By on April 14, 2021

2020 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X Crew Cab Fast Facts

3.8-liter V6 (310 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm; 281 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm)

Nine-speed automatic transmission, part-time four-wheel drive

17 city / 23 highway / 19 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

13.8 city, 10.2 highway, 12.2 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $37,490 (U.S) / N/A (Canada)

As Tested: $38,745 (U.S.) / N/A (Canada)

Prices include $1,095 destination charge in the United States. The 2020 Nissan Frontier was not sold in Canada – the brand stopped sale of the Frontier in 2019, with sales to resume with the 2022 model. The 2020 model did undergo fuel-economy certification, so we’ve included those numbers in this spec sheet for the curious. However, since the vehicle was not actually sold in Canada, pricing is not available.

2020 Nissan Frontier

As you know by now, the 2022 Nissan Frontier is all new.

I haven’t yet gotten my hands on one, and nor has, it appears, most of the rest of the automotive press. But I did get to sample one of the last-gen trucks before it moved into the dustbin of history.

The model-year of the vehicle I was loaned was 2020, but 2021 Frontiers carryover (although with apparently with a small price increase). Consider this review instructive if you’re in the market for one of the outgoing trucks and not interested in waiting for the 2022s to drop.

It’s no secret that the old Frontier was derided as being out of date and out of step with the times. With a new model on the way, Nissan didn’t do much to the outgoing truck to change that impression, though it did dump a new powertrain in.

2020 Nissan Frontier

That powertrain is a 3.8-liter V6 (310 horsepower, 281 lb-ft of torque) and nine-speed automatic transmission. All-new for 2020, Nissan claims it’s a preview of what’s on tap for 2022. So, in a sense, the old truck previews the new.

If that’s the case, you get a smooth V6 that’s a bit loud – though pleasingly so – in this application. Quick, it is not, despite having the low-end grunt truckers like. The good news for those looking towards the future is that the 2022 truck is likely to have better sound-deadening, and it’s likely that it will feel swifter than an ancient chassis, thanks to some combination of weight loss and gearing.

The nine-speed itself seemed mostly behaved, though the manumatic mode seemed useless – the truck would just shift to whatever gear it wanted to be in, no matter what I told it to do.

2020 Nissan Frontier

The fully-boxed ladder frame does make the Frontier feel “truckish” for better or for worse, and it did feel its age. That said, the Frontier remains stout enough even in its dotage that I helped someone move a bunch of stuff and the truck never blinked, even with a laden bed.

The next Frontier (hah!) promises to be at least up to date when it comes to modern cabin amenities, and thank goodness for that, since Nissan hardly bothered to keep up over the years. The plain-Jane interior harkens back to when I was sitting at a desk in a Nissan dealer’s service department in the mid-to-late Aughts. It’s rolling history, really. At least it’s functional, if you can live without some of the conveniences and features that other mid-size trucks offer now.

It should shock no one that a truck rides like a truck, especially when it’s soldiering on using a platform introduced during the Dubya Bush years. That said, the Frontier is just barely on the right side of “acceptable” when riding around town. It also offers up unusually heavy steering that is somewhat devoid of road feel.

2020 Nissan Frontier

I kept wondering who would buy the aging and semi-neglected Frontier when the other mid-size trucks on the market, even those that also seem long in the tooth – hello, Ranger; I see you, Tacoma; and ahem, Canyon and Colorado – don’t feel quite so out of date. The obvious answer seemed to be value – the Frontier could still offer up basic truck toughness and utility for fewer dollars.

Which, it does. Depending on options and trim, of course. The PRO-4X here cost around 37 large before fees, which gives the truck a price advantage over most of its rivals – though not much over a judiciously optioned Tacoma Sport, so there are exceptions.

2020 Nissan Frontier

That may be the outgoing Frontier’s biggest strength. It’s no mere placeholder – it’s a cheap truck for the bargain hunter who doesn’t need frills. Aging cabin aside, it does the truck stuff – hauling cargo and being tough – well enough.

If you need, or think you need, or just flat-out want the PRO-4X package, it includes 16-inch wheels, a rear differential locker, Bilstein high-pressure off-road shocks, white gauges with chrome accent, PRO-4X badging, and skid plates for the oil pan, fuel tank, and transfer case.

The only option? Floor mats for $160.

2020 Nissan Frontier

A lot of tradespeople will be sad to see this generation of the Frontier go – they got a no-frills tough truck for a decent price. The 2022 Frontier will likely be better in every way. But it won’t be relegated to the bargain bin.

