I know, driving to Florida’s Gulf Coast isn’t the normal route from Michigan to Arizona, but I needed to visit my mother. So I was cruising past Exit 207 east of Sarasota on Interstate 75 when the odometer on my pickup truck clicked over from 149,999 to 150,000 and then on to 150,001 — and a few more clicks beyond.
Wowsers! One-hundred-and-fifty-thousand miles!
I’d never kept any vehicle long enough to see 100,000 miles show on its odometer, at least not until I bought this Nissan Frontier crew cab 4x4 in January 2000, about a month after moving from Michigan to Phoenix.
But then I’d never owned a pickup truck until I bought this one, an act that came as quite a surprise to my former co-workers at AutoWeek.
“But you hate pickup trucks!” one of them exclaimed after I shared news of my purchase.
“I didn’t buy a pickup truck,” I protested. “I bought a lifestyle vehicle.”
A few months before my move to from Midwest to far Southwest, I’d driven a Frontier from the Detroit press fleet to Nashville, Tenn., where my son was living. The truck was heavily loaded on the trip down but was all but empty on the way back. I was impressed with the ride quality during each trip, especially the lack of that basketball-style rear-end dribble I’d experienced in so many other pickups I’d driven as part of my duties as an automotive journalist.
Moving to Phoenix and knowing I’d want to explore unpaved portions of the Sonoran Desert — and often would have company visiting and riding along — the Frontier seemed a good choice for my new lifestyle.
OK, what I really wanted was a production version of the Nissan Gobi concept truck, but in its place the Frontier crew cab proved to be a good choice for my new habitat. And not only for me, but for neighbors who borrow the truck from time to time for trips to places such as Lowe’s and Ikea. (These are great neighbors; they usually bring the truck back full of gas and often after they run it through a car wash.)
Like Goldilocks, my Frontier is neither too big nor too small but just the right size, part of the reason why it not only showed 100,000 on its odometer but now 150,000. And I expect someday that figure will be 200,000.
And if it gets that far, why not go for a quarter-million miles? Besides, there’s really nothing out there to take its place.
I might be in the minority, but I don’t believe I’m not the only one who thinks pickup trucks have become too large to meet all needs. It’s fine that half-ton trucks are big and strong, but I lament how compact pickups — the Frontiers, the Tacomas, the Dakotas and the S-10s — have become “mid” size and, in some configurations, even too long to leave clearance to close my garage door with one of them inside.
Not only does my Frontier fit nicely in my garage — with room to walk in front and behind it — but the bed sides are short enough that, at 5 feet 8 inches, I can reach over them to fetch stuff I’ve been hauling. One of my two sons-in-law (both of them are taller than 6 feet) owns a full-size Chevy Silverado, and I need a step ladder to access the bed of his truck. I recently did a weeklong test drive of a Ram Power Wagon and would have needed an extension ladder, or perhaps even a cherry picker to reach into its bed.
My truck didn’t come with a factory-installed towing package, but I’ve installed (well, my pickup-driving and mechanically adept son-in-law has installed) an aftermarket trailer hitch receiver kit. I’ve towed only two or three times with my truck, but I write a weekly feature for the Detroit News about automotive aftermarket products, and I often test and then write about products designed to plug into a hitch receiver.
Is my truck perfect? Not quite. Although I don’t do much towing, I would love to swap my 170-horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6 for its 261-hp, 4.0-liter successor and my four-speed gearbox for Nissan’s newer five-speed. I could use that extra power for driving up to Flagstaff or up and over the White Mountains in eastern Arizona, not to mention that climb up and over Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado. Although my truck averages 19.9 mpg in real-world driving — I’ve recorded every fill-up over the course of those 150,000 miles — I know those extra gears would mean even better fuel efficiency.
Now, should anyone from Nissan, Toyota, Ram or GM — or even from Jeep, Ford, Volkswagen or Kia — read this and seriously consider producing a true compact pickup, please note that I don’t need factory-installed GPS or a 300-watt stereo. If I wanted such things, I can get them for less money from the aftermarket. Nor do I need redundant switches on the steering wheel. I can reach over and change radio stations the old-fashioned way, thank you.
However, I would like sun visors with extenders that cover the full length of the front window. A partitioned storage compartment under the rear seat and a rearview camera would be welcome as well. A front bench seat would be something I’d certainly consider, especially one with a seatback section that folds down to provide another storage compartment.
I also like my old-fashioned drop-in bedliner better than any of the spray-in versions I’ve seen, though it would be helpful if I didn’t have to remove the bedliner just to install new taillamps when the original ones finally burned out.
And while we’re back there, I do wish there was a way to lock not only the tailgate but to better secure the rail-style bed extender that came as a option on my truck and that greatly enhances its capabilities to carry longish loads.
Until I can get all that in a new truck, I’m happily on my way to 200,000 — and beyond.