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Avg. Price Paid:$8,256 - $18,428
Original MSRP: $16,530 - $28,330
MPG: 19 City / 23 Hwy
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2008 Nissan Frontier Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Nissan Frontier was new.

Test drivers are impressed with the Nissan's performance attributes. Kelley Blue Book captures consensus, calling the Frontier "a truck that hauls, tows and loves to get dirty ... the Nissan Frontier will impress you with its ability, utility and refined ride." Car and Driver writes, "During a run down a curvy mountain road, the Frontier was composed, communicative, and even a little fun -- a driving condition that was in short supply ... the Frontier drew nothing but praise for its sure-footedness."

Acceleration and Power

The 2008 Frontier is available with two engines. The King Cab's XE engine is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder with 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. The SE, NISMO and LE trims for both King and Crew Cab have a 4.0-liter V6 engine with 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet. Drivetrains also vary dependent on trims. The base model has a five-speed manual transmission, but Frontiers also come with a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. USA Today says the powertrain stands out whichever trim you choose: "No matter what version of the truck was being tested here: strong, smooth, responsive, fun."

Most reviewers disregard the XE's four-cylinder engine. "I say skip it," is the Arizona Republic's recommendation, while U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman feels only offering it in the entry-level King Cab "means most buyers will end up with the punchy" V6. However, reviewers acknowledge the smaller engine obviously receives better gas mileage. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the four-cylinder Frontier at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on highways with the manual transmission. With an automatic, the EPA rates the Frontier at 17 mpg on city streets, 22 mpg cruising highways.

The majority tested the 4.0-liter V6 engine with pleasure. Four Wheeler finds "the engine provides neck-snapping acceleration on demand, with gobs of usable torque across the powerband and in every gear." NewCars.com says that with 261 horsepower, "the Nissan Frontier packs quite a wallop and will knock the typical compact crew cab truck down a few rungs." Kelley Blue Book says the engine "might be the smoothest, strongest V6 engine ever put in a pickup."

Overall praise is tempered with one or two complaints. Although USA Today generally thinks the V6 "responds promptly, sounds good, propels the truck smartly," there are also concerns "it could use more of its power at lower engine speeds." The Arizona Republic complains it "was somewhat harsh" on the road, and even Kelley Blue Book, one of its strongest supporters, concedes that "all that power and performance comes at the expense of fuel economy."

The EPA rates a Nissan Frontier using the V6 engine and all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission at 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on highways. The Frontier does slightly better with a manual transmission, 15 mpg in the city and 19 mpg for the highway. Mileage is also better if you pair the V6 with front-wheel drive. The EPA rates the Frontier at 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on highways with the automatic transmission, and at 16 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on highways using the stick shift.

Once again, auto writers ignore the XE's five-speed manual for a chance to test drive the six-speed stick. "The six-speed has garnered praises for its buttery-smooth shift characteristics and conveniently wide-spaced gate pattern," Four Wheeler notes. "For the weak-kneed among us who prefer automatics, this gearbox has been a potent reminder of how fun a manual can be, even when we're needed to row repeatedly through gears in urban traffic."

The 2008 Nissan Frontier is also available with a five-speed automatic that's considered sophisticated. The automatic "kicks down quickly" for Consumer Guide, creating "good midrange passing punch," while Newsday enjoys "downshifts without hesitation when the driver requests it with a nudge of the accelerator."

Handling and Braking

Reviewers like the Frontier's road characteristics, but note its truck-like handling is not suited for everyone. Most describe handling that's "just smooth enough to sedate the sedan fans in the family, while still feeling like a truck," as U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman says. Whether buyers choose a smoother experience with the basic suspension set up or go for more off-roading ability, Newsday notes that "the Frontier's body feels as solid as the proverbial rock."

With the front independent double-wishbone suspension with a front stabilizer bar and the rear overslung multi-leaf suspension with solid axle, reviewers say the Frontier's ride is "firm but absorbent. Sharp ridges register but don't jar," as Consumer Guide states. At first, Edmunds finds the highway ride is "a bit choppy," but later notes improvement with high-speed stability: "This truck feels as solid at 90 mph as it does at 60 mph."

Those who tested the Frontier's NISMO trim warn that it's strictly for off-roading and nothing else. Newsday says it's "strictly for young folks who are strong of back and butt...unless you plan on driving your pickup in the Baja 1000, you might do well to consider a more civilized version." The Washington Post objectively notes what the NISMO is designed to do: "We dismissed its ride, which was somewhere north of brutal, especially on broken city streets. We simply wanted to use and abuse it, to exploit its hauling and towing power."

