2020 Nissan Frontier Review: New Life for a Favorite Pickup
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2020 Nissan Frontier Review: New Life for a Favorite Pickup

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The 2020 Nissan Frontier looks a lot like the 2019 model, but under the hood is a new engine and powertrain that is the future of this small pickup platform. If you are in the market for a mid-size pickup and you don’t need the latest tech or an updated look, the 2020 Frontier is a tempting choice — especially starting at $26,790 before destination.

With a new V-6 engine, upgraded powertrain, respected durability and pricing that is hard to argue with this aging pickup still has a lot going for it in 2020. Yes, it is lacking the technology and the style isn’t as contemporary as the competition, but after spending a week driving one around Ohio there is still a lot to like about the Frontier.

The 2020 Frontier buyer should be looking for a budget-friendly mid-size pickup with a newer engine and better performance than the 2019 model. If you want a midsize pickup that is packed with tech and driver convenience features, this isn’t the pickup for you. It’s an affordable tool that is ready to get to work and that comes with a history of doing that reliably. We expect upgraded tech in the 2021 Frontier.

What’s New for 2020?

The 2020 Nissan Frontier uses a 310 horsepower 3.8L V-6 paired with a new nine-speed automatic transmission. This is the only engine and transmission option, with no plans for a manual.  This is the same engine and powertrain that will be in future Frontier models. Nissan now offers three trim levels; S, SV, and Pro-4X. All 2020 Frontier vehicles now come with power windows, power locks, push-button start, tilt steering wheel, and a leather-wrapped shifter knob.

The starting price is now well above $20,000, but I feel like you’re getting a lot from the new engine and transmission for that money.

Driving the 2020 Nissan Frontier

The new engine and transmission are an excellent upgrade from the 2019 model.

The new engine and transmission make a significant difference in the Frontier. This combination delivers smoother and quicker acceleration than in the 2019 model. It’s promising that it will be in the next generation, but it also performs very well in the 2020 Frontier. I was surprised at the swifter acceleration, as I had very recently driven the older model. This new transmission is essentially the same as in the Nissan Titan, but with changes to better match the needs of a V-6 engine and the smaller, lighter pickup.

If I was shopping between the older powertrain and the 2020 combination, picking the newer setup is an easy choice. I tested the Pro-4X trim with 4-wheel drive and really enjoyed the improved acceleration from a stop, as well as the power needed to pass a slow driver on a country road. The Frontier ride is comfortable and the truck handles well.

This new 3.8L V-6 offers more power for 2020.

The fuel economy is rated at 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, and 19 mpg combined. This was pretty close to what I saw during my week of testing with the 2020 Frontier Pro-4X where I spent most of the time on country roads.

2020 Nissan Frontier Interior & Design

It still looks very much like the Frontier that’s been on the market for years.

Even with the small quality of life upgrades like power locks and windows, plus a push-button start, the Frontier is an older pickup. This means that the style isn’t as contemporary as the Ford Ranger.

The 2020 Nissan Frontier with the Pro-4X trim exterior looks good in a retro fashion way with the roof rack and the Pro-4X badging. The interior is comfortable and there is plenty of space in the front as well as usable room in the back seat. Inside the cabin is mainly made up of hard touch plastic, which is a consequence of the price and the age. On the Pro-4X, the seats are leather and our model came with heated seats as well as a sunroof over the front seats.

The combination works in a ready for whatever you need spartan-ness, but there are still things that I miss. The back seat is spacious enough for adult passengers around town, but it’s not as comfortable for long road trips and there is no charging port available in the back seat. You can use under-seat storage under the back seat to keep things organized.

The short pickup bed is the perfect size for the tasks I use a pickup for, and why I’m continually drawn to mid-size pickups. The cargo management system allows you to move tie-downs around the bed so that you can secure cargo to the sides or the bottom. I wish the tailgate was damped so that it didn’t just drop open, but it’s not a dealbreaker. The payload is rated at 1,400 pounds and the towing capacity is 6,700 pounds.

2020 Nissan Frontier Tech & Safety

If you are looking for an affordable work truck, you may not care about the latest tech, but it is important to factor into your decision to go with the 2020 Nissan Frontier or potentially hold off for a 2021 model that will likely pack in new tech.

With the 2020 Frontier, you get an older display that does not support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There is Navigation support on the model we tested, but ultimately the smaller, lower-resolution display are things that tech lovers will notice. You do get Bluetooth and USB connectivity, so you can stream music, charge up and make calls, but if you are anything like me, you will want to invest in a phone mount for your navigation needs. You also get Sirius XM and there is a 10 speaker sound system on our loaner that sounds good.

The 2020 Nissan Frontier tech is lagging behind the competition.

Aside from a standard cruise control system, there are no real driver aids on the 2020 Nissan Frontier. That means you’re not getting adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping, or forward collision warning. It does offer up parking sensors and a rearview camera.

If you’re looking for a bigger screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or loads of driver-assist features we could see this on a 2021 model, but it will likely bump the price up.

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