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2020 Nissan Frontier Gets New Powertrain as Swan Song

Nissan gives the old Frontier a heart transplant, promises to kill it soon.

Well, this is unusual. Standard operating procedure for a vehicle at death's door is for a manufacturer to let it quietly atrophy and to fend off all questions about a replacement with a "we don't comment on future product" statement. Not so with the 2020 Nissan Frontier, the current granddaddy of the compact/midsize pickup segment: It's getting a new powertrain, and Nissan is making it abundantly clear that this is a retirement present. We'll see this engine in an all-new version of the Frontier, which it says is coming soon.

The Frontier's current four- and six-cylinder engines will both give way to a single powerplant: a new direct-injected 3.8-liter V-6 that delivers 310 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque. That's 49 more horsepower than the 4.0-liter V-6 in the 2019 Frontier. Torque remains unchanged, but the new engine should offer a significant increase in acceleration and fuel economy thanks in large part to its accompanying nine-speed automatic transmission. As usual, the 2020 Frontier will be available with rear- or electrically-shifted part-time four-wheel-drive. The new V-6 is being built at the same plant in Decherd, Tennessee, that produces the Titan's 5.6-liter V-8.

Along with the new engine, the Frontier marches boldly into the 1990s with a newly standard tilt-adjustable steering column, power windows, and power locks, as well as pushbutton ignition, which we are told on deep background will be the automotive trend of the 2000s. As expected for a dead pickup walking, the model lineup is being trimmed. Extended ("King") cabs are offered in S and SV trims, while the crew cab will be offered in S, SV, and Pro-4X levels with two wheelbase choices for SV models.

Nissan isn't shy about the fact that a new Frontier is coming; it has made it abundantly clear in the press materials that this new powertrain will have a starring role in the next-generation model. It's about time, too—the current Frontier was introduced in 2004 and facelifted for 2009, and it rarely garners a mention in the ongoing Tacoma vs. Colorado vs. Ranger vs. Gladiator midsize pickup-truck wars.

What's interesting to us is what the timing of this new powertrain tells us about the new model. No sane automaker would spend the money to fit a new engine to vehicle architecture that they were planning to scrap, so it seems pretty obvious that Nissan plans to take Toyota's lead with the latest Tacoma by reworking the existing truck—something more extensive than a mere facelift but short of a truly all-new vehicle. That Nissan plans to stick to a proven formula rather than reinvent its pickup can be viewed either as more of the cost-cutting for which the firm is now renowned or a sign it's not looking to water down the model as it did with the latest Pathfinder.

The 2020 Frontier and its new engine go on sale this spring, and while Nissan hasn't announced a set date, we'd be willing to bet that the 2021 Nissan Frontier will make its debut within the next 12 months.