By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
The pickup truck has come a long way from the basic utility vehicle used by farmers, tradesmen, and recreationalists. Now it’s common to see new trucks prices at $50,000, $60,000, $70,000, and even higher driven all sorts of people instead of a traditional car. The new trucks are loaded with all the features and many of the characteristics found in the most luxurious cars.
Nissan’s full-size Titan pickup competes favorable in that upper echelon of trucks but Nissan also builds a smaller truck that is more in the spirit of earlier pickups. The Nissan Frontier, which has been around since 1998 reminds us of the way pickups used to be – with more emphasis on being rugged and what we used to call being very “truck like”.
After spending a week driving one of the top models in the Frontier lineup, the 2017 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab 4WD Automatic V-6, we had mixed emotions about it. It’s a very good off-road vehicle, had the rugged substantial feeling, but it lacked some of the refinement that would make it a comfortable everyday driver – it was noisy and rough riding. Pricewise, the Frontier lineup the Pro-4X is about in the upper-middle of the lineup.
Built on a full-length, fully boxed ladder frame, the Frontier is rugged from the ground up. The Pro-4X is powered by a 261-hp, 4.0-liter DOHC V6 engine which drives the four-wheel drive through a heavy duty five-speed automatic transmission. Lower level two-wheel drive versions have a standard 152-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a standard five-speed manual transmission.
Supporting the strong frame and engine is a heavy-duty suspension with independent double wishbones in the front and traditional multi-leaf springs and solid rear axle in the rear. The Pro-4X also uses off-road tuned Bilstein® high-pressure gas shocks, skid plates plus it has 8.9 inches of ground clearance.
Two bed lengths are available on most models – the standard 59.5 inches or the optional long bed measures 73.3 inches. The Pro-4X has a standard spray-on bed liner and a handy Utili-track™ C-Channel tie-down system.
The interior is clean and simple with a mono color and brushed chrome look. Controls are well-marked and large enough for gloved hands. The five-speed automatic transmission is controlled by a console mounted shifter with a gated section of the pattern shifter for manual shifts. A rotary shift switch, mounted just above the console, controls the four-wheel drive allowing the driver to shift between 2WD, 4H and 4LO. The driver can switch between 2wd and 4H at speeds up to 62 mph. The Frontier also has hill decent control and hill start assist driver aids, and electric locking rear differential for tougher off-road conditions.
As an upper level model, the Pro-4X comes very well equipped with heated seats, Rockford Fosgate® Premium Audio, Nissan Connect™ with navigation and mobile apps and a 5.8-inch color screen. The audio system includes SiriusXM satellite radio with NavTraffic and Travel Link along with digital connecting ports, Bluetooth® and Siri® Eyes Free. Safety equipment includes a Rear Sonar System and rear-view monitor.
The 2017 Nissan Frontier Pricing ranges from as low as $19,350, including the destination charge, for the Frontier S King Cab with two-wheel drive and goes as high as $37,760 for the SL Crew Cab with four-wheel drive. The only available option on the top-level SL is a power sliding moonroof and colors.
The Frontier has a 6,450- to 6,710-pound towing capacity (it varies based on the model), when equipped with the V-6 engine. For hauling, it falls a few inches short in the traditional “building materials lying flat between the wheel wells” test, it only 44 inches wide, so people using the truck to haul plywood will have to make some adjustments to raise the load above the wheel wells.
On the road and around town the Nissan Frontier Pro-4X crew cab rode more like the proverbial truck than like the boulevard cruiser that many of the full-size trucks have become. It’s designed more for heavy-duty off-road driving and has the equipment and features to handle that task, along with an advantageous smaller size. For someone planning to spend lots of time in the woods or off the beaten track, the Frontier could open new “frontiers.”