Review and photos by Russell Purcell

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2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
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When I booked the Nissan Frontier NISMO Edition for a test-drive, I have to admit, I was excited – probably overly so. I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for the company’s compact pickup trucks because my first vehicle was a 1981 Datsun King Cab 4×4. That truck held a lot of history and proved tough enough to carry me and my younger brother through our rough-and-tumble teenage years and into early adulthood. Both of us learned how to operate a manual transmission in that truck, a process of trials and tribulations that, surprisingly, didn’t take the Datsun to an early grave, but it did sacrifice a few clutches along the way. The truck also devoured brake pads at a surprising rate, much to the chagrin of our father. Our youthful over-exuberant off-road adventures couldn’t even cripple the Datsun, but our lack of experience did often result in our needing a tow. I miss that truck.


First Impressions

Sliding behind the wheel of the shiny black Frontier NISMO Crew Cab I was immediately blown away by its size. Much like me, the modern day compact pick-up truck is far from compact. While the third generation Frontier has swelled from compact to mid-size status, it still feels compact when negotiating through crowded city streets or exploring narrow, mountain trails.

The 2005 Frontier is offered in both King Cab and Crew Cab body styles and in 4×2 and 4×4 driveline configurations, but at present, the NISMO is only available as a 4×4 in Canada. The truck’s new design takes its styling cues from its big brother the Titan, which should be expected as both also share a platform

Underpinnings

The 2005 Frontier now rides on a fully-boxed, all-steel frame based on the Titan’s ‘F-Alpha’ architecture which gives the all-new truck a wider track and a longer wheelbase (up 251 mm when compared to the 2004 model).

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

For the driver this translates into a feeling of stability unheard of in a truck this size, as well as a healthy increase in both interior and cargo volume. This construction also means that the Frontier is ready for real truck duty whether it be off-road exploring, towing, or hauling cargo.

The suspension set-up is also Titan-like, as the Frontier now sports double-wishbones up front and a rigid leaf system in the rear. NISMO-spec Bilstein off-road performance shock absorbers are part of the package, and have been designed to provide a smooth, car-like ride while retaining the durability expected in an off-road worthy truck. Nissan’s engineers have created a very pleasant driving experience that is equally at home on pavement or off-road.


NISMO styling

NISMO is the name given to Nissan’s motor sport group, and much like rival Toyota with its TRD arm, the company hopes to offer special performance versions of its popular models branded under the NISMO banner. Currently Nissan buyers can select from a small line of NISMO accessories for the Frontier that includes several wheel choices as well as a variety of tuner accessories such as a cold-air intake and lightweight shift knobs for earlier Frontier models.

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

My test unit was a 4×4 which benefited from a host of hidden NISMO gear such as underbody skid-plates and the aforementioned off-road-tuned Bilstein shocks. Big 265/75R16 B.F.Goodrich Rugged Terrain T/A tires on 6-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels are also part of the package, joined by a full-size spare.

My test unit looked very aggressive in its gloss black paint but surprisingly, signs of NISMO involvement were very subtle. Attractive NISMO badging was subtly placed on its rear flanks as well as embroidered into the front floor mats. No boy-racer stickers to take away from its classy new skin.

Big chrome bumpers offered some flash as does the matching tip on the exhaust pipe and the gleaming chrome grille, but these are standard Frontier fare.


Performance

The Frontier NISMO edition comes with one choice of power plant on its build sheet, that being the potent 4.0-litre, 24-valve, DOHC V6. This capable engine shares much of its architecture with the incredible VQ engines that propel the company’s sporty sedans and SUVs, although it has been adapted (read: beefed-up) to handle the unique duties associated with a truck such as towing and hauling substantial loads.

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

The end result generates 265 horsepower and 284 lb-ft or torque, which makes previous V6-equipped Frontiers look feeble by comparison (180-hp and 202 lb-ft). This is serious pulling power for a V6, let alone any engine of a mere 4.0-litres in size. Nissan can now stand proud as this engine represents the most powerful V6 engine in this market. The bar has been set at a new level, and Nissan is taking names.

This is definitely not a low-tech power plant, as it shares advanced features such as Electronic Throttle Control, Continuous Valve Timing Control, Nissan’s variable Induction Control System (NICS), Nissan Direct Ignition System (NDIS), and a lightweight aluminum block. Remember, the VQ is used in such road rockets as the 350Z and Maxima, not to mention Infiniti products like the G35 as well.

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

I must say I was impressed with the power available underfoot. This engine is a smooth operator and hauls this flashy rig from 0-100 km/h in a mere 7.6 seconds. The 5-speed automatic (standard with the NISMO package) shifts seamlessly up or down making best use of the broad power band as you put the Frontier through its paces. The suspension is so well sorted that if it wasn’t for some slight body roll (this is an elevated, top-heavy vehicle don’t forget) it is easy to forget that you are in a truck.


Versatility

It used to be common for consumers to buy a light truck as a weekend workhorse, or extra vehicle to utilize whenever a little heavy lifting was involved. Nowadays, vehicles and the costs to run them are so high that few families can afford to operate an extra vehicle. Nissan’s solution with the new Frontier line of trucks is to effectively produce a light truck that is practical enough to use everyday, powerful enough to tackle any household duties and light towing, and large enough to accommodate a small family in comfort.


