Test: 2005 Nissan NISMO Frontier 4x4 King Cab
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With the new 2005 Frontier, Nissan adapted the Nismo badge to its off-road packages for both 4x4 and 4x2 models. This follows similar moves by other manufacturers who have been successful in creating brand awareness for rugged off-road equipment. The trend is so profitable that off-road packages are no longer options; they’re now distinct models or trim levels. In recent years, the Nismo team earned solid credentials in strengthening the performance attributes of Nissan’s sporty cars. But increasing grip on the skid pad requires far different engineering than maintaining control over desert whoop-de-doos.
After a torrential Texas thunderstorm cancelled any off-road excursions during my first ride in the new Frontier, I was eager to get a properly equipped Nismo model for a week-long test that would include a day in the dirt. My test model was a King Cab 4x4 Nismo equipped with an automatic transmission. I would have preferred a 6-speed manual to better compare the Nissan to the Toyota Tacoma Access Cab 4x4 with the TRD Off-Road package that I recently tested in the desert.
Briefly, the new Frontier is clean-sheet design based on the Titan’s F-Alpha platform with no major parts carried over from the previous generation. It comes only in King Cab and Crew Cab configurations, both nestled on a 126-inch wheelbase. That’s about 10 inches longer than the old model, and the truck also widened to nearly 73 inches. The King Cab gets a 73.3-inch bed while the Crew Cab shortens up to 59.5 inches. Overall, the Frontier is roomier and certainly more powerful with a 265-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine.
Most off-road packages are a blend of increased durability products, protection equipment and cosmetic upgrades. The Nismo package follows that strategy and also includes a host of available technological innovations. These additional features can improve safety but also make off-roading more manageable to mainstream driving abilities. Here’s what the Nismo package includes:
My test vehicle came equipped with Hill Start Control (HSC), Hill Descent Control (HDC) and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), which is an electronic stability control system. All are available only with the 5-speed automatic transmission and all work as intended, but that doesn’t mean you want them engaged all the time. My first move as soon as I left the pavement was to switch off the VDC. There’s no doubt that this feature would be a blessing in the snow or on icy roads, but when you want to have fun in the dirt it’s an annoyance. It was hitting the brakes and cutting back on the throttle at the least little wheelspin and slowing down any progress through loose conditions. With the VDC off I could use the throttle to control the skids and maintain momentum when desired. Again, this would not be a concern if I had the 6-speed as these controls are not offered with the manual.
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