That’s good for Nissan, and good for most buyers. But for a select few, the current Frontier’s swan song will be bittersweet.

The bargain-hunting mid-size truck intender might be sad, but the rest of us won’t. Nissan pushed the limits of an aging truck as far as it could, and did better than anyone would’ve expected.

Now it’s time for a change.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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31 Comments on “2020 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X Crew Cab – Bowing Out at the Right Time...”


  • avatar
    bkojote

    Sure it’s ‘dated’ , but they got the design pretty much right from the start. The driving position is great (looking at you, Tacoma) , the ride is better than the Ranger, and it’s going to well outlast a Colorado/Canyon. Even styling wise it’s aged incredibly well.

    • 0 avatar

      It did need an updated interior. And some fine tuning to the power train for better MPG. But other then that your right it was a well designed truck. I had a rental one a year ago (crewcab 2wd) and it rode fine accelerated well, and in general didn’t do much of anything wrong.

      My kids are now a bit to big for the back seat which I don;t think they fixed in the new gen either but that’s my only real complaint.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      Why do you say it will well outlast Colorado and Canyon? They are two high quality reliable vehicles. Ohhh, that’s right, you’re one of those people who still think GM builds junk. Time to get over that old tired misconception dude.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Yep. I owned one. It was a 2013 I got new and it was outdated then. The problem was that by 2013 it was like the last of the Crown Victorias in that anything they could make cheaper they did. I don’t mind a plastic fantastic interior on a work truck for example so long as it wears well. The Frontier did not. The console plastic was gouged by a vacuum cleaner hose and the B pillar trim was terribly pitted by the seatbelt retracting very early on. I traded it around 25k in 2015 and the seat material was already wearing thin on the driver’s seat.

        I did monstaliner in the bed and I can remember when I sanded it down to prep it and was crawling on my hands and knees in the back the bed denting under the crushing weight of my 180 pounds it was so thin. The paint on the front facia did not match the rest of the truck…it was a slightly different shade of red. It hadn’t been wrecked…it had 3 miles on it when I got it and the other red ones looked the same.

        It was reliable, but the ones prior to 2012 had issues with the transmission cooler cracking in the ratiator and mixing the fluids causing transmission failure and the timing chain guides wearing prematurely. This was fixed by 2013 however which still seems like a long time to figure out.

        The icing on the cake was that the F150 Supercrew that replaced it got like 4 mpg better on the same drives.

        It was good for what I needed at the time…a cheap no frills truck for a couple of years that gave me no drama when I turned the key.

        But it was cheap because it was priced accordingly. Worth what I paid, but not one penny more. It was cheap and reminded you of this fact every time you got in it. In that respect maybe one of the last honest to God penalty boxes out there.

        If you can get a bottom of the rung one and are cool with all that it is probably worthwhile. At 37k for the higher trimmed ones? No way…any of the other vehicles in the class are better at that price level.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Look into the GM twins transmission issues. I wouldn’t buy one based on knowing about that stuff. I know someone who already sold his due to the problem. Same thing effects the automatic transmission in the C7. I have a C7 but mine has a manual so no worries for me. It is a well know and well documented problem.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I always liked this truck, but I agree it’s woefully outdated. If you need a decent truck that still looks pretty cool this looks like it could be a real bargain, because I imagine there’s plenty of wiggle room off that sticker for a final year exit strategy.

    “Quick, it is not”, really, with “a 3.8-liter V6 (310 horsepower, 281 lb-ft of torque)”? Tim, I’m beginning to think that there isn’t much in the sub-$40K category that you think is quick enough, but 7.3-seconds to 60mph is probably quick enough for most bargain truck buyers

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      We don’t measure 0-60. I just felt, going by seat of pants, that it was slow in traffic, though no one expects it to be fast. The last Ranger and Ridgelines I drove felt quicker, again measured by seat of pants.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        What? It should be a race truck, that’s the expectation. Or what do you think happens when it’s loaded hard, pulling a parachute uphill into a strong headwind? Yikes.

        Quarter mile and 0-60 ETs are crazy important when selecting a truck.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          All depends on what you are doing with said truck. If you are the auto parts store that is going to throw some kid into it to deliver a set of brake pads having slower than average 0-60 and 1/4 mile times can be seen as a good thing.

          • 0 avatar
            Tim Healey

            I delivered auto parts here and there in my 20s. Not the world’s worst job — drive around listening to radio all day, occasionally have to lift something heavy. Could be worse.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Yeah if buyers don’t mind all the areas where they suck, they won’t be disappointed.

