With modern pickup trucks, the label “full-size” seems increasingly like a polite way of saying “obese,” or at least “gargantuan.” There are undoubtedly many pickup buyers who need all that width, length, and height, but for those who don’t, the 2013 Nissan Frontier serves as a reminder that a pickup truck can come in a size other than XXL. Despite its less-prodigious footprint and less-towering height, the 2013 Nissan Frontier packs a lot of utility into a moderately sized package.
The 2013 Nissan Frontier isn’t exactly news; the current iteration has been around since 2005. However, as competitors such as the Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, Chevrolet Colorado, and GMC Canyon have fallen away, it assumes greater stature. The Toyota Tacoma is its only direct competitor but is slightly larger. The Honda Ridgeline is another sub-full-size entry, but its unconventional layout (more carlike, unibody construction with a transverse engine and front/all-wheel drive) makes it more of an alternative take on the genre.
The 2013 Nissan Frontier is available as a Crew Cab, with a four regular doors, or a King Cab, with rear-hinged half-doors. As you might expect, the King Cab rear seats are more like jump seats (for two); the Crew Cab rear bench (for three) has a reasonable amount of space, although it, too, suffers from a fairly upright backrest. Even if no one sits back there, however, the Crew Cab’s rear compartment goes out of its way to be useful, as the rear seatback can fold flat and the rear seat cushion can fold up against the seatback. Under the seat there’s an open cubby with a mesh top, good for stashing small items — a first-aid kit, in the case of the truck I drove. I practically felt obligated to go out and injure myself rock climbing or mountain biking to be worthy of this thing.
My particular test truck was a 2013 Nissan Frontier 4×4 tricked out in PRO-4X regalia, which (probably not by accident) sounds like some kind of hardcore workout regiment and includes a bunch of mostly useful equipment. The PRO-4X brings with it Bilstein off-road dampers, skid plates, hill descent control/hill start assist, and a locking rear differential. For the same rugged look, but with 2WD, Nissan offers the Desert Runner, which shaves more than $5000 off the price.
My particular PRO-4X was further outfitted with the PRO-4X luxury package ($2850), which seems a bit like a contradiction in terms. It adds such niceties as a rudimentary navigation system, power seats, leather, seat heaters, power mirrors, a power sunroof, Bluetooth streaming audio and additional connectivity features, and additional utility in the form of a roof rack with cross bars.
Further enhancing this Frontier’s utility was the bed extender/trailer hitch package ($560), which includes the exact two items you’d think it would. The former is particularly useful (and available on its own for $280), as it can slide fore and aft in the bed to corral your cargo; it can also fence in cargo when the tailgate is dropped, effectively turning the five-foot bed into a six-foot bed. (A long-bed version of the Frontier, with a six-foot bed, is also available as both a two-door and a four-door.) When you don’t want to use the bed extender, it lifts right out (while convenient, this might make it subject to theft).
Two-door Frontiers can be had with a four-cylinder engine, but four-doors come only with Nissan’s stout 3.5-liter V-6. Either can be paired with a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. The V-6’s 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque earn it a maximum tow rating of 6500 pounds — enough to pull a runabout boat, a popup camper, or many utility trailers, if not quite enough to pull a house off its foundation or the Space Shuttle down the street.
Is there room for realistic utility in the increasingly hyperbolic world of pickup trucks? If there is, the Frontier stands ready to serve, a vehicular Swiss Army knife in a field that seems to prefer a bazooka.
2013 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X Crew Cab
- Base price (with destination): $31,065
- Price as tested: $35,645
- Engine: 4.0-liter V-6
- Power: 261 hp @ 5600 rpm
- Torque: 281 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
- Transmission: 5-speed automatic
- Drive: 4-wheel
- Wheels: 16 x 7 in
- Tires 265/75R-16 BF Goodrich Rugged Trail T/A
- Fuel Economy: 16/21 mpg (city/highway)