When OEMs hold a product-sampling day, it’s a little like heading to the buffet with only half an hour to eat.

Presented with a full-on fleet of their current models and limited time to drive them, you’ve got to formulate a plan of attack to stand a chance of getting into what you want and coming away with what you need.

So while droves of wanna-be racers lined up to drive the Nismo GT-Rs, I grabbed the keys to a plain, grey Nissan Frontier.

While it may not have looked like much next to the be-winged and be-skirted sports coupes, this Frontier was a one-off prototype. Powered by a four-cylinder turbocharged diesel, it’s a concept that we just might see roll off the production line in the near future.

Although Nissan confirmed that the next full-size Nissan Titan will offer a 5.0L diesel, the idea of an oil-burner Frontier is still in the draft stages. However, with GM’s Canyon/Colorado twins arriving soon with diesel power, it’s not a far-fetched idea that Nissan will counter with one of their own – particularly if the Titan manages to shake up the large truck segment by jolting the big three out of their complacency.

Known as the Navara in Asia, the original Frontier debuted in North America in 1986. Up until 2004, it was considered a compact truck. The current generation, which was introduced in 2004, is classified as a mid-size pickup.

On display was the concept diesel Frontier, which debuted at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show boasting eye-catching graphics, a colourful interior, and a transparent hood. We were able to get a good look – inside and out – at the colourful concept, but as one of the attending engineers explained, we weren’t allowed to drive it as extended test drives would probably melt that nifty acrylic hood.

Our test mule was a plain, grey pickup, hardly distinguishable from any conventional Frontier.

Riding shotgun was Steve Sanders, an engineer with Cummins Inc., and one member of the team responsible for the truck’s development.

It’s always interesting driving test mules, having a chance to experience upcoming products in their rawest form, before they’re refined and production ready.

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