First Drive: 2005 Nissan Frontier
By: Mike Magda, Editor Posted: 12-01-04 00:00 ET
© 2004

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If you’re the last one to the party, you better be dressed to kill, or at least tow.

The Nissan Frontier is the fifth completely redesigned compact pickup truck to hit the market within the last year. It follows some heavy hitters, including the big Dodge Dakota and hot-selling Toyota Tacoma, both of which were introduced in the fall of 2004 as 2005 models. The GM siblings, Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, came out as 2004 models a year earlier. The only other compact trucks on the market are the sales-leading Ford Ranger and its Mazda clone, the B-Series pickup. Both ride on an old platform that by all accounts won’t be redesigned until at least 2009. The Ranger used to outsell the nearest competitor by almost 2-to-1, but the Toyota Tacoma could overtake the Ford this year as the best-selling compact truck. Although Colorado sales this year are off about 20 percent compared to the S-10 last year, the Colorado is the still the third best-selling compact followed by Dakota, Frontier, Canyon and B-Series.

In other words, after a few years of neglect, the compact market is buzzing with new activity and everyone is looking to see what Nissan brought to the show. All other manufacturers upgraded their packages significantly as the entire market faces an unexpected competitor: full-size trucks. Generous financial incentives have put full-size trucks nearly in the same price category as compacts. In the past, the compact buyer would cross-shop against similar-priced small cars. Now they’re lured to full-size trucks when window-sized advertisements shout 0-percent financing or thousands of dollars in cash-back rebates.

To compete with full-size trucks, the compact trucks had to get bigger and stronger. Previously only the Dakota was considered to be a midsized pickup but was still categorized with the compact trucks. Now GM, Toyota and Nissan have elevated their new pickups to the midsize class with spacious interiors, more horsepower and an emphasis on the larger crew cab models that carry 5 occupants. The manufacturers are also offering more luxury amenities and technology that improves safety and ride dynamics. It’s certainly a different market from just a decade ago when compact trucks were meant to be small, lightweight, nimble, fuel-efficient and inexpensive. Now they have GVWR and horsepower numbers that surpass ½-ton trucks of the ‘80s.

So how does Nissan grab the spotlight in a highly competitive environment that suddenly has changed stages? Offer bigger numbers and look like a full-size truck.

It’s safe to say the new Frontier is a ¾-scale version of company’s full-size Titan. The two trucks share styling cues, especially in the front end with their angled-strut grilles. The Titan’s V8 is an extension of a car-based family of engines found in the Infiniti , and the Frontier’s new V6 is a stroked version (92mm vs. 81.4mm) of the engine found in the 350Z and other cars. The Frontier’s frame is scaled-down version of the Titan’s F-Alpha fully boxed structure that uses plenty of High Tensile and Super High Tensile steel in critical areas. Frame weight is reduced by 22 percent using this upgraded steel. The Frontier also carries over the Titan’s suspension design and bed-utility features.

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