2010 Nissan Frontier 4X4 Pro4XPosted on August 21st, 2010
Midsize pickup truck is big on off-road fun
By Nina Russin
The Nissan Frontier is a right-sized truck that’s maneuverable in dense traffic, yet big enough for serious cargo. A 261-horsepower V-6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission produce plenty of torque for acceleration and towing.
A quiet timing chain is more durable than a belt, saving buyers an expensive repair at about 60,000 miles. The four-wheel drive Frontier tows up to 6100 pounds.
A two-speed transfer case on the four-wheel drive model gives the Frontier true off-road capability. Transferring between two and four-wheel drive is easy, thanks to a rotary control on the instrument panel.
The crew cab truck seats up to five passengers. Despite its tough-looking exterior, the Frontier is available with a host of comfort and convenience features, including an MP3-compatible audio system, Bluetooth interface, heated front seats and a power moonroof.
An optional tailgate extender adds extra length to the cargo bed when necessary. Bed rails and adjustable tie-down cleats secure large cargo. An optional roof rack with crossbars can be fitted with a variety of overhead carriers.
Pro4X model adds off-road performance features
The Pro4X model comes with Bilstein off-road shocks, off-road wheels and tires and a full-size spare. Skid plates protect chassis components under the car from rock damage. Standard hill descent control and hill start assist enhance directional control on steep grades.
Base price is $29,060, not including the $800 destination charge. A convenience package adds an audio upgrade, satellite radio, power heated driver and front passenger seats, heated outside mirrors and Bluetooth interface ($1970). A bed extender costs $300; the power moonroof with the roof rack and cross bars is $900, bringing the price as tested to $33,135.
Test drive during the monsoon season
August is the height of the southwestern monsoon season, when storms from the Pacific flood the desert and turn normally-dry washes into raging rivers. Dirt roads become treacherous washboards: the perfect test for the Frontier’s off-road suspension.
Since the storms come into the valley from the northeast, I followed their path, towards the Superstition Mountains. The day was clear and the roads were dry: what was left of them.
But the Frontier was up for the job, digging into the road with four-wheeled assuredness. The trail-rated tires on the Pro4X model enhance traction on roads covered with a mixture of loose dirt and rock.
The wheels have enough articulation to keep the truck from bottoming out through ruts. The four-wheel drive Frontier has 8.9 inches of ground clearance: plenty to clear the roots uncovered by recent rains.
Hill descent control automatically limits vehicle speed on steep grades for a smoother, more controlled ride. Hill start assist keeps the truck from rolling backwards, when accelerating from a stop on a steep hill.
Viable city truck
Nissan’s 4-liter V-6 engine is a smooth and reliable performer. The engine has ample power in the 20-to-50 range for merging onto the highway, and plenty on the high end for passing slower vehicles. The transmission shifts smoothly, without an abundance of shift shock.
Because Nissan uses a five rather than a six-speed transmission, fuel economy isn’t great: about 16 miles-per-gallon for the four-wheel drive Frontier.
Steering response is remarkably good for an off-road truck. I felt connected with the wheels on a variety of road surfaces. A turning radius of 43.3 feet is adequate for U-turns on four-lane thoroughfares but not on urban streets.
The wheelbase is 125.9 inches. Parking in standard vertical slots is no problem, but parallel parking on the street can be a challenge. As with all high profile vehicles, there are substantial blind spots to the back of the truck, and the vehicle tested does not have a rear backup camera.
Visibility to the front and sides is good. The side mirrors do a good job of minimizing blind spots in the rear corners. The B pillars are thick because of the way the doors are hinged, but there is enough over-the-shoulder visibility to monitor traffic on either side.
The Frontier has an independent front suspension and multi-leaf solid rear axle. The solid rear end is better suited for towing large trailers. Unlike some solid axle trucks, there is no perceptible rear axle chatter on the highway. The Frontier’s ride is surprisingly compliant, especially since it’s fitted with high-pressure off-road shocks.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.
One of the reasons the Frontier functions so well as an owner’s only vehicle is because of its comfort and convenience features. For people who spend several hours a day commuting, Bluetooth interface is a necessity. A comfortable driver’s seat and an audio system with commercial-free programming can make the difference between drudgery and time pleasantly spent.
Access and egress to both rows of seating is excellent, despite the truck’s high profile. Grab handles on the A and B pillars make it easier for children and smaller adults to climb inside.
All four doors open normally, as opposed to some crew cabs which use suicide doors. The fact that the rear doors can open with the front doors closed makes it easier for rear passengers to enter and exit the vehicle.
While my personal preference is for cloth upholstery over leather, the trim on the test truck is attractive and comfortable. A well-designed center console has cup holders large enough for water bottles, and storage spaces for small electronic devices and compact discs. There are bottle holders in all four doors.
A dual glovebox has a locking compartment to protect valuables inside the car. Two twelve-volt power points recharge cell phones on the go.
An overhead console has dual reading lamps to illuminate the interior at night and a sunglass holder. The optional moonroof brings additional light into the back of the cabin.
The gauge cluster is easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. I appreciate the analog temperature and charging system gauges: more accurate than trouble lights.
A digital display in the gauge cluster indicates whether the vehicle is in two or four-wheel drive. I found that display and the gear shift indicator difficult to read in bright sunlight, especially with my sunglasses on.
Audio and temperature controls in the center stack are easy to reach from either front seating position, and intuitive to operate. The digital audio display presents the same challenge as the displays in the gauge cluster: the black lettering on a gold background is hard to rear on a sunny day.
While the rear seats don’t look roomy, I had adequate legroom in all three seating positions. The seats flip up and out of the way to create additional storage inside the cabin.
The Frontier comes standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock braking, and vehicle dynamic control. A first aid kit comes in handy after a day of serious dirt biking or trail running.
Nissan builds the Frontier at its Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant.
Likes: An affordable pickup truck with lots of features active buyers look for, including true off-road capability, a cargo tie-down system in the bed, roof rack and flip-up rear seats.
Dislike: Digital displays are difficult to read in bright sunlight.
Model: Frontier 4X4 Pro4X
Base price: $29,060
As tested: $33,135
Horsepower: 261 Hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 281 lbs.-ft @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 14/19 mpg city/highway
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