Only one part of the 2020 Nissan Frontier is new: the powertrain. In an unusual move, Nissan has swapped in a new V6 engine and nine-speed transmission a year before the model gets a full redesign.
The rest of the Frontier is very, very old. The model has remained essentially unchanged since 2005, making it one of the oldest platforms on the market. Expect a new generation of the Frontier in 2021.
Choosing Your Nissan Frontier
Unlike many American truck makers, Nissan keeps things simple. The Frontier comes in only four trim levels: S, SV, Midnight Edition, and PRO-4X. Prices start at $27,885 including destination for the base S and climb to $38,585 for the PRO-4X.
The Frontier is down to a single engine for 2020, and it’s brand new. The 3.8-liter V6 makes 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. That’s more power than either of last year’s options.
Also new is the nine-speed automatic transmission sending power to the wheels. A manual is no longer an option. Rear-wheel drive is the default on all but the PRO-4X, but four-wheel drive is available. Cost varies by trim and body, but the upgrade is usually around $3,000.
The new V6 is marginally more efficient than the last version, but don’t get too excited. The Frontier only returns an EPA-estimated 18 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway, and 20 combined, or 17/23/19 mpg (city/highway/combined) with 4WD.
Passenger and Cargo Capacity
The Frontier comes with two options each for cab and bed.
The cheapest models are extended cab, or “King Cab” in Nissan speak. Although King Cab trucks technically have a rear seat, it’s best reserved for children or storage. The King Cab is standard on the S and SV.
Crew Cab models have four full-size doors and are more spacious, although rear leg room remains unexceptional for the class. The Midnight Edition and PRO-4X are available exclusively with the Crew Cab, and it's optional on S and SV models
All King Cab models come with a long 73.3-inch bed. Crew Cabs start with a 59.5-inch box, but the longer version is available on the SV trim.
As you might expect of a platform this old, safety isn't a strength of the Frontier. The truck was once tested by the IIHS and NHTSA, but it happened so long ago that the results are now outdated. Even then, the Frontier’s crash scores were middling.
Don’t look for active safety tech, either. There’s no automatic emergency braking or blind-spot monitoring, let alone adaptive cruise control. The Frontier includes a federally-mandated rearview camera, the Midnight Edition and PRO-4X get rear parking sensors, and that's about it.
Although Nissan has tried to paper over the Frontier’s age with a 7-inch infotainment (non-touch)screen, they can’t hide it entirely. The system is compatible with neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto, and a wi-fi hot spot is nowhere in sight.
The PRO-4X gets a 5.8-inch touchscreen with navigation, satellite radio, voice recognition, and a 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system.
In most respects, the Frontier S keeps things simple. Upholstery is cloth, and seat adjustment is manual (no height adjustment, either). The tires sit on 16-inch steel rims. The only nods to luxury are keyless entry, push button start, and wheel-mounted audio controls.
For a relatively modest price increase, the Frontier SV adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a body-color front bumper, bed-rail caps, and a sliding rear window. More importantly, this trim opens up a wider range of options.
The main attraction is the Value Truck Package ($1,990), which brings the Frontier SV a few welcome creature comforts. Included are heated front seats, dual-zone automatic temperature control, fog lights, and a spray-on bedliner, among other things.
Though marketed as a limited edition, the Midnight Edition is essentially a Crew Cab SV with the Value Truck Package and black accents. The exterior earns its name with a black grille, black step rails, and exclusive badging. As an added bonus, the Midnight Edition rides on 18-inch black wheels.
Because the Value Truck Package is included, the Midnight Edition doesn’t have many options to choose from, but this means it comes standard with heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and fog lights, among other features.
The PRO-4X is Nissan’s take on an off-road truck, although it also adds some luxury features. The wheels shrink back down to 16 inches, but they’re connected to Bilstein off-road shock absorbers. The PRO-4X gets leather upholstery with white contrast stitching, the touchscreen, navigation, Rockford Fosgate sound, an eight-way power driver seat, a four-way power passenger seat, and a sliding moonroof.
In terms of off-roading goodies, the PRO-4X also gets a two-speed transfer case, an electronic locking rear differential, hill start assist, hill descent control, a skid plate, a front tow hook, and splash guards.
Because of its age, the 2020 Nissan Frontier makes the most sense as a budget buy. We’d stick to the SV trim, where the approachable price makes for decent value.