2010 Nissan Frontier 4X4 SE: A truck for all season (and reasons)

A solid value for work or play - or both
by: JAIME VALDEZ, Attractive styling, room for five and practical features make the 2010 Frontier a good option for heavy hauling or daily driving.

The 2010 Nissan Frontier walks the line between heavy-duty workhorse and weekend recreational vehicle. In Crew Cab configuration, it can haul five workers and a load of lumber to a construction site - or a family and two off-road motorcycles up to the mountains.

Used either way, the Frontier strikes a good balance. Especially in SE trim, it is functional without being stark, civilized without being soft. The on-demand four-wheel-drive system in our test vehicle also made short work of hilly, rain-slicked, unimproved neighborhood roads.

Once upon a time, four-door pickups only came in one size - really, really big. Back when the Big Three American automotive companies dominated the truck market, they offered four-door versions of their largest models for carrying work crews to remote job sites, hence the name Crew Cab.

Even after the smaller Japanese trucks proved themselves capable of serious work, they were slow to offer additional seating. Extended Cab versions only provided enough rear seat room for small children willing to squeeze past the front seat.

It wasn't until the introduction of midsize trucks in the 1980s that four real doors became available on less than full size trucks. By then, both the American and Japanese manufactures had figured out that trucks had become more than just work vehicles. As a result, even the earliest midsize Crew Cab trucks were available in trim levels that reached out to parents, home remodelers, and outdoor enthusiasts, too. Options included plush cloth and even leather seats, along with off-road packages on four-wheel-drive models that featured skid pads and specially-calibrated shocks.

Nissan offers all those options (and more) on the 2010 Frontier. The most basic models come with cloth seats, a fuel-saving 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a five-speed manual transmission, and rear-wheel drive. Options include a 4.0-liter V6, a six-speed manual and a five-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive, a leather interior and an off-road PRO-4X package. Upgraded stereo and tech packages are also available.

But perhaps the biggest indication of the new thinking about trucks is that the Frontier is only available as a four-door. Two versions are available, beginning with the King Cab that features small suicide doors that improve access into the extended space behind the front seat. The Crew Cab features four full-size doors and enough rear seat room for three adults, at least for moderate trips.

Regardless of how it's outfitted, the Frontier is an attractive truck. The lines are rugged without being overtly macho, while the inside is clean and simple. Interior trim levels run the gamut from basic to comfortable to sporty and even luxurious. A sliding divider is also available for the bed that allows smaller loads to be effectively boxed in.

Our test vehicle was an SE version with on-demand four-wheel-drive. It came with the five-speed automatic transmission, which included a manual shift mode between first and second gear. That could be very helpful in heavy snow or thick mud, where maximum traction control is needed to prevent getting stuck.

Like all trucks, without a load in the bed, the ride in our test vehicle was a little jiggly. Not as bad as some larger trucks we've tested, however, and never alarming.

Technically, the Frontier is classified as a compact pickup. That does not mean it is small, however, especially compared to the company's earliest trucks - back when Nissan was called Datsun. In fact, the Frontier is almost as large as the full-size American trucks the Japanese companies competed against in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is especially true of the Crew Cab version, which would not have been out of place at any work site back then.

Of course there are trade-offs choosing a truck to be your primary vehicle, even one with four doors. Unlike a car or SUV, little hidden storage space is available, meaning passengers always know what you're bringing home. On the other hand, if you have friends who move a lot, you'll always be in demand.

Facts and figures

Model: 2010 Frontier (SE tested).

Manufacturer: Nissan.

Class: Compact pickup.

Layout: Front engine, rear or four-wheel-drive (as tested).

Style: Two-door, two passenger; Four-door, five passenger (as tested).

Engines: 2.5-liter inline 4 cylinder (152 hp., 171 ft. lbs.); 4.0-liter V6 (261 hp., 281 ft.lbs. - as tested.)

Transmissions: 5-speed manual; 5-speed automatic (as tested).

EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 19/23; 14/19 (as tested).

Price: Beginning at approximately $18,000 (as tested $28,400).