The new Nissan Frontier is actually pretty old; the 2020 model is essentially the same truck as the 2005 model with one big exception.
Under the hood, a new 3.8-liter V6 engine is the most powerful standard engine of any currently available mid-sized truck. It has more than twice the horsepower of the four-cylinder engine that came standard in last year’s Frontier and almost 50 + hp than the 4.0-liter V6 that was optional (and extra cost) in last year’s Frontier.
The fact that the rest of the truck is old is an excellent thing, too.
What It Is
The Frontier is a mid-sized truck and, like its primary rivals—the Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado and Toyota Tacoma—is offered in two cab styles (extended and crew) and with short or long beds.
Unlike them, it comes standard with a big V6, which some of them (like the Ranger) don’t even offer as optional equipment.
Also, unlike them, it starts under $20,000—or at least, it did.
When this review was written in early March, Nissan hadn’t finalized official pricing for the 2020 Frontier with the new V6.
But the base price of the 2019 Frontier was $19,290, which was thousands less than the base price of its rivals.
The updated ’20 Frontier with the newly standard V6 will probably cost more, but the word is it’ll still cost less than rivals—especially when those rivals are equipped with their optional engines.
Expect a base S trim with 2WD (and the V6) to sticker for around $25k, in the same ballpark as the Ranger ($24,410 to start with a turbo 2.3 liter, 270 hp four-cylinder engine) and the Toyota Tacoma ($26,050 to star with a 2.7 liter, not turbo four-cylinder engine that makes 159 horsepower).
Also, expect the new Frontier to tout the highest standard tow rating, a title currently held by the Chevy Colorado with its optional (and very pricey) diesel engine. It’ll pull as much as 7,700 lbs.
But it’ll cost you $34,400.
In addition to the new engine, the 2020 Ranger comes standard with a new transmission, a nine-speed automatic.
- Strongest standard engine in the class.
- The big V6 engine is probably a better long-term bet than a turbocharged four.
- Will probably cost you less than lesser-engined rivals.
What’s Not So Good
- Like all the trucks in this class, there’s no regular cab option.
- No more manual transmission option.
- No more under-$20k-to-start option.
Under The Hood
The Frontier’s standard 3.8 liter V6 makes a class-best 310 horsepower, more power than is available in any other truck in the class. It’s paired with a new nine-speed automatic transmission.
This engine is also the largest standard engine in the class, which is arguably a good thing in a truck because larger engines make horsepower more easily and with less stress, which means a more durable and reliable engine as the years and miles roll by.
Mileage figures were not available when this review was written but should be significantly better than the horrendous 15 city, 21 highway posted by the 2019 Frontier with its optional 4.0-liter (and just 261 horsepower) V6.
The ’20 Frontier ought to be much quicker, too—given the additional 49 horsepower under its hood.
Nissan hasn’t published official maximum tow ratings yet, but the off-the-record skinny is it’ll exceed the Chevy Colorado diesel’s 7,700 lb. maximum.
On The Road
Some reviewers fault the Frontier for being “rougher” than newer-design trucks like the Ford Ranger, which have been designed to emulate cars to the extent that a truck can be without sacrificing the capabilities and reasons that people buy trucks.
Something to be said, though, in favor of a truck that feels like one — and the Frontier still does. It’s rugged, macho, and does not try to emulate a car.
If you like that, this is the truck for you.
At The Curb
We’re told that the Frontier and others in this class are “compact” trucks, but the fact is they’re all nearly as long overall as the full-size trucks of the 1990s—in part because none of them are offered in regular cab configuration.
The least-long version of the Frontier, the (extended) King cab version, extends 205.5 inches end to end. The Crew has four full-size doors and runs 219.4 inches. The upside to this additional length is more room. The Frontier has usable back seats with 33.6 inches of legroom.
My 2002 Frontier, a compact-sized truck, has a set of useless fold-out jump seats in the rear, with no legroom at all.
Nissan has thinned the trims for this final year of the old Frontier body style. Or at least, for the (extended) King Cab version, which is available in base S and step-up SV trims only. Crew cabs are still available with the PRO-4X off-road package, which includes M/S-rated tires, skid plates, and increased ground clearance.
The Bottom Line
The best of the old with something new that’s better, too.
*** Photo courtesy of Greg Gjerdingen licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
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The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.