There’s nowhere in the world that you can’t go to with this do-it-all pickup truck

The Nissan Frontier Desert Runner doesn’t have the racing pedigree of the Nissan Global Time Attack TT 370Z or the sheer tuning audacity of the Nissan Kicks Street Sport, but if you’re looking for a rugged version of Nissan’s long-standing pickup with some serious off-road chops, the Frontier Desert Runner should be right up your alley. Developed by the Nissan Motorsports team in collaboration with MA Motorsports, the Frontier Desert Runner is teeming with purpose-specific upgrades that help enhance the pickup’s already impressive form and functionality. Nissan has yet to give any indication of potential production plans for the tricked-out pickup, but that could come soon if there’s decent enough demand for it. For now, though, the Nissan Frontier Desert Runner takes center stage at the 2019 SEMA Auto Show.

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Exterior Design

  • New front fascia
  • Wider fenders
  • 37-inch tires
  • Auxiliary light bar
  • Custom body wrap
left right

The Nissan Frontier Desert Runner doesn’t look like your typical Nissan Frontier pickup, does it?

The truck’s traditional front bumper has been replaced by a fabricated bumper made up of fortifying bars with a massive steel plate in the middle.

That’s a clear sign that the Frontier Desert Runner isn’t beating around the bush. MA Motorsports and the Nissan Motorsports team went for this treatment for functional reasons, aesthetics be damned. The addition of Fiberworx Pre Runner fenders also comes as a by-product of the massive 37-inch BFGoodrich Baja T/A tires.

2019 Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Exterior
- image 869690

Up top, the auxiliary light bar is easy to spot as well. Given the identity and purpose of the Frontier Desert Runner, that auxiliary light bar, which was supplied by aftermarket company Rigid Industries, is an important addition to the cause. You could even say the same thing for the custom tire carrier sitting in the bed of the pickup, especially given the sheer randomness that comes with unexpected tire punctures. In case you’re interested, the Frontier pickup that served as the foundation of the Desert Runner didn’t leave Nissan’s production facility sporting that rather gloomy gray paint finish. That’s actually a body wrap made by Speed Designs

Visually, the Nissan Frontier Desert Runner is a huge departure from the typical Frontier pickup that we know. Then again, there’s really more to this tuned up truck than meets the eye.

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Interior Design

  • Racing seats
  • Sparco steering wheel
  • Custom harness bar and five-point harness
2019 Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Interior
- image 869692

There’s not much in the way of any interior upgrades, but expecting anything beyond what you normally see from an off-road-spec truck is inviting disappointment. Lower your expectations in this regard.

The interior of the Frontier Desert Runner comes with racing seats and a steering wheel from Sparco with a quick-release steering wheel adapter.

Meanwhile, MA Motorsports provides the custom harness bar, contributing to the truck’s improved safety capabilities.

Clearl,y, Nissan and MA Motorsports have established the identity of the Desert Runner as a no-frills, go-anywhere off-road truck that doesn’t particularly care about looking good in front of a mirror. This truck was created to get to its destination, no matter where that destination is.

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Drivetrain and Performance

  • Race-spec Titan V-8 engine
  • 600+ horsepower
  • 700 lb-ft torque
  • all-new suspension
  • Custom turbo application
2019 Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Drivetrain
- image 869710

Understanding what makes the Nissan Frontier Desert Runner special boils down to the kind of mechanical upgrades that Nissan and MA Motorsports performed on the pickup truck. There’s a lot to unpack here, beginning with the Frontier’s factory 4.0-liter V-6 engine. Turns out,

Nissan literally unpacked the stock engine, replacing it with a bigger 5.6-liter Endurance V-8 engine, the same powertrain that’s normally found under the hood of the Frontier’s big brother, the Titan full-size pickup.
Nissan Frontier Desert Runner specifications
Engine 5.6-liter Endurance® V-8
Horsepower +600 HP
Torque 700 LB-FT
Transmission 6-speed manual
2019 Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Drivetrain
- image 869688

Now, this isn’t just a case of removing one engine and dropping a bigger one in the space left by the stock unit. The Titan-sourced Endurance V-8 engine also went through a complete race-spec rebuild. Nissan and MA Motorsports also added a Garrett GTX3584RTS turbocharger into the mix. That massive engine rebuild didn’t just end there, either. A custom intercooler, camshafts, pistons, and valves from Jim Wolf Technology and MA Motorsports’ own custom turbo header and exhaust system were all thrown into the rebuilt powertrain. With all the pieces in place,

the Nissan Frontier Desert Runner now produces a staggering 600-plus horsepower and 700 pound-feet of torque.

That’s more than double the output — 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque — of the Frontier’s stock V-6 engine, and a significat increase over the Titan V-8\s original output of 390 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque.

2019 Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Drivetrain
- image 869707

The other part of the Nissan Frontier Desert Runner’s mechanical upgrades revolves around the significant changes and modifications that Nissan and MA Motorsports made to the truck’s suspension. A BTF Fabrication long-travel front suspension kit sits at the heart of this extensive modification. Complementary pieces like new the Triple Bypass front and rear shocks and coil-overs from King Racing and the Link Killer rear leaf springs from Giant Motorsports ensure that the entire suspension setup can withstand the kind of environment that the Frontier Desert Runner will spend a lot of its time in. Mind you, these upgrades aren’t just about ensuring that the custom-tuned pickup can survive the elements; these upgrades are also about ensuring that it thrives under harsh conditions. That’s partly the reason Nissan also added a set of Fifteen52 TurboMac HD wheels into the program and wrapped them up in 37-inch BFGoodrich Baja T/A tires.

Final Thoughts

2019 Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Exterior
- image 869716

The Nissan Frontier Desert Runner isn’t for everyone. It’s not for those who aren’t fond of the outdoors. It’s not for those who aren’t the adventurous type. It’s certainly not for those who can’t handle the stress and rigors that come with outdoor adventures. But there’s a segment of the population that not only loves all of those things, but they make it a point to enjoy that life as often as they can. That’s the pocket of people that will love the Nissan Frontier Desert Runner. It’s not the flashiest of cars that are on display at SEMA, but for its specific purpose and identity, there aren’t that many custom-built creations that can match what the Frontier Desert Runner has to offer.

Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
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