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Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner debuts at Chicago

Sections: Powertrain

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2015 Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner press photo

(Photo courtesy Nissan)

As an owner of a small pickup truck, consider my interest piqued: The Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner concept was unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show. Not one minute too soon, might I add.

I last truck-shoppped in 2007. At the time, I really wanted a Nissan Frontier. The Fronty was the successor to the 1994 Nissan Hardbody I had been driving throughout my high school and college days to that point in my life, therefore I felt some loyalty to the truck. As a bonus the Frontier’s design was a lot more recent than the Ford Ranger I eventually wound up buying. Two things stopped me from buying the Frontier, though: Fuel economy was actually worse than the totaled 145,000-mile Hardbody I was coming out of, and prices were higher than the Ranger.

If it ever makes it to production, the diesel in the Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner concept should fix one half of those issues, perhaps at the expense — literally — of the other half.

According to the press release from Nissan, the Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner concept offers estimated fuel economy increases over the V6 gasoline-engined Frontier of 35%. That would put it at roughly 30 MPG highway, if Nissan’s being honest — and I hope they are, because that was the target highway MPG I had in mind when truck shopping way back then. The four-cylinder stick-shift Ford Ranger was as close as I could get, at a pre-2008 EPA rating of 29 MPG highway. With a judicious right foot, I actually beat 30 MPG with the Ranger quite a bit. Doing so in a Frontier, even a four-cylinder, would be nigh on impossible, or so I’m told.

Most impressive of all is the fact that Nissan says the Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner concept’s 2.8-liter four-cylinder diesel engine makes just shy of 200 horsepower and more than 350 ft-lbs of torque. Thanks go to the folks at Cummins, who recently teamed with Nissan to introduce the diesel-powered Nissan Titan full-size truck. The Titan gets a much larger, 5.0-liter V8 diesel engine that might raise the ire of Ram truck fans everywhere. Between the diesel Titan and Frontier, it would appear that when Ram gives Cummins the cold shoulder re: Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, Cummins strikes back. It’s also a sweet bit of irony — I won’t go so far as to call it revenge — that Ram and Nissan were collaborating on what would have been the next generation of Nissan pickups before Ram and all of Chrysler went Tango-Uniform and were bailed out by the government, resulting in Nissan having just about the oldest pickup truck designs and powertrains on the market today. For Nissan, it’s the icing on the “we stole your truck boss” cake.

It’s worth mentioning that the Nissan Frontier A.K.A. Nissan Navara has been available for quite some time with a Nissan homebrew diesel engine, just never in the United States. In Australia, for example, the Navara gets two diesel engine options, at 2.5 and 3.0 litres. However, the Cummins name carries a lot more weight in America than Nissan when stamped on a diesel engine’s valve cover, so I think extending the partnership to production would ultimately be good for Nissan.

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4 Comments

  1. IF, you did that well for mileage with the Ranger, its a miracle. My new v6 2001,ranger was terrible. Three full size ford F150′s, 4.6, and finally the 5.1 is by far superior for an all around truck , and better mileage. My next trade will be for the new V6 ford, F150, giving an actual 30 plus on the hwy.

    Hugh Parks
    • I did, indeed, do that well with the Ranger, but only because my Ranger is not equipped with a V6. Both the 3.0 and 4.0 V6 engines were pretty dismal for fuel economy, but the 2001 and later models got the 2.3-liter Duratec four-cylinder mill as the standard engine. Unlike the pre-2001 “Lima” four-cylinder whose lineage went all the way back to the Ford Pinto, the Duratec was very fuel-efficient. Where many Lima owners at RangerPowerSports.com report fuel economy in the low- to mid-20s, many Duratec owners, myself included, regularly get high 20s and sometimes low 30s.

      I’ve not been close to that efficiency lately, however. I’m just a few miles away from the 100,000-mile service being due, and I suspect the spark plugs are not operating at peak efficiency anymore. Also, I have noticed the engine is very slow to warm up this winter, possibly because the cooling system needs to be flushed.

      I’ll watch the new EcoBoost Ford F-150 with interest, but I won’t hold my breath for a real-world 30 MPG. My father has the current generation non-EcoBoost V6 in his F-150, and it’s not getting anywhere close to the EPA 23 MPG rating despite the fact that he mostly drives in the country on the highway at sub-55 MPH speeds. Last update he gave me, he was getting 18 MPG.

      Lyndon Johnson
  2. lyndon, Going to take you serious, and wait before jumping at the new Eco Boost. Gas mileage for me is a serious issue. Was interested in this news article for that very reason. Thanks

    Hugh Parks
    • Hugh,

      Nobody can say whether Ford’s new aluminum F-150 and new EcoBoost engines will live up to their mileage claims. As we’ve covered here in the recent past, Ford has had issues with overstating the MPG ratings of its hybrids. But then again, my family has anecdotal experience with plenty of Fords that have met or exceeded their EPA ratings — both before and after the EPA’s tougher 2008 testing standards lowered mileage ratings for almost all cars and trucks.

      Bear in mind Ram is claiming the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is rated at 28 MPG highway by the EPA, and that Ram trucks holds the top two spots in truck fuel economy (the story is elsewhere on this site), and you can bet Ford will be gunning for the top fuel efficiency spot. Ford will move heaven and earth (and deny U.S. Ranger owners like myself the chance to buy a new-generation Ford Ranger) in an effort to keep the F-150′s title as the best-selling vehicle — not just truck — in America today. So they may shock all of us by breaking that 30 MPG highway barrier that is increasingly something truck buyers are longing for.

      Or they may not. That is why I say I’ll be watching it with interest. The 2015 F-150 has potential to be a game-changer, but being the risk-averse and fuel economy-conscious person I am, I would probably wait for the second year of production to see if the first year’s trucks lived up to the hype.

      Lyndon Johnson