Trucks Trucks & SUVs

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner: Japanese SEMA Raptor

The current Nissan Frontier may be old enough to have played the original Final Fantasy VII, but it’s a surprisingly popular, dependable mid-size pickup. It’s also one of the few trucks that still offer a manual transmission. Nissan recently announced that the next year would bring an updated Frontier. But for this year’s SEMA, Nissan has apparently decided to send the Frontier out with some style. The company took the current Desert Runner Frontier and turned it into a truck to rival Ford’s Ranger and F-150 Raptors.

The Stock Nissan Frontier Desert Runner

The 2018 Nissan Frontier on a rocky trail
The 2018 Nissan Frontier | Courtesy of Nissan.com

The current Frontier Desert Runner is available either as a King Cab (MSRP $26,400) or a Crew Cab ($27,830). The only engine and transmission available are the 4.0-liter V6 and 5-speed automatic.

The Desert Runner slots between the base Frontier and the PRO-4X in terms of off-road capability. The stock Desert Runner comes with Bilstein off-road shocks, fog lights, 16” wheels, and a few interior upgrades. However, unlike the PRO-4X, it only comes with two-wheel drive and doesn’t offer features like the electronic locking rear differential or protective skid plates.

Compared to something like the Ford Ranger Raptor, overseas or PaxPower version, the normal Desert Runner is a little lacking. Evidently, someone on the Nissan Motorsports team wanted to close the gap.

SEMA Nissan Frontier Desert Runner: Powertrain Upgrades

The Nissan Motorsports team worked with Maryland-based specialists MA Motorsports to develop this Frontier Desert Runner. Nissan themselves describe this truck as resembling “the factory version in name only.”

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom
Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom | Nissan

First, the 4.0-liter V6 was removed. In its place is the 5.6-liter V8 from the Nissan Titan pickup. Only it’s not stock. The build team fitted a Garrett turbocharger and custom intercooler. The internals were rebuilt with Jim Wolf Technology camshafts, pistons, and valves. There’s also an MA Motorsports custom turbo header and exhaust system; the latter exits out the sides of the rear fenders.

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom
Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom | Nissan

Altogether, these mods take the V8 up to an estimated “600-plus” hp and 700 lb-ft of torque. That’s a significant jump from the V6’s 261 hp. Oh, and the automatic’s gone, too. In its place is a Nissan 6-speed manual fitted with a Jim Wolf Technology clutch and lightweight flywheel. Something the Ranger Raptor and F-150 Raptor don’t offer.

Next, the build team turned to the rest of the Frontier.

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Custom: Exterior Upgrades

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom
Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom | Nissan

The SEMA Desert Runner rides on King Racing Triple Bypass front and rear shocks. The front also gets King Racing Triple Bypass coil-overs, while the rear has Giant Motorsports Link Killer leaf springs. The build team also installed a BTF Fabrication long-travel front suspension kit. Then, to increase suspension travel even further, MA Motorsports added custom-fabricated shock hoops. There’s also a beefy-looking skid plate in front; Motor1 reports indicate that might not be the only one.

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom
Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom | Nissan

The truck now rides on Fifteen52 TurboMac HD wheels, fitted with 37” BFGoodrich Baja T/A tires. To make it all fit, MA Motorsports installed Fiberworx Pre Runner fenders. MA Motorsports also fabricated new front and rear bumpers, as well as a custom spare tire carrier. To make sure desert runners could find their way, a Rigid Industries off-road lighting package was installed. To make sure others could see the truck coming, the truck was wrapped in a Speed Designs wrap. And to increase rigidity for racing across the desert sands, MA Motorsports fabricated cages for the engine and pickup bed.

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom
Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom | Nissan

SEMA Nissan Frontier Desert Runner Custom: Interior Upgrades

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom
Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom | Nissan

Finally, the build team turned to the interior. The stock seats were replaced by Sparco racing seats; Sparco also provided a new steering wheel with quick-release. MA Motorsports also fitted Sparco harnesses to a custom harness bar. The floor was coated for durability and easy cleaning. And to top it off, the handbrake was fitted with an extra-long custom handle for ease of operation.

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom
Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom | Nissan

Will There Be a Production Version?

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom
Nissan Frontier Desert Runner SEMA Custom | Nissan

Sadly, there is no indication that Nissan plans on putting a truck like this into production. With all the modifications and custom parts, building a Frontier Desert Runner like this would be very expensive.

All the same, a factory-direct, manual-equipped, V8-powered Japanese rival to the Raptors? That sounds incredible to us. And maybe if fans express enough interest, Nissan could be inspired to make it happen.