            This is at the midsize class entirely. Just because consumers don’t mind a smaller (than fullsize) truck, or seek it, there’s no real reason they should be penalized in so many ways.

            Midsize pickup sales should rival half tons, at least in theory.

  • avatar
    parkave231

    I’m not sure about the New Frontier, but you could also get certain trims of these in a long bed crew cab configuration, which would be the one I’d buy.

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    I have a 2012 that I bought as a third vehicle with 108k on the clock a little over a year ago. All I did was do some routine fluid/shock strut changes and I have a great little bump around. Its reliable, fun to drive (very different from my other vehicles), easy to work on and makes me appreciate my nicer SUVs. I’ll keep it and love it until it dies. They’re good solid little trucks.

  • avatar
    IH_Fever

    Even though it “needs” updating, these are great little trucks. Alas, it’ll go the way of the ranger. Bigger, more complicated, more expensive, and be placed firmly in the “why not just get a full sized” class.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      Agreed, although the Frontier has an advantage over the other mid size trucks in that regard: the full size option in Nissan dealerships (Titan) is mediocre at best and actually sells less than the Frontier despite its age. If it has to be Nissan, the Frontier won’t have much cannibalizations from its full size stablemate (if any)

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        “Outdated” would be fine, if not preferred, if it excelled in enough ways.

        I’m not looking forward to replacing ’05 F-150 King Ranch soon. The new ones seem way too disposable, poor for a long term, high miles investment. At least used (2021+) and aftermarket replacement parts will be everywhere, besides donor carcasses.

        If they repopped the ’04+ generation “New” , I’d be all over it. Dated shmated.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          What about a current F-150 is more “disposable” than an ’05? The powertrains, at least, seem to have far fewer problems.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            I’d just rather lease. OK it’s just a feeling I get, and even if you’d call it irrational, who wants to be stuck with the rebuild of a 10-speed trans? Although if leasing isn’t an option, I’d rather stick it out with a 2021+ F-150/F-series, long term, before anything else.

            Even when the ’05 was new, (if they had to) most any backyard mechanic could work on it. The very common 4.6 V8 and AOD-E combo platter were ancient then with tens of millions on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      Why did you put “needs” in quotes?

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      But isn’t this generation Frontier the one that started the whole make them bigger trend among the compact trucks?

  • avatar
    JMII

    What this truck has going for it – right size. Strikes against it? Everything else.

    I used to own a Nissan and currently have an Infiniti so I’m happy with the brand, but this vehicle is NOT on my radar since its subpar in just about every way. Still hard to beat my ancient Dodge Dakota Quad Cab. Due to the transmission problems the GM twins are off the list too. Thus the only mid-size truck that checks all the boxes for me is the Ford Ranger.

    I do not want a full size truck regardless of price or features or engine. Whatever I buy has 3 basic requirements: 1) haul 4 people for a weekend escape 2) tow my 16 foot boat and 3) fit in a standard sized garage. There is a reason I still have my Dakota – it does all the above with no issues. The only minus on the Dakota is the 11-12 MPG I get while towing. I expect the Ranger to get 15 (fingers crossed). However sadly Ford put in a smaller fuel tank so total range will be about the same.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The V-6 and the price make this a less desirable choice. I would pick a Tacoma over this especially since the price range is up there with Toyota but not as good a quality.

  • avatar
    Dan

    It’s hard not to like an honest truck. Big windows and low bed rails right out of 20 years ago really rub in how much we’ve lost in the new ones.

    The old 4.0 powertrain pulled like a half ton V8 – a 00s half ton V8, at least – and also got 16 mpg like a half ton V8. Not great in a truck that sold entirely on value and felt like it everywhere except the gas pedal. The 3.8 is probably marginally better on gas but less torque and three overdrives to hunt between surely didn’t do the drive any good.

    It’s also hard to sign up for six years of payments on an honest truck when the new ones are such good cars too. I’d buy my honest truck used for 15K and so would you. By the time you get to 30,000 the marginal couple grand to get a Colorado instead are noise and that’s a Cadillac by comparison.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Nissan needs to just make this generation as the value leader and offer the newer Frontier as more refined and upscale. Old generation should be the good, simple, and honest truck starting at just below 20k. Nissan at this point needs a truck that will sell in enough volume to matter.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    I like it, but I’d rather have a Ridgeline or Tacoma

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