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There's no way to buy a new compact pickup truck at a dealership for 2013; the last vehicles to fit that description–Colorado, Canyon, Ranger–all disappeared last year. Left in their place are a range of midsize trucks with much more utility–and among them, our top pick is the Nissan Frontier.
More a downsized big truck than an upsized small one, the Frontier shares some of its engineering with the Titan, Nissan's long-lived full-size pickup. The frame rails may be related, but otherwise, the Frontier's a more manageable size, with just as many body styles, and even more powertrain choice than the Titan--and a more comfortable ride than the rival Toyota Tacoma.Visually, the Frontier has changed very little since the 2005 model year, when the current generation was introduced—although it did get some modest mid-cycle upgrades for 2009. We tend to think, as we note in our full review of the 2013 Nissan Frontier, that these models have aged much more gracefully on the outside than inside, where the Frontier's instrument-panel design and trims remind one how much designs have evolved in a decade.
There's no V-8 on offer in the Frontier, but the V-6 is a star, and what it provides rivals the gusto of V-8s in full-size trucks, if not their towing and hauling numbers. Nissan has reduced engine friction for 2013--and boosted gas mileage through that and a few subtle aerodynamic improvements--although ratings remain the same: 261 hp and 281 lb-ft. It pairs well with the automatic transmission; there's a manual, too, but throws are long. There's a four-cylinder option as well, and it's rated higher for fuel economy, though the spec-sheet ratings could disappear as you push the 152-hp, 2.5-liter four with heavy payloads and extra passengers.
Between the King Cab and the Crew Cab, the latter is the way to go if you regularly carry more than two front-seat passengers. These trucks have a good, upright seating position, with a somewhat high floor forcing taller drivers into a stretched-leg position. About the only down side for comfort is the Frontier's ride, which can get pretty choppy.
There's some innovation right where it counts: in the cargo bed. There's a factory-applied spray-in bedliner, and the available Utili-Track cargo tie-down system is a must for those who have weekend projects or outdoor gear to secure. For 2013, a new Value Truck Package adds those, plus a trailer hitch, dual-zone climate control, a bed extender, and more.The Frontier was already one of the best small or mid-size trucks for safety, and this year it gets better with a backup camera and sonar parking sensors added to the feature set of much of the lineup. A Bluetooth hands-free system is now also included in all but the base S.
Frontier is offered in S, SV, SL, and off-road-oriented PRO-4X models, with SL models offered in Crew Cab form only. Most of the lineup can be equipped with rear- or four-wheel drive, in King Cab or Crew Cab body styles. New for 2013 is a Desert Runner model that essentially pairs the look and some of the equipment of the PRO-4X, but with rear-wheel drive. Otherwise a navigation-system has been added to the lineup, and SV and PRO-4X models get a new Display Audio system.