CHICAGO – Testing the appetite for a diesel engine in the compact-pickup segment, Nissan unveils a Frontier Diesel project truck this morning at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show.

The project truck, developed in conjunction with diesel specialist Cummins, “explores what is possible for the next-generation Frontier,” Fred Diaz, senior vice president-sales and marketing for Nissan North America says in a press release.

The vehicle, officially known as the Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins, is based on a 2-wheel-drive Frontier Desert Runner grade. It has a 2.8L 4-cyl. turbodiesel engine making almost 200 hp and more than 350 lb.-ft. (475 Nm) of torque mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission by German supplier ZF.

The engine meets or exceeds future emissions standards, Nissan says, and it projects a 35% increase in fuel economy from a ’14 2WD V-6 Frontier. A ’14 2WD V-6 Frontier Desert Runner, in a King or Crew Cab configuration and with a 5-speed automatic transmission, achieves 16/22 mpg city/highway (14.7-10.7 L/100 km).

Nissan says payload and towing capacity are on par with that of the ’14 V6-powered Frontier. Both specs top out at 6,500 lbs. (2,948 kg) and 1,385 lbs. (628 kg), respectively, in a 4x2 King Cab Desert Runner with an automatic.

Wiring harnesses, radiator and more are carried over from the ’14 Desert Runner.

The diesel project truck wears high-gloss “Arrest Me” red, a matte silver paint, plus carbon fiber and carbon-fiber film accents that include a mesh grille, roof rack and tailgate spoiler.

The hood is partially transparent acrylic, exposing the engine bay.

Wheels are 16 ins. and borrowed from the Frontier’s PRO-4X grade. They have 2-tone paint, with red and black-painted wheels in the rear and silver and black-painted wheels up front.

Interior features of the project Frontier include carbon-trimmed seats and panels; a carbon-film-wrapped instrument panel with red-tinted gauges; and a black-faced, 3-gauge pod on the C-cluster displaying diesel-centric information.

Nissan offered a 4-cyl. pickup diesel in the U.S. in the 1980s and next year will have a Cummins 5.0L V-8 diesel in its next-generation Titan fullsize pickup.

The Frontier, last fully redesigned in ’05, is the No.2-selling compact pickup in the U.S., behind Toyota’s Tacoma.

Nissan also uses the Chicago stage to introduce two new grades of its Versa Note hatchback for ’15.

The Versa Note SR has sporty appearance elements including a unique front fascia; black-and-chrome accented fog lights; high-contrast, machine-finished 16-in. sport aluminum-alloy wheels with dark paint; and redesigned side mirrors with integrated turn signals.

Unique features inside the car are a leather-wrapped steering wheel inspired by Nissan’s 370Z sports car; imitation-suede seats with orange accents and double stitching; a redesigned center stack with piano-black finish, silver accents and chrome knobs; and a triple-dial gauge cluster with floating trip computer.

Another new grade, the Versa Note SL, also is detailed in Chicago. It adds a slew of standard infotainment features, including NissanConnect smartphone integration for iOS and Android.

Both the SR and SL grades of the Versa Note go on sale at Nissan U.S. dealers this spring, bringing total grades of the car to five.

For ’15, all five versions add Bluetooth with steering-wheel controls as standard equipment.

The Versa Note hatchback, along with the Versa sedan, is the best-selling subcompact car in the U.S., with 117,352 units delivered in 2013, WardsAuto data shows.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com