Eric Peters – Peters Garage.
The new Nissan Frontier is actually pretty old; the 2020 model is essentially the same truck as the 2005 model.
With one exception.
There’s a new 3.8-liter V-6 engine under the hood that’s the most powerful standard engine under the hood of any currently available midsize truck. It has more than twice the horsepower of the four-cylinder engine that came standard in last year’s Frontier — and almost 50 more horsepower than the 4.0-liter V-6 that was optional (and extra cost) in last year’s Frontier.
What It Is
The Frontier is a midsize 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 V-6 engine — 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 V-6, which will be available at dealers in about a month or so.
But the base price of the 2019 Frontier was $19,290.
The updated ’20 Frontier with the newly standard V-6 will probably cost more than the 2019 did — 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 two-wheel drive (and the new V-6) to sticker for around $25k, in the same ballpark as the Ranger ($24,410 to start with a turbocharged 2.3-liter, 270-horsepower four-cylinder engine) and the Toyota Tacoma ($26,050 to start with a 2.7 liter, nonturbocharged 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 pounds.
But it’ll cost you $34,400.
In addition to the new engine, the 2020 Ranger also comes standard with a new transmission — a nine-speed automatic.
It has the strongest standard engine in the class.
It will probably cost you less than lesser-engined rivals.
Its big V-6 engine is probably a better long-term bet than a turbocharged four-cylinder.
What’s Not So Good
Like all the trucks in this class, there’s no regular cab option.
There’s no manual transmission option.
There’s no under-$20k-to-start option.
Under the Hood
The Frontier’s standard 3.8-liter V-6 engine makes a class-best 310 horsepower, more power than is available in any other truck in the class.
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 ought to mean 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 mpg city, 21 mpg highway posted by the 2019 Frontier with its optional and very old 4.0-liter (and just 261 horsepower) V-6 engine.
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-record skinny is it’ll exceed the Chevy Canyon diesel’s 7,700-pound maximum.
On the Road
Some reviewers fault the Frontier for being “rougher” than newer trucks like the Ford Ranger, which have been designed to emulate cars to the extent that a truck can without sacrificing the capabilities that people buy trucks for.
But there is something to be said in favor of a truck that feels like one — and the Frontier still does. It’s rugged, macho — and not trying 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 ’90s — in part because none of them is 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 — with four full-size doors — runs to 219.4 inches. The upside to this additional length is more room. The Frontier has usable backseats with 33.6 inches of legroom.
My 2002 Frontier — which is 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.
Eric’s new book, “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride!” is available now.
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