We first test-drove a Nissan Frontier pickup truck shortly after it replaced the rough-riding little Hardbody truck in the late 1990s. The good news is we actually remember the truck. The bad news is what we remember best is the weird industrial-style fake nuts and bolts on the plastic wheel-well guards. Nissan apparently was trying to impart a sense of strength and toughness.
The 2013 Frontier PRO4X crew cab needs no artificial appurtenances to make an impression. It’s legitimately powerful and rugged. It’s also a comparatively smooth-riding, nimble vehicle that seats five.
With General Motors, Ford and Ram having abandoned the midsize-pickup segment after the 2011 and 2012 model years, citing declining sales of midsize pickup trucks in recent years, the Frontier, Toyota Tacoma and Honda Ridgeline are the sole survivors. U.S. automakers anticipate owners of midsize trucks will move up to full-sized Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ram 1500.
Their decision cracks the door open wide for the Frontier, but it hasn’t been able to push all the way through. According to Nissan, the Frontier is selling at about the same rate now as it did in 2012, having reached 34,931 units sold in the U.S. market through July. Toyota remains the undisputed leader in the segment, having sold more than 95,000 Tacomas – 21 percent more than the same period last year.
The Frontier is available as an extended-cab truck with a 6-foot bed or a crew cab with a 5-foot or 6-foot bed. Engine choices are a 2.5-liter, 152-horsepower Four or a 4-liter, 261-horsepower V-6. Customers also can choose between a 5-speed or 6-speed stick and a 5-speed automatic, depending on trim level. Prices range from $17,990 for a basic, rear-drive king cab with a stick shift and 4-cylinder engine, to $33,790 for a 4×4 crew cab with V-6 engine, automatic transmission and long bed.
Our Brilliant Silver test truck, with the PRO-4X luxury package, plus bed extender and trailer-hitch package, had a sticker price of $35,645. The luxury package included navigation, streaming audio via Bluetooth, leather upholstery, power heated front seats, power sliding glass moonroof, and roof rack with cross bars. The truck was rated at 15 mpg city, 21 highway.
We could have done without the moonroof, which injected a vast wave of wind noise into the truck at highway speeds. While knee room in back was satisfactory for tall passengers, the seating position was awkward because the seat cushion was mounted low to keep passengers’ heads clear the relatively low roof line. And passengers with short legs will find the truck easier to live with if it has running boards.
Built in Canton, Miss., the Frontier received an overall evaluation of “Good” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but came up short in leg and foot protection, with “Marginal” and “Acceptable” ratings. Consumer Reports magazine owner surveys show the truck has above-average reliability.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 4-liter V-6, 261 horsepower, 281 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 5-speed shiftable automatic
Drive: rear-wheel and 4×4, 2-speed transfer case
Weight: 4,557 lb.
Ground clearance: 8.9 in.
Suspension: Double-wishbone front, live-axle rear
Wheels: 16-in. off-road machine finish alloy
Tires: P265/75R16 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Towing capacity: 6,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gallons
Fuel economy: 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular unleaded