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by Steve Siler

Nissan Frontier
2003 Nissan Frontier

Nissan's recent designs dare to be different above all else. And critics be darned, because such huevos have paid big dividends in the marketplace, with the company's popularity skyrocketing and with sales numbers to match.

The Frontier pickup was one of the early test beds of this dare-to-be-different philosophy. Available only as a King Cab (ie: extended cab) or a full four-door Crew Cab, the Frontier looks rugged and substantial; ignore the fact that most of that macho body cladding is plastic. It looks good, right?

One disadvantage the King Cab gives up to the extended cab compact entries from GM and Ford is the absence of access doors to assist with getting into the area just behind the front seats. That may partly explain the popularity of the Crew Cab, featuring as it does four real doors and a real back seat. Just don't put tall people back there, else you will hear incessant whining about unpleasant thigh compression. The good news is that those seats actually can be used for people, even if you have a lot of stuff to bring with you, as the Crew Cab is available with a long, 6.5-foot bed instead of just the abbreviated bed as found on its competitors (although that bed makes the already long truck even longer).

Ergonomics are good, and the dashboard shapes and textures are every bit as cool as the exterior styling promises. The optional leather package is particularly cool in black with red stitching. Base models get power from a 142-hp 4-cylinder engine, which isn't a whole lot when it comes to truck duty, but it is competitive with the base engines of its rivals. Still, we recommend upgrading at least to the 170-horse 3.3-liter V-6, if not the 210-hp supercharged version of that engine.