Curbside Newsstand: Sneak Preview – Nissan Equips Outgoing Frontier With Next Generation Powertrain

Late in its life, the Frontier has received a heart transplant that should make it feel pretty spry. Nissan decided to equip the lame duck mid-size with a completely new engine and transmission. That powertrain will also make its way to the next generation Frontier when it arrives in 2021. Equipping an older vehicle with a powertrain meant for its successor isn’t exactly common. But automakers have done it from time to time.

Nissan Frontier enthusiasts should be thrilled with the new engine. Developed specifically for North America, the 3.8 liter V6 boasts 310 horsepower and 281 Ib-ft of torque. That’s a 49 horsepower upgrade from the retired 4.0 liter V6. Nissan says the engine contains 93 percent new parts. Paired with the new engine is the nine-speed automatic from the Titan. With a modern powertrain, the Frontier has reached parity with its toughest rivals, at least in one area. The new engine is now the most powerful gasoline powerplant in its class, although that isn’t as impressive as it sounds, because GM’s mid-size trucks offer a 308 horsepower 3.6 liter V6.

The update did come with some casualties though. In addition to cancelling the older V6, Nissan also excised the 2.5 liter four cylinder from the lineup. Nissan will no longer offer a manual transmission equipped Frontier either. Trim levels were also streamlined. Keep in mind that all these changes are only for one model year. The all-new Frontier is set to arrive in 2021. Nissan obviously wants to increase its marketshare in the mid-size segment, and adding a modern powertrain to the current model is a smart way to at least hold the line until the next generation Frontier arrives. That being said, the current generation still sells in respectable numbers. Since 2016, Nissan has sold at least 74,000 Frontiers per year, a pretty impressive figure given its advanced age.

Boosting an older product with a more modern powertrain isn’t unheard of, but doing it for one model year is a rare occurrence. Generally, older engines get retired when automakers cannot produce the economies of scale they enjoyed when they were new. For example, the 2012 Chevy Impala gained GM’s 3.6 liter V6 because the company cancelled the lower tech 3.5 liter and 3.9 liter V6 engines, which were equipped on a number cancelled models. Engines and transmission cannot be limited to a single vehicle unless it’s a very high volume product.

There are also polar opposite situations when automakers take away a modern powertrain from an older vehicle and saddle it with positively ancient tech. Since its debut in 2008, the Journey has come standard with a 173 horsepower 2.4 liter four cylinder mated to a four-speed automatic. The 2020 model will only offer that powertrain, because FCA dropped the 3.6 liter Pentastar from the lineup. Aside from its ample power, the 283 horsepower V6 also enabled the Journey to be equipped with all-wheel drive. From this point forward the roughly 3800 pound will be front-wheel drive only.

Comparing the Journey to the Frontier isn’t exactly a fair comparison though, because FCA has plenty of other crossovers it can offer customers. Nissan only has one mid-size pickup. And it needs the Frontier to be successful, as the Titan has largely failed to resonate with truck buyers. It’s a solid way to keep the truck in the game until next year. And it makes the 2020 model something of a collector’s item. Just make sure to keep this information in your head for at least twenty five years, when you can impress an a Frontier owner at a car show.