2009 Nissan Frontier PRO4X King Cab 4X4 Review
By Kevin Miller
I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t really like trucks. My first vehicle was a beat-up, orange two-wheel-drive 1979 Toyota pickup I shared with my twin brother, which was not very hot in the early 1990s. While I realize that sometimes you need a truck to haul or tow a load, I’d rather drive a vehicle with a more comfortable interior and better handling.
That emotional baggage is just some of the cargo I needed to haul around with me when I spent a recent week driving Nissan’s smallest truck, the Frontier. The version I drove was a Frontier 4X4 PRO4X King Cab with dual-range four-wheel-drive and a five-speed automatic transmission. Its four-liter V6 has 261 HP and 281 lf-ft of torque. It was a solid truck with plenty of power and some handy touches. I’ve tried to put aside my biases to give the Frontier a fair shake.
That being said, my first several hours with the Frontier Pro4x were not happily spent. I needed to secure my daughter’s child seat in the truck and pick her up from daycare. The method of securing a child seat in the second-row jump-seats was not evident. I had to dig through the user’s manual, which described folding out a child-seat extension and the child seat with the truck seatbelt’s auto-locking retractor. The problem was that the jumpseats have virtually no padding, so the child seat was nowhere near to being tightly secured. There are no lower LATCH points for securing a child seat, though there is a difficult-to-use tether anchor located on the floor.
Having difficulty out back, I attempted to secure the child seat in the front passenger seat, but the passenger side airbag wouldn’t turn off (too much weight was sensed to disable the airbag; a problem I also experienced in Nissan’s 350Z). That meant I had to return to the back seat, where I ended up using a cushion (from my patio set) to provide enough padding to cinch the car seat tightly. With the child seat in place, there is very little room for a passenger up front.
With the child seat finally situated, I paired my iPhone to the Nissan’s Bluetooth phone system and departed to pick up my daughter. Enroute to daycare I received a phone call. When the call ended, the truck’s Bluetooth system froze; for the rest of my trip, the rudimentary, single-line text display on the head unit displayed “PHONE” so I was unable to listen to music, make other calls, or to reset the system. It finally reset itself when I re-started the truck after picking up my daughter.
On the way to the daycare center in light rain, the Frontier’s super-sensitive throttle tip-in caused the rear tires to lose traction when accelerating from a stop, causing the stability control to intervene, as indicated by the SLIP lamp of the VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) system illuminate when accelerating from every stop. Adding a corner into the mix caused massive oversteer and also caused the VDC to really earn its keep.
Three unpleasant hours had elapsed since I got the Nissan. I needed to find my mojo with the truck. Or something like that. Over the course of the next six days, I was able to find a few opportunities to use the truck’s bed, which helped me remember why people buy trucks, thereby putting up with less-than-ideal ergonomics and usability on a daily basis.
The truck I was testing was Nissan’s King Cab, with rear-hinged doors to access the back of the cab. Unlike the doors in the Frontier’s big brother Titan, the doors only open 90 degrees, and only after the front door has been opened. That makes loading and unloading tough in parking lots or garages where there isn’t much room to maneuver around the doors. Loading groceries from a shopping cart into the truck’s back door in a pouring rain required a lot of maneuvering of the shopping cart and doors before I figured out how to have the door open and the shopping cart near the opening.
The Frontier’s five-speed automatic transmission didn’t have any clever manual shifting modes or gates. There is a button to disable overdrive, which is how 4th gear is selected. Lower gears are then chosen by moving the shift lever down one-position-at-a-time. It is much easier to use the four-wheel drive’s on-the-fly-switchable high and low ranges, using a rotary switch on the dashboard. The rear differential can also be locked using dash-mounted rocker switch, which automatically disables the truck’s stability control system.
The Pro4x is equipped with the High Utility Bed Package, featuring the Utili-Track channels with adjustable tie-down anchors, factory-applied bed liner, and bed rail caps. It is also equipped with The Pro4x package also adds Bilstein off road performance shocks, unique 16” six-spoke alloy wheels with rugged tires.
Inside, the Frontier Pro4X features charcoal-colored seats and floor mats with red-accents, which are unique to this trim level. White-faced gages are found in the instrument panel, and the sound system features an in-dash six-disc changer and XM satellite radio, though the sound quality wasn’t great, and the blocky text on the head unit’s single-line display reminded me of a Speak-&-Spell toy. The steering wheel has controls for both cruse control and sound system/phone, though the controls are not ergonomic nor illuminated. The manual climate control system features rectangular buttons for selecting airflow, with knobs for fan speed and temperature adjustment. A knob for airflow selection would be easier to use.
The 261 HP Frontier has a fuel economy rating of 15/19 MPG city/highway. I managed to put just under 200 miles on the truck in a week, mostly on suburban streets. The unexpected trip computer showed an average of 15.0 MPG at the end of my time with the Frontier, at an average speed of just 25 MPH.
The 2009 Nissan Frontier 4X4 PRO4X has a base MSRP of $27,630, and the one I drove added Technology Package for $950 (AM/FM/6-disc with six speakers and steering-wheel audio controls, Bluetooth phone integration, XM Satellite Radio, and security system with immobilizer), floor mats for $105, the Side & Curtain Airbag Package for $550, and Traction Package for $550 which includes Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC). With the $745 destination charge, the total came to $30,480.
I was surprised to find out how much this Frontier costs, being a relatively small truck with a relatively modest equipment level. When I compared pricing to similarly-equipped Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado models, however, MSRPs were equivalent. To my eyes, the Frontier is the best looking in this trio.
As a proponent of vehicle safety equipment being standard, I think that all of the available airbags should be standard; saving $550 on optional safety equipment is really a false economy. And I can’t imagine driving the Frontier on wet streets without the optional Vehicle Dynamic Control. But that’s just me.
When using the Frontier for hauling stuff around, it did a great job. The few places where I managed to find unpaved surfaces to try the Frontier’s four-wheel drive, it was easy to use and provided confident traction. So it seems to be a fine truck – even though trucks aren’t really my thing.
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