Supercharge a pickup truck? Old-timers who remember when pickups came with an industrial inline-six, three-on-the-tree, and hard rubber floormats will bristle at the thought. Ford's SVT performance arm started it in 1999 and has since honed the blown truck idea nearly to perfection with its F-150 Lightning hot rod. Now the concept has trickled down to compact trucks, a segment that would definitely benefit from a little spice and further improved performance.
Nissan, which won't have its first true full-size truck until 2004, is now using a supercharged V-6 as part of its effort to improve the image of its once dowdy Frontier. As a replacement for the Hardbody in 1997, the then-new Frontier disappointed prospective buyers with its styling, performance, and driving dynamics. Nissan saved it from oblivion with a Crew Cab version in 2000 and then overnight transformed the Frontier into one of the coolest-looking trucks on the road with a macho facelift for 2001.
Following a similar path, Toyota updated its compact Tacoma line for 2001 with the addition of the fun-to-drive S-Runner sport truck and the utilitarian Double Cab, a worthy match for Nissan's Crew Cab. Toyota doesn't supercharge its Tacoma pickup at the factory, but a Toyota Racing Development blower is available as a dealer-added option, with full factory warranty. These supercharged versions of Nissan and Toyota's four-door cabs have a great deal of appeal to the active youth market. They deliver decent torque and horsepower, are spacious inside, and can tow up to a 5000-lb trailer. Getting a sedan/SUV-like cabin does mean you'll sacrifice bed length (Nissan will offer the Crew Cab's four-door cabin and the standard cab's bed-length for 2002), but there's enough space for the driver and three or four friends and their mountain bikes and enough off-road capability within these two 4x4s to chase those bikes along the trails. The Nissan has a handsome, black, leather-trimmed interior with red stitching and S/C (for supercharged) embroidered on its headrests, while the Toyota comes only with a high-quality, durable, though somewhat plain cloth interior.
So which blown compact truck is best for hauling $15,000 worth of carbon-fiber 28-speed fully suspended mountain bikes from the city to the campsite? Matching the Tacoma Double Cab and Frontier for our comparison proved tougher than it looks. Nissan is more liberal with its options and offers both a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic on all versions of the Frontier. The Tacoma Double Cab comes only with a four-speed automatic, so we reluctantly asked Nissan for an automatic Frontier.