The oft-forgotten Nissan Frontier managed to make some headlines recently as publications called out the fact that it had outsold the Ford Ranger, which is a newly introduced model for the United States. How could Nissan’s compact pickup, which is literally a 15-year-old design, perform so well in the market? That’s not a typo; the 2nd-gen Frontier (D40 designation) debuted as a 2005 model year and hasn’t received a true redesign since, only minor revisions.
It’s rumored that a new Frontier is finally on the way in 2020, but how does Nissan’s workhorse stack up right now? For the most basic trim, the Frontier serves as the only new pickup truck available for under $20,000, without destination fee. However, opting for a crew cab and 4x4 will set you back closer to $30,000. That’s still quite the bargain in a time when a well-optioned compact pickup can run you $40,000 or more. The question that buyers will have to ask themselves is whether they can live without all of the technology that the aging Frontier lacks.
Let’s remember, though, that while the 2019 Ford Ranger is new to the United States and Canada, the platform itself is no spring chicken. This is the T6 Ranger, designed and engineered in Australia, which has been sold abroad since 2011. It got a facelift in 2015 and a few tweaks to meet American standards for 2019, but is otherwise still using the same foundations. A new, remodeled Ranger is expected as a replacement around 2022.
So while the Ranger is probably most often compared against its American rival, the Chevy Colorado, Nissan’s compact pickup truck is a definite competitor. In a head-to-head comparison, find out what each model brings to the table.
Ford Ranger vs Nissan Frontier Comparison: Quick Stats
|2019 Ford Ranger||2019 Nissan Frontier
||205.5 inches/ 219.4 inches
||8.4 inches/ 8.9 inches (FX4)
||8.7 inches/ 9.8 inches (Long Bed)/ 10.4 inches (Pro-4X)
||125.9 inches/139.9 inches
||2.3 liter 4-cylinder turbo
||2.5 liter 4-cylinder/ 4.0 liter V6
||152 hp/ 261 hp
||171 lb-ft/ 281 lb-ft
||6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic
|Max Towing Capacity
|Max Payload Capacity
||26 hwy/ 21 city FWD
24 hwy/ 20 city 4WD
||23 hwy/ 19 city 4-cyl FWD, manual
21 hwy/ 15 city V6 AWD, automatic
||61 inches/ 74.4 inches
||59.5 inches/ 73.3 inches
|Starting MSRP (excl. Destination Fee)
||Comfort, features, efficiency, towing and payload, safety tech
||Price, manual transmission, crew cab with long bed option, back-to-basics utility
Ford Ranger vs Nissan Frontier: Exterior
The Ford Ranger keeps things pretty simple in terms of layouts. You can select an extended cab (SuperCab) with a 6-foot box and 2+2 doors, or a crew cab (SuperCrew) with a 5-foot box and four full doors.
The 2019 Frontier comes in two cab varieties as well, which parallel those of the Ranger. Nissan calls their 2+2 style the King Cab, while the crew cab configuration offers 4 full-sized doors and seating for five. However, unlike the Ranger, the longer 6-foot bed can be added to the crew cab! This is a serious advantage for those who want to comfortably transport four adults and a lot of gear or cargo. This configuration is only available as a top-level SV trim, with the V6 and automatic transmission. The starting MSRP is still just $29,460 for this grouping, and that’s something that the competition can’t match.
When it comes to packaging, the Ranger keeps things simple by offering three trims: XL, XLT, and Lariat. The Frontier is a bit more complex, featuring S, SV, Midnight Edition, Desert Runner, PRO-4X, and SL trim levels. A lot of the differences between the Nissan’s trims are cosmetic, though the PRO-4X does add things like Bilstein off-road shocks and some protective skid plates. It squares up nicely against the Ranger FX4 package in terms of off-road capability but doesn’t offer some of the more advanced features like Trail Control. If you want a Frontier with the additional protection of those Bilstein shocks but don’t need 4WD, you can grab a crew cab Frontier Desert Runner 4x2 starting at $27,830, an interesting proposition for those living in a climate that doesn’t experience much snow.
From the outside, the Frontier isn’t actually a bad-looking vehicle; it’s held up well over the years. It’s ruggedly simple yet clean. The Pro-4X, especially, looks ready for off-roading with its raised stance, roof rack, and relatively subtle decals. The Ranger takes a similar course in terms of overall looks, and also adds some minor rugged elements for its FX4 package. It adopts Ford’s global design language with a handsome, understated style that doesn’t go overboard in any area. There are some slight updates to the 2015 style that has been used abroad, with enough changes to make it feel fresh for the North American market.
The Frontier’s six exterior color options are monochromatic, except for a bright red and dark blue. The Ranger offers just a few more choices, including its signature Saber orange shade.
2019 Nissan Frontier Colors
- Magnetic Black Pearl
- Cayenne Red Metallic
- Brilliant Silver Metallic
- Glacier White
- Arctic Blue Metallic
- Gun Metallic
2019 Ford Ranger Colors
- Shadow Black
- Oxford White
- Ingot Silver
- White Platinum
- Blue Lightning
- Hot Pepper Red
Ford Ranger vs Nissan Frontier: Interior
The 2019 Ranger’s cabin is a fine place to be. You can select cloth, premium cloth, or vinyl seating surfaces in the two lower trims, with leather-trimmed seats coming standard in the top-level Lariat. You can choose either the Ebony or Stone (tan) color for the XLT and Lariat. Things are kept practical, streamlined, and mostly unadventurous in the cabin, with logical controls and some useful storage areas. Though it doesn’t reach the luxury levels of something like a well-optioned F-150 or Ram, the contrast stitching on the dash, ambient lighting, and embossed “Ranger” text on the seats give the Lariat trim an upmarket feel.
