Remember the original compact pickup trucks of the 1970s and 80s? You could almost fit them into the bed of today’s full-size trucks, and therein lies the problem. When it comes to trucks, most people equate size with capability, and compact just doesn’t cut it anymore. So smaller pickups are growing to mid-size, like this new 2005 Nissan Frontier. But its capabilities don’t stop there.
Nissan claims that while the new 2005 Frontier has grown to a mid-size pickup truck that it can actually work like a full-size truck. They back up that claim with a tougher look, bigger body, but most importantly, a ladder frame chassis derived from the full-size Titan pickups. The F-Alpha architecture is also used on the new Pathfinder and Xterra SUVs. So, all Nissan body-on-frame trucks sold in the U.S. now share the same basic robust concept.
Dimensions are robust, too. The 2005 Frontier has grown almost 10 inches in wheelbase, between 2 and 5 inches in length, 3 inches in height, and an inch in width. In short, it’s now pretty much toe to toe with rivals Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado. Body styles are 4-door extended King Cab and Crew Cab. The regular cab is gone. Trim levels include XE, SE, LE, and the new NISMO Off-Road package attached to our King Cab 4X4.
Using a common frame makes for important manufacturing economics. That thinking is also behind the Frontier’s optional V6. The new 4.0-liter, twin-cam, 24-valve V6 mill, the most powerful V-6 in any pickup, is based on the Nissan VQ engine used in the 350Z. With a refined power and raspy voice, output is 265 horsepower and 284 pound feet of torque
Standard Frontier power is a 154-horsepower 2.5 liter I-4, offered only on the base King Cab 4x2. An improvement over the previous Frontier’s 3.3-liter six, the new 4.0-liter is specifically tuned for truck use and is linked to our ultimate off-road NISMO model’s 5-speed automatic transmission. Compared to the also new Toyota Tacoma, the Frontier V-6 has 20 horsepower more. It also has the muscle to tow up to 6,500 pounds, or a drop in a maximum payload of 1,583 pounds, as this mid-size hauler digs deep to finish the task.
Without holding back, our Frontier NISMO launched from 0-60 in just 7.6 seconds and rakes in the quarter mile in 16 seconds at 88 miles per hour. Great numbers for any pickup.
Our Frontier rests firmly on the NISMO’s off-road tuned all-steel double-wishbone front suspension, and rigid solid axle rear suspension with over-slung leaf springs. And the Frontier handles the way you would expect any personal-use truck should. Though initial understeer was detected, it proved easy to correct and master. The rack-and-pinion steering gear has a heavy feel and requires lots of input for response, and the ride is stiff but manageable.
Braking was somewhat long, 143 feet from 60-0. The standard anti-lock all-disc system planted the middleweight with little nose dive and strong pedal feel.
A shift-on-the fly part-time, high-low four-wheel drive system is optional on most models, including the NISMO. The NISMO Off-Road package includes 16-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, Bilstein performance shocks, 10.1-inches of ground clearance, skid plates, and an electronic locking rear differential. Hill-Start Assist Control, which keeps the vehicle from rolling back when starting up on a hill, Hill Descent Control, and electronic stability control can also be added.
Much like a re-scaled Titan, the Frontier mimics its full-size brother’s rugged good looks. About the only real mid-size giveaway is in the bed: 6’4’’ on the King Cab, and a short 5’2’’ on the Crew Cab, with an 18-inch depth. But Nissan redeems any shortcomings here by offering the spray-in bed liner and Utili-track locking tie-down system pioneered on the Titan.
Inside, both Frontier cabs are roomier and much more inviting. Each trim level adds something unique, and in our NISMO it’s the blue and charcoal tones covering the unique off-road seats. Typical interior offerings include reclining buckets, folding passenger seat, AM/FM CD stereo, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, loads of storage and remote keyless entry. Flexible seating and cargo utility are featured on both King and Crew Cabs with flip up rear seats in our King.
We found EPA fuel economy ratings of 16 City and 20 Highway for our NISMO automatic to be very reasonable. We managed 16 in normal everyday driving.
Still interested? Well, the Frontier base model 2.5-liter XE 4x2 King Cab will run you only $16,060. For the V6, mid-range SE 4x4 the price jumps to $21,660. And to drive the NISMO, you’ll pay no less than $24,210. Crew Cabs run about $2,000 more.
While the field of mid-size trucks is getting more crowded every day, the new Frontier has the stuff to give Tacoma, Colorado and others something to think about. So, while some purists may only see its mid-size label, it’s clear that the 2005 Nissan Frontier is going to make a full-size name for itself.
Engine: 4.0-Liter, Twin-cam, 24-valve V6
Torque: 284 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16 Seconds @ 88 MPH
60-0 MPH: 143 Feet
EPA Mileage: 16 MPG City 20 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 16 MPG Mixed City/highway