The currentis like ferns or the coelacanth fish: It's a living fossil that has survived tectonic upheavals in both society and the automotive industry. The version currently on sale in North America has gone almost completely unchanged since it was introduced around 2004.
Naturally, Nissan is aware of this situation and it's feverishly developing an all-new Frontier, which should debut before the year's end. It will be built in America, specifically for American drivers.
Ahead of that 2021 model's formal unveiling, the automaker gave us a look at what will motivate this revamped rig. Making it more competitive with other midsize pickups, a newly developed 3.8-liter V6 has been created specifically for this application. Lest you think it's a warmed-over powerplant pilfered from another application, some 93% of its components have been redesigned. And you'll be able to experience it sooner than you think, as Nissan's going to put it in the current Frontier.
This new V6 should provide around 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Helping it deliver dramatically better performance and fuel economy, it will be matched to an advanced nine-speed automatic transmission, just like in its big brother, the Titan. This should be the only powertrain offered in the next-generation Frontier, which means the base four-cylinder engine and the available manual transmission are gone like yesterday.
But here's where things get interesting. Nissan is putting this new engine and transmission combination in the existing Frontier for 2020. Yes, the last version of the outgoing model will be powered by this brand-new engine. If all this sounds a bit strange, it is, though it's not totally unheard of. Occasionally, automakers will introduce a new powertrain before a redesigned vehicle comes out. In this case, product development cycles could have gotten out of sync or perhaps plans changed along the way.
To date, more than a million copies of the current-generation Frontier have been sold in America. If Nissan has done its homework, the all-new version should be a solid product in an increasingly popular segment.
Originally published Feb. 5, 4:00 p.m. PT.
Update, Feb. 6: Fixed an error in the torque figure.