The Nissan Frontier started its life back in 1997 when it came as a replacement for the old D21 Nissan Hardbody Truck.
The first generation of the Frontier (also known as the Navara) was designed as a small pickup truck which doesn’t offer the same towing abilities as a full sized pickup, but it comes with a better fuel consumption and a high level of versatility.
While the new generation Frontier can be considered a medium sized pickup, the 1997 model came with smaller dimensions and weaker engines being considered part of the small class of pickups.
The first generation Nissan Frontier wasn’t as muscular as the current model, but it was still a solid choice if you were seeking for a trustful and versatile working vehicle.
The 1997 Frontier was offered with various engines option and body styles included regular and Extended cabs. In 2000 there was also introduced a double cab version that was a worldwide premiere for a compact pickup.
Like most trucks of its time, the 1997 Frontier came with an angular design and the body panels had a robust shape, without any fluid lines to break up the monotony.
Up front there is a chunky radiator grille which bares the company’s logo in its center and comes with a chrome finish. The headlights aren’t something to rave about either and enhance the agricultural design of the Frontier.
The truck’s off road character was betrayed by its flared wheel arches which came with black protective mouldings. Another proof for its all road abilities was the huge ground clearance. Up front there was also a pretty simple bumper which came with a decorative chromed strip and a wide air intake.
The hood was slightly raked to improve the front road visibility and the cabin was fitted with a generous glass area which offered a wide angle of visibility.
The 1997 Nissan Frontier’s interior is pretty spartan with hard plastics and third class materials. Though, we like the curvy lines of the dashboard, while the built quality was pretty solid as well.
The overall ergonomy isn’t a problem either and the center stack is laid out in a classical and intuitive way.
All Double Cab utilities in the Navara range are fitted with bucket seats in the front and a bench seat in the rear. Though, the cabin isn’t exactly spacious and the front seats are on the small side. There is also a lack in sideways leg room and the rear bench feels heavily cramped and should be left for kids only. Not to mention about the lack of rear head restraints and the narrow door opening.
Luckily, the front seats come with fore and aft travel which permits you to find a good range of seating positions.
The Navara’s cab comes with a wide range of storage space so it receives high marks in the practicality department. There is a good sized glove box located on the left hand side of the dashboard, door pockets in both front doors and there a centre console storage bin with lid nested between the front bucket seats.
The instrument binnacle looks basic and it’s dominated by a central speedometer which is flanked by other smaller indicators. Unfortunately, the steering wheel comes with a thin rim which won’t inspire the expected confidence when is grabbed.
Engines and performance
The old 2.4 liter SOHC four cylinder petrol engine received a few tweaks for 1997 which resulted in an increased output. Now the engine developed 110 kW and 208 Nm of torque.
There was also a revised version of the nine-year old 2.7-litre diesel which came with 64kW and 180Nm on tap. Another unit offered for the Frontier was the 3.2 liter four cylinder diesel which delivers 76 kW and 220 Nm of torque.
Besides the standard 5 speed manual gearbox, in 1999, there was introduced a four-speed electronic automatic transmission for petrol models.
The next year, Nissan launched a new engine option for its Frontier. The new 3.0 liter V6 delivered 120 kW and 248 Nm of torque and was one of the most appreciated engines in Frontier’s lineup.
Ride and handling
Compared to the previous model, the 1997 Navara came with reinforcements made to the frame members which increased its rigidity. Thanks to this smart upgrade, the Navara’s road manners were clearly improved and the truck felt more solid and well put together.
The reinforced frame was also translated in better handling abilities and a smaller body lean in corners. The steering was pretty sharp and delivered a decent amount of feedback, letting you know exactly what the wheels are planning.
On the other hand, the Navara’s suspension setup is a bit firm and delivers a harsh ride, especially when it’s unladen.
The first generation Nissan Frontier was a solidly built vehicle. Its cabin however was a half step behind some of its rivals and offered a pretty limited space and poor equipment levels.
Fortunately, the engines were perfectly capable of dealing with harsh jobs, but were a bit unrefined even for late 90’s standards. The handling however was part of the first class and the truck was also a fairly capable off roader. Though, the ride quality needed to be sacrificed for the sake of practicality.