Nissan is doing something uniquely Japanese with the updated 2020 Nissan Frontier: It's sending off the old model with a last hurrah by putting the next-generation pickup truck's powertrain into the current-generation pickup. Debuting at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show, the 2020 Nissan Frontier will come with the 2021 Frontier's new 3.8-liter direct-injection V-6 engine packing 310 horsepower and 281 pounds-feet of torque mated to a new nine-speed automatic transmission.
Related: More 2020 Chicago Auto Show Coverage
The Tennessee-built engine replaces the aging 261-hp, 4.0-liter V-6, and puts the 152-hp four-cylinder engine out to pasture for good. The improved powertrain uses a modified version of the nine-speed automatic that now appears in the Nissan Titan full-size pickup. The interesting thing about this powertrain is that Nissan says the fuel economy for the powerful V-6/nine-speed combo is actually better than the current truck's four-cylinder/five-speed combination of 19/23/21 mpg city/highway/combined.
The current Nissan Frontier has been the butt of many jokes, such as the thing is so old that it's actually able to get a license and drive itself. That's not a stretch, either, because the last big redesign for the North American Frontier came in 2005, making it 15 years old since its last major revision. We didn't even bother inviting one to our last mid-size pickup comparison test — it's so old that it's significantly smaller than its competitors like the Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, Jeep Gladiator or Honda Ridgeline. But there's no denying the Frontier's continued popularity and profitability for Nissan's bottom line. With minimal changes, Nissan has on average sold more than 60,000 a year since 2012.
The rest of the truck doesn't get any changes — the only addition is a modification to the interior center console to accommodate a push-button start. There's some new standard equipment: All trucks now get a leather shift knob, manual tilt steering column, power locks and power windows. The suspension, equipment, even the overall weight of the truck is roughly the same, according to Nissan. It's still available in King Cab or crew cab, short bed or long bed, two- or four-wheel drive. Nissan has streamlined the lineup of offerings, however: your choices will be Frontier King Cab (extended cab) in S and SV trim, and four-door crew cab in S, SV (standard or long bed) and Pro-4X off-road trim (4×4 only).
If Nissan holds the line with pricing, the base Frontier King Cab S trim models will be absolute bargain rocket ships. Base model trucks weigh only about 3,700 pounds, and with that much power and that many gears, they'll likely be a lot of fun to drive. A current 2019 King Cab S 4×2 with an automatic transmission starts at just less than $25,000, but pricing for the 2020 is not yet known, and will likely be announced closer to the spring 2020 on-sale date.
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