Thanks to a few new players in the market, the midsized truck battle looks be reviving. News about GM’s new mid-size trucks getting diesels have also stirred up a frenzy, starting with Nissan.

What you see here is the Frontier Diesel Runner, a “concept” truck built to gauge consumer interest in diesel-powered, midsized trucks. The truck itself is barely changed from the production line, but features a 2.8-liter, I-4 turbodiesel built by renowned engine builder Cummins. The Cummins/Nissan partnership isn’t new, however, as the pair have plans to power the next-generation Nissan Titan with a 5.0-liter V-8 turbodiesel in 2015.

The Frontier’s diesel engine is expected to produce around 200 horsepower and more than 350 pound-feet of torque — all while increasing fuel efficiency by 35 percent over the standard 4.0-liter, gasoline V-6 engine. It’s backed by a ZF-sourced 8HP70 eight-speed automatic transmission. The new engine-transmission combo is expected to tow and haul roughly the same as the conventional gasoline Frontier.

Nissan and Cummins did have to modify the truck slightly to get the powertrain nestled within the engine bay and transmission tunnel. Saving room and further development, this frontier lacks the optional four-wheel-drive and added complexities the system brings to a driveline.

It’s very unlikely the Frontier will be sold with a diesel option in its current generation. Nissan is hard at work developing the second-generation Titan pickup, and will likely turn its attention it the Frontier once development is competed there. We expect a new Frontier won’t be far behind the new 2015 Titan. If Nissan chooses to include a diesel as a powertrain option, it’s likely to happen then.

Click past the jump to read more about the 2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins.

  • 2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins
  • Year:
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Transmission:
    8-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
  • Torque @ RPM:
  • Displacement:
    2.8 L
  • 0-60 time:
    10 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    110 mph (Est.)
  • car segment:
  • car fuel:
  • body style:


2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins High Resolution Exterior
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The Diesel Runner’s exterior is relatively unchanged from the stock Frontier Desert Runner on which it started life as. A catchy graphics package spices up the look, complete with painted wheels front and back. The wheels are standard equipment for the production Desert Runner, but for this application, Nissan added some character with the red-lipped wheels out back.

The biggest change is in the hood. It’s molded from clear plastic and covered with a matte-grey finish, save for a large Cummins logo left clear with the company name scripted in the center. Not only does the graphic help brand the partnership between Nissan and Cummins, it lets passer-bys peer into the engine bay to find the diesel powerplant.

2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins Exterior
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2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins Interior
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Changes to the interior are minimal as well. Red carpet and red trim pieces replace the original black fair. Most noticeable are the three auxiliary gauges mounted atop the center console. A pyrometer (exhaust gas temperature), boost gauge and transmission temperature gauge help keep the driver informed about under-hood statuses.


2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins High Resolution Drivetrain
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2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins Drivetrain
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2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins Exterior
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This is where the story lies. The cummins-sourced 2.8-liter I-4 turbodiesel produces roughly 200 horsepower and over 350 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a ZF-sourced 8HP70 eight-speed automatic transmission.

Although towing and payload capacities are expected to remain the same, the diesel does afford some impressive fuel economy increases. A 30-percent jump in miles per gallon is expected over the 4.0-liter, V-6 engine normally at home under the Frontier’s hood. A 3.13 axle ratio helps the mileage situation by providing tall gearing intended for more highway use.

Engine Cummins 2.8-liter turbo diesel
Horsepower Approximately 200
Torque More than 350 lb-ft
Transmission ZF 8HP70 8-speed automatic
Axle ratio (:1) 3.13


There’s definitely no word on pricing yet as this Frontier is just a concept. However, that’s not going to stop us from speculating. The 2014 Nissan Frontier Desert Runner in Crew Cab configuration on which this concept is based has a starting price of $26,200. Figure in the average cost of opting for the oil burner, and you’re looking at an addition $5,000 to $6,000 cost. [Note: Opting for the diesel in most HD trucks costs upwards of $7,000, so we figure prices would drop for the smaller, less powerful I-4 diesel in the mid-size category]


2016 Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon

2015 Chevrolet Colorado High Resolution Exterior
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There’s really no midsized competitors sporting diesel engines these days. The only other truck with a diesel powerplant is the upcoming Colorado/Canyon. Even then, the diesel version won’t make it to market until the truck’s second year in production.

GM’s 2.8-liter Duramax I-4 turbodiesel’s outputs have yet to be announced, but the euro-spec version currently puts out 200 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque - quite similar to what Cummins has in the Frontier.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Sure, it is a full-size pickup, Ram will begin offering a V-6 turbodiesel in their full-sized 1500 truck beginning this year. That truck just received an EPA rating of 28 mpg combined - an impressive number for a full-size truck weighing much more than the smaller Frontier.


2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins High Resolution Exterior
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Bringing diesels to the midsize truck market is a win-win for everybody. More power and torque help haul loads more effectively while simultaneous getting better fuel mileage. The two down sides to going diesel have traditionally been buy-in costs and higher operating expenses. Although regular oil changes might cost more, diesels tend to last longer in between rebuilds than their gasoline counterparts. It’s the old conundrum of ’pick your poison.’

