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Nissan Frontier

Joe Loriowriters

Americans seem to think the only good truck is a big truck. But that could change with all the new pickups in the sub-gargantuan class: the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, the Dodge Dakota, the Toyota Tacoma, and now Nissan's new Frontier.

All are bigger than their predecessors, in effect abandoning the compact class and taking the mid-size mantle. The Frontier, for instance, has grown in every dimension, most notably by 9.8 inches in wheelbase. Despite this, the Frontier is at the smallish end of the new mid-size range, a point you notice when comparing bed size. The Crew Cab's cargo box is a scant four feet long; the King Cab's is more than six feet. (Regular cabs and long beds are long gone.) Nissan at least maximizes the utility of its stubby bed with built-in tracks and tie-downs, a spray-in bedliner, and an optional cargo fence that extends the effective length.

Happily, there's nothing small about the Frontier Crew Cab's interior accommodations front or rear, although rear-seat riders might wish for a less upright backrest. As is common in Nissans, the cabin is well designed, but materials are cheap. On the other hand, safety equipment includes items rarely seen on pickups, such as active head restraints and both side and curtain air bags (the latter two are optional).

Four-cylinder engines aren't very important in the world of mid-size pickups, but Nissan still has one (the Altima's 2.5-liter) in the base-trim King Cab. All other models get the 4.0-liter version of Nissan's VQ V-6, which just made its debut in the new Pathfinder. This engine, which features variable-valve timing, makes 265 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque. The power figure bests all mid-size contenders-even the V-8 Dakotas-and launches the 4x4 Crew Cab from 0 to 60 mph in just over eight seconds, aided by a five-speed automatic (a six-speed stick is also available).

The Frontier rides on a fully boxed frame derived from the Titan's, and it provides a stiff foundation that effectively quells the shuddering ride that is the bane of 4x4 pickups. All Frontiers use 4x4 ride height, but the body is not perched absurdly high off its wheels, a situation that not only pays dynamic benefits but also provides a lower step-in height.

A civilized ride, reasonable size, safety equipment, and a strong V-6 make the Frontier a medium-size pickup with big-time appeal.