The new V6 engine in the 2020 Nissan Frontier

One of the oldest vehicles on the market is getting a major update. The Nissan Frontier will have a new engine and transmission for 2020—one of the biggest changes this compact pickup has undergone since its last major redesign in 2005.

Nissan announced in a press release that the Frontier’s new powertrain promises better fuel economy and more power than either of the two outgoing engines it replaces. Still, the rest of this truck is long past its prime—so much so that we think buyers who are concerned about crash test results and active safety should wait until an all-new Frontier debuts next year. 

What it competes with: Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma
What it looks like: The same Frontier that’s been around since 2005
Powertrains: 310-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine; 9-speed automatic transmission; rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive
Price: $23,000–$37,500 (estimated)
On-sale date: Spring 2020

CR's Take

Nissan says it's “laying the groundwork” for next year’s all-new Frontier by giving the old truck a new engine and transmission. We think that’s a wise move.

MORE ON THE NISSAN FRONTIER

“We tend to see more reliability issues in cars that have undergone a total redesign in its first year,” said Anita Lam, CR's associate director of data integration. “It can take time for automakers to work the bugs out in a vehicle that has new technology or lots of new parts, so we think it’s smart of Nissan to debut the Frontier’s new engine and transmission a year ahead of the full redesign.”

Unfortunately, this updated Frontier still lacks key safety features such as Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), which aren’t even available as options you'd pay extra for. And it scored a Marginal rating in the IIHS’ driver and passenger-side small overlap front crash tests. Based on those safety deficits alone, we’d consider the Toyota Tacoma or Ford Ranger instead. Both the Tacoma and Ford Ranger come with standard FCW and AEB, and both performed better than the Frontier in crash tests. Or consider the Honda Ridgeline, which now has a complete advanced safety suite as standard equipment. 

2020 Nissan frontier Pro-4x exterior view front

Outside

If you’ve seen a Nissan Frontier in the last 15 years, you’ve essentially seen the 2020 model. In its last year before a total redesign, Nissan says it “streamlined” the Frontier lineup and axed a few special trims.

Both the King Cab and Crew Cab will be available with front- and four-wheel-drive in both S and SV trims. The Frontier Crew Cab with a 73.3-inch long bed will only be available in the higher SV trim, which also comes with more attractive alloy wheels rather than steel ones. A PRO-4X trim—designed for off-roading—will still be offered.

Inside

Nissan added a few standard features that should keep the base-model Frontier from feeling too bare-bones. Push-button start, a leather-wrapped shift knob, tilt steering wheel, power door locks, and power windows now come standard on all Frontiers.

Although some buyers may miss the spartan character of the old Frontier’s more basic interior, our Owner Satisfaction survey data shows that most Frontier owners weren’t very happy with their trucks. Perhaps a few common niceties will help. 

2020 Nissan Frontier Pro-4x exterior rear view

What Drives It

There’s only one engine and transmission choice: an all-new 310-horsepower V6. While the new engine is smaller in terms of displacement, it has 49 more horsepower. It’s matched with a nine-speed automatic transmission that’s similar to the one found in the current Nissan Titan truck. Neither a four-cylinder engine nor a five-speed manual transmission is offered for 2020.

Together, Nissan says the new powertrain is good for improved fuel economy and acceleration—good news, since we measured a lousy 15 mpg from the old 4.0-liter V6 when we last tested the Frontier.
 

Safety and Driver Assistance

The Frontier lacks any active safety features like FCW or AEB, even as options.