The 2020 Chicago Auto Show opened last week, giving the media a chance to meet the 2020 Nissan Frontier. The Japanese automaker actually introduced the new truck at a private event on the night before the first media day, and it was an interesting event. After a short reception with drinks and some delightful lobster rolls, we headed into a room with the 2020 Frontier.
At first, it was unclear what exactly was new with the popular midsized pickup, as it looks just like the 2019 models. However, the Nissan representatives on hand were quick to point out that the exterior is unchanged, but there are some key improvements under the skin. This includes an all-new V6 engine and a new 9-speed automatic transmission, both of which are standard for 2020 before serving as the heart of the next generation Frontier that will arrive for 2021.
"The 2020 Frontier lays the groundwork for the exciting, next-generation Frontier – an all-new pickup truck slated to arrive soon," said Tiago Castro, director, Commercial Vehicle Business Unit, Nissan North America, Inc. "While looking ahead, we're also celebrating our strong heritage – including the innovations, versatility and reliability of past models, such as the 2007 Frontier that Chicago resident Brian Murphy has driven for more than one million miles."
New Frontier Drivetrain
The first key difference with the 2020 Nissan Frontier is the 3.8-liter V8, which is an all-new engine that was developed from the ground-up. This is neither an iteration of the old 4.0-liter V6 from the Frontier or the 3.8-liter mill in the Nissan GTR. Featuring direct injection, the new Frontier engine offers 310 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque. The 4.0-liter mill in the 2019 Frontier offered 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque, so the new engine offers the same torque, but an increase of 49 horsepower.
This new V6 is mated to a new 9-speed automatic transmission in the 2020 Nissan Frontier, which effectively replaces the old 5-speed automatic gearbox. Also, the 6-speed manual transmission has also been discontinued for 2020, so the drivetrain looks very different for the new model year.
For 2019, the Nissan Frontier is offered with two engines – the base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and the aforementioned 4.0-liter V6. The 4-cylinder comes standard with a 5-speed manual and the V6 comes standard with the 6-speed manual, with the 5-speed automatic being optional with each engine.
For 2020, the new 3.8-liter V6 with the 9-speed automatic transmission is standard, so the 4-cylinder is gone as well.
More Better, Better MPGs
The new 3.8-liter V6 offers more horsepower than the outgoing 4.0-liter V6 and thanks to the new 9-speed automatic transmission, the new engine should offer markedly better performance in every area. Most significantly, the new V6 with the 9-speed automatic is expected to be about 10% more efficient than the base 4-cylinder. That’s right – the new V6 is more efficient than the previous base 4-cylinder.
The old base 4-cylinder offered 19 city and 23 highway with the manual transmission or 17 city and 22 highway with the automatic. A 10% gain on any of those numbers would round up or down to about 2 miles per gallon, so we could see highway fuel economy numbers up around 25 miles per gallon while city numbers could reach into the 20+ range.
The Next Generation
While the 2020 Nissan Frontier will soon arrive in dealerships, it won’t be long before the next generation trucks arrive for the 2021 model year. The 2020 model year will be a short one, starting this spring and continuing through the arrival of the next gen models later this year. When the 2021 Frontier arrives, we can expect to see far greater changes, but for 2020, the Frontier sports the same exterior look with the next generation engine and transmission.
Patrick Rall is a professional writer and photographer with a passion for all things automotive. Patrick has been sharing his automotive expertise in automotive journalism from Detroit for more than a decade covering the Big Three. Having grown up in his father’s performance shop, he spent extensive time at the oval track and drag strip – both driving and wrenching on various types of vehicles. In addition to working as a writer, Patrick previously worked as an automotive technician before moving on to a business office position with a chain of dealerships, and this broad spectrum of experience in the industry allows him to offer a unique look on the automotive world. Follow Patrick on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. Visit Torque News Nissan category for more Nissan News.