The 2020 Frontier looks the same, but comes with a new engine and transmission, and a steep price hike

Nissan Frontier is considered to be one of the best workhorses you can buy today. It never had any oomph factor and was happy being in its comfort zone as a work truck. It has remained pretty much the same for 15 years and Nissan never bothered to bring in a new generation because, well, why fix something that ain’t broken?

Given the long wait, everyone expected the next-gen Frontier to get a complete makeover inside out. The Japanese automaker still hasn’t brought out the new generation, but it decided to give us a glimpse of the future by plonking in a new engine and transmission in the same old body.

The new engine and gearbox come at a cost; the cost being $8,000. The starting price of the truck has gone up considerably and a lot of us were confused if it’s worth the hike or not. So, here’s our take on the 2020 Nissan Frontier that arrived at TopSpeed’s headquarters in the PRO-4X trim finished in a Blue exterior shade.

Nissan Frontier Powertrain, Performance, and Towing

  • New 3.8-liter, V-6 mill
  • 310 Horsepower
  • 281 Pound-feet of torque
  • New Nine-speed automatic transmission
  • Maximum towing capacity of 6,720 pounds
  • Maximum payload capacity of 1,460 pounds
  • PRO-4X trim comes with many off-road goodies
2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Drivetrain
- image 941115

As mentioned earlier, the biggest change in the 2020 Nissan Frontier comes in the form of the new engine and transmission setup. Nissan has ditched the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder mill that used to generate just 152 ponies and 171 pound-feet of torque, as well as the aging 4.0-liter V-6 that made 261 horses and 281 pound-feet of torque. The bigger mill was ditched due to the just-about-adequate horsepower figures and poor fuel economy figure. With stricter emission norms in place, there was no way this engine could pass the bar. Hence, the automaker developed a new mill specifically for this truck.

Nissan has replaced both the engines with an all-new 3.8-liter, V-6 mill that churns out 310 horses at 6,400 rpm and 281 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.

The engine is said to feature 93-percent new or redesigned parts, thus having barely any characteristics of the old engines. It includes a direct injection gasoline system, cylinder heads with integrated exhaust manifolds, a variable displacement oil pump, variable timing control, and a variable tumble control valve.

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Drivetrain
- image 941117

While the new engine itself makes a whole lot of difference, the automaker has even swapped the old five-speed manual and five-speed automatic gearboxes with a nine-speed automatic that’s also seen in the Nissan Titan. It features an expanded lockup area, a new high-response electro-hydraulic system, a long input shaft, and a 99-percent larger gear range that makes it butter smooth and crisp when compared to old gearboxes. Nissan has also equipped a centrifugal pendulum absorber that reduces the vibrations and doesn’t give you jittery alerts about the gearshifts.

The Frontier comes with an independent front suspension system with a stabilizer bar. A multi-leaf suspension with solid axles is present at the rear. The PRO-4X model comes with Bilstein shock absorbers, too. Stuff like Cruise Control, Traction Control System, and Active Brake Limited Slip are standard on all the trims, but few assistance technologies like Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control are offered only in this off-road trim.

2020 Nissan Titan Pro-4X specifications
Engine 3.8-liter V-6
Fuel Gas
Horsepower 310 HP @ 6400 RPM
Torque 281 LB-FT @ 4400 RPM
Transmission 9-speed AT
Drive AWD
Towing Capacity 6,290
Fuel Economy 17/23/19
Curb Weight 4,368
Fuel Capacity 21.1
Payload Capacity 1,020
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating 5600 lbs

How Much Can the Nissan Frontier Tow?

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941114

The 2020 Frontier’s maximum towing capacity is rated as follows for each body type and drive configuration:

Two-wheel-drive:

  • King Cab – 6,720 pounds
  • Crew Cab – 6,640 pounds
  • Crew Cab Long Bed – 6,500 pounds

Four-wheel-drive:

  • King Cab – 6,510 pounds
  • Crew Cab – 6,380 pounds
  • Crew Cab Long Bed – 6,250 pounds

The PRO-4X, which is available only in the Crew Cab four-wheel-drive form, can tow up to 6,290 pounds. This is the least when compared to the Tacoma and the Colorado, which can tow up to 6,400 and 7,000 pounds.

How Much Cargo Can the Nissan Frontier Carry?

