Review: 2009 Nissan Frontier
By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
Truck sales might be down, but the category ain't dead yet. Core-market truck buyers remain strong and continue to demand value and capability. And that's good for Nissan, which offers the value-laden Xterra sport utility for those with active lifestyles, and the Frontier midsize pickup for the outdoors crowd and working folks.
The Frontier has been a strong performer on- and off-road since its introduction more than a decade ago, and continues to offer buyers a good alternative if they don't want or need a full-size model or a V8. For 2009, not a whole lot has changed, just a midlife sprucing up — i.e., a refreshed grille and headlights and enhanced value/options packages. The real story here is the all-new PRO-4X off-road trim level.
Also new are reconstituted Value Truck Packages on the SE, LE and PRO-4X. These move a few items that were optional last year to standard this year with no increase in price. Even the PRO-4X, while inviting, is not overly expressive and thus wears well.
And while it's packing a lot onto a midsize platform, the somewhat specialized Crew Cab Long Bed continues in both SE and LE trim.
Under the Hood
The 4.0-liter V6 alternative is an eager beaver, with 261 horsepower at 5600 rpm. Its 281 lb-ft of torque at 5600 rpm nicely supports the optional 5-speed automatic transmission and up to 6,500-pound tow rating. A 6-speed manual is standard, and with either transmission the V6 Frontier doesn't lack for power.
Both engines and transmissions are available with 4x2 or shift-on-the-fly, two-range 4x4 drive. Nifty 4x4 options are a no-excuses metal-to-metal locking rear differential (a dashboard switch activates the locker), plus hill start and hill descent assists.
Premium PRO-4X gear includes skidplates, 4-wheel limited slip (brake intervention traction control), ABS, electronic brake force distribution, Bilstein shocks and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A rubber. The P265/75R-16 tires were carefully selected for their good combination of dirt and pavement traction and ride on new forged-aluminum wheels. PRO-4X Frontiers are typically 4x4 drive, but are available in 4x2.
All Frontiers receive a freshened center dash console for 2009; its angular lines are appropriately masculine and help form a pleasingly businesslike interior. Leather is optional on some LE Frontiers, but the mood seems best-suited to the prevailing cloth upholstery. For the cost-conscious, XE Frontiers maintain friendly surroundings even in their near-austere base trim of crank windows, manual mirrors, non-tilt steering and optional radio.
PRO-4X models sport up the presentation with white gauge faces, a red-stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel and manual transmission shift knob, plus occasional chrome accents. They hint at sophistication and avoid boy-racer disappointments.
Nissan is rightfully proud of its factory-applied spray-in bedliner (drop-in liners are available), and the PRO-4X gets one as standard equipment. Another PRO-4X highlight is the very useful, adjustable-position cleat tie-down system.
On the Road
Ride quality is good, tending toward firm. The lighter 4-cylinder hops its rear end slightly on aggravated pavement; heavier versions are smoother. The PRO-4X is not hard-edged on the highway, soaking up sharp-edged impacts and stiffening more in gently rounded upsets.
Off-road, the Frontier impresses with good traction and workable ground clearance. In PRO-4X trim, the electronics suite makes child's play of steep hills, allowing the truck to crawl down on its own while the driver merely steers. On uphill standing starts, the brakes automatically hold for two seconds, giving ample time to move from brake pedal to throttle. The off-road ride is good, with much less side-to-side joggling than the more top-heavy, sporty Xterra, for example, but with a little more firmness in the suspension than the heavier, more softly sprung Pathfinder SUV.
Our only question is the seating, which felt thin-cushioned. Several hours in the saddle didn't bother us, but uninterrupted full-day stints may prove different.
Right for You?
Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technical engine books and hundredsof freelance articles.
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