Do the Dew
with Your Whole Crew, Stu
Road Test: 2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab
paradox of the pickup truck. Mighty haulers, they provide a huge
amount of room -- if you're cargo. That open bed utility, though,
often comes with the cramped seating of a sports car, and little
of the fun. Club cabs add volume, but aren't really practical for
hauling extra adults. And early crew cabs came only attached to
mega-size, spartan trucks dedicated to getting workers to the job
site and back.
Came the dawn.
Truck manufacturers now realize that you have a life away from work.
(It may not seem like it, but really, you do.) And that life may
involve not only hauling, but Friends! Families! The Zesty Good
you, the official chariot of the Zesty Good Life.
Crew Cab is a new type of vehicle. For North America, anyway; quad-door
pickups seemed the gun platform of choice for qat-crazed Somali
warlords, and noted party scenes like Brazil and the Philippines
have enjoyed little quads for quite some time. (Free, no-royalty
pickup line: "Hey, babe, want to ride in the gun platform of choice
for qat-crazed Somali warlords?")
they're here, and in force. 4-door pickups were all the rage
at the 1999 Detroit Auto Show; in addition to Nissan, Ford
showed two, Dodge had one, and (saints preserve us!) even
Lincoln jumped in the
pool. Chevrolet had
shown a 4-door S-10, Dodge
came out of the closet at this year's SEMA show, and don't be
surprised if one or two more show up early in 2000. The formula
is the same across the board: Take a long-bed pickup and stretch
the cab at the expense of the box.
Cab is for the crew you hang with, not the crew you work with. It's
a city truck at heart. Sure, it'll pull 5000 pounds (the same as
a Ford Lightning), but the smooth suspension and quiet, pavement-oriented
General tires betray its true nature. Yes, it has a bed, but that's
not the raison d'etre (French for Raisinet) of this truck; you won't
be too tempted to line the bed with AstroTurf, as 63" don't leave
much room to mambo.
That 63" does
let you put your next year's garden in the back; your amaryllis,
your gloxinias, your bags of fertilizer. Your Christmas tree, with
its stand and all the presents, with enough room inside for yourself
and your family. Your tires and toolboxes for the Formula Continental
-- yes, the filthy ones that aren't allowed in the back of the Explorer
-- with the crew inside where it's dry. Your posse inside, their
wet boogieboards out back. As Nissan design chief Jerry Hirschberg
put it, "It's a truck with a clean side and a dirty side." Could
you ride the frontier in this Frontier? Sure, but it's more at home
at a Barenaked Ladies concert.
you do? One prospective customer was disappointed that his motorcycle
wouldn't fit in the bed, even with Nissan's optional bed extender.
He's waiting for a Dakota Quad Cab, a much larger truck overall.
But most ATVs will fit in the Frontier Crew Cab, and most muddy
This is no
mere hyperthyroid club cab. The star of the show, the Frontier's
rear seat, is real. Shaq has to go way out back, but medium to large
folks can enjoy adequate headroom and, most importantly, you can
wear a decent hat. Unless the people in the front seat are being
terribly antagonistic, knee room's ample. The rear seat sports belts
for three, but they'd better be astonishingly friendly; there's
plenty of room for two. Even two who are astonishingly friendly.
Finally, a pickup truck you can make out in.
is standard Frontier, simple and functional if not terribly elegant.
Dash plastics don't deny their heritage; neither do they offend.
Our tested SE featured seats covered in a very hardy velour. They're
unusually well bolstered for a pickup, broad and very grippy. We'd
wish for a bit longer bottom cushion, but then we couldn't bring
the rest of the string quartet (Cello in the bed, please!)
A center armrest
flips up to reveal a deep bin. Rear passengers get two molded-in
middling large cup holders; there's two more in the front, shaped
like keyholes to take your mugs . Boomboxes, laptops, or air compressors
benefit from two 12V power ports up front. Oh, and you'll have to
turn it up to be heard over the compressor, but the SE package includes
a CD player as standard.
are simple and backlit with white numbers on a black foreground.
Climate controls are also simple and logical; one switch for fan
speed; one for temperature; one for direction. From left to right
the instruments are a small fuel gauge, the 110 mile per hour speedometer,
an 8000 rpm tachometer with redline at 5800, and a smaller water
ON THE ROAD
At first impression,
the Frontier feels a little strange because you've got just as much
truck behind you as you do in a regular long bed Frontier, but the
rear window and bed aren't in easy view. You have to stop thinking
"pickup" and start a mantra of "SUV". It's thus helpful that the
Frontier sits way up; although our test vehicle was a four by two,
Nissan has chosen to put all crew cabs on its elevated chassis,
not least to allow generous wheel travel for a better ride.
In that, Nissan
has certainly succeeded. Even over rotten pavement, the Frontier
Crew Cab rides firmly, but without jarring. Part of the reason is
the street oriented, long-sidewall tires that also contribute to
the Frontier's impressive quietness for a truck of this nature.
It proceeds up the road unaccompanied by the tire whine and engine
histrionics of so many smaller trucks.
and unobtrusive motor is Nissan's 3.3 liter six, also found in Pathfinders,
upmarket Xterras, and even the Infiniti QX4. It's good for 170 horsepower,
with plenty of off-the-line pep, and gave us a consistent 19 mpg
in mostly local driving.
is more SUV than pickup. With the extended cab and short bed, the
Crew Cab has much more weight on the rear wheels than a standard
pickup. The result is docile handling, with deliberate effort required
to make the back end come around. It's not a greyhound in the corners,
but not a Rottweiler, either.
benefits from being the first out of the gate with a 4-door for
the real world. That's why they're selling like Pokémon cards
(Pokémon keychains, Pokémon shower curtains, etc.)
Those who follow will have to do better than the Frontier, both
on the road and on the sticker. Neither is an easy challenge. For
now, though, load up the posse in the Frontier and Go Zesty!
Frontier Crew Cab SE
price: $19,640 Price as Tested: $21,319
as tested includes power package (windows, door locks, mirrors,
security system with remote locking, and cruise control), $1080;
floor mats, $79; destination, $520.