|7,500||Towing Capacity (lbs)||6,720|
The Ford Ranger and Nissan Frontier have earned many comparisons to each other in the mid-sized pickup truck market. Given its re-entry into the market in 2019, the Ford Ranger was guaranteed to be met with some skepticism, especially from Nissan Frontier fans. What no one suspected, considering the Frontier had been in second-generation production since 2004, was that early 2019 sales figures would show obvious favoritism towards the Frontier. Needless to say, both Ford and Nissan took this as their cue to take things up a notch when designing their 2020 models. While this is only the second year of the latest generation of Ranger, the team at Nissan promises that the third generation of Frontier will be launched in 2021, making the late arrival to the 2020 model year the last of its lengthy dynasty. Indeed, looking at the current year tends to give some clues about what might be coming in the future years––especially when both models are perched on a possible height of Renaissance, so to speak. A look at the 2020 Ford Ranger vs 2020 Nissan Frontier not only gives shoppers a fair comparison between the two existing models, but also sets the stage for the Ranger’s next step ahead, and the Frontier’s next generation.
The 2020 Ford Ranger continues to build upon a triumphant return with features that increase the value and separate the Ranger from other vehicles in the mid-sized pickup truck market. It features best-in-class payload ratings, and the towing capacity is helpful for truck owners who are in need of a reliable hauler, but not ready for the step up to a massive heavy-duty truck yet.
Overall, the formula has remained the same, with a few tweaks. The Ranger XLT and Lariat are given improved comfort features, including dual-zone automatic climate control and SiriusXM and Sync 3 entertainment options. Three new paint colors have been introduced for 2020, including Rapid Red, Race Red, and Iconic Silver. The Ranger now offers the FX off-road package for both all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive models. This extends the off-roading capabilities beyond just the all-wheel drive models with a specialized off-road designed suspension, protective skid plates, front tow hooks, and a terrain management system with settings for mud, snow, and sand. Ford has also introduced a new FX2 package for the rear-wheel drive models, which adds an electronic locking rear differential, off-road wheels and tires, skid plates, and a specialized instrument cluster that shows drivers real-time yaw, pitch, and roll data.
Meanwhile, Nissan is being surprisingly tight-lipped about what the 2020 Frontier will offer. Delaying the release of the last model of this generation until late spring, Nissan waited to debut the new Frontier at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2020. Though the announcements predominantly set the stage for the 2021 Frontier with the introduction of a new engine, other changes were also confirmed. The SL trim level is discontinued, while the base S trim level will receive upgrades, including power locks and windows. Both King and Crew Cab versions will be available, paired to a choice of standard or long bed lengths.
The core of any pick up truck is, of course, in its ability to work. Even for the traditionally more road-friendly mid-sized truck segment, a truck has a job to do.
Both the 2020 Ranger and Frontier offer only one engine option each. At the 2020 Chicago Auto Show, Nissan revealed that the Frontier will feature a more powerful 3.8L V6 engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. This engine will be created from around 93 percent newly designed or fully redesigned parts, making it a truly new engine. Speculations are that this engine is being introduced in 2020 to prepare for the 2021 offerings, which may include additional options. After all, this engine has been developed in conjunction with the 5.6L V8 engine that powers the Nissan Titan, so change may be in the air.
Despite the near-complete overhaul to the engine, there does not appear to be a change in the Nissan’s overall performance. While the new engine is expected to offer 310 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque, the towing capacity remains at 6,720 pounds, while the payload is rated at 1,400 pounds. Details regarding the Frontier’s fuel economy were not released at the Chicago Auto Show, but the 2019 model received 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.
In contrast, the Ford Ranger continues to be best in class when it comes to payload. Depending on bed configuration, this truck can handle 1,650-2,080 pounds of payload and tow up to 7,500 pounds. This is clearly due to its more powerful engine, a 2.3L Turbocharged inline-4 that offers 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired with a 10 speed automatic transmission that helps guide the power of the engine, even with a full payload. Additionally, the fuel economy of the Ranger belies its overall power and efficiency, with a 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway rating for the rear-wheel drive options, while the all-wheel drive options receive 20 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
Precious few details are available regarding the features of the Nissan Frontier; however, it is anticipated that the changes will not be great in 2020, as the manufacturer prepares for the new generation in 2021. What details have emerged reveal that features such as push-button start, leather-clad shift knob, adjustable tilt steering column, along with power locks and windows will be made standard across the trim levels.
