AUTO REVIEW: Midsize 2015 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Pickup Offers a Combination of On- and Off-Road Gear

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(Nissan/MCAs the second Japanese automaker to open a U.S. plant, Nissan has been assembling its signature compact pickups in Smyrna, Tenn., since the first Datsun model rolled off the assembly line in June 1983.
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Now known in the North American market as the Nissan Frontier, and now considered midsize because of its growth spurt for the current generation, these pickups are among the best of their size on the market.

They roll into 2015 continuing to offer a variety of configurations and the legendary ruggedness and reliability that have made them popular with consumers worldwide.

The Frontier also continues to be an excellent performer both on and off the road, with a long list of optional features that can dress them up for city life or make them as tough as necessary for serious trail driving.

Available in either King Cab or Crew Cab body styles, with a choice of two bed lengths, the Frontier has standard rear-wheel drive, with a highly capable four-wheel-drive system offered on all models.

There are five trim levels, and power comes from either a fuel-efficient 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque (available only on base two-wheel-drive King Cab models); or a great-performing 4.0-liter V-6 with 261 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque.

The trucks come with a choice of transmissions — a five-speed automatic with either the four- or six-cylinder engine; a six-speed manual with the V-6; or a five-speed manual with the four-cylinder.

Shift-on-the-fly part-time four-wheel drive is activated by turning a knob on the dash to the right of the steering column, and there are both 4WD high- and low-range modes, along with a two-wheel-drive setting.

Trim levels are the base S model, the SV, the off-road Pro-4X, the Desert Runner, and the top-of-the-line SL. The Pro-4X and SL are available only in the Crew Cab versions.

There are regular and long-bed versions (King Cab and Crew Cab SV and SL models only). The long-bed models have 13 inches more bed length.

Our 2015 Pro-4X tester (base price $32,560, plus $860 freight) came with the factory sprayed-on bed liner and the nifty Utili-track cargo tie-down system, which was great for hauling some furniture during our test. It includes four adjustable tie-down cleats.

Of course, the best fuel economy comes from the two-wheel-drive models with the four-cylinder engine and the manual gearbox — EPA estimated at 19 mpg city/23 highway.

But our tester, which came with the Crew Cab and V-6 engine, had much-lower mileage numbers: 15 city/21 highway/17 combined. During our week with this truck, we averaged just over 17 mpg, with a combination of city, highway and off-road driving.

For 2015, Frontier received a number of enhancements, including standard NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps on the Pro-4X, and a moon roof included on the SL Long Wheelbase models.

The Pro-4X with the Crew Cab has four full-size doors and room for up to five people — two in the buckets up front and three on the rear bench. The rear seatback folds up to allow for hauling cargo inside the cab. We tried that successfully with some small furniture items and an HD flat-screen in a big box.

There are removable storage boxes beneath the rear seats, a locking dual glove box, a small center-console storage bin with 12-volt outlet and USB/Aux inputs, two big cupholders in the center console, a device tray in front of the shifter and a phone slot to the left of the shifter, singe bottle holders in each of the doors with separate storage, and other 12-volt outlets.

We did some mountain climbing with the Pro-4X — on- and off-road. We particularly enjoyed the Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control features when we were on some of the steepest grades, including my own driveway at my lake house, which is steep and gravel/dirt covered. The four-wheel drive performed flawlessly on the steep and slippery slopes.

There was plenty of power from the V-6 engine both on the highway and on the trail, and the automatic transmission shifted smoothly. The ride was surprisingly comfortable, considering this vehicle has an off-road suspension and tires.

Inside, the cabin is well-appointed and comfortable, with the front seats not tiring at all on long highway drives. They were bolstered enough to keep us in our seats (along with the seatbelts, of course) on the trail.

On the Pro-4X, Nissan says all the important underbody components are above the frame rails and protected by skid plates. There is 8.9 inches of ground clearance.

Safety features include Zone Body construction with front and rear crumple zones, front-seat-mounted side air bags, and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags with rollover sensor for front and rear. Tire-pressure monitoring and child-seat tethers are included.

Besides the Pro-4X Luxury Package, our vehicle had a three-piece floor mat set ($135).

Total sticker price was $36,205, including freight and options.

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2015 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Crew Cab pickup

— The package: Midsize, four-door, V-6 powered, four-wheel-drive, five-passenger pickup truck.

— Highlights: Nissan’s midsize pickup in the Pro-4X configuration includes a Crew Cab, short cargo bed, and lots of accessories for off-road exploring.

— Negatives: Five-speed automatic transmission is outdated; poor fuel economy with the V-6.

— Engine: 4.0-liter V-6.

— Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

— Power/torque: 261 HP/271 pound-feet.

— Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

— Electronic stability control: Standard.

— Air bags: Front; front-seat-mounted; side-curtain both rows.

— Overall length: 205.5 inches.

— Curb weight: 4,551 pounds.

— Payload capacity: 1,049 pounds.

— Towing capacity: 6,100 pounds.

— Major competitors: Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon.

— Fuel capacity/type: 21.1 gallons/unleaded regular.

— EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city/21 highway/17 combined.

— Base price: $32,560, plus $860 freight.

— Price as tested: $36,205, including freight and options (2015 Pro-4X with Luxury Package).

— On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).

— Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.