The Nissan Frontier got bagged on for years for being old and inefficient, and it was, but it was also a decent value. While we’re expecting big revisions on the truck soon, the 2020 model’s a unique carryover: Old body, new powertrain. New list price, too. And it makes the best versions of the truck a tougher value proposition against its rivals.
Nissan’s press release does its best to soften the blow, pitching the new MSRPs for 2020 Frontiers as an “average price increase of under $2,000.” At face value, a $2,000 bump for an all-new engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission doesn’t seem bad at all. But when you cross-shop the Frontier against other mid-sized pickups you can currently buy stateside, and factor in fuel economy, I’m starting to wish we had one more year of the old, “cheap” Frontier instead of this transitional model.
If you were looking for a bargain off-roady truck but, for some reason, you had to buy something new, the 2019 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X was really attractive. For about $33,500 you could get a 4.0-liter V6 four-wheel drive pickup with Bilstein shocks, skid plates, a locking rear differential, and a six-speed manual(!) transmission. Sure, it got bad fuel economy and the design had been around for a decade, but a PRO-4X Nissan was by far the best cheapness-to-coolness ratio on the pickup truck market until now.
The PRO-4X trim’s not going away and it still comes with a locker for 2020, which is great, but now you have to have it with a nine-speed automatic and new 3.8-liter V6. Pros: It claims 310 HP where the outgoing truck only had 261. Combined-driving fuel economy climbs from 17 mpg to 19. Cons: The base price also climbs, to $37,490. (And, no more stick shift. Boo.)
So let’s look at some comparable pickups at that price. The four-door Chevy Colorado Z71 4WD is now the “bargain” “off-roady” mid-sized truck at about $35,300. That gets you soft shocks, some underbody armor, an automatically locking rear diff, and Chevy’s 308-HP V6.
A four-door 4WD Ford Ranger, which you could spec as a mid-trim XLT and add the FX4 off-road kit (rear locker, armor) rings up around $36,000.
Toyota’s ubiquitous Tacoma comes in a TRD Off-Road trim that gets you some armoring and the Taco’s reputation for cockroach-like hard use survivability, but you have to cough up about $38,000 for one.
(All these prices are manufacturer-list, by the way, for the sake of comparison. I can’t speak to what kind of discounts you might be able to do with various dealerships.)
Now not everybody who’s into trucks cares about fuel economy, but I do, and it’s ostensibly one of the main reasons Nissan would bother updating its Frontier powertrain, so let’s take a look at that too.
The new V6 Frontier 2WD is supposed to be able to get 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg in combined driving. The 4x4 version claims 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined. Not great, but a decent evolution when you look at the old 4WD Frontier’s numbers of 15 city, 21 highway and 17 combined.
But against other mid-sized trucks, even the new number’s not particularly impressive.
Based on the info in front of us here, it seems like a Colorado Z71 would be the value play if you want a somewhat enthusiast-spec truck. Or maybe an FX4-kitted Ranger. But of course, the Tacoma can still be had with a manual transmission. And yes, I happen to think that’s really cool. (It also has rear drum brakes though, which, pffft.)
If you’re wondering why the high-end Tacoma TRD Pro and Colorado ZR2 are being ignored in this post, they’re not really in the same league here and start closer to $45,000. But we will talk about some other trims since not everyone’s into the basic off-road enthusiast version of any given truck.
The biggest price increase you’re going to notice at a Nissan store, should you be in the market for a Frontier, is that the base model short cab 2WD is going from just over $22,000 to almost $27,000. (There was a manual trans version listed at just under $20,000 in the 2019 Frontier lineup, but I’m not wholly convinced those models were readily available.)
A five-grand hike is pretty startling at this price point, but the reason’s pretty clear: The base ’19 truck had a four-cylinder engine, which is being phased out completely. That old ultra-cheap spec effectively no longer exists.
In the middle of the 2019 Frontier family, the least expensive V6 4WD four-door (“Crew Cab S”) listed for just about $30,000. ($29,690.) The 2020 Crew Cab S lists at $31,290. So, there, you’re getting a new engine with a lot more power and better economy for an extra $1,600, which doesn’t sound bad at all.
All this said, we’ll have to reserve judgment on whether or not the new V6 was worth Nissan’s trouble until driving it. While 310 horsepower sounds like a lot, the Colorado was a dog when it came out at 305 (I haven’t driven a recent one) so my expectations for acceleration aren’t sky high.
It’s going to take me a while to recover from the grumpies about the Frontier’s six-speed manual going away, though. Maybe I’m a hypocrite for not buying one, but I was always glad it existed. The PRO-4X should still be a pretty cool truck, though. It’s always cool to see a locking diff on the equipment list.
Here’s the whole 2020 Nissan Frontier MSRP breakdown, for those who want the whole picture:
- Frontier S King Cab 4x2 $26,790
- Frontier SV King Cab 4x2 $27,670
- Frontier S King Cab 4x4 $29,680
- Frontier SV King Cab 4x4 $30,560
- Frontier S Crew Cab 4x2 $27,900
- Frontier SV Crew Cab 4x2 SWB $28,800
- Frontier SV Crew Cab 4x2 LWB $31,410
- Frontier S Crew Cab 4x4 $31,290
- Frontier SV Crew Cab 4x4 SWB $31,990
- Frontier SV Crew Cab 4x4 LWB $32,410
- Frontier PRO-4X Crew Cab 4x4 $37,490
- Destination and Handling (applies to all): $1,095