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By Jeremy Cato
Nissan made a small mistake when the time came to launch the new Frontier compact pickup as a 1998 replacement for the previous Hardbody: that year there was no V6 engine available.
The following year, the V6 (170 horsepower) arrived for the 1999 model year and Nissan has been on something of a power binge ever since. In fact, for 2001, Nissan added a supercharged (210 hp.) version to the Frontier lineup along with some very aggressive styling changes.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Easy to do, given that Nissan has been tweaking and tuning the Frontier ever since it arrived in the marketplace. The point is, if you’re looking at a used Frontier, it’s worth knowing which changes came when in the short but happy life of this truck.
So first, let’s go back to the fall of ’97. That year marked the 35th anniversary of the Nissan/Datsun small pickup and it’s when the reinvented Frontier arrived. The ’98 Frontier was clearly a quieter, more comfortable, more powerful and sharper looking pickup than the old Hardbody which by the time 1997 rolled around was starting to look pretty dated.
By the way, the updates to Nissan’s small truck were just in time. Two other new-for-’98 small trucks arrived that fall: Mazda’s B-series and Ford’s Ranger. Nissan’s lineup included a bare-bones two-wheel-drive model, XE King Cab, sporty SE King Cab and a four-wheel drive version.
Nissan’s engineers and designers worked hard to make the Frontier a more friendly, car-like truck. The ride was made softer (some might say too soft), although towing capacity was rated at 1,588 kg (3,500 lbs.), the best standard rating among Canada’s small trucks that year. The bed was given all sorts of tweaks, including inner walls moulded to allow for two-tier loading and to accommodate three-tier vertical partitions. There were also standard tie-down hooks.
That year Nissan added dual front airbags and a beefed up front end to meet crash test standards. The passenger side bag came with a cut-off switch to protect youngsters. And just as important for anyone who’s ever installed a child seat, the passenger side front seat belt became the automatic locking/emergency locking type. Anti-lock braking was standard on all Frontiers.
For ’99, Nissan expanded the Frontier lineup to include a V6-powered King Cab that boasted 170 horsepower. The Frontier’s V6 at that time was the same one in the Pathfinder sport-utility and Quest minivan. That year the V6 was only available in a King Cab with four-wheel drive. The V6 Frontier 4×4 had a towing capacity of 2,268 kg or 5,000 lbs.
Note, too, that the upscale four-cylinder versions of the King Cab Frontier, the XE and SE models, were dropped entirely from Nissan’s lineup for ’99.
Prior to ’99, the last time Nissan sold a V6 compact truck, the engine was a 3.0-litre V6. The 3.3-litre V6 available in ’99 delivered 11 per cent more horsepower and 20 foot-pounds of additional torque. The standard transmission was a five-speed manual, while an automatic four-speed was optional. A limited slip rear differential was standard on the SE V6 and optional on XE V6 trucks.
The model range for ’99 went from basic rear-drive to SE V6 King Cab, a truck loaded with everything from fog lights to power windows/door locks/mirrors, tilt steering, keyless remote entry and an anti-theft system.
Next up for model year 2000 was the arrival of the Frontier Crew Cab, a four-door pickup with tremendous versatility. The Crew Cab arrived as part of a Nissan truck blitz that included the then-new Xterra sport-utility vehicle, a re-vamped Pathfinder sport-ute and the Frontier Desert Runner pickup.
Nissan launched two Crew Cab versions in Canada: XE and SE, both with a 3.3-litre (170-horsepower) V6 engine. A five-speed manual was the base transmission, while a four-speed automatic was optional. It was available in both two- and four-wheel drive and all versions had 2,268 kg or 5,000 lbs. of towing capacity.
Then in the fall of 2000, Nissan gave its Frontier a jolt of macho for 2001. The Frontier was dressed up with bold fender flares fastened to the body with bolts covered in pseudo rivets made of plastic. The hood was given a beefier shape, there were imposing front fenders with built-in foglights and more aggressive 15-, 16- and 17-inch tires available. It was and remains a rapping, hip hop design aimed squarely at young, male buyers who wear baggy jeans and turned-around baseball caps.
Nissan also become the first original equipment manufacturer to make a supercharged engine available in a compact pickup. At 210 horsepower and 245 foot-pounds of torque, the Frontier S/C (for supercharged, duh!) gave Nissan the bragging rights to the most powerful V6-powered compact pickup sold in North America. Take note, though, that supercharging in Canada was available only with the four-door Frontier Crew Cab, not the Frontier King Cab as was the case in the U.S.
Obviously, the last four years have been busy ones for the Frontier. Yet through all the changes quality has remained high and prices affordable. If you’re looking for a nearly-new Frontier, though, be alert to the differences from one model year to the next.