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3/4 Front Glamour 2013 Nissan Frontier

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MPG 16 City / 22 Highway
  • Capable of rugged duties
  • More maneuverable than a full-size pickup
  • Good acceleration with V6
  • Availability of manual transmission
  • So-so fuel economy
  • Rear seats uncomfortable
, Automotive Editor -


One of the few remaining players in the compact pickup field (or mid-size depending on your perspective), the Frontier is a veteran workhorse of the Nissan lineup. It remains a logical choice for buyers who can do without the power and capacity of a full-size truck. Such folks are rewarded with better fuel economy and a friendlier sticker price.

King cab models run with a standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 152 horsepower. There's a pair of flip-down, forward-facing seats behind the front buckets, allowing four-passenger capacity in a pinch. When the seats aren't occupied, you get a fair amount of interior storage space that's easily accessible thanks to rear-hinged half-doors on each side. The front passenger seat back folds forward to provide a table-like surface, a useful touch.

The available four-door crew cab features a full-length flippable rear bench and 4.0-liter V6. Available across the board, the V6 makes 261 horsepower, which might not seem like a lot given its displacement, but it's the most power you can get in this class. The V6 Frontier moves out surprisingly well, all things considered, and can tow up to 6,500 pounds

The Frontier hasn't changed much over the years, but Nissan has managed to make it more appealing by doing something unexpected: slashing prices. The 2013 models cost $1,270 to $1,460 less than comparable 2012s. The king cab now starts at $17,990, and the crew at $22,030. At those levels, the Frontier remains a highly competitive offering, even though it's been around in current form since 2005.

Not only does it cost less to buy a Frontier this year, it also costs less to drive one. Fuel economy gets of boost from new low-friction engine components and enhanced aerodynamics. All Frontiers now wear a tailgate spoiler, revised front spoiler, and rubberized body seal between the cab and bed. Gas mileage is up one or two mpg depending on the configuration. The popular V6 and automatic transmission combo gets two extra mpg on the highway and one in the city.

The compact pickup segment might be on life support, but the Frontier still has a pulse. In addition to investing in this year's improvements, Nissan continues to support a deep model range and full catalog of accessories, so it's unlikely the Frontier will leave us anytime soon.

Which Style To Buy?

2013 Nissan Frontier
Starting price

2013 Nissan Frontier S

Recommended for: Truck buyers who love a bargain.

The king cab S is the undisputed value leader of the line, starting at just $17,990. The four-cylinder is the only engine available in this configuration, matched to a five-speed manual or automatic. You don't get four-wheel drive or much in the way of creature comforts, although Nissan does throw in a few essentials: intermittent wipers, two power outlets, under-seat storage bin, and cloth seats. When you add AM/FM/CD and air conditioning, the king cab S is still cheaper than last year's stripped model by about $500, which sums up its appeal pretty well.

In crew cab form, the S adds the V6 engine with six-speed manual or automatic, standard air conditioning and audio system, and available four-wheel drive. All 4x4 Frontiers feature hill descent/start control when equipped with the automatic. In keeping with the bargain theme, power windows and locks are not available on either S.

2013 Nissan Frontier
Starting price

2013 Nissan Frontier SL

Recommended for: Folks who want SUV luxury, but need a pickup bed.

Available as a V6 crew cab with two- or four-wheel drive, the SL provides a plush interior on par with an upscale SUV. The SL boasts all the features of SV's Value Truck Package as standard, then adds a leather interior with heat and power in front, navigation, first-aid kit, HomeLink entry system, chromed vent surrounds, and 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system. The SL rides on 18-inch 12-spoke aluminum wheels with machined finish. The only standard missing is a sunroof, which can be added for $700.

2013 Nissan Frontier
Starting price

2013 Nissan Frontier Desert Runner

Recommended for: Buyer who like to leave the road once in a while.

Geared toward active types, the Desert Runner includes all the equipment of the SV V6, plus a standard automatic transmission. The Value Truck Package is not available here as this model is more about fun than utility. To that end, the Desert Runner carries Bilstein off-road performance shock absorbers, bedside decals and specific seat trim. A satin-finish chrome grille completes the look. Although most buyer will opt for four-wheel drive on this model, a two-wheel drive version is now available.

2013 Nissan Frontier
Starting price

2013 Nissan Frontier Pro-4X

Recommended for: Buyers looking for true off-road performance.

The only Frontier with standard four-wheel drive, the Pro-4X builds on the SV V6 by adding special off-road components: Bilstein shocks, locking rear differential, and skid plates over the oil pan and fuel tank. A third skid plate protecting the transfer case is available. Inside, there's specific cloth seat trim with white stitching, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, chrome vent trim, and white-face gauges set in chrome besels.

Crew cab models can get a Pro-4X Luxury Package, which includes the interior upgrades of the SL, plus unique embroidered leather seats and a standard sunroof.

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