I first drove Nissan's re-designed Frontier back when it debuted for the 2005 model year. Though it followed suit along with most of its competitors in going from "compact" pickup to "midsize" it seems to have made the transition with its sprightly soul largely intact. Getting behind the wheel of the '08 NISMO-edition Frontier reminded me of its playful personality once again.
There's no mistaking the new Frontier is a midsize, if you park it next to any earlier-generation compact truck. But on the road, the driving impression is distinctly that of vehicle with sporty inclinations. Thanks to quick rack & pinion steering, a responsive 4.0L 261-horsepower V-6 and four-wheel disc brakes, the Frontier shatters the stereotype that trucks have to be numb, lumbering beasts devoid of any type of driving pleasure. And being a "car" guy myself, I notice these things. I even halfway entertained the notion of buying one as a happy compromise between a utilitarian workhorse capable of towing a small trailer or payload, and something I'd actually choose to drive on a daily basis.
There are a few things I'd probably change on the Frontier, however. The tactile and visual quality of the Frontier's interior has not improved appreciably since its introduction three years ago. Though at the time it was an improvement over the generic Rubbermaid interior on the Titan introduced a year earlier, it's still predominantly hard, uninviting dark plastic. However, it does fit with the tough, no-nonsense ethos Nissan seems to be promoting with its trucks lately.
I'd also like to see a turbodiesel option of some sort on the Frontier. Although an average observed fuel economy of 18.0 mpg in mixed driving is respectable, with $4 and even $5 a gallon gas on the horizon, a few more miles per gallon would be appreciated. It's available in overseas markets with a four-cylinder turbodiesel producing close to 300 lb./ft. of torque.
While that would certainly suffice power-wise, the few large-displacement four-cylinder diesels I've driven haven't exactly been models of refinement & smoothness. Perhaps a longitudinal adaption of the upcoming Maxima diesel's 3.0L V-6 would be a nice fit for the U.S. market. The unfortunate downside is a diesel would probably add several thousand to the Frontier's substantial (though not entirely unreasonable) $28,560 as-equipped price tag.
All in all, the Frontier is easily one of the strongest contenders in the midsize class in my book. Though the Toyota Tacoma certainly has its fans, and is a formidable competitor in most respects, it lacks the eagerness and responsive, sporty edge that the Frontier has. Even with the Dodge Dakota offering an optional V8, and the Chevy Colorado about to, the 4.0L VQ engine provided more than adequate scoot for 95 percent of situations. However, with the introduction of the 5.6L Endurance V8 in the Pathfinder for 2008, it's no longer a matter of "if" the big thumper will fit in the Frontier, but rather "will they do it?"