The Frontier is Nissan's midsize pickup truck. Continuing a decades-long lineage of small Nissan trucks, the current model was introduced back in 2005. It focuses on straightforward utility and function, although lacks modern features. That no-frills attitude might appeal to some truck shoppers, as will its low starting price.
For 2020, the Frontier gains an all-new 3.8-liter V-6 connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Nissan also adds conveniences like push-button start, power door locks and side windows, tilt-adjustable steering, and a leather-wrapped shift knob to entry-level trims. Certain models get larger standard wheels. Look for an all-new Frontier possibly for the 2021 model year.
Although the Nissan Frontier receives a new, modern engine and transmission for 2020, the truck is otherwise defined by its oldness—for better or for worse.
The new powertrain is a welcome improvement. The V-6 feels smooth and sufficiently powerful. Smooth is also how the nine-speed automatic shifts, but it isn't very reactive to driver inputs or road conditions. The ride quality is comfortable and body motions are well controlled, even if the truck feels a bit top-heavy. A huge turning radius remains the Frontier's main handling problem. At least in PRO-4X trim it's still good off-road.
New engine and transmission aside, the Frontier's design and appointments evidence a bygone era. Cabin layout is very utilitarian, with few amenities. This is an interior we called "aging" back in 2014. Some buyers may appreciate this hard-working, hard-wearing focus, but newer trucks make nicer daily drivers.
The Nissan Frontier isn't the most capable, and nowhere close to the newest truck on sale in 2020. Although the modern V-6 and nine-speed provide a much-needed upgrade, it's not yet known if it will match the outgoing powertrain's reliability. Even considering the deals Nissan may offer on 2020 Frontiers once the new one comes out, waiting for the next-gen model might be worthwhile.
It seems the current Frontier's long production run is coming to an end. That's indicated by the new engine and transmission, which Nissan is introducing to test and troubleshoot before adding it to the all-new next-generation Frontier. The 2021 Frontier should feature fresh styling, upgraded capabilities, and a slew of new technology features. After all this time, the new Nissan Frontier will be a huge improvement over the model it's replacing.
The Nissan Frontier gets a new standard engine for 2020: a 3.8-liter V-6 producing 310 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. That 3.8-liter engine is joined to a new nine-speed automatic transmission with either RWD or 4WD. Its 0-60 mph acceleration should land in the 6.0- to 7.0-second range. Although the EPA has not yet tested this new engine's fuel economy, Nissan expects an improvement over the previous unit's 15/21 mpg city/highway thanks to direct injection and other upgrades.
From the NHTSA, the Frontier Crew Cab gets a four-star (out of five) overall safety rating. That factors three-star frontal crash and five-star side crash scores, plus a three-star score on RWD models or a four-star score on AWD models for rollover protection.
In IIHS testing, the Frontier receives top Good scores in side, roof strength, and moderate front overlap crashworthiness. It gets a Marginal score, the second-lowest, in the driver's side small front overlap test. The lowest Poor score is given to its halogen headlights.
Driver-assist and active safety features including forward collision warning, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control are not available.
The Frontier is available with two bed lengths. The standard bed measures 59.5 inches, and the long bed extends to 73.3 inches. In either case, bed width is 61.4 inches maximum, or 44.4 inches between the wheel wells, and depth is 18.0 inches.
In King Cab models, front-row headroom measures 39.7 inches without a moonroof and 39.1 inches with. A Toyota Tacoma Access Cab also has 39.7 inches. The Nissan's second-row headroom is 36.6 inches, ahead of 34.9 inches in the Toyota. Front legroom in the Frontier is 42.2 inches, close to 42.9 in the Tacoma. Both second rows are tight, with 25.4 inches in the Frontier and 24.6 in the Tacoma.
In Crew Cab models, front-row headroom measures 39.9 inches without a moonroof and 39.1 inches with. A Tacoma Double Cab has 39.7 inches. The Nissan's second-row headroom is 38.6 inches, ahead of 38.3 in the Toyota. Front legroom in the Frontier is 42.4 inches, close to 42.9 in the Tacoma. Rear legroom of 33.6 inches is an inch more than the Tacoma.
The Frontier's standard infotainment touchscreen measures 7.0 inches, and includes Bluetooth streaming and Siri Eyes Free for Apple devices. Strangely, the PRO-4X's touchscreen is smaller at 5.8 inches, but it gains built-in navigation, app compatibility, satellite radio, and voice recognition. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are unavailable. All models have one USB port and auxiliary input jack in the front row; a CD player is included depending on trim. A four-speaker audio system is standard, with six-speaker or Rockford Fosgate 10-speaker premium audio systems available.
Exterior: 16-inch steel wheels, chrome grille trim, unpainted front bumper, black door handles and mirrors, 73.3-inch bed
Interior: Cloth seating upholstery, manually adjustable front seats, leather-wrapped shift knob, 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, four-speaker audio system
Convenience: Cruise control, USB port, power door locks, push-button start, tilting steering column, power windows
Exterior: 16-inch alloy wheels, body-color front bumper, chrome rear bumper, power-adjustable side mirrors, slide-opening rear window, 73.3-inch bed
Interior: Voltage and oil pressure gauges, sun visors with vanity mirrors
Exterior: 16-inch steel wheels, front tow hook, splash guards, spray-on bedliner, 59.5-inch bed
Interior: Shared with King Cab SV plus six-speaker audio system
Convenience: Driver's seatback pocket, rear window defroster
Exterior: Shared with King Cab SV plus 59.5-inch bed
Interior: Shared with King Cab SV plus six-speaker audio system
Convenience: Shared with King Cab SV plus driver's seatback pocket
Exterior: Shared with Crew Cab SV plus 73.3-inch bed
Exterior: 16-inch two-tone alloy wheels, underbody skid plates, front fog lights, satin chrome grille, body-color rear bumper and side mirrors, spray-on bedliner
Interior: Contrast-stitched cloth seating upholstery, heated power-adjustable front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 5.8-inch infotainment touchscreen, 10-speaker audio system
Convenience: Auto-dimming rearview mirror, auto on/off headlights, two-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, built-in navigation
Performance: Off-road suspension, upgraded rear axle