Completely redesigned for 2005, the midsize Frontier pickup is built on a scaled-down version of the rugged F-Alpha chassis that also underpins Nissans full-size Titan. Made in Smyrna, Tennessee, and larger in every key dimension than its compact predecessor, the Frontier offers King Cab (with rear-hinged rear mini-doors) and Crew Cab configurations, in both 2WD and 4WD. All have a 125.9-inch wheelbase–up 9.8 inches from 2004–and can tow up to 6,500 pounds. Trim levels include the XE (King Cab/2WD only), SE, LE, and Nismo, an off-road package with unique suspension tuning, Bilstein gas shocks, skidplates, and other mechanical tweaks. The XE comes with a 2.5-liter I-4 engine, all others get a 4.0-liter V-6. We drove a well-appointed 4WD Nismo Crew Cab for this test.
Like Nissans other trucks, the new Frontier shows strong Titan influences, highlighting its bold profile with bright grille and bumper treatments and prominent fender flares. The XE an SE have 15-inch and 16-inch steel wheels with P235/75 and P265/70 tires, respectively, while the alloy rims on the higher-line models are wrapped in 265/65R17 (LE) and 265/75R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A (Nismo) rubber. The King Cab has a 73.3-inch bed, the Crew Cab a 59.5-inch bed, and both offer extenders and dividers.
Tidy but understated, the Frontiers roomy cabin is dominated by monochrome plastic on the dash and door panels, set off by chrome door handles and brushed-aluminum accent trim. Main controls are well positioned, and the white-on-black gauges are easy reads in all lighting conditions–unlike the LCD radio/clock displays, which are not. The only reach of note is for the stability control, differential lock, and hill control buttons, on vehicles so equipped. Primary storage is in twin non-locking gloveboxes, a shallow open bin, and a smallish but usable covered hold in the center console, plus large pockets in each door complete with bottle holders. As a final touch, there are two variable-size front cupholders and a trio of 12V powerpoints. While air conditioning, AM/FM/CD sound system, privacy glass, and a sliding rear window are part of an XE Preferred Option Package, all are SE standards, as is a tilt steering column. Step up to LE or Nismo, and a full complement of power assists, keyless remote entry, a multi-function trip computer, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel also join the mix. The LE even offers a leather interior option. The Frontiers front buckets are comfortable, but light on lateral support. Nismo and LE models have a height-adjustable drivers seat, and the passenger seat on all folds forward for added utility. The Crew Cabs aft quarters are roomy enough for adults, but a near vertical seatback on the 60/40-split rear bench makes it best suited for short-term duty. While the backs flip forward, the lower cushions also can be folded up to reveal two additional pop-out storage bins.
Beyond a rugged core structure and ABS brakes, the Frontier has dual smart front airbags, front seatbelts with pretensionsers/load limiters, active front head restraints, plus optional front-side airbags and full-length side curtains.
The new Frontier boasts two impressive DOHC engines: A 2.5-liter I-4 (XE only) that turns out 154 hp and 173 lb-ft of torque and a 4.0-liter version of Nissans superb VQ V-6 (an XE option) that makes a class-leading 265 ponies and 284 lb-ft of twist. Both use regular unleaded gas. Standard transmissions include a 5M for the XE, 6M for SE, and a 5A for the LE and Nismo. The autoshifter is optional in XE and SE models, the six-speed available in the Nismo. 4WD Frontiers include an electronic dual-range transfer case, and Nismo and LE versions offer optional traction/stability control. The Nismo also adds standard limited-slip differentials (optional on SE/LE) with the rear getting selectable electronic locking.
Behind the Wheel
Pairing independent front suspension with a leaf-sprung live rear axle, the Frontier delivers a well-controlled and decently compliant ride. Even with its Nismo accoutrements, theres a surprising degree of civility, save for some minor impact harshness and the tendency to lope a bit over certain freeway surfaces. Steering effort is a bit high and theres a touch of on-center vagueness, but directional control is good. It also displays the same great roll control found in all current Nissan trucks, although cornering prowess is clearly constrained by limited tire grip. One of the Frontiers most appealing aspects is its potent V-6. While even the four now has the grunt to get the job done, this 4.0-liter version of the VQ corrals 70 more horses than last-years top engine–20 more than the new Tacomas V-6 and 15 more than the Dakotas V-8. Variable valve timing keeps much of the power available most of the time, and the optional stability control is obligingly programmed to allow a bit of on-demand tail kick. The automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, and the limited-slip diff helps maintain proper driving decorum on uneven surfaces. A dash knob permits on-the-fly transitions from 2WD to 4Hi/4Lo on the part-time system, and standard four-wheel ABS disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution help ensure low-stress stops.
In its quest to reach even more active lifestylers, Nissan has created a product with youthful flair and an assortment of smart standards, including a tire pressure monitoring system and front solar glass. Clever options like a corrosion-resistant spray-in bedliner and adjustable cargo tie-downs (standard LE and Crew Cabs) further embellish a package that already stands as a very appealing daily driver. Entry-level buyers may bemoan the lack of a standard cab and the XEs somewhat Spartan nature. Others might take issue with the Frontiers relatively diminutive bed lengths. However, most potential owners will likely find sufficient room, ruggedness, and refinement here to largely offset those negatives. Still slightly quicker, marginally more polished, and with greater packaging possibilities, Toyotas equally-new Tacoma reigns as the 2005 IntelliChoice Best Overall Value for this segment, as well as a subjectively appealing choice. But the compelling new Frontier definitely recontours the competitive landscape boasting power, machismo, and proven mechanicals. Dirt devotees will no doubt be drawn to the Nismo, but there are several configurations and flavors available to for the right balance of work and play.
With solid engineering and an enhanced feature set, Nissans new Frontier presents a formidable challenge to the Tacomas primacy in the midsize pickup realm.
- What’s HotPowerful V-6 engine Rugged constructionPremium audio option What’s NotHeavy tailgateNo regular cab availableUncomfortable rear seat
Totally redone for 2005, the midsize Frontier is bigger, bolder, brawnier, and better sorted than ever before, offering more comfort, more power, and a more endearing personality.
Prime extras include the Side and Curtain Air Bag Package, Sunroof Package (with roof rails), Rockford Fosgate Premium Audio Package (380 watts, eight speakers, six-disc CD changer and MP3 plus XM/Sirius Satellite capability), Traction Package (hill start/descent and traction/stability controls), High Utility Bed Package (Nismo King Cab only), and Tow Package.
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