I recently read that the 2019 Nissan Frontier (a design that has been around since 2005) was initially outselling the classy new Ford Ranger. Yes the Frontier is thousands cheaper, but cheaper doesn't always equate to success in the marketplace.
So how could that be? Is it just price? Does the Frontier has 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 of mine was evaluating the 2019 Ford Ranger Supercrew 4X2 Lariat 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 an 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" touch-screen display and a Full-length, fully boxed ladder frame. Adding an automatic and the Frontier starts at $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 power-train. Period. Max towing capacity on the Ranger is 7,500 lbs in all trim levels. The four cylinder Nissan is rated at 3,790 and the six-cylinder up to 6,640 depending on trim and equipment.
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.
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.
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 turbochaged 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 turbocharged wonder.
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 com padre told me later he definitely saw air under the tired. The long travel suspension and Bilstein® off-road high-pressure shock absorbers, skid plates on the fuel tank, oil pan and transfer case shock did their job, and the Nissan just kept on trucking. I suspect a lesser truck would have been hobbled with broken suspension bits.
Everything about the Frontier communicates utility and long-life. If you work you truck it's a hard to beat economical to purchase and operate package. Start looking around and you'll be amazed at how many Frontiers you see on the road. Many are equipped with headache or pipe racks, tool boxes, and a variety of equipment common to trucks that work for their living.
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 call's 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. That's why I think this '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.