  • Leave it
    • Higher buy-in price
    • Higher operating expenses
    • We’ll have to wait a few years before this actually happens

Press Release

Nissan is renewing its commitment to the mid-size pickup segment, long a part of its sales success in the United States, with the creation of the Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins™. This project truck, based on a Frontier Desert Runner 4x2 model, serves to both gauge the market reaction to a Nissan mid-size pickup with a diesel engine and plot a potential future direction for the Frontier.

2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins High Resolution Exterior
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The Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins arrives a mere six months after the announcement of a partnership with Cummins Inc. to provide a 5.0-liter turbo diesel V8 in the next-generation Titan full-size pickup, which will arrive in calendar-year 2015.

"Frontier continues to be a huge success story for us, with more than 60,000 units sold in 2013," said Fred Diaz, senior vice president, Sales & Marketing, Parts & Service, U.S.A, Nissan North America, Inc. (NNA). "Nissan has always valued the mid-size pickup segment, and with this technical study project, we are looking to explore what is possible for the next-generation Frontier. We are always looking for ways to engage our customers, innovate and take the segment in an evolutionary direction."

At the heart of the Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins is a 2.8-liter 4-cylinder diesel engine designed to meet or exceed future emissions standards. As adapted for use in this truck, the engine produces nearly 200 horsepower and more than 350 lb-ft. of torque, while increasing fuel economy 35 percent over a V6-powered two-wheel drive 2014 Frontier.

2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins High Resolution Exterior
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Backed by a ZF 8HP70 8-speed automatic transmission, the two-wheel drive diesel Frontier maintains, and even increases, the usability of a Frontier truck. Along with the mileage increase, payload and towing capacity are expected to be in range of that offered by the V6-powered Frontier.

While not a "plug-and-play" engine and transmission installation, many of the Frontier Diesel Runner project’s key components, from the body to wiring harnesses to the radiator and more are from a production 2014 Desert Runner.

Collaboration between Nissan and Cummins stems back to a U.S. Department of Energy project called "ATLAS" (Advanced Technology Light Automotive Systems) which began in 2010. Over the course of "ATLAS," Cummins installed 4-cylinder engines into two Nissan Titan trucks as an ongoing platform for research on the next-generation of 4-cylinder automotive clean diesel engines. Research compiled during the "ATLAS" program helped to shape the Cummins engine used in the current project.

"We’ve been building pickup trucks in the U.S. for more than 30 years and selling them here for even longer than that, even offering 4-cylinder diesel in our U.S. pickup truck in the 1980s," said Pierre Loing, vice president, Product Planning, NNA. "With this Frontier Diesel Runner project truck, we can reflect on our extensive heritage while also looking to the future and the changing demands of mid-size pickup buyers."

2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins High Resolution Exterior
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The Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins was designed by Nissan Design America in San Diego, CA in conjunction withNissan Global Design Center in Atsugi, Japan. Exterior modifications include a custom paint treatment that mixes three elements: a bright high-gloss "Arrest Me Red" color inspired by Cummins’ engine red; a raw "Matte Silver" color created to express the steel body-on-frame Frontier chassis foundation; and carbon fiber and carbon fiber film accents to signify the truck’s outstanding performance and efficiency.

Along with carbon film-coated features such as the chin spoiler, mesh grille, roof rack, aerodynamic full-bed tonneau cover and tailgate spoiler, the hood of the vehicle draws special attention. A partially transparent acrylic hood insert serves as a window to the engine bay, where all powertrain-related elements continue the red theme. The special carbon fiber engine cover, seen through the hood insert, features an oversize Cummins logo, with a red center, black carbon sides and hidden illumination. "Cummins Turbo Diesel badges" are also recessed into both front fenders.

The 16-inch wheels, borrowed from a Frontier PRO-4X, have been treated with a special two-tone paint – Arrest Me Red for the rear wheels and Silver in front, each accented by satin black paint. The brake calipers have also been custom painted in contrasting colors - red front and silver rear.

The Frontier Diesel Runner’s interior mirrors the silver and red exterior design, with red accents throughout and carbon-trimmed seats and panels. The front and rear seats feature carbon-print leather appointments with grey accent stitching and black-on-black "Tracks" embroidery. The carbon film-wrapped instrument panel is highlighted by red-tinted gauges and a special black-faced diesel-specific three-gauge pod on top of the C-cluster. Completing the interior enhancements are embroidered floor mats and theme-colored shifter knob and steering wheel.

The Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins will be showcased throughout the consumer days of the 2014 Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place, Chicago. Nissan and Cummins have also built a separate development vehicle that is currently undergoing rigorous real-world testing.

2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins High Resolution Exterior
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"We hope consumers in Chicago and across the U.S. will let us know what they think of the prospects of a diesel engine in this segment," Loing added.

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