Nissan unveiled the concept version of the Frontier – known as the Navara in Australia -- at the motor show with a new Cummins 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine and a ZF eight-speed automatic. The Cummins is being used to gauge reaction to a diesel mill in the US, where the big ute is sold only with a 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine.
However, of more interest to us is the appearance of the ZF automatic, with an eight-speed currently the province largely of premium vehicles – with the upmarket Volkswagen Amarok the only ute to sport it in Australia.
The addition of the transmission to the Navara would give it an extra selling point over rivals in the field, where the Nissan is second only to the Toyota Hilux in the 4x4 category, but trails not only Hilux but also Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton, Mazda BT-50 and Holden Colorado in the 4x2 category.
There would also be some advantage in the Frontier concept’s all-round disc brakes, which could give it an edge over even the Amarok, which like the Colorado, Ranger, BT-50 and other rivals have stuck with rear drum brakes – although without threatening their 5-star safety ratings.
However it’s unlikely the concept’s four-cylinder Cummins will ever appear in our Navara. While the new diesel’s 149kW and 475Nm has a slight output superiority over the Renault-sourced 2.5-litre 140kW and 450Nm in our current Navaras, it’s no match for our flagship ST 550, which will deliver 170Nm and 550Nm from the 3-litre V6 with a seven-speed automatic – although at a hefty cost of A$62,990.
But if Nissan's alliance with Cummins did bear Navara fruit, it could give our ute the grunt to outgun rivals like the Ranger / BT50 and Colorado, without recurring to the thirst - and price tag - of the V6 diesel. This could also be an opportunity for the Navara to match rivals' 3500kg towing capacity, where even the V6 diesel Navara is only rated at 3000kg despite having the most power and torque in its segment.