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Nissan Wins Again - All New Frontier Finds its Place in the Lineup
By: BJ KilleenPosted: 01-05-04 04:10 PT

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While some manufacturers are still struggling to find their place in this new “global” automotive industry, Nissan’s been climbing the mountain with the surefootedness of a Himalayan goat. Fresh off the introduction of the Titan, Nissan introduced the new Frontier at the North American Auto Show in Detroit. And as it climbs the mountain, it appears to be stepping on the heads of many of the other mid-size trucks.

Granted, when the first Frontier hit the market years ago it wasn’t the strongest entry, as evidenced by the quick exterior redo to make it seem more substantial. But this time around they got it right. The third-gen Frontier features a “Titan-style” (that’s a Nissan phrase, folks) exterior design that lets us know there’s no need for a paternity test on this one. The Frontier borrows from the Titan’s F-Alpha platform, with fully boxed frame all-steel frame rails. The size is up considerably over the previous Frontier iteration in both King Cab and Crew Cab configurations. Wheelbase is up almost 10 inches to 125.9, with overall length increased by 2.6 (205.5 inches). It’s taller by 3 inches and also slightly wider, which gives it a stronger overall presence, but in nice proportion.

Just for fun, let’s see how the Nissan stacks up against the General’s entry: The Frontier matches the Chevrolet Colorado’s 125.9-inch wheelbase on both Extended Cab and Crew Cab models, and is about 1.5 inches shorter in overall length. But it’s the width that tells the tale here. The Frontier is nearly 5 inches wider than Colorado, and slightly over 2 inches taller. Once again Nissan wins by providing more interior roominess that’s always appreciated by truck owners.

Fred Suckow, director of Nissan marketing, says the Frontier is “a little smaller than [the Dodge] Dakota.” Suckow told PUTC that Nissan thinks of the Frontier as the right-size truck for the times. People are getting bigger, and are looking for more room in their mid-size pickup. This is also part of the reason behind not offering a Standard Cab model. According to Suckow, the segment looking for just basic transportation is declining. Since people are looking at trucks now more as personal use instead of work vehicles, they want more than what a basic truck has to offer.

One area where the 2005 Frontier will slap most of the other trucks silly is in pure power. While a base Frontier King Cab model will offer a 2.5-liter inline four powerplant, the big news is that the truck also will feature an all-new 4.0-liter DOHC V-6 engine that will produce 250 horsepower (and possibly more) with 270 lb-ft of torque (and possibly more). (The possibly more means final figures won’t be released until closer to production dates, but it won’t be less than the 250/270 numbers.) This engine is from the VQ engine series that also finds a home in the 350Z, Murano, Maxima, Altima and Quest. Some of the features of the new 4.0-liter include an aluminum block with cast iron cylinder liners, forged steel crankshaft, microfinished crankshaft and camshaft, molybdenum-coated pistons, Nissan variable Induction Control System (NICS), Continuous Valve Timing Control (C-VTC), and a silent two-stage timing chain.

On the dragstrip, GM, Ford, and Toyota shouldn’t bother coming out of the garage area. Only Dodge won’t be afraid to show up. The Colorado’s 3.5-liter inline five comes in at 220 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque; the Ford Ranger’s 4.0-liter V-6 only makes 207 hp and 238 lb-ft of torque, and Toyota Tacoma’s 3.4-liter V-6 wimpers in at 190 hp and 220 lb-ft. Dodge’s 4.7-liter V-8 in the Dakota is the closest, with 235 horses and the 295 lb-ft that actually beats the Frontier. The word on the street is that we will see the V-8 continue to be a part of the Dakota’s life when we see the new truck in Chicago next month. But since the final numbers aren’t firm, Nissan may want to bump the torque after being embarrassed by the F-150/Titan torque-upstaging fiasco, and probably will wait to see what Dodge does before playing the one-upsmanship game.

The one area Nissan may want to rethink is towing capacity. While it claims that the new Frontier’s tow rating is at 5,500 lbs (also subject to change before production), that’s still below the Dakota’s 6,600-lb rating, the Tacoma’s maximum 9,000-lb number, and even Ford’s 5,860 max capacity. The truck it does beat—but really shouldn’t because the it’s brand new—is the Colorado, with only 4,000 lbs of tow. One item we know for a fact is that the bed on the King Cab is a six-footer, which, even though we don’t know the payload rating yet, should provide for plenty of capacity.

If you like the Titan’s ride and handling, chances are you’ll love the Frontier, since they share platforms. The Frontier will be available with a shift-on-the-fly 4WD system with an electronically controlled part-time transfer case. For those who never wander off road or get in puddles deeper than those left from over-watering the petunias, there’s a 2WD version available. There also will be an available advanced off-road traction system, of which we have yet to receive the details, as well as Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) stability program.

The back end remains a solid axle setup for the suspension, while the front steps up a double-wishbone layout with high-pressure performance coil over gas shocks and a stabilizer bar. The top tire will be a 17-incher, with 265/65R17 rubber. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD (Electronic Brake force Distribution) standard across the lineup.

The Frontier is filled with features and performance that should appeal to those in the midsize segment. It gets the spray-in bedliner and Utili-track channel tie down system from the Titan, as well as an interior that mirrors its bigger brother in both design, storage, usefulness, and accessibility.

Suckow expects the new Frontier to beat the previous trucks sales targets by about 10,000 units, placing it around 75,000 total for the first production year of 2005. He expects to see a strong contingent of current Nissan owners to be purchasers, especially those who have Frontiers and Xterras. A fair amount of buyers also should come from domestic midsize truck owners whose loyalty numbers surprising aren’t as high as those in the full-size truck segment.

The Frontier will go on sale in late November/early December, and pricing will be announced closer to that on-sale date.

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