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941105

The 2020 Frontier’s maximum payload capacity is rated as follows for each body type and drive configuration:

Two-wheel-drive:

  • King Cab – 1,460 pounds
  • Crew Cab – 1,460 pounds
  • Crew Cab Long Bed – 1,360 pounds

Four-wheel-drive:

  • King Cab – 1,360 pounds
  • Crew Cab – 1,360 pounds
  • Crew Cab Long Bed – 1,220 pounds

The PRO-4X, which is available only in the Crew Cab four-wheel-drive form, can haul up to 1,020 pounds. Just like the tow rating, even the payload capacity is the least. The Tacoma can haul up to 1,420 pounds whereas the Colorado takes the cake again with 1,499 pounds of capacity.

What is the Nissan Frontier’s Fuel Economy?

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941065

The new engine and transmission combo have made the Frontier a better and more powerful ride, but what makes the deal even sweeter is the improved fuel economy over the 4.0-liter V-6. The figures are almost up by two miles per gallon as per the EPA ratings. The two-wheel-drive models deliver 18 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined. The four-wheel-drive models return 17 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 19 miles per gallon combined. It comes with a 21.1-gallon fuel tank.

Nissan Frontier Driving Impressions

Driving

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Interior
- image 941095

The new engine should’ve been a welcome completely different experience, but that’s certainly not the case. If you’re going to test drive one, don’t go with any high hopes. It isn’t any quicker than the previous V-6 and is only slightly faster. It still feels raw and unrefined, but it sure is smoother than before. Being a workhorse, it feels at home with a laden bed only. This isn’t a truck you’d push hard around the corners. If you plan to do, take it off your list. The Frontier handles the best when it is carrying weight and driven sedately.

Acceleration

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Interior
- image 941079

Nothing brisk this time around. Sprint to 60 mph is still somewhere between seven and eight seconds. What’s different, however, is the sweet nine-speed automatic gearbox that shifts quietly. The 2020 Frontier comes with a centrifugal pendulum absorber that reduces the vibrations and doesn’t let the gearbox get all worked up when you floor the A-pedal.

Brakes

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941097

The 2020 Frontier comes with discs on all four corners. We didn’t feel nervous while panic braking and it shed speeds pretty well. The bite from the brakes was alright and it didn’t feel spongy at any point.

Steering

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Interior
- image 941087

The steering isn’t the Frontier’s strong suit by any means. It is heavy even at city speeds and will be a big pain in the back if you have to squeeze it in tight parking spaces every other day. The turning radius is also quite wide. If you’re upgrading from a Frontier itself, you won’t find anything unusual. But, if you’re moving from any other truck, you will be a tad bit disappointed as it’s not the best steering setup in the segment.

Does the Nissan Frontier Make a Good Work Truck?

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941066

Nissan Frontier is known to be one of the most budget-friendly workhorses that one could buy. I say “could” because the truck has seen a steep price hike for the 2020 model year, courtesy of the major changes under the hood. One good thing, however, is that the chassis still remains the same, so you can expect the same ruggedness and rigidity that the previous models used to offer. Coupled with the new, smooth engine and transmission setup, the new updated Frontier is going to perform even better as a work truck.

Is the Nissan Frontier Good for Off-Roading?

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941062

Our example came with the PRO-4X package and that changes the persona of the Frontier when compared to the other trims. It can be taken off the roads confidently and doesn’t leave you complaining. The pavement experience, however, took a hit. One thing you’ll appreciate is the slightly higher ride height compared to other trims, courtesy of off-road shocks. Unlike the European PRO-4X on the Navara which is just an aesthetic package, the Frontier comes with a whole lot of off-road equipment. It includes:

  • Bilstein Off-Road High-Pressure Shock Absorbers
  • Dana 44 Rear Axle
  • Electronic Rear Differential Locker
  • Two-speed Transfer Case
  • Machine-Finished 16-inch Aluminum Off-Road Wheels
  • 265/75 All-Terrain Tires
  • Roof Rack with Crossbars
  • Skid Plates

Nissan Frontier Trim Levels and Body Styles

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941112

The Nissan Frontier is offered in two body styles – King Cab and Crew Cab. The Crew Cab is also offered with a long bed. The King Cab comes in the S and SV trims and both are available with two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive layouts. The Crew Cab is offered in the S, SV, Midnight Edition, and the PRO-4X trims. All of them are offered in both the drive layouts except for the PRO-4X, which is offered only with a four-wheel-drive system. You can also buy a long-bed Crew Cab version, but only in the SV trim. This, too, is offered with both the drive layouts.

