The Nissan Frontier Crew Cab can make even car lovers appreciate a pickup truck.
Not too big and not too small, the mid-size Frontier with four doors and seats for five has good room for passengers in front and back seats.
It can carry lots of cargo inside when back seat cushions are pulled up against the interior wall. It also can carry big stuff outside behind the seats, where buyers get a choice of two sizes of pickup bed -- and both come from the factory with a protective bed liner already installed.
Better yet, the Frontier Crew Cab has the lowest starting retail price of any crew cab truck on the market. The Frontier also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports and for 2010 finally adds side and curtain air bags as standard equipment on all models.
2010 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4X4 SE
- BASE PRICE: $22,290 for base 4X2 SE with manual transmission and short bed; $23,090 for 4X2 SE manual and long bed; $23,340 for 4X2 SE automatic and short bed; $24,140 for 4X2 SE automatic and long bed; $24,990 for 4X4 SE manual and short bed; $25,790 for 4X4 SE manual and long bed; $26,040 for 4X4 SE automatic and short bed; $26,840 for 4X4 SE automatic and long bed.
- AS TESTED: $28,640.
- TYPE: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger, mid-size pickup truck.
- ENGINE: 4-liter, double overhead cam V-6.
- MILEAGE: 14 mpg (city), 19 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: NA.
- LENGTH: 219.4 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 125.9 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 4,569 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Smyrna, Tenn.
- OPTIONS: Value truck package (includes keyless entry, cruise control, carpeted floor mats, Class IV tow hitch receiver, power door locks, windows and outside mirrors, alarm system) $1,000.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $800.
No wonder sales of the Frontier are up 71 percent in the first quarter of 2010 compared with the same period a year ago. In fact, so far this year, the Frontier is outselling all competitors except for the Toyota Tacoma.
The 2010 Frontier has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $18,340 as a two-door King Cab with 152-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, manual transmission and two-wheel drive. A King Cab with automatic starts at $19,390 and with four-wheel drive added in starts at $24,990.
But the gem of the Frontier line is the Crew Cab, which has four car-like doors and front and back seats and a starting retail price of $23,090 with manual transmission and two-wheel drive.
With automatic, it starts at $24,140, while the lowest starting retail price for a four-wheel drive Frontier Crew Cab with automatic is $26,840.
All crew cab models come with a 261-horsepower, 4-liter V-6.
Competitors include the 2010 Chevrolet Colorado, which has a starting retail price of $24,565 for a two-wheel drive crew cab model with 185-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.
The 2010 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab starts at $24,475 with automatic, 236-horsepower, 4-liter V-6 and two-wheel drive.
Measuring 18 feet long from bumper to bumper with a 6-foot-long pickup bed and a foot shorter with a 5-foot-long bed, the Frontier Crew Cab has decent handling and can feel nimble at times. But it's not refined. The ride is somewhat stiff, and there's some shudder and bounce in the ride, as you'd expect in a vehicle built with a traditional box-on-ladder-frame construction.
Still, the 8.6 inches of ground clearance beneath the vehicle means passengers ride high over off-road obstacles, and they have great views over traffic.
The cloth-covered seats in the test 4X4 SE truck looked nice and felt like firm foam.
Hard plastic covered the dashboard and interior doors but, like the rest of the vehicle, had excellent fit and finish. Controls and gauges were easy to see and understand, especially the dial for the on-the-fly four-wheel drive.
Front headroom in the Frontier Crew Cab measures 40 inches, and there's a generous 38.7 inches in the back. This compares with 38.4 inches in the rear seat of the Dodge Dakota and the 38.5 inches in the back seat of the Tacoma.
The 58.3 inches of shoulder room in the Frontier Crew Cab's back seat is an inch shy of that in the back seat of the Tacoma Double Cab, but it's 0.8 inch more than the 57.5 inches in the back seat of the Dakota.
But where there's only 28.1 inches of rear-seat legroom in the Tacoma's Double Cab, there's 33.6 inches in the Frontier Crew Cab. This compares with 36.4 inches in the rear seat of the Dakota.
Note that the rear-seat cushion in the Frontier is short, so it doesn't support an adult's full thigh.
The Frontier Crew Cab is available with one engine: A 4-liter, double overhead cam, gasoline V-6 with continuously variable valve timing. It's a strong engine for the more than 4,000-pound Frontier and provided palpable get up and go at most speeds in the tester.
I loved the engine sounds, which came on during acceleration and contributed a confident, "here-I-come" note. Both the 261 horsepower and peak torque of 281 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm surpass other V-6s in mid-size pickup trucks.
The Dakota can be had, however, with a 302-horsepower V-8 at a starting retail price of $32,105.
The test Frontier had a five-speed automatic, but Nissan offers a six-speed manual, too.
The Frontier's fuel mileage is rated by the federal government at only 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway for a four-wheel drive model. The test Frontier managed 17 mpg in combined city/highway driving; most of the time, there was nothing in the pickup bed and no one in the back seat.
The Frontier Crew Cab tester had a surprising amount of wind noise when the vehicle got up over 40 miles an hour. I hadn't noticed that much wind noise in earlier Frontiers.
In federal government crash test ratings, the Frontier Crew Cab rates four out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in a frontal crash.
It has five out of five stars for front- and rear-seat passenger protection in a side crash.