Pro-4X in King Cab and Crew Cab styles. This pickup starts with a base price of $18,200.

We drove two models of the 2012 Nissan Frontier on trails at the Medina River Ranch in the Hill Country of Texas. Nissan calls its Frontier a "no compromise activity tool," and says that it wears "full-size" truck hardware at compact-value pricing; it's built on the same platform as the full-size Titan truck and Armada SUV. We've driven the Frontier since it came to market in 1997 and have always liked its no-apologies, trucky ride and handling, plus its prowess off the pavement.

With 261 horsepower, Nissan claims leadership in the segment and also has a class-exclusive factory spray-on bed liner, with five bedrails compared to the competitors' three. What we say is that this fully boxed pickup has a heavy-duty frame, which translates to a solid ride feel, and has great command of the backcountry as a truly capable 4x4 player. We like its ingress, egress and good visibility; comfortable seats and pleasing ergonomics; as well as its power, responsive brakes and well-weighted steering.

We tested a Frontier Crew Cab SV 4x4 in Super Black with a steel-colored interior that came with Nissan's Premium Utility package that upgrades audio, and adds an electrochromic inside mirror, spray-on bed liner, tie-down cleats and a UTILI-TRAK channel system, among other goodies in this package, and was priced at $29,595.

We also motored the more off-road capable PRO-4X performance version set up with 16-inch wheels and BFG Rugged Trail tires; Bilstein shocks; four skid plates; and a rear-locking differential. It was optioned with a Bed Extender Trailer Hitch package and retailed at just over $30,000.

Under the hood is a 4.0-liter V-6 producing 261 horsepower and 281 lb.-ft. of torque. Our 4x4 tester had EPA ratings of 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. An available 2.5-liter 4-clyinder (King Cab 4x2 only) is rated at 152 horsepower and 171 lb.-ft. of torque.

The standard engine is mated to a 6-speed manual, while the 4-cylinder comes with a 5-speed stick shift. A 5-speed automatic was an available option on our Crew Cab SV 4x4.

The available four-wheel-drive system has 2WD/4H/4LO modes and an electronically controlled, part-time transfer case. All key underbody hardware is tucked up to the frame rails for up a minimum of 10.1 inches (4x4) or 9.8 inches (4x2) of ground clearance at the rear differentials. Other Frontier driveline components include engine-speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack-and pinion steering and standard 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS.

Nissan has spent a lot of time thinking about -- and innovating -- the bed of its Frontier truck. Both Frontier King Cab and Crew Cab offer an available high-utility bed with factory-applied, spray-on bedliner and Nissan's UTILI-TRAK tie-down system, which features cross-section rails mounted in the bed. Removable utility cleats slide into the channels for securing cargo.

The Frontier exterior also features a standard locking and detachable tailgate, a tinted front window, rear privacy glass and a hitch ball provision on the rear bumper for towing.

The 2012 Nissan Frontier updates include standard 2-Wheel Brake Limited Slip (ABLS); Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) on 4-cylinder engine equipped models; and new exterior colors. New options include a Sport Appearance Package on King Cab and Crew Cab SV models; the package features 18-inch SL aluminum-alloy wheels and a tasteful front grille with Dark Hyper Silver finish, body-color front and rear bumpers, sport cloth seat trim, white-faced gauges and Bluetooth. The Frontier can tow up to 6,500 pounds. -- Sue Mead, Motor Matters

strong>Manufacturer photo: The Nissan Frontier, which combines premium hardware, extraordinary power and off-road athleticism, continues to be a leader in the midsize truck segment. With a choice of two body configurations, 4x4 and 4x2 drive, powerful 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 or 152-horsepower 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder (King Cab only) engines, Frontier offers exceptional levels of family or workplace performance to fit nearly any need or budget.


Base price $22,210 (as tested: $29,595)
Displacement 4.0-liter
Epa mileage rating 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 21.1 gal.
Horsepower (net) 261 at 5600 rpm
Motor type 24-valve DOHC V-6
Overall length 205.5 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 281 at 4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger 4x4 midsize pickup
Wheelbase 125.9 in.
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