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.