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
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
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.