The Nissan Frontier underwent a pretty huge change for 2020, though you’ll never spot it from the curb. The sheet metal is the same as it’s been since the model-year 2009 facelift, and much of the Frontier remains unchanged since the truck debuted for 2005. Everything big here is happening under the hood., this mini truck is the new all-new powertrain a powerful truck with a refined engine with a proven astute transmission. The 2020 Nissan Frontier Frontier Pickup Truck is a midsize pickup that is a blast from the early-2000s past, an improbable relic the Japanese automaker has left mostly untouched for a decade and a half.
Nissan Frontier throws the competition to the Dodge Dakota, Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, Honda Ridgeline, and the Ford Ranger pickup midsize trucks by replacing/upgrading both the 152-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder and the 261-hp 4.0-liter V-6, and replaced them with one powertrain choice: an all-new 3.8-liter V-6 cranking out 310 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic is the only transmission available, and the truck comes in 2WD or 4WD
Nissan is keenly aware of this rig’s age and how uncompetitive it’s become. Remedying the situation, a totally redesigned Frontier is on the way, set to arrive for the 2021 model year. That pickup should address the current truck’s shortcomings, offering customers more technology, greater refinement, and enhanced performance courtesy of a totally new powertrain.
Nissan is giving us an opportunity to experience that next-generation Frontier before it’s even been unveiled. Curiously, Nissan launched the 2021 model’s upgraded powertrain in the outgoing truck. Basically, the engine and transmission were ready to go, so why not ship them early? Usually, automakers introduce new powertrains in totally redesigned vehicles, but occasionally these sine waves are out of sync. And that’s what happened here.
Tough and Reliable
Nestled underneath my crew-cab Pro-4X test truck’s unusually heavy hood is a 3.8-liter V6 bolted to a nine-speed automatic transmission. This engine pulls double duty, replacing the 4.0-liter V6 as well as the base 2.5-liter four-pot engine that’s offered in the current-generation Frontier. About 93% new compared to the outgoing six-shooter, this engine delivers a more-than-respectable 310 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 281 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. These figures compare favorably to what the Chevy Colorado’s V6 provides, but it’s got 40 more horses than the Ranger’s turbo-four, though that Ford does have 29 additional lb-ft of twist, an important advantage for a truck.
The Frontier’s new engine is excellent — in fact, it may be my favorite powertrain in the midsize-pickup segment. It seems smoother and more responsive than Chevlorer Colorado’s V6 and it sounds way better than the Ranger’s boosted four. At idle, it does feel slightly choppy, but things smooth right out once you crack the throttle. Typical of naturally aspirated V6s of this displacement, it comes alive higher in the rev range, really putting its shoulder to the load from about 4,000 rpm on up, though this is not to say the engine is peaky. It pulls quite well lower down the tachometer, aided by that prudent gearbox.
If the Frontier’s new transmission sounds familiar, it should. Basically, it’s the same one used in its larger brother, the full-size, V8-powered Nissan Titan. Tuning tweaks are the only real differences: It’s been tailored to a V6 engine and a lighter vehicle.
That nine-speed transmission is a dramatic improvement over the outgoing five-speed automatic. Not only does it improve drivability — shifts are smooth and timely both up and down — but it makes the Frontier more efficient and fleeter than before. In the 0-to-60-mph dash, it’s around 7% quicker, a welcome improvement, plus, when similarly equipped, fuel economy is better than what the outgoing four-cylinder provides. Fitted with four-wheel-drive, expect 17 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway. Combined, the 4WD Frontier is rated at 19 mpg, though I’ve been averaging around 21 in mixed-use, which includes a lot of two-lane driving.
The Frontier’s improved efficiency is welcome, but it’s still not great. For instance, a four-wheel-drive F-150 with the available 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 has more power and way more torque, but it still manages to average a claimed 20 mpg, at least according to the EPA. Hopefully, the new 2021 Frontier is a lot more economical, but at least this one happily runs on regular-grade fuel
The Frontier’s undamped tailgate is unexpectedly weighty, but heavy by today’s standards where you can get power lifting and folding tailgates that perform more tricks than a trained border collie. It drops with a thud and takes actual effort to close. This truck’s interior looks and feels old, with hard plastic everywhere and plenty of features that are obvious afterthoughts, like the placement of the starter button. It’s relegated to the console ahead of the shifter, a most peculiar spot. The aux jack and USB port reside in a small pod on the passenger’s side of the center stack, another weird placement. And then there’s the infotainment system.
Somehow an Old Feel
The Frontier is old. You notice it the moment you hop in. The hard plastic dashboard and blunt steering wheel harken back to the daysf2. Nissan made tiny changes to the truck’s insides for 2020: A leather-wrapped shift knob that looks like new old stock from 2005, an engine start/stop button tucked at the base of the dashboard. There are a half-dozen disparate materials adorning the interior, and none of them feel particularly nice.
My off-road-focused Pro-4X tester comes standard with a Nissan Connect multimedia solution, one with a laughably small, 5.8-inch touchscreen. A navigation system is included but the interface so torturous you won’t even want to use it. A 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system is ready and willing, though not necessarily able to drown out this truck’s elevated interior noise at highway speeds.
Built for serious trail-bashing, Pro-4X models are fitted with goodies like skid plates, Bilstein shock absorbers and a locking rear differential. Hankook all-terrain tires wrapped around stylish 16-inch alloy wheels provide the grip, both on-road and off. With all that hardware plus a bulky roof rack on top, this truck’s somewhat noisy cabin is understandable
The lack of express up-and-down windows all around is another reminder of the Frontier’s age. So is the fact that practically no modern features are offered. Does it have adaptive cruise control? Nope. How about blind-spot monitoring? Sorry, Charlie. Lane-keeping assist? What’s that?
How much does a 2020 Nissan Frontier cost?
Nissan has done away with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder base engine, which makes the 2020 Frontier a V6-only pickup. With the four-banger out of the picture, prices rise significantly, but also keep in mind a manual transmission also kept the cost down previously; the Frontier is all automatic, all the time now
The 2019 models start at $19,200 for the King Cab with the 4-cylinder engine, which is being dropped. The 2019 Frontier King Cab SV V6 starts at $25,920, while the Crew Cab S model with the V6 is $25,250 and the 2020 model may be a good take!
The 2020 Nissan Frontier starting price will put the buyer in a Frontier S King Cab 4×2, and adding 4×4 traction increases the price $2,890. A King Cab SV starts at $28,765. Those in need of four full doors on their Frontier will shop the crew cab models, which start at $28,995 for an S trim, but opting for a Frontier S crew cab 4×4 sees the price rise by $3,390. Additionally, there are short wheelbase and long-wheelbase models to choose from, which start at $28,895 and $32,505, respectively.
Moving right along, the Frontier SV 4×4 comes in either short or long wheelbase form and starts at $33,085. At the top of the range remains the Pro-4X, which creeps close to $40,000 at $38,585.