Nissan Frontier Exterior Design

  • Chrome grille up front
  • Satin chrome grille on the PRO-4X
  • Front tow hooks and fog lamps only on the off-road trim
  • 16-inch to 18-inch wheels offered
  • All-Season and All-Terrain tires available
  • Utili-Channel Track System for cargo management
  • Moonroof present on one trim
2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941137
The Nissan Frontier is unchanged since 2005. The 2021 model is around the corner, but for now, we have to with the old body and a new heart.

The model we had with us was a Crew Cab 4x4 PRO-4X in Arctic Blue Metallic shade. It comes with a lot of features that aren’t offered on the other trims. Up front, it wears a satin chrome grille as opposed to a standard chrome grille on the rest of the lineup. Front tow hooks and fog lamps are also exclusive to the PRO-4X. The hint of Nissan’s V-Motion grille can also be seen here. There is a skid plate underneath which comes as standard only on this trim.

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941140

The side profile is as boring as it gets. The Frontier PRO-4X rides on 16-inch, machine-finished aluminum wheels wrapped in 265/75 section all-terrain tires. There is a namesake trim decal on the bedside. The rear is plain and simple, too. Nothing noteworthy here; just the regular badges. The PRO-4X model comes with some more unique features, like a roof rack with crossbars, splash guards, and a power sliding glass moonroof with tilt feature.

One interesting bit on the Frontier is the Utili-Channel Track System. It comes with four channels running the length of the bed and one running the width and it helps secure the cargo. Four heavy-duty cleats are also present that can slide along these channels. As an option, you can also get the spray-on bedliner here. This, again, is standard only for the PRO-4X. While it’s a helpful feature, it must also be noted the PRO-4X has the least payload capacity.

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941125

The 2020 model is offered in six different shades:

  • Cayenne Red Metallic
  • Magnetic Black Pearl
  • Gun Metallic
  • Brilliant Silver Metallic
  • Glacier White
  • Arctic Blue Metallic

How Big is the Nissan Frontier?

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941136

The Nissan Frontier is neither the longest, nor the widest truck in the segment, but it is the tallest. It is 205.5 inches long, 72.8 inches wide, and 73.9 inches tall, The Toyota Tacoma measures 212.3 inches in length, 74.4 inches in width, and 71.6 inches in height. The Chevy Colorado is almost as big as the Tacoma, measuring 212.7 inches, 74.3 inches, and 70.7 inches, respectively. The Frontier’s 125.9-inch wheelbase is also the shortest amongst its rivals. The Tacoma’s is an inch-and-a-half longer at 127.4, whereas the Colorado’s wheelbase measures 128.3 inches.

Nissan Frontier Pro-4X exterior dimensions
Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Toyota Tacoma Chevy Colorado
Length 205.5 212.3 212.7
Width 72.8 74.4 74.3
Height 73.9 71.6 70.7
Wheelbase 125.9 127.4 128.3
Front Track 61.8 64 62.4
Rear Track 61.8 64.2 62.4
Speaking of the angles, the Frontier has an approach angle of 32.6 degrees, departure angle of 23.3 degrees, and breakover angle of 20.5 degrees respectively.

The same for the Tacoma is rated at 32 degrees, 35 degrees, 21 degrees, respectively. In the case of the Colorado, it has an approach angle of 28.7 degrees, departure angle of 25.4 degrees, and breakover angle of 21.5 degrees.

How Much Does the Nissan Frontier Weigh?

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941119

All three trucks weigh almost the same, but the Frontier is the lightest in pure numbers. It weighs 4,368 pounds, which is just four pounds lighter than the Colorado and over 50 pounds lighter than the Tacoma which weighs 4,425 pounds.

Nissan Frontier Interior Design

  • Spacious cabin
  • Cloth seats are standard, leather seats optional
  • Seven-inch touchscreen system as standard
  • Top-spec PRO-4X has a 5.8-inch touchscreen system
  • Supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Dual-zone Climate Control
  • Lockable glovebox
2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Interior
- image 941130

The Frontier has a straight-forward layout that is unappealing. If you’ve sat in a Frontier at any point in time in the past, you won’t find anything much different now either. The minute you step inside the cabin, you know this is a work truck with features offered just to check the spec sheet. We wouldn’t be whining right now if the truck still had a starting sticker price of under $20,000.

