Normally a facelift
is nothing more than a Band-Aid for most trucks. It's an attempt to keep
a truck's styling, usually halfway through its lifecycle, fresh in the
eyes of consumers until the next generation truck is available.
Seldom does a facelift
completely change a truck's appearance and performance so radically that
it appeals to a whole new group of buyers almost 180 degrees away from
the group it did before the reskin. This is what Nissan is hoping to do
with the revised Frontier even though its essentially the same truck as
last year's model under all the new tweaks.
We can't help but
draw comparisons to the Frontier's primary competitor, the Ford
Ranger Edge, which also receives a facelift and powerful new engine
for 2001. Like the Ranger, the Frontier is targeted right at the Gen X
crowd. Specifically those young, adventurous and urban types who would
rather go bungie jumping or mountain biking than fishing or hunting. Fans
of Keanu Reeves as opposed to John Wayne. Where the median age of Frontier
owners before this new truck was 44, new buyers are expected to be between
25-34 years old.
Nissan is taking
a risk in the aggressive, even polarizing style of the Frontier because
it has to use a more radical approach than well-established Ford to attract
and retain a new audience of buyers. The
new look is a significant departure from the previous Frontier, much more
so than the 2001 Ranger compared to last year's predecessor. The Ranger
also doesn't come in a crew cab model, something sure to appeal to the
active set driving their friends to Tahoe.
the Frontier's new appearance as 'modern industrial'. The overall impression
is of a truck precision lathed from raw steel and polished to a high luster.
In some ways the Frontier reminds us of a compact version of the GMC
Terradyne concept truck shown earlier this year in Detroit. Both trucks
are examples of industrial design influencing today's and tomorrow's trucks.
From the A-pillar
forward the Frontier wears all new sheetmetal. The front fascia sports
large one-piece, multifaceted headlamps that look more at home on an Infiniti
sedan than on Nissan trucks of the past. Between the lights is a prominent
'power bar' set in the grille, though on the pre-production trucks driven
the bar was made from plastic and not the brushed aluminum shown on the
Frontier models first displayed in Chicago.
The prominent front bumper is nicely enhanced with fog lamps taken from
the 2000 Maxima and the new hood is more muscular and taller than the
previous truck's. P265x55R17 tires and 17" wheels on the upscale
models are aftermarket in appearance and surrounded by large fender flares
with simulated rivets found on all trim levels.
In the rear the Frontier
has a new tailgate with standard security lock. Raised metal lettering
spelling out the Frontier name tells folks in your rear view mirror what
kind of truck they were just passed by. A long bed version Frontier Crew
Cab will be available in the 2002 model year.
Under the hood is
Nissan's other radical and much needed enhancement to the Frontier, an
optional 3.3-liter 210 horsepower supercharged V6 engine - a first in
a compact truck - over 20 percent more powerful than the naturally aspirated
V6. The SOHC engine' s water-to-air intercooled, roots-type positive displacement
pump was designed and built with the help of Eaton, the supercharger's
manufacturer. Eaton also makes the supercharger found on Ford's F-150
engine will be available in four "SC" badged models -
4x2 Desert Runner SC, 4x4 King Cab SC, 4x2 Crew Cab SC and 4x4 Crew
the supercharged engine is expected to run $1200-$1400 more than
the standard V6 and will be available for delivery by November.
In 2003 SC equipped Frontiers will receive another boost in
170 horsepower V6 is still carried over into the 2001 Frontier
lineup along with a 2.4-liter I4 engine producing 143 horsepower.
the Frontier the facelift continues.
A new instrument
panel cover, gauges and steering wheel is complemented by new fabrics
and color options. The HVAC controls are replaced with easy to use three
easy to use dials. The door handles and armrests look and feel more solid
than last year's model. In the supercharged version SC embroidered leather
seating is now an option along with standard power windows, locks and
outside mirrors. Order the six CD, in-dash stereo and you can switch tunes
easier than ever. Look for an optional 300 watt stereo in the 2002 model
Nissan still retains
the 1970's style parking brake, which remains just as temperamental as
ever and, this is a real nit, the cheap aluminum ignition switch in the
Before revising the
interior of the Frontier, NDI designers researched and created 3-dimensional
'themes' of what people like to do inside their trucks using everyday
objects, such as tools, and photos. The designs were meant to inspire
creativity in the materials used and to meet the lifestyle needs of different
buyers. The SC model follows the 'wrench' theme for buyers who want industrial
strength in their trucks. 'Bristol' is the theme for woodworkers and appears
in the XE trim. Finally, for the SE trim, Nissan uses the theme 'orbit'
to describe the durable interior fabrics, materials and colors desired
by young, active surfer types.
Beneath the paint
the Frontier is still a double-sided, steel unibody mounted on a five
crossmember H-frame. The independent front suspension remains the same
consisting of torsion and stabilizer bar on both 4X2 and 4X4 versions.
