This thing looks hot! As we drove across Michigan on I-94, Chevy, Ford, and Toyota pickup drivers obviously sped up or slowed down to cruise in the near lane, and check out our yellow SC. Thumbs were raised, heads nodded.

The 2001 Nissan Frontier gets a significant front-end redo and interior upgrade. But the big news is the factory-supercharged 210-hp V-6 now offered on the Desert Runner SC 4x2, the King Cab 4x4, and Crew Cab 4x2 and 4x4 models.

Much of what's newly appealing about the Frontier is its "techno" front sheetmetal (and plastic): a strong, simple face with big, clear-lensed headlamps and a cruel gape-mouth grille that looks like something you'd see on a bulldozer. Nissan officials say the look was inspired by the classy appearance of premium power tools. This industrio-mechanical design twist is complemented by husky fender flares bolted onto the wheel arches, a plastic tailgate cover, and a great-looking alloy-wheel design. The result is a factory-built truck with the look of a smartly done tuner toy.

The front-seat passenger buckets in our King Cab model were quite comfortable, and the fold-down seats in the rear of the extended cab area are fine for kids or even small adults`for a short ride. Nissan has thoughtfully increased the size of many of the interior controls so they can now be operated with gloves on. And the new instrument cluster's reversible gauges are easier to read during day or nighttime driving. There's also a new four-spoke steering wheel housing cruise control.

Although a 2.4L/143-hp DOHC four-cylinder is standard, we can't recommend it. A 3.3L/170-hp naturally aspirated SOHC V-6 and a four-speed automatic are also still offered; it's proven adequate, but no more than that. This rugged truck, with its extra-beefy ladder frame, is no lightweight, especially in 4x4 form. It truly needs`and loves`the power advantages provided by the manual five-speed and blower-assisted V-6 muscle.

Even with the premium Eaton supercharged 3.3L/210-hp SOHC motor, our SC with the manual was no stoplight bullet. Its best 0-60-mph run was a smooth, quiet, but just reasonably good 9.3 sec. That's still a worthy improvement over the naturally aspirated 3.3-the last one we tested took 10.0 sec to make the same trip.

One other motor thing: Not all the SC trucks on our recent drive sounded the same. Some had a high-pitched hot-rod-style supercharger whine under wide-open throttle. Others were nearly silent. Many possible reasons were offered, none fully satisfied us. Just be aware that there were lots of acoustic variations in these early build models. We suggest you drive the exact one you plan to buy, and listen closely.

Given only a modest amount of wheel travel, the SC's on-pavement ride was surprisingly sweet. On the highway and over small road irregularities, it's a smoothie. But larger expansion joints or deep ruts yield a typical pickup response-mild bump steer that just requires a steady hand on the steering wheel. Also, with relatively soft spring rates, a pickup's inherent front-biased weight balance, off-road-biased tires, and this truck's high center of gravity, its modest slalom speed was what we expected.

The SC's braking was also about what we expected. Although 139 ft from 60 mph would be longish for a passenger car, the SC's stops were quite stable and nicely controlled with none of the weaving or sliding typical of some pickups' brake-lane performance.

The 6-ft-plus bed on the SC King Cab is about the right size for most loads. And the Frontier is the only compact pickup to come with a standard lockable tailgate. With a robust bed cover, it can keep valuable cargo safe, or simply protect the gate itself from theft.

Overall, the SC is a rugged light-duty pickup that comes from the factory looking like you spent a fortune on custom exterior pieces. The interior is an improvement, and the ride is terrific. Still, even with the supercharger, a bit more power would be nice, though it should now be to compete with the new-for-'01 205-hp version of Ford's top-selling Ranger.

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