The steering wheel looks boring and has buttons on it just for the heck of it. The PRO-4X does come with a leather-wrapped wheel, though. Behind the steering wheel is an analog instrument cluster that comes with satin chrome bezels on this trim. The interior space is on par with the rivals and seats are comfortable, but a little too thin. A little more padding and bolstering could’ve been better. Simple cloth seats are present on the Frontier trims except for the PRO-4X, which comes with leather-wrapped seats with white contrast stitching.

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Interior
- image 941092

Some more exclusive PRO-4X features inside the cabin include:

  • Eight-way Power Adjustable Driver’s Seat
  • Lumbar Support
  • Four-way Power Adjustable Passenger’s Seat
  • Heated Front Seats
  • Chrome Accents on the AC Vents
  • Automatic Headlights
  • Dual-zone Climate Control

Overall, it is a straight-forward cabin with everything ergonomically sorted. Feature-list could’ve been richer, but let’s not forget that the premium Nissan is charging for the 2020 model is for the engine and transmission only. If cabin aesthetics and other bells and whistles matter to you, we’d suggest you wait for the 2021 Nissan Frontier. You could check out the recently-unveiled Euro-spec Navara to get an idea of what to expect.

Is the Nissan Frontier Spacious?

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Interior
- image 941090

The Nissan Frontier is on par with its rivals when it comes to space inside the cabin. In the first row, the Frontier offers 39.9 inches of headroom, 42.4 inches of legroom, and 58.3 inches of shoulder room. The Tacoma measures 39.7 inches, 42.9 inches, 58.3 inches, whereas the Colorado measures 41.4 inches, 45 inches, and 57.5 inches, respectively. The hip room measures 55.6-, 57.2-, and 55 inches for the Frontier, Tacoma, and the Colorado.

In the second row, the Frontier comes with a headroom of 38.6 inches, legroom of 33.6 inches, shoulder room of 58.3 inches, and hip room of 58 inches. The Tacoma offers 34.9 inches of headroom, 24.6 inches of legroom, 56.5 inches of shoulder room, and 51.7 inches of hip room. In the case of the Colorado, these figures stand at 38.3 inches, 35.8 inches, 56.2 inches, and 53.3 inches respectively.

Nissan Frontier Pro-4X interior dimensions
Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Toyota Tacoma Chevy Colorado
1st Row Headroom 39.9 39.7 41.4
1st Row Leg Room 42.4 42.9 45
1st Row Shoulder Room 58.3 58.3 57.5
1st Row Hip Room 55.6 57.2 55
2nd Row Headroom 38.6 34.9 38.3
2nd Row Leg Room 33.6 24.6 35.8
2nd Row Shoulder Room 58.3 56.5 56.2
2nd Row Hip Room 58 51.7 53.3

Is the Nissan Frontier’s Infotainment Easy to Use?

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Interior
- image 941127
The Frontier comes with a seven-inch touchscreen system on all the trims as standard, except for the PRO-4X.

This off-road trim is equipped with a tiny 5.8-inch touchscreen. This small system supports navigation, voice recognition, Nissan Connect, and Sirius XM. It is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too. The PRO-4X is equipped with a Rockford Fosgate audio system, which is unique to this setup. It isn’t complex really and is easy to use, but a screen so small in a truck so big just doesn’t make sense. Nissan’s already bumped up the price. What sort of cost-cutting is this?

Nissan Frontier Pricing

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941070

The Frontier used to be one of the cheapest truck one could buy. Until 2019, the company sold it with a puny four-cylinder engine and some lackluster trims. However, this enabled Nissan to keep the price below $19,000. The 2020 Nissan Frontier came with a lot of changes under the skin and in terms of features, thus shooting up the price by almost 50-percent vis-à-vis the entry-level trim of the preceding model! Here’s how the 2020 Nissan Frontier is priced:

King Cab:

Two-wheel-drive

  • S - $26,790
  • SV - $27,670

Four-wheel-drive

  • S - $29,680
  • SV - $30,560

Crew Cab:

Two-wheel-drive

  • S - $27,900
  • SV - $28,800
  • Midnight Edition - $30,790

Four-wheel-drive

  • S - $31,290
  • SV - $31,990
  • Midnight Edition - $33,980
  • PRO-4X - $37,490

Crew Cab Long Bed:

Two-wheel-drive

  • SV - $31,410

Four-wheel-drive

  • SV - $32,410
2020 Nissan Frontier prices
S KC 4x2 A/T 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      26,790
SV KC 4x2 A/T 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      27,670
S KC 4x4 A/T 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      29,680
SV KC 4x4 A/T 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      30,560
S CC 4X2 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      27,900
SV CC 4x2 SWB 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      28,800
SV CC 4x2 LWB 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      31,410
S CC 4x4 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      31,290
SV CC 4x4 SWB 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      31,990
SV CC 4x4 LWB 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      32,410
PRO-4X CC 4x4 3.8 Liter V6 A/T  $      37,490

Is the Nissan Frontier Better Than the Toyota Tacoma?

