Nissan Frontier King Cab SuperCharged (2001)

Frontier

The new Nissan Frontier is a case of an automaker trying to juice up a dated design to buy time until it can get a redesigned model into the showrooms. For 2001 Nissan gave the Frontier a face lift, adding a redesigned front quarter along with new, Terminator-style fenders and a supercharged engine. But under all that Schwarzeneggeresque bulk is the same small- mid-size pickup that's been on the market for several years now.

The Frontier is the only pickup truck Nissan makes. It has nearly as many permutations as a Rubik's cube: you can choose a regular, king, or crew cab; two- or four-wheel drive; and a regular or supercharged V6 engine. We test drove the four-wheel-drive king cab (that is, two doors but seating for four) with the supercharged engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. The cars.com target price was about $23,200.

Driving Experience

With the supercharger, the 3.3-liter V6 produces 210 horsepower, or about 40 horsepower more than the standard engine. A supercharger, like a turbocharger, makes an engine produce more power by stuffing more air into the combustion chamber. (A turbocharger is a turbine driven by the pressure of the exhaust gasses, while a supercharger is driven off a belt from the crankshaft.)

The end result was certainly plenty of power for our purposes. The supercharger experience does take some getting used to, however. First you hear the air being compressed, and then you hear the engine go vroooOOOM!

FrontierOtherwise, the Frontier drives like an old-style pickup truck. The ride is pretty hard, and the stiff suspension makes the truck jump sideways when you hit a bump while cornering. The Frontier did corner pretty well on well-paved roads, without a lot of the body roll you experience in some pickups. The steering requires a fair amount of effort, although we didn't find that too objectionable, given that this is, what? A truck. And the antilock brakes were good.

The Frontier has a rating of three stars out of a possible five in NHTSA's Rollover Resistance Ratings. However, the Frontier's overall crash rating was poor, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Interior

The biggest problem with the Frontier's interior is just getting in. The step up is an inseam-splitter, and getting into the back requires the sort of contortions you seldom see outside of a circus tent. If we were to carry more than one passenger on a regular basis, we'd seriously consider spending the extra $1,500 or so for the crew cab, with its four doors.

Frontier

The interior has many luxurious touches, including leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a power sunroof -- all part of a $1,300 option package. There's plenty of headroom; in fact, we wish that they had used some of that headroom to move the seats a little higher up off the floor so that we wouldn't have felt quite so low in the car.

The Frontier SuperCharged includes air conditioning, power windows and locks, and a stereo CD player. Antilock brakes are standard. Side airbags aren't available. There's a passenger-airbag cutoff switch for times when a child is riding up front.

Ergonomics

We encountered one flaw with the instruments: The backlit, white-on-gray gauges are very difficult to read in twilight, no matter how you adjust the lighting.

The controls are a paragon of simplicity. Three big, round knobs control all the ventilation functions, and operating the radio is a snap. The shift lever and the four-wheel-drive switch are in the middle of the console, and the steering wheel has the cruise control buttons and duplicate controls for the stereo.

There's a nice big bin between the front seats, and two good-sizedcup holders.

Styling

FrontierThe 2001 Frontier is kind of like a 2000 Frontier that's been through the Witness Protection Program. Tommy thought it was cute. The rest of us thought it was downright ugly. It has a new front end that's somewhat interesting looking, and some cheesy-looking, bolt-on Terminator fender flares that are probably supposed to make it look more rugged. Our guess is that it was the cheapest way Nissan could make it look new without actually making it new.

Reliability

We don't know what effect the supercharger will have on the life of the Frontier's engine. In general, we're opposed to superchargers, since anyone who would want a car with a supercharger will likely also abuse it. The bottom line? This is definitely a vehicle that you shouldn't buy used.

Overall comments

The Frontier wasn't the most advanced design back in '98 when it was last redesigned, and its guts haven't changed a whole lot since then. The rough ride and stiff handling will leave you with no delusions that you're behind the wheel of a sedan: this is a truck, in the truest sense of the word. Nissan apparently hopes that the cosmetic and engine upgrades will keep the Frontier competitive until 2003, when the company says it will be redesigned.

There are lots of other perfectly decent trucks out there. There's the Toyota Tacoma, the Ford Ranger (and the similar Mazda B Series), the Chevrolet S10 (and its alter ego, the GMC Sonoma), and the Dodge Dakota. The Frontier is essentially an aging pickup with a face lift. If the styling blows your skirt up, you're welcome to buy one of these. But unless you're turned on by the exterior, you'd be better off shopping elsewhere for the time being.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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