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Review: 2012 Nissan Frontier tops a shrinking list of small trucks

Although pricier than its Toyota and Chevy/GM competitors, superior power and a comfortable ride give Nissan the edge in compact pickups.

If you like full-size trucks, you certainly have plenty from which to choose. But if you prefer the smaller variety, your options are very limited.

It?s hard to find a single reason why so many companies have abandoned the compact/midsize truck category, but part of it could be that they?re not always significantly cheaper or better on fuel than larger ones.

Even so, full-size trucks have bulked up to a ridiculous size and are more than many people want, especially in the city. Among the few smaller trucks still standing, my preference is Nissan?s Frontier.

It?s available in two configurations. The King Cab is meant primarily for two, with small, uncomfortable rear chairs that flip out of the way to make room for cargo. My tester, the Crew Cab, has a rear bench seat that holds two people quite well and three in a pinch.

The base King Cab 4×2 uses a 2.5 L four-cylinder engine, but all other models carry a 4.0 L V6. Depending on the trim level, transmission choices are a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic.

The only others in the segment are Toyota?s Tacoma, and the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins, which will disappear at the end of the 2012 model year in favour of an all-new global design.

The Dodge Dakota, Mazda B-Series and Ford Ranger are all gone ? the all-new Ranger sold globally isn?t currently planned for Canada ? and the Equator, a Suzuki-badged version of the Frontier, never got off the ground here.

The Frontier King Cab runs from $24,478 to $28,478 in two-wheel-drive, and from $30,478 to $33,378 in four-wheel. The Crew Cab comes in a single 4×2 trim line, at $32,278, and in three trim lines from $34,278 to $41,478 in four-wheel-drive.

By comparison, the Tacoma ranges from $22,100 to $37,125, and the General Motors twins run from $24,405 to $38,470.

Why I?d take the pricier Frontier illustrates that the ?right? vehicle for each person isn?t necessarily determined by what?s on paper. At 261 horsepower, its V6 is the most powerful, although it?s also the thirstiest.

But other than a turning circle that needs to be tightened up, it rides and handles very well ? the excess steering play in the Tacoma feels sloppy by comparison ? and it?s very quiet inside.

What I really like is the seating position. Compact trucks commonly have a high floor and low-mounted seats, and my leg quickly goes numb. The Frontier?s seat is upright, and a two-hour trek left me as comfortable as I?ve been in full-size trucks, but without the need to climb in or slide out of a too-big vehicle.

Within reason, price is secondary to whether I?m happy driving a vehicle. I am with this one, which is why it makes the top spot on this short list of small-truck choices.

I?d also go with the Crew Cab, not just because the rear seats are far better for carrying people, but because its conventional rear doors make everything easier. It can be a pain to load the King Cab?s interior if you?re alongside another car in a parking lot, since the front doors have to be open before the rear-hinged back ones can open or close. Next to another vehicle, these opposing doors require shuffling people or packages around to get everything inside.

The 4×4 system uses a two-speed transfer case, and should only be used on soft off-road surfaces. Unlike the all-wheel systems found on most SUVs, it?s about getting through rough spots, not for tackling everyday driving on wet or snowy streets.

The interior looks dated, although the controls are simple ? always a good thing ? and fit-and-finish is nice. There are lots of places to stash stuff inside, including bins under the rear-seat cushions, along with double glove boxes, large door pockets, and cupholders with removable, easy-to-clean liners.

A spray-in bedliner is standard on most of the trim lines, as is the ?Utili-track? system ? a set of five aluminum channels with four moveable tie-down cleats in the bed and box sides. The tailgate can be easily removed, and can also be locked in case other people notice that it can be easily removed.

I could have done without the roof rails, standard on the SL trim. They can handle 56 kg of cargo, but look goofy and undoubtedly affect the fuel economy to some degree.

Towing for the V6 ranges from 2,767 to 2,948 kg ? as always, capacity decreases for the crew cab and for four-wheel-drive, since the extra weight of these must be subtracted from the total combined mass of truck and trailer. A Class III hitch is an additional $369, and I was surprised it wasn?t included on a truck trim that tops $41,000.

The bottom line is that, overall, the Frontier isn?t cheap: the top-line model costs more than a base full-size Nissan Titan. Not everyone wants a full-size truck, though, and for those buyers, Nissan?s smaller version very much deserves a second look.

2012 Nissan Frontier

PRICE: $24,478 base, $41,478 as-tested

ENGINE: 2.5 L four-cylinder; 4.0 V6

POWER/TORQUE: 4-cylinder: 152 hp/171 lb.-ft.; V6: 261 hp/ 281 lb.-ft.

FUEL CONSUMPTION: L/100 km: V6: 14.9 city, 10.4 hwy; as-tested, 14.3 combined

COMPETITION: Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma

WHAT?S BEST: Nice ride, good seating position.

WHAT?S WORST: Wide turning circle, not the most fuel-efficient.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: It?s built on a shortened Titan frame.

  • Review: 2012 Nissan Frontier tops a shrinking list of small trucks
  • Review: 2012 Nissan Frontier tops a shrinking list of small trucks
  • Review: 2012 Nissan Frontier tops a shrinking list of small trucks
  • Review: 2012 Nissan Frontier tops a shrinking list of small trucks
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