'05 Nissan Frontier - Second Runner-Up
It's a midsize titan in every respect

Nissan has put an emphasis on off-road performance for its line of pickups, and the '05 Nissan Frontier tester we got for our Sport Truck of the Year competition came with the off-road NISMO package. While it obviously didn't handle the S-curves in the canyons and the slalom test like some of the more street performance-oriented trucks, the new Frontier's NISMO high-performance off-road package performed above our expectations, given the off-road bias of the suspension tuning.

In terms of street performance, the Frontier impressed, with a 0-60-mph time of 8 seconds and a 15.51 at 89.61-mph quarter-mile performance. It wasn't the quickest of the competition by any means, but these stats show a fun-to-drive sport truck with a good power reserve for maneuvering through traffic and pulling steep grades. As for braking power, we found the brakes adequate. It's stopping distance from 60 mph was roughly what we expect from a fullsize pickup, and was a little long compared with its midsize sibs.

Regarding the truck's handling envelope, it was definitely tire-limited in terms of grip and steering response. However, the truck proved to be a balanced pleasure to drive through the more demanding sections of our drive loop when we were driving within the tire's performance envelope. (Overdriving all-terrain tires on pavement is always more work than pleasure.) We also liked the midsize footprint of the vehicle when the road grew narrow with tight-twisting turns.

In general, we found the suspension supple, with a moderate, controlled amount of lean, indicative of the need to let the suspension articulate for off-road driving. In our opinion, the suspension tuners struck a great balance between on and off-road handling, one that offered a great ride in the wide variety of road surfaces we drove, with enough grip and balance to make it fun to drive. One last item: We didn't have a chance to test the cool electronically activated rear differential lock in an off-road setting. We did, however, use it in a burn-out test to get both tires smoking. It worked great for that, and we trust it'd work even better on the trail or in the snow.

The Frontier's interior is cleverly designed, with an understated sporting-gear quality to it. It's a piece of equipment, what with the flip-down feature of the front seats that provides a convenient flat surface, and comfortable, flexible seating. But the best part of the truck's interior was grabbing the thick-rimmed, stitched-leather-trimmed steering wheel. It's a smaller diameter than the other testers and a little thicker, and it gives the driver a manly sense of command of his craft. That, in combination with the no-nonsense easy-to-ready instruments, made you feel like you were driving a sports coupe -- until you leaned on the all-terrain tires in a corner, that is.

Overall, the new mini-me version of the Titan was done very well, and the new aggressive styling really complements Nissan's line of pickup trucks. We can't wait to see what this bad boy looks like prerunned and jumping some dunes, or with the right tires and tuning, it should be a road rocket. We'd like to see how the sport truck version of the Frontier would perform.

Performance specs:
Acceleration 0-60: 8.05 sec
Quarter-mile elapsed time: 15.51 @ 89.62
Braking 60-0: 131.43 ft
Brake fade 60-0: 137.26 ft
600-ft slalom: 57.32 mph

Sport Truck of the Year Score:
Acceleration/towing: 250 of 300 possible
Ride and handling: 181 of 300 possible
Ergonomics/style/build quality: 252 of 400 possible
Total: 682 of 1,000 possible

Likes/Dislikes
Likes:
Powerful V-6
6,500-pound tow rating
Fullsize capability wrapped into a midsize truck
The new aggressive styling and front end fascia with similarities taken from the Titan
The fully boxed frame; multifunction cargo box

Dislikes:
Didn't get the 170-degree swing-open rear doors of the Titan
A little heavy for its size
Center console too narrow

The Frontier comes on strong with a powerful new engine -- a 4.0L DOHC V-6 producing an estimated 250-plus horsepower and 270-plus lb-ft of torque. That's an increase of 70 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque compared with the current normally aspirated 3.3L V-6-equipped Frontier. Nissan says the new 4.0L V-6 is based on the Nissan VQ engine series used in the 350Z, among other Nissan models, but is specifically tuned for truck use.

Last year, we awarded the Titan Sport Truck of The Year, because it set the standard for innovation in pickup design and performance. If the '05 Frontier has much of the Titan's DNA in its frame and the new V-6 moves the truck like the Titan's 5.6L V-8, it's going to be a rough test session for the competition.

'05 Nissan Frontier
Base price:N/A
Price as tested:N/A
Vehicle type:midsize King Cab pickup
Construction:body-on fully boxed, all-steel (F-Alpha frame, based on the Nissan Titan), rear drive
Engine:4.0L DOHC V-6
Horsepower:250-plus horsepower*
Torque:270-plus lb-ft torque*
Fuel:87 octane unleaded
Transmission:five-speed electronically controlled automatic
Suspension:F: double-wishbone front suspension with coilover shock absorbers, stabilizer bar; R: rigid leaf rear
Steering:power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Wheel:as large as 17 in/265/65R17
Tire F/R:N/A
Brakes:four-wheel vented disc brakes with antilock braking
Wheelbase (in):125.9
Length/width/height (in):205.5/72.8/69.7
Track:N/A
Turning circle (curb to curb):38.1 ft
Curb weight (lbs):est: 4,000
Tow rating:5,500-plus lbs
EPA city/hwy/combined mpg:N/A
Fuel-tank capacity/range:N/A
*Final figures will be announced closer to production