Surefooted

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

When the pavement ends, the driver can activate the Frontier’s very capable 4WD system on-the-fly via a dash-mounted rotary switch. Normal operation for the NISMO is fuel-economy friendly two-wheel-drive with power to the rear wheels, but the truck can quickly transform to 4-HI when the roads get slippery or the weather turns ugly. True off-road fans will be happy to see that there is also a 4-LO setting for severe off-road conditions, and Nissan engineers have designed the engine to operate to special mapping parameters when you operate in this mode to maximize effectiveness. Innovative electronic aids such as ‘Hill Descent Control’ and ‘Hill Start Assist’ will ensure that your confidence levels carry over to the trail.


Safety

All the current safety equipment that Nissan has in its arsenal is on board the Frontier NISMO, including four-wheel ABS brakes with both ABS and EBD, and a tire pressure monitoring system. A full contingent of airbags incorporates Nissan’s Advanced Airbag System with dual-stage supplemental front airbags with seat belt sensors and occupant-classification sensor in the front passenger position. The front occupants also benefit from side-impact supplemental airbags, while roof-mounted curtain supplemental airbags for side-impact and rollover protection protect all outboard passengers.

The body has been designed as a safety cell incorporating Zone Body construction so that it will crumple to dissipate as much energy as possible in the event of a crash. The steering column is designed to absorb impact energy and the motor will dive down instead of through the passenger compartment. Passengers will also appreciate the pipe-style steel side-door guard beams that will help resist side penetration.

Utility

The person that buys a truck over a SUV usually plans to use the vehicle to perform some grunt duty, like hauling messy sports gear, all-terrain vehicles, pets, and building or landscaping supplies. As a result, the cargo box has to be of a useable size as well as durable.

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

Nissan fits all its trucks with an innovative spray-on bed liner and rail caps that, from the look of my high-mileage tester, are extremely resistant to scrapes and scuffs. They have also incorporated a clever system of channel rails – Utili-track – which offer the consumer convenient placement of tie-downs, as well as the ability to select from a number of dedicated carriers and attachments. A dedicated toolbox, bed divider or slide-out bed extender can be ordered to maximize the truck’s utility.

NISMO models come with a heavy-duty roof rack with cross rails and Nissan has partnered with Yakima to offer a host of carriers that quickly attach to accommodate items like bicycles, kayaks, snowboards and other gear.


Comfort and convenience

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

My test truck was loaded. All the expected power accessories were present and accounted for including power (and heated) mirrors, windows and locks, as well as a power operated sliding rear window and an enormous sunroof. Front windows as well as the sunroof benefit from one-touch operation, but only for the down motion in the case of the windows. Deep tint privacy glass in the rear compartment really stood out with the black paint and is great for shielding children and pets from excess glare. Remote keyless operation and an onboard ignition immobilizer add to the standard security element.

Gadget fans will be happy to see three 12-volt DC power outlets in the cabin, while a multi-functional trip computer and auxiliary voltage and oil pressure gauges will help keep them informed of what is happening under the hood.

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

The seating in the Frontier is much improved over that in the previous model, as the larger interior space means passengers have more room to spread out. The durable cloth upholstery looked and felt top-notch, and the seat cushions themselves proved very supportive. The driver’s seat features 8-way manual adjustability and in conjunction with the tilt steering column I quickly customized the cockpit to meet my needs. The leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel was comfortable in my hands and featured secondary controls for the stereo, as well as the cruise control switchgear: pretty civilized for a truck. When I got rid my Datsun, it had vice grips for window cranks! The front passenger seat folds down to allow for the cartage of bulky cargo, while the rear bench seat is a 60/40 split.

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

There is a storage net under the rear bench to help keep things from rolling about, as well as door bins and a centre console cubby. The driver’s seatback sports a map pocket, and there are a total of four drink holders.

Other standard equipment on the NISMO edition includes air conditioning, fog lights up front and a cargo light in back. Nissan’s collaboration with Rockford Fosgate continues and the Frontier NISMO packs an AM/FM/in-dash 6-CD changer (380 watts) with 10 carefully matched speakers and a subwoofer. This system is MP3 compatible and belched out excellent sound quality for a factory system.


Conclusions

After spending a week with the Frontier NISMO I came away impressed with Nissan’s transformation of the venerable Frontier. In short, Nissan engineers have created a durable design that is so well executed that the truck looks almost over-built, and in a day and age when disposable is the norm, this truck stands out.

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4
Click image to enlarge

The all-new Nissan Frontier is well positioned to attract more interest from the traditional domestic truck buyer as its new size, big power and rugged good looks give it real curb appeal. These same attributes will help Nissan grab a larger share of the import truck pie when consumers do a side-by-side comparison of what the new Frontier has to offer when compared to offerings from Toyota, Honda and Mazda.

For my money however, the Frontier NISMO satisfies a lot of needs in one fell swoop. It is stylish, offers excellent handling dynamics, and comes loaded with comfort and convenience features for an entry price that won’t break the bank.


Technical Data: 2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO Off-Road Crew Cab 4X4

Base price $38,798
Freight $1,296
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $40,194
Type 4-door, 5-passenger midsize pickup truck
Layout longitudinal front engine, 4WD
Engine 4.0 litre V6, 24-valve, DOHC
Horsepower 265 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque 284 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual or optional 5-spd automatic
Wheelbase 3,200 mm (126 in.)
Length 5,220 mm (205.5 in.)
Width 1,850 mm (72.8 in.)
Height 1,780 mm (70.1 in.)
Curb weight 1,983 – 2,044 kg (4,506 lbs)
Ground clearance 2574 mm (10.1 in.)
Towing capability 2,767 kg (6,100 lbs)
Maximum Payload 496 kg (1,093 lbs)
Fuel consumption City 15.2 L/100 km (19 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 10.6 L/100 km (27 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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