Ford Ranger XLT vs Nissan Navara ST-X 2021 Comparison Test


Another two titans in the 4×4 race.

This review goes right through both, even adding weight in the back to really test the carrying capacity. You don’t see that level of testing in other comparison reviews.

Read on and let the Car Sales review guide you through the Nissan Navara ST-X and the Ford Ranger XLT.


There’s been a flood of new and significantly updated 4×4 dual-cabs hitting the Aussie market of late. The latest to arrive is one of the biggest and best names in the game, the Nissan Navara, but is it good enough to take on the biggest and best ute of them all, the Ford Ranger? Let battle commence.

For this comparer, we’ve lined up the most popular Navara of them all, the ST-X auto against the king of the blue-collar Rangers, the XLT. They compare closely on price, equipment and claimed capability. So what’s changed about the Navara?

Well, first off, you can’t miss the big and bold nose, which is inspired by the full-size Titan pick-up sold in the USA. Beyond that, there’s been some important equipment updates led by the standard fitment of autonomous emergency braking and related driver assist systems. In this regard the Navara is catching up to the ute pack, including Ranger, rather than truly leaping ahead.

Another key change is strengthening of the rear axle, which helps increase the payload to just over a ton, and it also just edges the XLT. Flip open the bonnets and you’ll find a couple of really interesting powertrains.

In the Navara, it’s a 2.3-litre, twin-turbo, four-cylinder diesel mated to a seven-speed auto and part-time 4×4 system.

In the Ranger, it’s a 2.0-litre, twin-turbo, four-cylinder diesel mated with a 10-speed, yes, 10-speed auto and part-time 4×4 system.

Nissan didn’t touch the engine for this update, and maybe it needed to because, according to official figures, the Ford outdoes it for power, torque, fuel economy and of course emissions. And now to the all-important bed. Well, the Ranger has a tiny bit more length, the Navara can carry a tiny bit more, but they tie on brake-towing capacity.

Both are at 3500 kilos.

Inside the cabin, these vehicles both have a modern presentation and feel, but it’s the wide-screen instrument panel of the Navara that is a little bit clearer. In the back, it’s advantage Ranger. Not only does it have more space, but it also folds its seat back down for more versatility.

So let’s hit the bitumen and gravel and 4×4 track and throw 650 kilograms in the back to see what we make of these two as workhouses and play trucks.

On bitumen or gravel, the locally developed Ranger just keeps reminding us why it’s our favourite UTE. It just feels comfortably at home.

There’s a cohesion to the way it drives, and it’s comfortable to ride in, despite the huge spread of working responsibilities it has. And the 2.0-litre engine is a mighty, little beast. The old Ranger, five-cylinder 3.2 is a favourite, but this puts it in the shade for refinement and energy. However, that 10-speed is fussy as it works rapidly through its stack of early gears.

The Navara can’t match the Ranger’s comfort and cohesion, but it gives it a darn good try. There’s no doubt the controversial coil spring rear suspension is now the best it’s ever been. But there’s no doubt, the Ranger is the better drive and ride.

The Navara engine is one of its strongest elements although the Ranger edges it for refinement. Having said that, it’s certainly quiet in the Navara’s cabin, reflecting a heap of added noise insulation for 2021.

So advantage Ranger, but let’s put 650 kilograms in the back and see if that changes the balance of power. The Ranger adapts well to the load. In fact, it’s not that noticeable, which says a lot about the fundamental quality of its setup.

By comparison the Navara struggles. It feels less in control of the added weight, more prone to rolling about.

Well, there you go. 650 kilos in both of these, and you could feel the difference significantly, but only one, the Ranger, really retained its core characteristics and continued to behave as we expected. We were surprised how much it impacted on the Navara’s behaviour. There’s a trend emerging here, and it’s going the Ranger’s way.

But next up, we’re gonna off-road.

So time to engage low-range hill descent control and test out ground clearance and articulation by going off road. The Ranger is impressive. It can crawl up and down these steep tracks without breaking a sweat, but the Navara is just as capable and maybe even has slightly better real-world ground clearance.

Overall you can take these vehicles off road with plenty of confidence.

But remember, things like tire choice really need to be thought about if you’re planning to use them for that big outback adventure.

Well, that was a comprehensive exercise, and it shows again how versatile 4×4 dual-cabs are and why Aussies buy so many of them.

The Navara’s changes are notable and praise-worthy, especially the addition of AEB, which is a life-saver, but a lot stays the same about Navara. That’s not necessarily a big issue because this is a decent pick-up, but it’s not good enough for us to change our allegiance from the Ford Ranger, which, even as it heads for generational change, continues to impress us with it’s all-around competence.

It’s a great testament to the work done by the men and women of Ford Australia in its development. Surely out there, there’s a ute that can knock it off. You know what? We’ll keep looking for it.


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