Specifications indicate that the S and SV trims will be available with an extended cab. All three trims, the S, SV, and Pro-4X, will offer a Crew Cab and 59.5-inch bed configuration, while the SV trim will have an option of a Crew Cab with a longer 73.3-inch bed. The Pro-4X will continue to offer off-road components, such as standard four-wheel drive and an electronic locking rear differential.
The Pro-4X is considered one of the cooler trims of the Nissan Frontier, and there’s some speculation that the manufacturer may work to improve upon the off-road capabilities of this vehicle in 2020 and 2021. For example, the 2019 version excited rugged truck enthusiasts with its super heavy-duty suspension, protective skid plates, 16-inch wheels, all-terrain tires, electronic locking rear differential, and high-pressure performance gas shock absorbers from Bilstein. As most off-road packages are including additional clearance, perhaps the time has come for the Frontier to get a lift, or larger wheels.
Then again, it seems that the Frontier is not the model Nissan has blessed with the highest investment in technology. The S-trim, for example, includes manual crank windows, a 5-speed manual transmission, and only gained standard features such as air conditioning, cruise control, and an AM/FM radio with CD player and Bluetooth compatibility in 2019. The SL trim in 2019 added luxury features like leather seats; with this trim being discontinued in 2020, there is some speculation that the SV trim will be enhanced with these features, or they’ll be relegated to the many packages that Nissan offers drivers. For example, heated seats, a moonroof, tie-down anchors, and heated outside mirrors were all package options that could be added to most 2019 Frontier trim levels.
Meanwhile, the 2020 Ford Ranger has already hit the streets, and feedback regarding its features is incredibly positive. While some claim that the SuperCab models have tighter back seats, the SuperCrew models include seating for five with a folding rear armrest, as well as two rear doors to allow passengers to climb in and out comfortably.
In addition to the tow rating, fuel economy, and payload accommodations, the generous safety features have also received praise. Automatic emergency braking is now standard, and features such as AdvanceTrac Roll Stability and Curve Control give drivers more control on a larger variety of roads. Additionally, even the base XL model includes trailer sway control and a rearview camera, which is helpful for anyone hauling.
Ford has also blessed the Ranger with a full suite of technology to enhance any drive, including Bluetooth audio connectivity and a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot on all models. Higher trims receive more luxurious features, such as power locking tailgates, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, 110V power outlets, and more.
This attention to technology continues outside the vehicle, as well. For example, tow-optimized blind-spot monitoring extends past the boundaries of the vehicle itself to alert drivers to objects and vehicles that are in the path of any trailers, as well. In fact, this technology can “remember” up to three distinct trailers. This is part of the Co-Pilot 360 Technology Ford had released, which not only monitors blind spots, but provides front and rear collision alerts, trailer monitoring, and lane-keep assist.
The Ford Ranger is offered in three trims, including the base XL, the mid-range XLT, and the top-of-the-line Lariat. The XL includes the aforementioned safety features, as well as a modest sound system, equipped with USB and auxiliary inputs. The XLT adds the full Co-Pilot360 system with trailer monitoring, parking sensors in the front and rear of the vehicle, an 8-inch infotainment screen equipped with Ford Sync3 technology, and 4G LTE WiFi. The Lariat stands tall upon 18-inch wheels, with LED headlights, push-button start, and optional navigation technology or adaptive cruise control.
Though details are currently limited as to the 2020 Nissan Frontier’s offerings, it appears that, while the manufacturer is eager to unveil their newly-designed engine, other vehicle details may not be updated until the new generation drops in 2021. Still, for those who require higher towing and payload capacity, the Ford Ranger remains unbeaten in the second year of its generation. Additionally, there is little comparison between fuel economy based on early numbers, though that may change when the Frontier is added to the market in Spring 2020.