Nissan Frontier stays at forefront of class
By Sue MEAD Motor Matters September 27, 2012 2:01PM
2012 NISSAN FRONTIER SV CREW CAB
ENGINE: 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6
TRANSMISSION: five-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: 14 city/19 highway
BASE PRICE: $22,210
AS TESTED: $29,595
When it comes to trucks Americans’ tastes vary widely. But one thing seems constant: Everyone likes choices. Last year 20 percent of pickup truck buyers in its class chose a Nissan Frontier.
No longer seen as simply rural workhorses, pickups often do double or triple duty as family vehicles and mobile work stations, thanks to innovations in technology, safety and fit and finish. Nissan’s Frontier is no exception.
For 2012 the Frontier has undergone a minor refresh yet features a Cheesecake Factory menu of variations on the same theme: two cab styles, multiple drivetrain combinations and up to four trim levels. Trim levels include S, SV, SL and Pro-4X in King Cab and Crew Cab styles. This pickup starts with a base price of $18,200.
We drove two models on trails at the Medina River Ranch in the hill country of Texas. Nissan calls its Frontier a “no-compromise activity tool” and says that it wears “full-size” truck hardware at compact-value pricing; it’s built on the same platform as the full-size Titan truck and Armada SUV. We’ve driven the Frontier since it came to market in 1997 and have always liked its no-apologies trucky ride and handling, plus its prowess off the pavement.
With 261 horsepower, Nissan claims leadership in the segment and also has a class-exclusive factory spray-on bed liner with five bedrails compared to the competitors’ three. What we say is that this fully boxed pickup has a heavy-duty frame, which translates to a solid ride feel, and has great command of the backcountry as a truly capable 4x4 player. We like its ingress, egress and good visibility; comfortable seats and pleasing ergonomics; as well as its power, responsive brakes and well-weighted steering.
We tested a Frontier Crew Cab SV 4x4 in Super Black with a steel-colored interior that came with Nissan’s premium utility package that upgrades audio and adds an electrochromic inside mirror, spray-on bed liner, tie-down cleats and a Utili-track channel system, among other goodies in this package; it was priced at $29,595.
We also motored the more off-road capable PRO-4X performance version set-up with 16-inch wheels and BFG Rugged Trail tires, Bilstein shocks, four skid plates and a rear-locking differential. It was optioned with a bed extender trailer hitch package and retailed at just more than $30,000.
Under the hood is a 4.0-liter V-6 producing 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Our 4x4 tester had Environmental Protection Agency ratings of 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. An available 2.5-liter four-cylinder (King Cab 4x2 only) is rated at 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.
The standard engine is mated to a six-speed manual, while the four-cylinder comes with a five-speed stick shift. A five-speed automatic was an available option on our Crew Cab SV 4x4.
The available four-wheel-drive system has 2WD/4H/4LO modes and an electronically controlled part-time transfer case. All key underbody hardware is tucked up to the frame rails for up a minimum of 10.1 inches (4x4) or 9.8 inches (4x2) of ground clearance at the rear differentials. Other Frontier driveline components include engine-speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and pinion steering and standard four-wheel disc brakes with antilock braking.
Nissan has spent a lot of time thinking about — and innovating — the bed of its Frontier truck. Both Frontier King Cab and Crew Cab offer an available high-utility bed with factory-applied spray-on bedliner and Nissan’s Utili-track tie-down system, which features cross-section rails mounted in the bed. Removable utility cleats slide into the channels for securing cargo.
The Frontier exterior also features a standard locking and detachable tail gate, a tinted front window, rear privacy glass and a hitch ball provision on the rear bumper for towing.
Updates for 2012 include standard two-wheel brake limited slip, vehicle dynamic control on four-cylinder models and new exterior colors. New options include a sport appearance package on King Cab and Crew Cab SV models; the package features 18-inch SL aluminum-alloy wheels and a tasteful front grille with Dark Hyper Silver finish, body-color front and rear bumpers, sport cloth seat trim, white-faced gauges and Bluetooth. The Frontier can tow up to 6,500 pounds.
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