Is a Cummins diesel coming to the Frontier? Nissan's not saying, but it did let us drive a test mule of what could become the Nissan Frontier diesel pickup truck. The torquey but noisy 2.8-liter turbodiesel engine promises 35 percent better fuel economy than a gasoline-fueled V-6.
Nissan first floated the idea of a Cummins-powered Frontier at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, when it unveiled the Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner (pictured below), a concept truck based on the Frontier 4x2 Desert Runner Crew Cab. Nissan had previously announced that diesel engine specialist Cummins -- which provides the inline six-cylinder turbodiesel for the Ram pickup -- will supply a 5.0-liter V-8 oil burner in the next Nissan Titan.
At Nissan's recent new product event in Nashville, Tennessee, the company had on hand not only the Diesel Runner show truck but also a conventionally attired Frontier Crew Cab long bed with the Diesel Runner powertrain, in which a four-cylinder Cummins turbodiesel is mated to an eight-speed ZF-built automatic transmission.
Would Nissan pair the new, smaller diesel engine with that eight-speed gearbox? Again, the company is not saying. But its oft-mentioned 35 percent improvement in fuel economy is based on the diesel with that transmission, and the latter surely deserves part of the credit.
This test mule drive revealed the combo to be very much a work in progress. The 2.8-liter is sold elsewhere in a variety of applications, but the engine's top end is specifically developed for this truck. There hasn't yet been any work done on NVH, and the engine has a distinct clatter at idle and under acceleration. It does, however, quiet down considerably while cruising. The ZF automatic (which was stirred with a Chrysler shiftlever, pictured at right) hasn't yet been calibrated to this engine, either. Still, the engine's robust torque -- promised to be in excess of 350 pound-feet, along with 200 hp -- proved to be well in evidence, so the powertrain delivered plenty of shove off the line.
A four-cylinder turbodiesel in a midsize pickup makes a lot of sense. If such trucks are going to help manufacturers meet the new CAFE standards for trucks, they have to get much better mileage than they do now. It's also interesting to note that the new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-sizers will offer four-cylinder diesels in the same 2.8-liter displacement as this Nissan.
It's just a matter of time before we'll be driving a production-ready Nissan Frontier diesel pickup. Another diesel pickup truck, however, will arrive very soon: officials confirmed this week that the all-new 2015 Nissan Titan will be revealed in January at the 2015 Detroit auto show.