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The 2011 Nissan Frontier is built on the same frame as the larger Nissan Titan and, appropriately, is more mid-size than compact. That said, the Frontier feels like a mix of traits from compact and full-size trucks. In Crew Cab form, its interior approaches the level of features and amenities of a full-sizer, yet a fuel-efficient four-cylinder model is still offered in some of the most basic models.
The Frontier has gone most of a decade without a serious redesign, but it goes to prove the success of the look; it's chunky and masculine, with just the right level of detailing on the outside. Only inside is the Frontier starting to show its age; it's a little more plasticky, a little less fluid in layout, than the newest pickups, especially the larger ones.
For some shoppers, the lack of a V-8 in the Frontier might be the signal to move up to a larger truck. But the 4.0-liter V-6 that's standard on most Frontiers and optional on some of them makes 261 horsepower, and pairs well with the automatic transmission, providing plenty of torque in the mid-range for strong acceleration and good passing punch. Towing capacity rates up to 6,500 pounds. Throws are rather long for the manual transmissions, but they work well, as does the five-speed automatic, which responds nicely to quick passing needs. And if you're thinking of the four-cylinder for better gas mileage, we wouldn't count on it; the base 152-hp, 2.5-liter will be wheezing with heavy loads and hard-pressed unless you only drive lightly loaded on level terrain.
You can choose between King Cab and Crew Cab versions, as well as between rear- or four-wheel drive, throughout most of the lineup. We'd recommend the 2011 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab if you need easier backseat entry and enough regular space for two kids; the King Cab configuration allows for occasional backseat passengers with small front-hinged rear access doors and flip-up backseats, but they're puny and uncomfortable for adults. No matter which way you go, the supportive front seats afford a nice, upright driving position with good outward visibility. About the only down side for comfort is the Frontier's ride, which can get pretty choppy.
The Frontier can haul cargo—which is, after all, what matters most for a large subset of pickup buyers—only as well as other compact or mid-size trucks, although its stout frame is certainly up to the task. Beds for the Frontier are six feet long at most. But the Frontier offers several features not otherwise found in pickups in this price range. The cargo bed includes a factory-applied spray-in bedliner, and for those who need to secure small or heavy items in back, we recommend the available Utili-Track cargo tie-down system.
While equipment in the Nissan Frontier hasn't changed notably for 2011, its trim levels have been renamed. The base four-cylinder Frontier S models remain very basic and go without air conditioning, power windows, and even a tilt steering wheel. SV models get more popular equipment, like larger 16-inch alloy wheels, chromed bumpers, a sliding rear window, tilt steering, cruise control, air conditioning, keyless entry, tilt steering, and power windows and locks. Top SL models, only offered in the Crew Cab body style, get a roof rack, step rails, fog lamps, tie-down cleats, the Utili-Track system, plus heated leather seats and Bluetooth hands-free, in additioni to a Rockford Fosgate eight-speaker audio system. The PRO-4X remains the way to go for those who plan to need serious off-road capability; it somes with upgraded Bilstein off-road shocks plus skid plates.
Options on the Frontier include a limited-slip differential, leather seats, a high-powered Rockford Fosgate audio system, and a choice of either XM or Sirius Satellite Radio.