2010 Nissan Frontier

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Review: 2009 Nissan Frontier

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2005 to 2014.
By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.9

Bottom Line:

Prospering in a down market, the Nissan Frontier proves value and capability never go out of style. For 2009, Nissan’s new Frontier PRO-4X off-road package showcases modest upgrades across the Nissan truck line.
Pros:
  • Good value, good power
  • Sensibly midsized
  • Impressive off-roader
Cons:
  • Crew Cab cramped in back
  • Payload slightly limited
  • Powerful V6 is not a mileage champ

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.

Trim Choices
There is no standard cab Frontier; the offerings start with the extended cab — King Cab in Nissanese — and move up to the four-door Crew Cab. Trim levels are the basic XE, the popular SE, the comfier LE and the new PRO-4X sporting off-road package. The PRO-4X package started with the full-size Titan pickup, the same truck from which the Frontier takes its fully boxed frame.

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
Frontier power is slightly bipolar. The entry-level 2.5-liter 4-cylinder offers 152 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 171 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm; that's excellent for light duty but requires a downshift on large hills. Packaged with the standard 5-speed manual gearbox in base XE trim, the four-banger is compelling when its 19 city and 23 highway fuel economy and entry-level pricing are paramount.

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.

Inner Space
With no bench seat, all Frontiers are essentially two-adult vehicles and, given the midsize dimensions, those are two comfortable adults. The King Cab rear jump seats are definitely for occasional use only, and the four-door Crew Cab rear pew is limited on legroom and offers upright, nonreclining seatbacks. Early teens or the petite seem the practical limit there.

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
The Frontier is good on pavement and a pleasant surprise off it. The base XE takes some revving when hurrying along, but is a smooth and quiet runabout with passable fuel economy. Moving to the V6 brings no-excuses power that doesn't overwhelm the competent chassis. The midsize dimensions seem particularly handy no matter what the powertrain.

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?
Frontiers are popular and it's easy to see why. Starting at $17,460 for the base 4-cylinder and reaching to $29,190 for the LE Crew Cab 4x4, the Frontier is affordable and packs plenty of capability and thoughtful features. Nissan has been building trucks for decades and understands the core working values pickups must meet. The 4-banger is good for commuters, but we'd reserve the real work for the V6. And for the young at heart, the PRO-4X — $24,930 in King Cab 4x2 trim or $26,580 in King Cab 4x4 guise ($26,280/$28,980 for Crew Cab 4x2/4x4) — combines just enough up-market trim to build interest while packing the best off-road hardware.

Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technical engine books and hundredsof freelance articles.

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BB02 - 8/30/2014 1:22:52 PM