Nissan rolled out its new 2020 Frontier midsize pickup truck. The truck gets a new powerplant for the model year.

Nissan is making some big news at the Chicago Auto Show – though how big is a matter of how you define it.

The automaker is focusing its attention on the 2020 Frontier pickup. But that doesn’t mean the Windy City preview is just more of the same.

The real news is that the 2020 Nissan Frontier gets an all-new 3.8-liter direct-injection V-6, an engine the automaker promises will be the “heart of the next Frontier.” Paired with an also-new nine-speed automatic gearbox, the engine will punch out a solid 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque.

(Nissan prepares to offer U.S. employees buyouts)

The new V-6 replaces the two powertrains currently offered with the midsize truck, an anemic 152-horsepower inline-4 and the upgraded option, a 261-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6. Those two were offered with a choice of a five-speed automatic or five-speed manual.

“The new engine is expected to have lower emissions and about 9% better fuel economy,” Tiago Castro, Nissan’s director of Commercial Vehicles, told He said the numbers on both would be released soon.

The new Frontier doesn’t exactly break any new boundaries with its design, but it remains a popular seller in the U.S.

And the outgoing powertrain pair underscored just how long-in-the-tooth the Nissan Frontier has become.

Known in many parts of the world as the Nissan Navara, the truck has been available in the U.S. market with only the most modest updates since late 2004 as an ’05 model-year truck. Conceivably, someone born the same time the current-generation Frontier came to market will be old enough to drive in most states this year.

By far the oldest pickup on the U.S. market, whether midsize or full-size, the Frontier has shown surprising vitality, especially considering the flood of new midsized models since the midsize segment started to rebound mid-decade, buoyed by new offerings like the Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator.

In fact, the Frontier sold more than 72,000 units in the U.S. last year, Castro noted.

A key to Frontier’s longevity is its basic ruggedness – as well as its low cost of entry. We’ll have to wait for details on the 2020 model’s pricing but the current version starts at just $19,290. That’s about $2,000 less than the Chevy Colorado and a full $7,000 under the Toyota Tacoma, the best-selling of the midsize pickups.

The 2020 Frontier does get a new powerplant: a 3.8-liter V6 putting out 310 horsepower.

(Nissan’s turnaround chief latest to leave, dealing automaker another blow)

“It’s going to be a value-based” truck that competes fiercely in the midsize truck segment, Castro noted.

The 2020 version of the Frontier may be dropping its manual gearbox option, but it will continue to be offered in both rear- and four-wheel-drive configurations.

Additional updates for 2020, notes Nissan, include “standard push button start. In addition, a number of features are now standard for all grades: leather shift knob, manual tilt steering, power door locks and power windows with driver side auto-down.”

As for other updates, Nissan is actually remaining mum on a couple of details, including indications the underlying frame is being updated along the lines of what we can expect when the complete 2021 makeover finally lands on our shores.

That model is expected to pick up new styling cues that will be more in line with Nissan’s current full-size model, the Titan.

Brian Murphy, a Chicagoland delivery driver, put 1 million miles on his 2007 Frontier — his stated goal.

Along with the new 3.8-liter V-6, there has been widespread speculation that the all-new Nissan Frontier will be offered with a hybrid powertrain option. It’s not clear if it would be available right from the get-go, however.

One of the other questions is when the next-generation Frontier will actually make its debut. The truck has been delayed several times, according to insiders. And Nissan has been struggling with a series of financial problems that have led it to cut back on its product line-up while also cutting global employment by more than 12,000.

(Nissan shutting down some U.S. operations for two days in January)

But, clearly, it can use an upgrade of the Frontier. The midsize market is more vital than it’s been in decades but there are plenty of new competitors that would like to continue nibbling away at the Nissan truck’s once solid market share.

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