By Larry Edsall
Allow me to begin by pointing out four things:
1. Last fall there was not one but two Volkswagen Amarok pickup trucks at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show.
2. A couple of weeks ago, I was driving on a highway north of Detroit and was passed by a fast-moving Ford flotilla: A new Fusion, a new F-150 and a new Ranger.
3. A few days ago, I drove back to Michigan (where I’m spending much of this summer) from New York (where I attended another trade show) in my 2000 Nissan Frontier.
4. Today I received a newsletter from SEMA informing its members of three upcoming “measuring sessions” involving the Toyota Hilux. At a measuring session, aftermarket product producers get to examine new vehicles to assure that products they hope to develop will fit right and perform properly.
The SEMA newsletter noted that the Hilux is “a vehicle widely sold overseas but not available in the United States.” The same could be said of the Amarok and the Ranger.
Which brings me back to my Frontier, which, like the aforementioned models, is a compact pickup truck.
Back in Arizona, where most of my driving involves testing new vehicles, my Frontier spends much of its time inside my garage. And despite many excursions into the dusty desert and onto rocky mountain trails, the truck’s paint remains in excellent condition for a vehicle of its age and mileage. I’ve also tried to keep the interior relatively clean. In a nutshell, my truck looks so good that people often are surprised when they learn how old it is.
My Frontier has remained mechanically sound, too. Arizona’s hot weather is hard on batteries and air-conditioning components, but other than the typical brake job and such, the truck has spent little time in mechanics’ care.
Nonetheless, I have a decision to make: At 200,000 miles, my Frontier will need a new timing belt, which will cost, as I recall, between $1,200 and $1,800. Do I make that investment in my truck and its aging technology and components, or should I consider replacing it with something newer and more up to date? And if I choose the latter, what vehicle should I pick?
Nissan still makes the Frontier, but it’s a larger vehicle than mine. The Frontier, just like the Amarok, Ranger and Hilux, is a compact pickup truck. But the new Frontier, just like the new Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado and recently departed Dodge Dakota, has become a so-called intermediate-size vehicle — longer, wider and taller, and nearly as long, wide and tall as their full-sized siblings. But if I wanted a truck that’s longer, wider and taller than mine, I’d buy an F-150, Silverado, Ram, Titan or Tundra. Why did automakers turn their backs on the compact-pickup buyer, at least in this country?
What I want -- and what I need -- is a compact pickup truck, albeit like my Frontier, with room for five people.
Sure, I’d appreciate a little more interior space than what my 13-year-old crew cab affords. However, my truck’s overall dimensions are just the right size for me, and if I need more room in the bed, I simply flip down the tailgate and flop over the bed extender. And since I’m 5-foot-8, I can easily reach into my truck’s bed. On the other hand, I need a step stool or even a stepladder to access the bed of the intermediate or full-size pickups I’ve test-driven, and some of those are so long they won’t fit into my garage.
You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned anything about the Frontier’s powertrain. My truck has a 3.3-liter V-6 that, when new, made 170 horsepower and 200 pounds-feet of torque. It’s equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission and available four-wheel drive. In typical driving, I average between 19 and 21 mpg.
In the years since I bought my truck, Nissan has updated the Frontier’s V-6 engine to 4.0 liters, 261 hp and 281 pounds-feet of torque. It’s larger and more powerful, and the newer engine and updated transmission make the Frontier cleaner and more fuel efficient. I’d like more power -- for climbing mountain highways out West and for the times I need to attach something to my truck’s trailer hitch receiver -- and another gear or two would mean even better fuel economy. So where does all of this leave me? (And please don’t make me wait for an answer from a Chinese automaker.)
Frustrated. That’s where this all leaves me, and I doubt I’m alone.
My guess is that there are a lot of folks out there who, like me, want or need a compact pickup. And they see all of these wonderfully designed new compacts being developed overseas that aren’t available in the U.S.