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car review

2013 Nissan FrontierTed Laturnus/The Globe and Mail

The pickup truck market in Canada has traditionally been dominated by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler – usually in that order, but not always. Honda, Toyota and Nissan also sell trucks, but they're miles behind their domestic rivals in sales numbers. Not even in the top 10 for light-truck sales in Canada.

Nissan has two models: the full-size-size Titan and mid-size Frontier, which has been around since the late 1990s.

The Frontier is available in two body configurations: King Cab and Crew Cab. The Crew Cab has seating for three in the back, with full-size doors, while the King Cab offers a couple of jump seats and accessory doors that can't be accessed until the front doors have been opened.

That's not all that sets these two apart. The smaller King Cab can be had with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine or Nissan's ubiquitous Q series V-6, which, in this case, displaces 4.0 litres and develops 261 horsepower (is there another manufacturer that has gotten more mileage out of one of their V-6s than Nissan? I doubt it.), but the Crew Cab is V-6 only. Both versions can be had with or without 4WD. My tester, a fairly gussied-up Crew Cab, had this, plus a shipload of extras.

There's one transmission choice for the 4WD Crew Cab: a five-speed automatic, and 4WD is accessed via a console-located rotary switch: 2WD and high and low range are your choices here, and if you get the Pro model, there is also a locking rear diff for the rough stuff. This is a truck meant to handle off-road terrain and part of its appeal is that you can take it into the wild green yonder without having to worry. A hill descent control feature with roll-back assist and a traction control system are also part of this package.

In fact, off-roading and weekend getaways are what this one is best suited for. With its diminutive pickup bed (1,511 mm long), you can't carry much of a payload, as I discovered during a trip to the dump to unload some household rubbish. A couch pretty much fills this one up – with the tailgate down. That said, you can get a long-bed version of the Crew Cab, and it provides an additional 350 mm of length – still not what you'd call huge, but more useful than the regular bed. By way of comparison, a Toyota Tacoma Access Cab has a bed length of 1,866 mm, while the Double Cab is good for 1,531 mm.

What we have here is a toy. Throw your kayak in the back – or on the roof, in this case – load up the camping gear and get off the beaten track. You can get into 4WD while in motion, there's 226 mm of ground clearance and what you can't carry, you can pull behind you; the V-6 Frontier has a healthy tow capacity of 2,767 kilos. Put on a lift kit and this puppy could probably go just about anywhere. There is also an optional skid plate that protects the gas tank, oil sump and transfer case, as well as four substantial tie-down cleats for the back.

No discomfort behind the wheel, either. Standard kit includes the usual modcons: power door locks, one-touch down (but not up) front windows, air conditioning, cruise control and a 60/40 flip-up rear seat. There's also storage room under the back seat, so what the Frontier Crew Cab lacks in payload capacity, it makes up for in storage nooks and crannies. With the back seat folded, there's all kinds of room back there. And I found getting in and out much more straightforward here than with one of the Frontier's competitors, the Tacoma.

My tester, with the Pro package, also included extras such as leather interior, heated front seats, power-adjustable front seats, a centre armrest and a voice-activated navi system. All of which adds $1,585 to the price tag.

And one thing I noticed was the low level of NVH (noise, vibration, harshness). This is a quiet vehicle to operate, and were it not for its aggressive tires, would make a decent highway rig. I've noticed this in other models as well – something about the pickup configuration makes for tighter body construction. You want something that offers a relatively tranquil driving experience? Consider a traditional pickup truck.

On the other hand, fuel consumption is something to think about. Equipped with 4WD, the Frontier Crew Cab delivers 14.8 litres/100 km in town and 10.4 on the highway. With its 80-litre fuel tank, at today's prices, that's close to $120 per fill-up where I live.

Tech specs

2013 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab Pro 4X

Base Price: $34,948; as tested: $38,362

Engine: 4.0-litre V-6

Horsepower/torque: 261 hp/281 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: 2WD/4WD

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.8 city/10.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline, Chevrolet Avalanche, Ford F-150, Ram 1500

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