I recently read that the 2019 Nissan Frontier (a design that has been around since 2004) is outselling the classy new Ford Ranger. Yep, the basic Frontier is thousands cheaper, but cheaper doesn't always equate to success in the marketplace.
Update 8/13/2019, Gear Patrol.com reports 2019 sales through the 2nd quarter of Ranger at 30.301, and Frontier at 39,322 https://gearpatrol.com/2019/08/13/ford-outsold-by-nissan/
So how could that be? Is it just price? Does the Frontier have other charms that escape the Ranger? A loan from Nissan of a well-equipped Frontier Pro4X 4X4 and the fortuitous coincidence that another journalist friend was evaluating the 2019 Ford Ranger Supercrew 4X2 Lariat at the same time allowed a chance to delve into this debate.
The Nissan Frontier 4X2 King-cab S has a base price of just $19,090, while the cheapest 2019 Ford Ranger XL starts at $24,300 a whopping $5,210 price difference. On the base Nissan you get a 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine of 152hp, and 171 lb/ft of torque couple to a 5-speed manual transmission, a 7" touchscreen display and a Full-length, fully boxed ladder frame. Adding an automatic and the Frontier brings the starting price to $23,160 narrowing the price gap considerably.
The optional engine on the Frontier is a 4.0 liter normally aspirated DOHC 24-valve V6 rated at 261-horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque coupled to either a six-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. The Ford comes with one powertrain. Period.
The Ranger is only available with a 2.3-liter Eco-boot 4 making 270hp and 310 lb/ft of torque, with a standard 10-speed automatic. Ford throws in some comfort and convenience features like power door locks, intermittent wipers, AM-FM radio with FordPass Connect™ with 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, but there is still a large price gap.
Max towing capacity on the Ranger is 7,500 lbs in all trim levels. The four-cylinder Frontier is rated at 3,790 and the six-cylinder up to 6,640 depending on trim and equipment.
The considerably more expensive, and stylish Ranger looks better on paper. Maybe it is just price making the difference? There is no doubt the Ranger is a contemporary truck with a much more refined ride and modern interior. The Frontier rides...well like a truck. The interior has lots of plastic, and certainly isn't cutting edge stylish. After driving both trucks back to back, I think it's a bit more complicated than just price and raw specs.
I drove the Frontier on a roundtrip to New Orleans, and it certainly isn’t the smoothest or most refined on the highway. Gas mileage on the V6 Frontier is rated at 15 in the city, 21 highway and 17 combined. I averaged about 19 on my quick New Orleans trip, but the truck had extremely low miles and a very tight engine. A few more break-in miles, and gas mileage would no doubt go up.
Ranger is rated 21 city and 26 highway, largely due to the Eco-boost engine and ten-speed transmission. If one factors in the Rangers fuel economy advantage into the Frontier’s price total cost of ownership advantage seems to shrink dramatically. Again, Ranger seems to have the advantage.
Frontier has also been named “the highest ranked midsize pickup in initial quality” for three years in a row by J.D. Power in the company’s Initial Quality Study. This truck has been around for a while and is completely sorted. I also think some truck buyers still have resistance to Ford's turbocharged eco-boost engine. Although it is an amazing piece of technology, pickup-truck buyers are a conservative bunch who keep their vehicles a long time.
At least some customers are likely thinking towards the future when their shiny new truck rolls over 100,000 (200,000+?) miles and will begin to need repairs. The fleet owners and ranchers in my area tend to repair their trucks themselves, and the idea of working on a normally aspirated V6 is much less intimidating than a high-tech electronically controlled whizbang turbocharged wonder.
We took both trucks to the 3,000 acre Thomas cattle ranch and put both through their paces all over the Texas sized spread. Some roads are nicely paved, others gravel, paths, and many what my daddy used to call “pig-tracks.” Both those trucks got a work-out that day that many wouldn’t see in a year of typical usage.
At one point we were driving down an unpaved and seldom used ranch road. Suddenly I encountered a deep hidden wash that launched the Frontier in the air. My compadre told me later he saw considerable air under all four tires. The long travel suspension and Bilstein® off-road high-pressure shock absorbers, skid plates on the fuel tank, oil pan and transfer case did their job, and the Nissan just kept on trucking. I suspect a lesser truck would have been hobbled with broken suspension bits.
Both trucks were shown to the ranch hands who work a large fleet of trucks every day. They all liked that styling of the Ranger, with numerous fond comments on Rangers they had worked before. The consensus was the Ranger was a very nice truck, perfect for taking their best girl to a Saturday night honky-tonk, but they expressed reservations on how it would hold up to the rigors of daily ranch life. Those comments may be unfounded, but in the world of pickups, perception IS reality.
In fairness both performed admirably well in everything we threw at them on the ranch, from washed out roads, fording small creeks, and seeing how much stuff we could stuff into them. The Ford is more refined, and comfortable and has it all over the Frontier in on-road driving.
The earlier-gen Ford Rangers have an almost cult-like following. I was recently looking for a cheap used pick-up for my son and I approached the electrical contractor that shares my office park about a well-used and forlorn looking Ranger parked out front. When I asked him if he’d sell, he became quite animated telling me how he started his business with that truck, and he’d never sell it. Older Rangers command that sort of cult-like loyalty. The newest Ranger isn’t yet garnering that kind of loyalty.
Everything about the Frontier communicates utility and long-life like the original Ranger. If you work your truck, it's a hard to beat this economical to purchase and operate package. Start looking around and you'll be amazed at how many Frontiers old and new you see on the road. Many are equipped with headache or pipe racks, toolboxes, and a variety of equipment common to trucks that work for a living.
I think this debate isn’t so much about money or fancy calculations about total cost of ownership. The current Frontier is a basic can-do truck in exactly the way the classic Ranger was, and the new Ranger may be just a tad too high-tech refined for the buyers in this segment.
Nothing about the Frontier is cutting edge, and maybe that's the point. It's a truck's truck. It doesn't pretend to be anything it's not. Nissan calls it a "a workhorse – designed to tackle both professional and personal projects" and I think that's the point. It's inexpensive, rugged, and easy to repair. Most any cowboy with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers can repair their Frontier, and the Ranger is going to need lots of fancy dealership tools to keep it going over the long-haul. That's why I think the 'ol girl continues to sell like the proverbial hotcakes.
I hear Nissan is in the midst of a re-design. My advice to Nissan is simple...if it ain't broke, don't fix it! The 2019 Nissan Frontier definitely ain't broke.
Watch the trailing video for a ride-along with my witty repartee.