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1997 Nissan Frontier

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Nissan Canada's high command is ecstatic that the automaker has corralled the name Frontier for its new compact pickup.

It does have a rugged ring. And it's certainly a major step ahead of Hardbody, the outgoing pickup's handle.

Nissan's name doctors sure misprescribed on that one.

"My Hardbody can handle that sucker easy." "Care to go for a spin in my Hardbody, Megan?" It just didn't flow.

Anyway, Frontier's the word now. The rig, built in Smyrna, Tenn., is now rumbling into Toronto area dealerships.

It's the seventh-generation Nissan made pickup sold in North America since 1959. (If you must know, the line started with the Datsun 1000, powered by a 1.0 litre four that chugged out 37 horsepower.)

The Frontier comes with a regular cab or KingCab, both available with rear or four-wheel drive. Trim levels: standard,

XE and SE.

Transmissions: a standard five-speed manual or four-speed automatic ($1,000 extra).

Base model stickers start at $14,498. Nissan says that makes the Frontier the lowest priced pickup on the market. You can get into a KingCab XE from $17,998 and the top of the line KingCab SE from $20,998.

These prices are for two-wheel drive versions. Four-wheel drivers start at $20,998.

Nissan recently gave auto writers a chance to try out the Frontier in Forks of the Credit country west of Highway 10 and south of Orangeville.

My mount was a loaded 4×2 KingCab SE with manual box done up in Timber Frost, sort of a light, pea soup green. Guess you could learn to love it.

A gain of 15.4 centimetres in the truck's overall length, compared to the old KingCab pickup, and an improved suspension translate into a sweet ride. (The regular cab Frontier grows 24.6 centimetres longer overall.) Both versions are also a smidgen wider.

Steering felt a bit fuzzy.

Nissan's familiar 2.4 litre four banger, with 12 valves and a single overhead camshaft, got some higher education for its

Frontier mission.

It's now the company's first truck motor to sport 16 valves and double overhead camshafts, good for 143, 40, 1 horses (an increase of nine). It's strong.

An optional 3.3 litre V6 arrives in about a year. It will be the most powerful engine yet offered in a Nissan light truck.

In styling the Frontier, the designers forsook the hangout route, opting for a cautious, evolutionary approach, a Nissan characteristic in recent years.

To my eye, the nose of last year's truck looks cleaner and more contempo than the new version's. But, hey, they call it progress.

The new, slightly wider cabin is you guessed it car like.

Noise and vibration are down; amenities are up.

Dual air bags (with an off switch for the passenger bag, should you decide to use a child seat) are standard, as are guard beams in the doors.

The KingCab has two fold up jump seats in the modest space behind the front seats. "King" may be a little high up the aristo ladder for this cab. Baronet would be more realistic.

The Frontier's double wall bed has bi-level stacking capability and a removable tailgate. It's billed as the biggest standard bed in the compact segment. Short Turn is an occasional column describing quick impressions of new vehicles supplied by the manufacturer.

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