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The HSC seems redundant with an automatic transmission. It works the brakes for up to two seconds after lifting your foot off the brake pedal while on an uphill slope and keeps the vehicle from rolling backward. This would seem to be a perfect tool for clutch-equipped vehicles and drivers who can’t work the handbrake at the same time, but it’s available only with the automatic. The HDC works perfectly whether in 4HI or 4LO and deserves any reluctant off-roader’s confidence. Just flick the switch on the dash and point the truck down the hill. HDC works the front and rear brakes as needed to maintain a steady and controllable speed downhill. I tried HDC twice and then simply used 4LO and First gear with no throttle or brake. The latter method was slower but smoother. Experienced off-roaders will still prefer to have total control of the brakes and throttle in these situations, but it’s nice to know that HDC will help a novice stay out of trouble. One very positive feature of the new Frontier is the lever-operated handbrake right next to the driver’s hip. This design is much easier to use than the Tacoma’s pull-handle setup.

Getting back to LO range, the crawl ratio in First gear with the automatic is 31.248:1 while crawling with the 6-speed will give you a more desirable 40.119:1. The extra low gearing comes in a difference of axle ratio (3.35:1 auto, 3.69:1 manual) and First gear ratio (3.84:1 auto, 4.37:1 manual). The transfer case ratio is 2.625:1.

The Frontier moved well over very rough terrain but the extra wheelbase really doesn’t help in tight situations. Ground clearance is a healthy 10.1 inches (compared to the Tacoma’s 9.4 inches), and the frame rails are neatly tucked up under the body for a very clean appearance. Approach angle is 32.6 degrees and departure is 23.3 degrees. The ramp breakover angle is 20.5 degrees. My biggest problem with driving hard over aggressive terrain was hitting the bump stops. The Frontier bottomed-out too often for my style over the whoops. The softer suspension did articulate well through frame twisting exercises and it maintained good contact with the ground through most of the run. But I found myself tapping the brakes more than expected in the high-speed areas to avoid the hard jolts. The throttle-by-wire seemed less fussy and more reflective of my intent in 4LO than 4HI. I’m sure the calibration is set on the safe side for higher speeds and it really never interfered with any off-road assignments. But it does take some seat time to become fully acclimated to the throttle feel. Steering was a bit slow on the fast runs with an overall ratio of 20.4:1 but certainly more precise over delicate obstacles in low gear.

On road, the Frontier is a bit more comfortable than the Tacoma. It feels stable, even with the high stance. The steering is suited more to the asphalt than in the dirt with excellent communication to the road. Much of the comfort factor is traced to large, well-supportive seats, a friendly dash layout and a perception of more room than the Tacoma. Driving position is relaxed with excellent visibility. The standard CD sound system is acceptable but I know that the Crew Cabs have the Rockford Fosgate audio with eight speakers and two subwoofers as an option. The engine is very smooth in mid-range with plenty of pulling power. I also noticed less wind noise than usual.

Other amenities, either standard or optional, on the new Frontier Nismo include a factory spray-in bedliner, Utili-trak cargo tie-down system, power windows/door locks, dual glovebox, three 12V power points, satellite radio, rear sliding window, fullsize spare, front tow hook and rear floor storage. Our test model had a GVWR of 5600 pounds, a GCWR of 11,133, max payload of 1261 pounds and max towing of 6300 pounds. Curb weight was 4339 pounds. Optional safety equipment include side airbags and side curtain airbags.

Nissan directed considerable resources to the fullsize Titan, and the Frontier is now benefiting from that effort. It has a strong chassis, solid looks and plenty of innovation. Off road it works very well with the exception of high-speed runs over rough terrain. But the well-designed electronic controls on the automatic open up trails for less experienced drivers. The Frontier is a dramatic improvement over the previous generation and the overall package is certainly among the best of any midsize truck.

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