1999 Nissan Frontier 4WD Review

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High Gear Media Staff High Gear Media Staff  
March 14, 1999
EAGLE ROCK, Mo. — In remote creases of the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri, a brawny four-wheel-drive version of Nissan's redesigned Frontier pickup truck — toting a new six-pack of power enthused with muscle — crawled slowly up a steep and rutted hillside trail, which was studded with stones and slick from recent rain.

This rough and lumpy trace challenged forward progress of the pickup with every inch of ground gained, but nubby tires gripped with assurance and sturdy shock absorbers from Frontier's off-road suspension package filtered the bumpy ride while still delivering sure-footed control for driver.

Beyond a thick cluster of hardwood trunks to the right, the terrain cascaded hundreds of feet down the hillside to a scenic valley dotted by oak and pine. Behind the tailgate, a jolting path over fallen logs through silted chutes had led to this high spot, which would be inaccessible to a conventional two-wheel-drive vehicle.

Despite adversities along the route, Nissan's truck forged ahead, smothering stone and trail goo with deep-tread rubber while mustering an armory of low-gear torque and applying the strength of 170 horses to propel almost 2 tons of truck metal deep into the backwoods. For off-road adventures like this as well as tough truck chores, Frontier needs the V-6 engine.

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Nissan’s newest name
As the newest nameplate in Nissan's stable, Frontier rolled out as a 1998 compact truck outfitted with either rear- or four-wheel drive, plus regular and extended-cab variations — but only a single four-cylinder choice for power.

For 1999 models, Nissan’s added a V-6, which can be coupled to one of two four-wheel-drive models in stretched King Cab configuration. The Frontier's 3.3-liter V-6, borrowed from Nissan's Pathfinder sport-utility wagon, stacks a single cam on top and sequential multipoint electronic fuel injection inside to generate 170 hp at 4800 rpm. Its torque — a measure of the muscle that turns the wheels — runs up to 200 foot-pounds at 2800 rpm. The V-6 can be had with either the standard five-speed manual shifter or an optional four-speed electronic automatic.

1999 Nissan Frontier 4WD

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Despite its 4X4 bulk, the V-6 Frontier leaps to action when commanded. That muscle became particularly apparent in sticky off-road conditions, such as trail mud experienced in the Ozark outback and on pavement at higher speeds like maneuvers passing slower traffic, or when hauling a heavy load.

Frontier's twin-cam 2.4-liter inline four makes 143 hp and mates to manual or automatic transmission, although all 4X4s with this engine use the manual.

Optional four-wheel drive has as the standard a two-speed transfer case with high and low ranges for off-road trekking. With the V-6 King Cab, automatic locking front hubs appear, enabling driver to shift from rear drive to 4x4 traction while underway at speeds up to 50 mph. You must stop Frontier before shifting from 4WD High to 4WD Low, which is designed for conquering off-pavement obstacles at slow speed.

Built rugged
The Frontier’s built plenty rugged enough for off-road duty. It’s got a sturdy ladder-type chassis reinforced with strong cross braces to enhance torsional rigidity. The suspension is a double-wishbone arrangement up front, a solid axle with leaf springs in the rear. Steering is recirculating ball, with power assistance for all models above the 4x2 Standard entry model.

Brakes for the 4x2 include a

1999 Nissan Frontier V-6  interior

1999 Nissan Frontier V-6 interior

Nissan’s Frontier has side-impact
beams and airbags for front passengers.

rear anti-lock system, but the optional four-wheel-drive system comes with four-wheel anti-lock control. Other safety elements include dual airbags, with a key-activated shut-off switch at the passenger's side for installation of a child safety seat. The body structure also has a front crumple zone and protective steel beam in each side door.

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The Frontier's cabin provides comfortable amenities. Its bench or bucket seats are available as covered in woven cloth or velour in upgraded trims. The stretched King Cab applies twin side-mounted and side-facing rear jump seats, plus a new front center console as standard for SE King Cab or an option on XE King.

It’s all wrapped in burly exterior styling, which starts at the composite grille with flanking wraparound headlamp clusters set atop a chrome bumper. This leading edge rakes rearward in aerodynamic fashion as lines flow over the rounded hood and up the windshield to a flat cab roof. The sides, drawn tautly with several shapely contours, emphasize strong horizontal lines sweeping back to an aggressive rear end with corner lamps and forceful bumper. Fender flares become part of the standard exterior treatment for the 4x2 SE version and all 4X4 models.

The Frontier’s bed, a flat rectangular box stretching more than 6 feet long and spreading wide to 5 feet, is also deep — 17 inches. Within the bed, Nissan's flexible loading system functions through the installation of partition boards in special slots to create two-tier loading plus three sectional divisions for front, center and rear areas. The tailgate can be removed quickly in a simple manual maneuver. Also, it closes easily in a one-hand lift-and-lock operation.

The bottom line on Frontier is a favorable one. Prices range from $12,000 to $24,000. For a built-in-Tennessee truck with an import badge, the Frontier sounds to us like a genuine American-made value.

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