After years of stagnation, the mid-size pickup truck market is one of the hottest vehicle segments in America, with more than half a million total sales last year representing a 16-percent gain. Toyota’s Tacoma has long been the sales leader with competition for years coming mainly from the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, and the reborn Ford Ranger and just-released Jeep Gladiator are sure to make major sales waves in the coming years. The Nissan Frontier, then, stands out in a bad way, having soldiered on since the 2005 model year with no major updates.
That’s set to change soon. Earlier this year, Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan senior vice president for global design, told Autoblog that a new Frontier was “almost finished.” At the time, we didn’t know much more than that. But a report from Automotive News offers a few more interesting nuggets. The next Frontier is expected to debut late in the 2020 calendar year as a 2021 model. And it will be based on an updated version of the current truck’s platform instead of Nissan’s newer global-market Navara.
Keeping the Frontier on Nissan’s aging F-Alpha truck platform is a puzzling decision. AN cites “sources briefed on the company’s plans” suggesting that size and cost are the main factors contributing to the decision to stick with the old in lieu of the new. The current Navara’s five-link coil-spring rear suspension setup is undoubtedly more expensive to produce than the leaf springs employed by the current Frontier, and while having a more modern design could be seen as a unique selling point, so could a lower cost of entry.
As far as size, the most recent global Navara isn’t offered in a configuration with four full doors and a six-foot long-bed, which means offering that combination to U.S. buyers would require significant development costs.
Despite the old platform, the 2021 Frontier will get “futuristic” styling that “still looks like something a truck guy would want.” A new 3.0-liter V6 engine will make around 300 horsepower and will replace the current truck’s 261-horsepower 4.0-liter unit, and the automatic transmission will go from five to seven speeds.
Will all of that be enough to keep the Frontier relevant? And if pricing is indeed of paramount importance for Nissan in the mid-size truck market, will the next Frontier remain the lowest-cost option in its segment? We look forward to finding out.