It is an unusual pickup truck. It has four full-size, forward-hinged doors--and a commodious interior, large enough to seat five adults. Its cargo bed is a short box, 4.6 feet long, 17.1 inches high and not quite 5 feet wide.
You can carry tools and bags of mulch back there--or maybe haul bags of groceries or old clothes. But somehow the little bed of the 2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab doesn't seem suited for real work.
That's the kind of work Mr. Dave and Mr. Charlie used to do back in my old Ninth Ward neighborhood in New Orleans. They were carpenters and repairmen who carried paint, plaster, lumber, bricks and nails in the backs of huge Ford and Chevrolet pickups.
Those trucks were dented, scratched and dusty. Neither man drove them to church or parties. They wouldn't have done that any more than they would have shown up at a prayer meeting or wedding reception in their paint-splattered overalls. Their dress vehicles were cars, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air for Mr. Charlie and a Buick of some sort for Mr. Dave.
By comparison, the 2000 Nissan Crew Cab is a funmobile. Its cargo bed is best used for hauling dirt bikes, skis or other recreational equipment. Its interior is as comfortable as that of a passenger sedan--with the notable exception that it's designed to withstand routine soiling and cleaning.
The tested four-wheel-drive version, the high-line SE, can be taken off road, up mountain trails or across shallow streams. And after you're done thundering through nature, you can shower your body, wash your Crew Cab, and take the truck and four companions to a nice restaurant.
It's part of what sociologists and marketers call a "paradigm shift," a fundamental change in the way people see, use and do things, which also changes the market perception, development and design of the kinds of things they use. In the matter of trucks, Nissan has caught on to this trend and is shifting brilliantly.
The Crew Cab and the Frontier-based Xterra sport-utility model provide the latest proof. Both vehicles assume that there is a large group of potential buyers out there who don't see trucks as trucks or cars as cars. They simply want a vehicle that is tailored--literally customized--to fit their specific needs and desires.
They are "My Way" consumers, the retail-oriented offspring of the Burger King Generation. They don't want to buy two vehicles, one for work and another for fun. Besides, for many of them work is a matter of baby-sitting a computer screen. They don't need traditional pickups for those kinds of jobs.
The My Ways tend to be more gregarious than the bohemian loners of the 1950s or the nihilists of the 1960s. They enjoy bringing more than one or two people along on their various adventures. They travel in "crews."
My Way consumers also are passionate about options--but not so much about options on a vehicle as they are about options in life. Maybe they'll never go off road. But they want four-wheel drive just in case they do. Maybe they'll never put in that garden. But if they ever get around to doing it, they want a little cargo bed, something to keep the really dirty stuff, such as compost and mulch, outside of the vehicle. That's so much better than putting odoriferous goods in a trunk, or in the back of a station wagon, sport-utility vehicle or minivan, don't you think?
That is why the Crew Cab, which went on sale in the United States in May, is selling well. Most people just wanna have fun. Neither Mr. Dave nor Mr. Charlie would have accepted such a vehicle. But today's Daves and Charlies have not been forgotten. They always can buy the no-nonsense, somewhat boring Frontier pickup with the regular cab.
Nuts & Bolts
2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab
Complaint: I had a hard time accepting that tiny cargo bed, until I noticed the public's reaction to the tested four-wheel-drive Frontier Crew Cab SE. People, especially many women, thought it was cute--and as useful as they wanted it to be.
Praise: An excellent variation on an old theme--a Crew Cab pickup for fun crews, as opposed to work crews. Excellent design and construction quality.
Ride, acceleration, and handling: Sporty performance in all three categories. But it still carries a federally mandated rollover warning. Do not mistake this one for a Porsche--you could wind up upside down.
Head-turning quotient: Cute. Perhaps the world's first cuddly truck.
Engine: A 3.3-liter, single-overhead-cam, 12-valve V-6 designed to produce 170 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 200 pound-feet of torque at 2,800 rpm.
Layouts: Either front-engine, rear-wheel drive or front-engine, part-time four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case.
Body type: Traditional body-on-frame truck construction.
Transmissions: Five-speed manual is standard; electronically controlled four-speed automatic is optional.
Capacities: Can be equipped to tow up to 3,500 pounds with manual transmission or up to 5,000 pounds with the automatic. Fuel capacity is 19.4 gallons; regular unleaded recommended.
Mileage: About 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway in the test model, which was equipped with an automatic transmission.
Price: According to the latest figures from Edmund's Automobile Buyer's Guide (www.edmunds.com), the base price on the tested 2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab SE with automatic transmission is $22,240. The dealer's invoice is $20,219. Price as tested is $22,760, including a $520 destination charge. This does not include taxes and fees.
Purse-strings note: Compare with Chevrolet S-10, Toyota Tacoma, and the Ford Ranger and Mazda B-Series (a Ranger with a Mazda badge).