Although things have cooled down recently, Canada’s pickup truck market is still a going concern: at least one out of every four new vehicles sold in this country is a pickup truck of some kind.
Manufacturers are falling over each other to get new models to market. They come in all shapes and sizes: from diesel-powered behemoths to four-wheel-drive rock scramblers to trim mid-size weekend warriors.
And none of it makes sense to me, since the vast majority of truck buyers will never put their precious new carry-all vehicles to work or use them the way they were intended. Although the pickup truck was designed originally as a work vehicle, the heaviest load most will see these days is a couple of two-by-fours or the family dog.
Trucks have evolved from get-the-job-done workhorses to weekend toys usually owned by young males who drive them as though they’re sports cars. Yes, a core of tradesmen, construction workers and the like actually put their trucks to work. But owning a truck these days is less about practicality and more about image. And you know that most owners have zero intention of taking their new trucks off-road or into the nearest swamp.
And they ain’t cheap. You can easily drop $100,000 on a new pickup truck. Chrysler’s Ram line, in particular, is outrageously expensive – if you want one with a Cummins diesel and four-wheel drive, be prepared to come up with at least $100,000. Full-size beasts like the Toyota Tundra start at around $50,000. We won’t even talk about fuel economy, which is an oxymoron in this market.
In the middle of this is the mid-size Nissan Frontier. Now that the full-size Titan has been discontinued, it’s the company’s sole offering in the pickup market.
Available in seven varieties, with two cab configurations, the Frontier is powered by a 3.8-litre V6 engine mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, with four-wheel drive. High- and low-range four-wheel drive are standard issue, as is hill start assist, hill descent control and a towing mode. You can also get an optional locking rear differential with the more expensive models and upgraded suspension for those infrequent off-road forays.
Comfort and convenience goodies include audio voice recognition, Bluetooth, rearview monitor and android auto, among other things. But if you want useful stuff like a heated steering wheel, heated seats and power front seats, you have to order them. The Crew Cab Pro 4X model I test drove had all of the above, plus leather interior, rear sonar, remote start, wireless recharging and a Fender audio system. It was about as comfy as a truck can get.
I suppose that’s the key to this market. You want your truck to look rugged and bulletproof, but it has to be comfortable and driver-friendly, with all of the modern conveniences that automotive technology can provide. I was once privy to a conversation between two younger truck owners boasting about their respective stereo systems, with nary a mention of payload capacity or off-road abilities.
And the Frontier is comfortable. One of the things I noticed was its excellent noise, vibration, harshness (NVH) levels. Because of their traditional frame construction and rear-drive layout, pickups are often smooth and comfy on the highway, with minimal road noise. You can easily carry on a conversation at highway speed without having to raise your voice, and the cab of the Frontier is as civilized as any upscale sedan or SUV.
A word about payload: my fancy Pro 4X was good for 1,230 kg and will tow up to 6,200 kg. This isn’t much compared to full-sizers that carry or pull twice that much, but if you want to do a little light haulage, the Frontier is up to the job.
And you’ll look good doing it.
2022 Nissan Frontier Pro 4X
Engine: 3.8-litre V6
Transmission: nine-speed automatic
Drive: rear-wheel, all-wheel
Horsepower: 310 at 6,400 rpm
Torque: 281 foot pounds at 4,400 rpm
Price range: $39,998 to $47,498
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.7 city and 10.6 highway, with regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Ridgeline, Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, Hyundai Santa Cruz, Ford Maverick, Ford Ranger, Jeep Gladiator
Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He was named Canadian Automobile Journalist of the Year twice and is past president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). For interview requests, click here.
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