While Nissan’s website copy claims that "you’d think you were in a luxury sedan" when you’re in the Frontier, we have to disagree. Anyone who’s sat in a Frontier at an auto show knows that there’s nothing quite like the interior, and not in a good way. The cabin is a time capsule to another era, with ‘90s style digital readouts, cheap hard plastics, and the most bare-bones infotainment on the market.
Selecting the long bed for the Ranger will limit you to the extended cab, with very bare-bones rear seats.
There’s nothing "premium" about the navigation head unit either, which is a teensy low-resolution screen that’s only 5.8 inches across. That’s smaller than most smartphones these days. Oddly, the lower level trims get a larger 7-inch screen. Either way, you don’t get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay capability, a huge omission in this day and age (though you can get Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which works in a similar way). It’s hard not to be harsh on it; this is an ancient interior that Edmunds called "outdated" all the way back in 2013, and it’s virtually unchanged since.
The Frontier's cabin may lack amenities, but it does offer proper seating for 5 passengers in a long bed configuration.
However, despite all this, there’s a lot to be said about the utilitarian nature of the Frontier’s cabin. For those that bemoan the fact that they don’t need all of the modern features and technology that come with new cars, the back-to-basics approach of the Frontier can be very appealing, not to mention cost-effective. For colors, you’ll get the very similar Steel, Graphite, and Graphite Steel options, or Beige.
Ford Ranger vs Nissan Frontier: Performance and Technology
The Ranger features a single engine in the line-up, Ford’s favored 2.3 liter EcoBoost turbo-four. There’s no manual transmission option, just the 10-speed automatic that does its best to optimize fuel economy while still providing some torque down low. Grab the 4x2 drivetrain for a very capable and more efficient design, or choose the 4x4 option to tackle tough off-road terrain; that’ll set you back an additional $4,000, though.
Considering its age and naturally-aspirated design, the VQ-series 4.0-liter V6 engine that’s used in most Frontiers holds up decently against the Ranger’s EcoBoost turbo 4-cylinder. Horsepower, torque, and towing numbers are not quite up to the same level, but the Nissan gets close. Plus, they’ve had years to work out the kinks of this motor, and it’s now considered an extremely reliable design that’s viewed favorably in the off-road community. In fact, the same engine was used in the old Xterra and still sees use in the (non-U.S.-market) Patrol.
When it comes to its base 2.5L 4-cylinder engine, the Frontier doesn’t even get close to the Ranger. This is an ultra-basic, naturally-aspirated motor that will feel coarse and slow, but still can’t even achieve the same MPG as the Ranger. It’s only available on 4x2 models and will prove to be adequate for around-town work. But compared head-to-head against the Ranger’s four-cylinder, this motor really shows its age, with worse power and efficiency.
With twice as many gears, Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission helps the Ranger get much better fuel economy than the Frontier, regardless of the engine. The Nissan’s six-speed automatic is ok, but still dated. The 5-speed manual transmission isn’t really any better in terms of efficiency; what it does do, however, is offer an enticing option for enthusiasts who really want to row their own gears.
Tons of the Ranger’s marketing is focused on showing how it can be used as a lifestyle vehicle. From surfing and cycling to using it as a complete overlanding platform, the overt themes of recreation have been very noticeable. But make no mistake, Ford is trying to increase their demographic here, not change it. Those that are in the market for a true work truck will find the Ranger regardless. The basic form of the truck is nicely tailored for places like a construction site or a farm.
And that’s not to say that the Frontier isn’t just as ready for both work or play either. In off-road form, like the Ranger, it offers a locking rear differential. Though the low price and durability have made it a popular work truck for contractors and fleets, the comeback story of the Xterra has been mirrored in part by the Frontier. Nissan even created a one-off overlanding rig called "Destination Frontier." You can’t buy one from them, but they claimed you can make your own for around $40,000 all-in, showing that overlanding with a new vehicle doesn’t have to be exorbitantly expensive.
Sadly for the Frontier, there’s a laundry list of features that the Ranger offers, either standard or as an option, that can’t be had on the Nissan. These include keyless entry, remote start, push-start ignition, adaptive cruise control, trailer sway control, lane-keeping assist, and rain-sensing wipers, just to name a few.
Ford Ranger vs Nissan Frontier: Great All-Rounder Against the Affordable Niche Option
When all is said and done, there are three primary reasons to select the Frontier over the Ranger: price, having the manual transmission, or having a need for a crew cab with a long bed. These are all logical, and will certainly be enough to sway some buyers, especially those looking for a true work truck. On the more emotional side of things, some will say that the Frontier embodies the spirit of what a pickup truck used to be, or should be. But discounting those, our pick between the two is going to be the Ranger, especially if you’ll also be using it as a daily driver. The added comfort, safety, tech, and performance are well worth the additional price you’ll pay for this more modern pickup.
Image Credit: Ford | Nissan
Sources: Ford | Nissan | The Drive | Edmunds | WhichCar Australia