2020 Nissan Frontier – Same Truck, Better Engine

The 2020 Nissan Frontier has seen a powerful change for this model year: a new powertrain. The new V6 is right-sized for the truck at 310 horsepower and the nine-speed transmission it’s been mated to is a huge step up from the five-speed automatic of before. This is a far better setup for the truck. Everything else? Well, it all basically stays the same. For now. Nissan has an all-new Frontier with this same powertrain and a full body and interior redesign for 2021.

Quick Specs & Info

2020 Nissan Frontier Class: Small pickup truck
Base Model As Tested: Pro-4X
Powertrain 3.8L V6, 9spd auto Powertrain 3.8L V6, 9spd auto
Base MSRP $26,790 MSRP as tested $38,745

Overview

The Frontier has been in its current generation for almost two decades. It’s sold quite well, however, as the low-cost, rough-and-tumble option in the small truck category. The the smallest and most basic of the current crop of midsized trucks and is also the only one not to have seen a major overhaul in the past decade.

The 2020 Nissan Frontier gets a new 3.8-liter V6 that outputs 310 horsepower to a new nine-speed automatic. That’s a big jump up from the gas-hungry 4.0L and five-speed automatic found in previous models. The Frontier otherwise sees little change as the 2021 model is expected to debut with the same powertrain, but an all-new body and interior.

Most of those interested in the Frontier are looking for a basic truck with a simple approach to small truck things. As the smallest of the current crop of midsized truck options, the Frontier is also the least complicated of the bunch. It harkens back to a time when small trucks didn’t have any frills or special gadgets and just existed to get small jobs done and go from A to B without fuss.

The interior of the 2020 Frontier is cramped, uncomfortable, and full of cheap, hard plastics. Which goes along with its rough-and-tumble persona, really, as it feels unafraid of occasional tools left in back pockets and junk thrown in the back seats. The lack of technology and refinement, though, will be a turnoff for a lot of buyers.

Trim Packages

The 2020 Nissan Frontier comes with an extended (King) cab option and a four-door crew cab option. There are three trim levels, which we’ll highlight below, and two bed length options as well.

  • S – The base model comes pretty basic with the Frontier, offering remote keyless entry, a tiny 7-inch touchscreen (this doesn’t upgrade), Bluetooth connectivity, and a USB port.
  • SV – This upgrades a few things, adding alloy wheels, a sliding rear window (manual), power-adjustable side mirrors, and premium cloth upholstery. Options can add things like fog lamps, adjustable cargo tie-down cleats, heated front seating, dual-zone climate and more.
  • Pro-4X – The only Frontier with a crew-only setup, the Pro-4X adds off-road credibility with Bilstein shocks, all-terrain tires, a locking rear differential, several of the options for the SV model, and a tubular roof rack.

Photo Gallery

Driving the 2020 Frontier

The 2020 Nissan Frontier is a lot more confident under a load and on the highway thanks to the better engine and transmission. Less gear hunting and high-revving also means the Frontier now smooths out the ride and feels a lot more capable. Towing is rated at up to 6,720 pounds, which is more than enough for most small trucks, and the Frontier won’t struggle with that load.

Off the road, the Pro-4X model is a great goer. It acts as if it can do whatever is being asked even if its clearance and reach seem inadequate. It’s like the small dog that doesn’t understand any sort of limits and just does it.

Fuel economy is still horrible, but not as bad as before and about par with most of the other midsized trucks on the market. Despite the Frontier being smaller. We do like the feel of the truck, for all its quirks, and the Frontier is a good reminder of what basic really used to mean and why pickups exist in the first place.

Strong Points

  • New engine and transmission are right-sized for the truck.
  • Rough and tumble truck that’s still a small option.
  • Good capability and off-road credibility when packaged right.

Weaknesses

  • Old design of exterior and cabin may not appeal to some.
  • Seating is not comfortable.
  • Hard plastics and cheap materials quality inside.

Conclusions

The 2020 Nissan Frontier is a big upgrade from previous years of this generation of the truck. With an all-new 2021 model coming, though, it may be worth waiting to see what that truck looks like or for this current-generation to hit the clearance rack at dealerships before buying.

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An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP), the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA), and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com.
Aaron Turpen
An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP), the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA), and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com.