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Nissan still a leader in pickup evolution

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Compact pickup trucks aren’t so compact any more.

With the proliferation of extended cabs and crew cabs, once-cheap and basic little trucklets are now increasingly configured to seat up to five and offer all the amenities available in the full-size rigs.

Nissan has had a major hand in this evolutionary trend, being the first to offer a long-bed version of a compact truck – in 1975- and an extended-cab version (the King Cab) in 1977.

2012 Nissan Frontier 4×4 Pro-4X
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door, five-passenger, midsize pickup truck
BASE PRICE: $30,080
PRICE AS TESTED: $31,275 (incl. delivery fees)
POWERTRAIN: 4.0-liter, DOHC V-6; 261 horsepower; 281 lb.-ft. torque; five-speed manual transmission; four-wheel drive
WHEELBASE/LENGTH: 125.9″/205.5″
CURB WEIGHT: 4,385 pounds
EPA FUEL RATING: 14 mpg city/19 highway (regular grade)

The Frontier, as Nissan’s smallest truck is now known, is available in a vast array of models for all tastes – four- or six-cylinder engines, two- or four-wheel drive, off-road or luxury, short or long beds.

Sharing much of the underpinnings with the full-size Titan pickup, the Frontier is built on a rugged foundation. And it shows in the tautness of the truck – unlike some pickups, there is minimal flexing and neither a squeak nor rattle to be heard.

Our tester Pro-4X model comes equipped with a raft of major off-roading add-ons, including Bilstein high-pressure shock absorbers; skid plates on the oil pan, transfer case and fuel tank; an electronic locking rear differential; and chunky P265/75R16 off-road tires mounted on 16-inch aluminum-alloy off-road wheels. The Crew Cab version also includes a spray-on bed liner, bed-rail caps and Utili-Track tie-downs.

While these make for one tough truck, the heavy-duty shocks and tires do take a toll on the ride quality. Small imperfections in the road surface are magnified, resulting in near-constant jiggly motions, more so at lower speeds than highway velocities.

Handling is above average for this type of truck. It takes corners with relatively restrained body lean, but even with its surprisingly direct steering, it behooves the driver to maintain a modest pace.

The 4.0-liter V-6 delivers a substantial 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is quite strong, although fuel mileage – already a less-than-stellar 14 mpg around town – will likely suffer further if you drive with a heavy foot on the pedal.

Nissan helped pave the way for the pickup truck boom, and continues to lead.

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