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Toyota Tacoma has been around for a very long time and is one of the hottest selling trucks in the segment. It sells at crazy high prices even in the used market. In terms of specs, the Tacoma is better-equipped without a doubt and the same can be said even in the quality department. However, they’re both pretty much even in terms of cabin space.

The Tacoma is powered by a 3.5-liter, V-6 mill that dishes out 278 horses and 265 pound-feet of twist. It is mated to an eight-speed auto. These figures are much lesser than the Frontier’s, but the Toyota comes with better towing and payload specs, as well as better fuel economy. It’s up to you what matters the most to you in a truck. The 2021 Tacoma starts at $26,150, which is lesser than its Japanese counterpart’s starting price, but goes well into the mid-$40,000 bracket.

left right
Nissan Frontier Pro-4X vs Toyota Tacoma
Nissan Frontier Pro-4X Toyota Tacoma
Engine 3.8-liter V-6 3.5L-V6
Fuel Gas Gas
Horsepower 310 HP @ 6400 RPM 278 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 281 LB-FT @ 4400 RPM 265 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission 9-speed AT 6-speed auto
Drive AWD AWD
Towing Capacity 6,290 6,400
Fuel Economy 17/23/19 19/24/21
Curb Weight 4,368 4425
Fuel Capacity 21.1 21.1
Payload Capacity 1,020 1,420
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating 5600 lbs 5600

Read our full review on the Toyota Tacoma

Is the Nissan Frontier Better Than the Chevy Colorado?

left right

The Colorado is a no non-sense truck that pleases all and offends none. It looks aggressive and sporty and has a strong street-cred. Even in the base trim, it comes with a well-screwed interior and stuff like a seven-inch touchscreen system. If you want an off-road-specific truck with money being no objective, then Colorado has better propositions for you.

The V-6 in the Colorado is a 3.6-liter mill that doles out 308 ponies and 275 pound-feet of torque. This is just two horses and six-pound-feet of twist less than the Frontier’s. The peak torque comes at 400 rpm less than the Nissan’s, but the peak horsepower comes at 400 rpm more. But, that said, the Colorado blows the Frontier out of the water in terms of towing and payload capacities. The 2021 Colorado starts at $25,200, making it the cheapest of the lot. But, mind you, this is for the four-cylinder mill. The V-6 will cost around $1,500 more on the corresponding trims.

left right

Read our full review on the Chevy Colorado

Final Thoughts

2020 Nissan Frontier - Driven Exterior
- image 941138

The present-gen Frontier is over a decade old and Nissan hadn’t changed it much so far. The second-generation is just around the corner, but the Japanese automaker decided to make some major changes to the truck under the hood. Gone are the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, and the aging 4.0-liter, V-6 mill. Instead, a new 3.8-liter mill replaced them all. Even the five-speed manual and automatic transmissions were scrapped in favor of a nine-speed box. It doesn’t look a whole lot different on the outside, but it is a completely different vehicle under the skin. The Frontier is considered a workhorse and is known for its rock-like build and reliability. If you don’t believe us, ask Brian Murphy, a Chicago-based delivery driver who completed one-million miles on his base-trim 2007 Frontier.

That said, the price shock is still not digestible, because the 2020 Frontier is still not a new model. Sub-consciously, you need a new, reinvigorated truck to justify a price hike of $8,000. Nissan unveiled the Euro-spec Navara recently and we kind of know what to expect from the second-gen U.S.-spec Frontier in terms of aesthetics. Perhaps, bringing in all these changes with a next-gen truck and a 50-percent price increase would’ve been easier to digest.

  • Leave it
    • $8,000 hike is a deal-breaker for fleet and work truck owners.
    • New soul in an old body
Philippe Daix
Obsessive and Compulsive Automotive Expert - phil@topspeed.com
Always on the lookout for the latest automotive news, Philippe Daix is our most senior editor and founder of TopSpeed.com. He likes to see himself as a consumer advocate with a mission to educate motorheads of all ages.  Read More
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