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“(We’re) essentially giving buyers the same tough truck in large and extra large,” says Mark McNabb, vice president and general manager at Nissan.

This will be the third generation of the Frontier line, which superceded the venerable Nissan Hardbody pickup in 1996. There are two body styles: King Cab with a 76-inch-long bed and Crew Cab with a 62-inch bed. Nissan will not offer a regular cab model or return with a Crew Cab long-bed model. Yet the 2005 Frontier still distinguishes itself from any previous Nissan pickup with its size. Wheelbase is almost 10 inches longer at 125.9 inches while front/rear track is almost 2 inches wider. Interior dimensions, especially shoulder room and rear leg room, increased all around.

Just as important as size, the power numbers also increased dramatically. In comparing a new Crew Cab LE 4x4 with last year’s supercharged S/C model, the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) went from 5421 pounds up to 5816 pounds. Tow capacity jumped from 5000 to 6100 (max towing on the King Cab is 6500 pounds). Payload shot up from 915 pounds to 1365 pounds.

The most dramatic improvement came under the hood. Last year’s 3.3-liter V6 was rated at a struggling 180 horsepower at 4800 rpm with peak torque of 202 ft-lb at 2800 rpm. Even when supercharged, the 3.3L engine could muster only 210 horsepower but the torque jumped up considerably to 246 lb-ft. The new 4.0-liter V6 pumps out 265 horsepower at 5600 rpm with peak torque of 284 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. Those ratings give Frontier bragging rights in the power department, even over the standard V8 in the Dakota, although Dodge has promised a High Output version later in 2005. In fact, the Nissan VQ40 is the most powerful V6 in any pickup, midsize or full-size.

The V6 engine is backed by a new electronically controlled 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. A base 2.5-liter, 154-horsepower I4 engine comes only in the King Cab XE 4x2 model with the 5-speed manual or optional automatic. On 4x4 models, the 2-speed, part-time transfer case is controlled electronically.

Nissan officials acknowledge the diminishing sales in the compact truck field but also say they’ve identified trends that they feel the company can capitalize upon with a new Frontier. First, there’s a big shift to crew cab models—and Nissan boasts it was the first to offer a crew cab in the United States with the last Frontier. More 4x4 models are being sold, a reflection of active buyers who need recreation vehicles. Nissan projects 40 percent of Frontier buyers will opt for 4x4 models and 55 percent will purchase a Crew Cab. Only 15% will go the baseline SE model while the remaining customers will choose the V6 offered in three different trim levels: SE (31 percent), LE (23 percent) and NISMO (31 percent).

As with most trucks, the features and options list is long and confusing as you switch between trim levels and cab configurations. SE is a basic but comfortable package while the LE offers power accessories, available leather seating and upgraded audio options. The NISMO trim appeals to more active off-roaders. You can get the power windows and the audio package on the NISMO but not leather seating. And the 6-CD Rockford Fosgate audio system is available only on all Crew Cab trims, not on any King Cab model. Nissan has a unique Utili-Track tie-down system (same as the Titan) for the bed to help with large, unstable loads, but it’s not available on the lower-priced, longer-bed King Cab SE models that would appeal to landscapers and other hard-working types. So as more features are discussed throughout this story, be aware that not all will be available on every trim.

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