Most call the Frontier's engine-speed-sensitive power-assisted steering a chore, no matter what trim. USA Today calls it "the only glaring drawback...a turning circle wide as a full-size truck's, a slow steering ratio and unusually high effort at low speed made the test trucks disagreeable in parking lots." MSN also had trouble. "While quick, the Frontier's steering feels somewhat dead and should provide more road feedback," the writer states. MSN is also one of the reviewers to take issue with the truck's vented disc brakes: "Stopping distances are okay, although the brake pedal is a bit touchy."

Off-Roading

Writers report Nissan ups the ante with a NISMO trim that's designed specifically for off-roading. Edmunds likes that the Frontier "climbed over obstacles that took our breath away," while the Washington Post appreciates its ability to "crawl over rocks, move through mud, snow and dust; and climb steep mountain trails."

NISMO Frontiers use an on-demand electronic locking rear differential and Bilstein® performance shock absorbers to tackle rough terrain. The NISMO trim also can receive the optional hill descent control and hill start assist. PickupTruck.com's writer outlines the way these systems assist when off-road: "Just flick the switch on the dash and point the truck down the hill. HDC works the front and rear brakes as needed to maintain a steady and controllable speed downhill ... experienced off-roaders will still prefer to have total control of the brakes and throttle in these situations, but it's nice to know that HDC will help a novice stay out of trouble ... the softer suspension did articulate well through frame twisting exercises and it maintained good contact with the ground through most of the run."

Hauling

The Crew Cab Frontier's payload varies from 1,098 pounds to 1,482 pounds, and the King Cab's varies from 994 pounds to 1,583 pounds. Payload capacity is dependent on the trim, transmission and drive wheels. King Cabs have a cargo bed that's 73.3 inches long, while Crew Cab models have a choice between a bed 59.5 inches long or a 73.3-inch-long bed. Reviewers say Nissan compensates for smaller cargo beds in other ways. "Nissan at least maximizes the utility of its stubby bed with built-in tracks and tie-downs, a spray-in bedliner, and an optional cargo fence that extends the effective length," Automobile Magazine writes.

One of the reviewers' favorite features is the Frontier's Utili-trak Bed Channel System, which is carried over from Nissan's Titan truck and is a standard for all Crew Cabs and the King Cab LE. Kelley Blue Book likes the removable cleats that "make it easy to transport even cumbersome cargo loads safely." Meanwhile, The Car Connection estimates that Utili-trak will enable "convenient hauling of everything from a pair of dirt bikes to a pallet of bricks...the sliding tie-downs can be moved fore and aft along tracks built into the side and floor of the bed, providing multiple attachment points. They fit your cargo, as opposed to trying to make your cargo fit your truck."

Towing

The Frontier's Crew Cab has a maximum towing capacity of 6,300 pounds, while the King Cab can tow up to 6,500 pounds, leading reviewers from Car and Driver to consider towing as the Frontier's "true pickup asset." Kelley Blue Book agrees, adding that the V6 engine allows for "superior towing with almost sports car-like acceleration." A seven-pin connector trailer wire harness is available for all but the base trim.

Performance Options

King Cab XE

The base model Frontier is the only trim that comes standard with a four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, but drivers can opt for a five-speed automatic.

SE

The SE model comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission and Dana ® 44 rear axles, but has a five-speed automatic option, as well as options for a switch-operated two-speed transfer case. Crew Cab SEs also receive the Utili-trak Bed Channel system and a spray-on bedliner.

NISMO

The Frontier's off-roading trim has a five-speed automatic transmission with an on-demand electronic locking rear differential, two-wheel or four-wheel limited slip and an option for a switch-operated two-speed transfer case. Other options include vehicle dynamic control and hill descent control and hill start assist. The NISMO King Cab has an option for a six-speed manual transmission, as well as the Utili-trak Bed Channel System and a spray-on bedliner.

LE

The Frontier's highest trim has the option for a two-wheel or four-wheel limited slip differential, a switch-operated two-speed transfer case, vehicle dynamic control and hill descent control and hill start assist. The King Cab LE has the Utili-trak Bed Channel System and spray-on bedliner as standard features.

Review Last Updated: 3/11/09

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