The Nissan Frontier has been one of our longtime top picks among mid-size or compact trucks, and that's mainly because of the gutsy performance you get if you opt for the V-6.
Unless you drive a Frontier for someone else--or you're an extreme cheapskate--you're unlikely to find yourself driving or considering a four-cylinder model, and that's fine. The 2.5-liter, 152-horsepower four is wheezy, and with any load strains to provide the kind of acceleration most drivers want and need; additionally, its fuel economy isn't much better than with the V-6 in real-world driving (although ratings are up to 19/23 mpg for 2013).
In this scaled-down truck, we otherwise think that the Frontier's 4.0-liter V-6 offers as strong of a kick as you're going to want--and it's the equivalent of a V-8 in the full-sizers. It makes 261 horsepower, and comes with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. In manual versions you get a precise clutch feel, but the long throws could take some getting used to; otherwise the five-speed automatic works well for the V-6's torque (a peak 281 lb-ft), helping to get the most from it in passing or off the line. Towing capacities are unchanged for 2013, with the Frontier's peak of 6,500 pounds decidedly below that of full-size rigs.In going with a smaller truck, you probably expect greater maneuverability--and that's true in the Frontier, to a point. Steering is communicative, and handling is confident, with good body control; and while the Frontier can get choppy over imperfect surfaces, it's without the full-frame shudder that some trucks get when fully loaded.