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Story and photos by Grant Yoxon
Ste. Adele, Quebec – Nissan has been listening to the market. Responding to consumer demand, Nissan’s compact pickup truck, the Frontier, has been up-sized for 2005, joining GM and Toyota in abandoning the compact pickup segment for the potentially more lucrative mid-size market.
Full-size pickup trucks outsell compact pickups in Canada by a margin of more than seven to one. Last year, full size pickups accounted for 12.7 percent of all vehicle sales in Canada. In contrast, less than 2 percent of sales were compact pickups – just 28,700 sales for the Chevrolet S10, Pontiac Sonoma, Ford Ranger, Mazda B-Series, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier combined. The larger, mid-sized Dodge Dakota did better than any of them with 14,126 Canadian sales in 2003.
And while all vehicle sales were down 6.4 percent in 2003, small trucks declined 9 percent while sales of large trucks were down just 2.8 percent. No wonder then that the compact pickup truck is fast disappearing.
But bigger is better not only for sales. A bigger Frontier is also a better Frontier. The new mid-size Nissan has more power, more towing capacity, more interior room, a more functional bed and better ride and handling than the model it replaces.
The 2005 Frontier’s wheelbase is 259 millimetres (9.8 inches) longer than the previous generation’s, while the overall length of 5,220 mm (205.5 in.) is larger than the 2004 model (+66 mm/2.6 in. for the King Cab, + 142 mm/5.6 in. for the Crew Cab). Width and height measurements also increased with the new design.
The 2005 Frontier shares its suspension layout and many components with the full-size Titan, including an all-steel double-wishbone front suspension and solid axle leaf rear suspension with overslung leaf springs.
A new 4.0-litre DOHC V-6, based on Nissan’s VQ series engines, produces 265 horsepower and 284 lb.-ft. of torque and gives the Frontier more power than the Dakota V-8 and enough strength to pull 2,950 kilograms (6,500 pounds). It is the most powerful V-6 offered in a mid-size pickup, at least on paper.
It is a smooth engine and a big improvement over the supercharged V-6 available in the previous Frontier, not only in terms of pulling power, but NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) as well.
Despite being configured for truck use, the V-6 Frontier is the most car-like Frontier yet. Interior noise levels are minimal and throttle response is excellent.
Transmission choices include a 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission.
A 152 hp, 2.5-litre inline 4-cylinder engine with 5-speed manual transmission will also be available in King Cab versions a few months after the Frontier V-6 goes on sale some time this winter.
Only pre-production 4X4 trucks with the 4.0-litre six and automatic transmissions were available for testing during a sneak preview held recently for the media in Ste. Adele, Quebec.
Frontier 4×4 models include a shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel drive system with 2WD/4HI/4LO modes operated by an electronically controlled part-time transfer case. A new advanced off-road traction system is available with 4WD models. It includes an advanced 4-wheel limited slip system, which helps limit wheel slip when starting on low traction surfaces.
Special NISMO (Nissan Motorsports International) versions will be available for hard core off-road enthusiasts. The NISMO package consists of hill descent control (HDC) and hill start assist (HSA), specially tuned Billstein high performance shocks, locking rear differential, BF Goodrich off-road tires and wheels and underbody skid plates.
2005 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab with NISMO package
Our testing was limited to on highway and rough road driving, although Nissan is targeting this truck at the off-road crowd. But we did have a chance to test the NISMO-equipped Frontier’s HDC and HSA on a steep incline (they work just fine).
Our Crew Cab tester, equipped with standard suspension components, provided a surprisingly comfortable on-road ride and decent handling. Our colleagues driving NISMO-equipped Frontiers reported a much firmer ride.
Nissan Frontiers will be available in King Cab (extended cab) and Crew Cab (four door) versions. The Frontier King Cab features two flip-up, front-facing rear seats and rear hinged rear doors. On both models, removable storage boxes are tucked beneath the rear seats, while the front passenger seat folds flat for added load carrying capacity. A dual glove box, centre console storage, front door map pockets and a variety of cupholders and power points are standard. Leather seating and a factory-installed sunroof will also be available.
King Cabs seat four, while the Crew Cab, with its full width rear seat, will accommodate five.
My driving partner and I found the Frontier Crew Cab to be roomy and seating comfortable. With three more inches of rear seating space than the previous Frontier Crew Cab, rear legroom is more than adequate.
The Frontier shares interior and exterior design elements with the new, larger, Nissan Pathfinder and Titan full-size pickup. The new Frontier has signature Nissan truck themes, including a chrome, angled strut grille, chrome bumpers, short front and rear overhangs and large, stamped steel, geometric fender flares. The only visible plastic is beneath the solid-looking front bumpers. Like it’s big brother, the Titan, the Frontier looks tough. It’s a macho image that Nissan hopes will appeal to mostly male truck buyers.
Both King Cab and Crew Cab models ride on the same wheelbase. As a result the Crew Cab has a shorter box than the King Cab – 1,490 mm (58.7 in.) vs. 1,840 mm (72.4 in.). Wheel intrusion into the bed has been kept to a minimum. A high-utility bed that includes a factory-applied spray-in bedliner and the”Utili-track” tie-down system first introduced on Titan is optionally available for both models.
The Utili-track system provides cargo carrying flexibility through the use of five special “C” cross-section rails mounted in the bed. Removable utility cleats slide into the channels, providing a wide range of attaching points for securing cargo.
Pricing for the full range of 2005 Nissan Frontiers has not been finalized. Pricing for the vehicles we drove show a base price of $26,100 for the V-6 King Cab and $31,800 for the Crew Cab. Nissan says prices will range from mid-20s to mid-30s.
Standard equipment on the V-6 King Cab included air conditioning, power windows, door locks and heated outside mirrors, cruise control, tire pressure warning system and dual front air bags with seat belt sensors and front occupant classification sensor and 4-speaker CD audio. Crew Cab models additionally receive the high utility bed and 6-speaker CD audio.
Optional equipment includes vehicle dynamic control (stability control), high utility bed for King Cab, Rockford audio system, front seat side air bags and side curtain air bags, 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, side step rails and specifically for the Crew Cab, an aluminum roof rack, painted grille, bumpers and door handles, heated leather seating (4X2 only) and power sun roof. Fully-optioned models can also be equipped with NISMO off-road packages.
With the new bigger GM, Toyota and Nissan trucks, the competition for sales moves up to the mid-size market where once there was only the Dodge Dakota. How successful they will be remains to be seen. But that may be good news for Ford and Mazda, whose shared platform Ranger and B-series models are now the only compact pickups available.