Behind The Wheel Of The Diesel Nissan Titan And Frontier

Oil-Burning Nissans

Dec 22, 2014
Photographers: Jason Gonderman
If you’ve been paying any attention lately to the new truck market, you’re probably well aware that the talk of diesel is big right now. With the Ram EcoDiesel taking the market by storm and the impending Cummins 5.0L V-8-powered Nissan Titan causing more commotion than just about any recent ½-ton truck launch, it’s probably fair to say that Americans are ready. We recently had the opportunity to jump in to two very unique and very different pickups: a Cummins-powered Nissan Titan and Frontier—and they’re not the ones you’re thinking of.
ATLAS Titan
Long before the Cummins ISV 5.0L Titan was announced to the public, Cummins was involved with the U.S. Department of Energy on the ATLAS project. Based on a ½-ton pickup application, Cummins partnered with Nissan to meet the goals of the DOE project. A Nissan Titan was fit with a modified ISF 2.8L four-cylinder engine with the directive to achieve 40 percent better fuel economy than a V-8 gasoline engine while reducing NOx emissions. The program began in 2010 and is set to conclude at the end of 2014.
Photo 2/7   |   This ’10 Nissan Titan was the first one ever to be powered by a Cummins diesel engine. Built in conjunction with Nissan and the Department of Energy, the ATLAS program set out to build a 1/2-ton truck with a small-displacement diesel engine that matched the factory V-8 in torque, improved on fuel economy, reduced NOx emission, and provided reasonable NVH levels for passengers.
Cummins currently has two ’10-model-year ATLAS development mules, and we were allowed to slip into one of them for a quick spin. Aside from efficiency, a lot of the program work, has been focused on maintaining power and reducing noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) from the diesel engine. From our experience, they’ve far exceeded these goals. The truck was plenty powerful and moved about nearly a quick as when equipped with the stock 5.6L V-8, and from inside the cab, the engine felt and sounded just as smooth as the gasoline model.
Our short time in the ATLAS Titan served to only reinforce that the next generation Cummins-powered Titan is going to be an animal. The work Cummins has done on this large-scale research project is simply amazing, and hopefully we’ll see the fruits of their labor in future products. To learn more about the ATLAS project, visit energy.gov.
Photo 3/7   |   The ISF-based 2.8L engine in the ATLAS Titan been massaged inside and out in an effort to meet the goals of the program. In fact, so much so that it shares almost nothing in common with a run-of-the-mill ISF anymore. Interested in the specific details? All of it is made public at energy.gov.
Diesel Frontier
Another vehicle of great interest right now is the Cummins-powered Nissan Frontier. Earlier this year, Nissan paraded out a shiny silver and red Frontier equipped with an ISF-based 2.8L inline-four diesel engine mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. The DieselRunner concept was met with much fanfare; however, Nissan has remained adamant that it is nothing more than a concept. Fortunately for us, this isn’t the only Frontier that Cummins has repowered.
Photo 4/7   |   If you look really hard behind the grille, you’ll notice the charge air cooler, which to the trained eye would be the only outwardly visible sign that something is different about this Frontier. Once running though, its classic diesel clatter is a dead giveaway.
Back at their shop in Columbus, Indiana, lives a four-wheel-drive extended cab ’10 Frontier that had its heart replaced with an ISF 2.8L many years ago. The engine is mated to the truck’s original six-speed manual transmission thanks to a custom bellhousing adapter. This Cummins-owned parts runner has spent the past several years racking up miles traveling between facilities and, in the process, has been proving the concept that a small-displacement diesel is perfect in this midsize platform.
We were given the keys and told to go have fun with their little Frankenstein truck, and fun we had. The engine is calibrated with the company’s hottest tune, making 200 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. It has no issue breaking the tires loose through first and second gear. Just having the ability to row your own gears makes the experience that much better, at least for us. Even in a more industrial trim than normal, this little engine is producing fuel economy that’s more than 50 percent better than the old gas V-6.
This was one truck that we really didn’t want to give back. Based on our time with this truck and the few minutes we got to spend in the automatic transmission-equipped DieselRunner concept a few months back, we can definitely say that a diesel-powered midsize pickup is the way to go. They make great power, have excellent economy, and are downright fun to drive. If a truck like this ever comes to fruition, you better believe we’ll be first in line at the dealership.

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