Although it's not ready to make any official announcements yet about a new powertrain for the next-generation midsize Frontier pickup truck, Nissan will unveil an interesting project vehicle at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show. Sitting under the hood of the stylized two-wheel-drive Frontier Desert Runner pickup sits an all-new Cummins turbo-diesel 2.8-liter inline four-cylinder. The concept truck's mission is to gauge the reaction of showgoers to see if there might be enough sales interest in a small diesel in a midsize pickup.
Astute readers of PickupTrucks.com may recognize something familiar about this Cummins engine: It is the same engine used in two different Nissan Titans for the U.S. Department of Energy's ongoing study testing the viability of a small clean diesel in a light-duty pickup.
Called Atlas (Advanced Technology Light Automotive Systems), the project started in 2010. Since then we've done several updates, with the most recent in March 2013. Although Atlas put the small diesel in Titans, Nissan is showcasing it inside the smaller — and much lighter, by about 1,000 pounds — Frontier.
The DOE reported fuel economy of around 26 mpg when the engine was installed in the full-size Titans. We can assume those numbers would be at least 15 percent better in the Frontier. Torque ratings for the engine were reported to be 385 pounds-feet (the same as the 5.6-liter V-8 Endurance gas engine), with horsepower ratings around 200.
This smaller turbo-diesel engine could make a lot of sense in this segment. Clearly, GM hopes so when its turbo-diesels come online in 2016 in both the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. However, a lot depends on the price of diesel fuel and the additional cost an optional diesel engine will carry compared to Nissan's 4.0-liter V-6 gas engine.
The Cummins turbo-diesel 2.8-liter I-4 is likely to weigh more than Nissan's stout all-aluminum 4.0-liter V-6 gas engine, so that's probably why Nissan chose to put the little power plant in a two-wheel-drive Desert Runner platform. Nissan says installing the little Cummins and the ZF eight-speed transmission that sits behind it (the same one in the Ram 1500) is not easy, but it looks like it could provide some fantastic corporate average fuel economy help for the Nissan lineup. By our estimates, this engine in the midsize truck could offer more than 32 mpg on the highway, with a combined figure somewhere more than 26 mpg. That could work, especially when you look at some of the comparison numbers with other vehicles on the market already.
To read the full press release for the Frontier Diesel Runner, click here.