A rigid rear axle utilizes conventional leaf springs
Overall Nissan will
offer 14 models of Frontier available in 132 build options. Production
trucks started rolling off the assembly lines in Smyrna, TN the week of
July 10th. Nissan expects to build 3500 Frontiers per month to meet demand
which has skyrocketed 45% in the last year since the introduction of the
2000 Crew Cab
model and is only expected to keep increasing with the 2001 model.
We drove pre-production
supercharged V6 Frontier Crew Cabs around San Diego on surface streets,
the highway and a short off-road stretch.
SE-V6 Crew Cab
The standard SE-V6
Crew Cab Frontier for 2001 is, well, standard except for the handsome
new looks inside and out. Most manufacturers are offering compact crew
cab pickups with four full size doors next year, whereas Nissan was the
first to offer that option last year, so there is nothing too remarkable
The engine is anonymous.
Full of sound and fury as you stomp on the pedal it signifies little power,
like when it comes time to enter a freeway onramp. It gets a little harder
to accelerate at speeds above 70mph.
We took the
4x2 on the off-road stretch of our drive. Bounding around on this
fire-road quality trail the Frontier was remarkably quiet on the
inside. Though a pre-production unit this truck showed not the slightest
hint of a squeak or rattle inside or out.
made the rear of the five passenger crew cab a bit more livable
out the back of the front seats for 2001 to allow more leg room
for rear passengers. More cramped than other crew cab trucks in
the rear, if you can move the front passengers forward those in
the back will stay pretty happy on medium length trips. On the highway
at speeds over 70mph there was significant wind noise in the cabin,
especially in the back seat.
The SE-V6 drew
a moderate amount of attention and head turning on the road but
nothing like the solar yellow SC-V6 we drove.
Crew Cab 4x4 Drive
after driving the SE-V6 we hopped into the SC.
With its supercharger,
bright yellow paint, 17" aluminum alloy wheels and performance
tires we're not sure you'd really take this truck off-road, but
it sure is great for getting from stoplight to stoplight. You really
feel like taking on all comers at the green.
The extra 40
horsepower and 45 foot pounds of torque power provided by the supercharger
over the non-supercharged engine is immediately apparent. Just
stepping on the gas you feel lots more power than the standard V6
and mashing the accelerator brings
satisfaction to the enthusiast's soul.
The whine of
the Eaton supercharger was prominently heard if you opened the throttle
wide open and stayed that way until you reached cruising speed.
Appealing to the younger crowd that Nissan is going after with the
SC, daily commuters might find the high pitched whine a little tiresome
over the long term, but as long as you don't stomp down too hard,
you don't even know the supercharger exists.
On the road
behavior was quite good for a 4x4. Nissan has done a nice job balancing
the suspension and ride height while still leaving ground clearance
Our SC-V6 was
fully loaded with the standard Power Package, which included remote
keyless entry and power everything, and Supercharger Value Package,
which included leather seating surfaces, pop-up sunroof, security
system and the CD changer.
leather seats felt comfortable and reminded the author of the leather
seating found in the discontinued Nissan 300Z sports car. Very supportive
and durable, the leather gave an impression of high quality. The
embroidered S/C emblem on the seats was also a nice touch. Built
into the leather wrapped steering wheel were controls for the radio
and CD player to quickly change through the station settings.
The same high
level of wind and road noise penetrates the cabin at highway speeds,
but its a small price to pay for the extra performance. Hopefully
production units will have more sound proofing.
DOHC 16-valve I4:
143 hp@5,200 RPM
154 ft-lbs torque@4,000 RPM
SOHC 12-valve V6:
170 hp@4,800 RPM
200 ft-lbs torque@2,800 RPM
SOHC 12-valve V6 Supercharger:
240 ft-lbs torque
5-speed manual or 4-speed electronically controlled automatic
Front engine/rear-wheel drive (4x2) Front engine/4-wheel drive
Double wishbone front suspension with stabilizer bar Rear
leaf spring suspension (stabilizer bar on 4x2 V6)
Wheelbase (Reg. Cab/King Cab and Crew Cab): 104.3 in./116.1
length (Reg. Cab/King Cab/Crew Cab): 191.3 in./203.1 in./200.1
4x2 I4 M/T: 22/26 mpg City/Highway A/T: 20/24 mpg City/Highway
4x2 V6 M/T: 17/19 mpg City/Highway A/T: 16/19 mpg City/Highway
V6 M/T: 16/18 mpg City/Highway A/T: 15/19 mpg City/Highway
Nissan has just announced
that its investing around $1B in the expansion of its two US manufacturing
plants over the next four years to increase production capacity. Part
of that capacity will go into increased production volume for future editions
of the Frontier.
If Nissan puts as
much effort into the next generation Frontier as they did into the facelift
of the 2001 truck they can look forward to a nice return on their investment.
The demand will be there.
We look forward to
doing a more thorough road test of the Frontier in the near future.