The 2020 Nissan Frontier is getting a new 3.8-liter engine, and it’s probably a V-6

News recently emerged that the seemingly ancient Nissan Frontier pickup truck would finally be getting an update, complete with fresh looks and a new powertrain. Autoblog stated that the 2021 Frontier would be receiving a 3.8-liter V-6 engine to replace the current 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 4.0-liter V-6 options. Dealer sources were spot on with this prediction, it turns out. 

New documents that Nissan submitted to NHTSA, available on the government organization’s public website, confirms that a 3.8-liter gasoline engine will be the sole offering and that it will arrive even sooner than expected, for the 2020 model year.

Nissan submitted the latest version of its 2020 VIN decoder on January 17, in order to add an update for the Frontier. Transmission options are not usually listed on these documents, but it is very likely that the Frontier will utilize a nine-speed automatic (likely a big improvement on the current five-speed) consistent with the information Autoblog’s source shared. 

2020 Nissan Frontier VIN decoder

Cab and bed configurations shown in the document appear to be the same as the current model—King Cab, Crew Cab, and Crew Cab with long bed. There are no power figures listed for the new engine, but we can expect a decent bump from current figures. The outgoing engines have changed a fairly minimal amount since the early 2000s, with the four-cylinder producing 152 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque and the 4.0-liter V-6 making 261 hp and 281 lb-ft in the current Frontier.

The 2.5-liter QR25DE four-cylinder that serves as the base engine in the current version of the Frontier initially debuted in the 1999 Nissan Bassara. It received some minor updates around 2007, but it has been essentially unchanged in the Fronter since it was installed there in 2005. The bigger 4.0-liter VQ40DE V-6 also showed up in the Frontier in 2005, and it has been mostly left alone since then. It originally appeared as the shorter-stroke VQ35DE variant in the 2001 Nissan Pathfinder, so both engine options in the current Frontier are roughly 20 years old..

Although the NHTSA document does not explicitly indicate that the new engine is a V-6, it’s a safe assumption given the accuracy of the original Autoblog report. Detailed specs of this new 3.8-liter engine are not available yet, but it is likely that Nissan will be resorting to a newer architecture to add more torque and fuel efficiency to the midsize truck—critical data points to make the Frontier competitive with trucks such as the recently released Ford Ranger, which should itself be getting a significant update in the next couple of years. 

As expected, the document lists that all cab types will be available with either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. It’s worth noting that the existing Frontier has sold surprisingly well given its considerable age, appealing particularly to certain regional markets and customers fond of reliable old-school rather than fancy new-school

We confirmed with Nissan the accuracy and legitimacy of the document provided to NHTSA, but a company spokesperson declined to provide any additional information on the engine at this time.

Nissan Frontier
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