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2020 Nissan Frontier Review


The 2020 Nissan Frontier is the oldest new vehicle you can buy in the United States. While it’s received some light updates over the years, Nissan’s midsize pickup was last fully redesigned way back for the 2005 model year, and as a result, occupies a unique space in the segment. While competitors like Toyota, Ford and Jeep have all introduced updated takes on their own midsize trucks in the last few years, Nissan’s old-school offering remains attractive to budget-oriented buyers who want a familiar, reliable new pickup with a full factory warranty and not much else. Additionally, as you might expect, the Frontier undercuts the competition by a few thousand dollars across the board. For this reason, it stands out among midsize pickups today, but with an all-new Frontier set to debut for next year, this is set to change.

What’s New for 2020?

While an all-new Frontier will debut for the 2021 model year, Nissan has opted to introduce that vehicle’s all-new powertrain in the current-generation Frontier for its last model year. This means that the 2020 Frontier gets a brand-new 3.8-liter V6 putting out 310 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque. This comes mated to an also-new 9-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy and overall performance are both improved.

Other upgrades for 2020 consist of newly standard push-button start. A leather shift knob, manual tilt steering wheel, power door locks and power windows with driver’s side 1-touch down are now standard as well. See the 2020 Nissan Frontier models for sale near you

What We Like

  • At least the engine is now up to modern standards
  • Simple design
  • Proven reliability
  • Low price
  • Choice of extended cab long bed and long and short bed crew cab models.

What We Don’t

  • New engine doesn’t change the fact that this is still a 16-year-old design.
  • No more manual or 4-cylinder
  • Interior materials and styling are dated
  • Missing modern technology
  • Poor crash-test performance and lack of active safety tech

How Much?

$28,000-$38,500

Fuel Economy

The 2020 Frontier receives an all-new powertrain for 2020. The previously available 4-cylinder base engine has been discontinued, and the 4.0-liter V6 offered in previous model years has been replaced by a new 3.8-liter V6 designed for use in the all-new Frontier that’s slated to debut as a 2021 model. In the 2020 Frontier, this mill makes a respectable 310 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque. It comes paired exclusively with a new 9-speed automatic transmission. No manual is offered. This engine and transmission can be paired with either rear- or 4-wheel drive.

This new powertrain returns better fuel economy than the outgoing one. For the sake of comparison, the outgoing V6 Frontier was rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city, 23 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg in combined driving for 2-wheel-drive models or 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway/17 mpg combined for 4WD. With the new V6, the EPA rates the 2020 Nissan Frontier at 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway/20 mpg combined for 2WD, while 4WD models return 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway/19 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 2020 Nissan Frontier is offered with a couple of different cab sizes and bed configurations. Cab options consist of an extended cab (“King Cab”) or a crew cab, while available bed lengths measure 5 and 6 feet. The trim level lineup for 2020 consists of S, SV, and PRO-4X models. Specific trim level breakdowns and pricing for the 2020 Frontier has yet to be published at the time of this writing.

The Frontier S models include cloth seats, rear jump seats, 15-in steel wheels, a chrome rear bumper, full gauges (including a tachometer and temperature gauge) and front-side and side-curtain airbags. Also standard are air-conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, a rearview monitor, an auxiliary input port, a 7-in color display, a USB/iPod port and Siri Eyes Free. New standard items on the Frontier for 2020 include push-button start, a leather shift knob, a manual tilt steering wheel, power door locks and power windows with driver’s side 1-touch down. Crew Cab models add 16-in steel wheels, a fold-flat front passenger seat and a cloth rear bench seat. ($27,885 S King Cab 4×2 – $32,385 S Crew Cab 4×4)

The Frontier SV brings 16-in alloy wheels, premium cloth seats, NissanConnect with mobile apps, power windows, power locks, power mirrors and remote. ($28,765 SV King Cab 4×2 – $33,505 SV Crew Cab Long Bed 4×4)

The Frontier PRO-4X ($38,585) comes standard with 4WD, and the crew cab and adds heated cloth front seats, a spray-in bedliner, the Utili-track bed tie-down system, Bilstein off-road shocks, skid-plate protection, an electronic-locking rear limited-slip differential, fog lamps, navigation with 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio, a vehicle information system, a rearview monitor, white-faced gauges and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Options vary by trim and include 4WD with hill-start assist and hill-descent control, a rear bed extender, a spray-in bedliner, the Utili-track adjustable tie-down cleats, a trailer hitch, navigation radio with NissanConnect, dual-zone automatic temperature control and a power moonroof (for the SL short-wheelbase trim and SV Crew Cab).

Safety

The Frontier is pretty far behind the competition when it comes to safety features. In crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Frontier earns a score of Marginal in the driver-side small-overlap front crash test, and a Poor for headlight performance. While it does earn good marks in the moderate-overlap front crash test, side and roof strength tests, the Frontier lags behind the competition by a considerable margin in terms of overall crashworthiness, which can be attributed to its now 16-year-old design.

The Frontier lacks the active safety features offered on most competitors as well. While the Tacoma and Ranger come standard with items like automatic emergency braking, radar cruise control, lane-departure warning and automatic high beams, the Frontier offers none of these.

Front, side and side-curtain airbags are present, as are the typical anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and a backup camera, which is now federally mandated.

Behind the Wheel

The Frontier’s cabin carries over largely unchanged from the previous model. Push-button start, a leather shift knob, a manual tilt steering wheel, power door locks and power windows with driver’s side 1-touch down are now standard. These items won’t make that big of a difference; like the rest of the truck, the Frontier’s interior is still the most dated in the segment and offers an old design with few creature comforts.

The most exciting Frontier is the off-road-oriented PRO-4X model, which comes with a locking rear differential, Bilstein off-road shock absorbers, all-terrain tires and some underbody skid plates.

Other Cars to Consider

2020 Toyota Tacoma — The Tacoma remains the perennial sales leader among midsize pickups, in part because of Toyota’s strong reputation and in part because of robust fleet sales. Like the Frontier, the Tacoma is available in a range of cab, trim and powertrain variations but offers standard active safety features unavailable on the Frontier.

2020 Chevrolet Colorado — The Colorado (and its twin, the GMC Canyon) stands out mainly for giving buyers the option of a 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine. Beyond that, the Colorado’s ZR2 and ZR2 Bison trim levels offer great off-road capability.

2020 Ford Ranger — The Ranger was new in the U.S. for 2019 and offers a reasonably efficient turbocharged engine along with a number of active safety features not available on the more primitive Frontier.

Used Nissan Frontier — Even with its new engine for 2020, the Frontier has still changed so little over the years that even a 5-7-year-old used example will still feel pretty similar to a brand-new one.

Autotrader’s Advice

Even with its new engine, the Frontier is extremely old. While competitors have all been redesigned or updated at least once over the past 15 years, the Frontier has largely remained the same. While an all-new model will go on sale for 2021, the current-generation Frontier appeals to price-conscious buyers who want a familiar, dependable midsize pickup with a full manufacturer’s warranty and none of the frills or modern tech offered by the competition. Find a Nissan Frontier for sale

Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a... Read More about Chris O'Neill

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