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Why The Ford Ranger Is Already Better Than The Toyota Tacoma

Ford Ranger returned to compact truck segment in 2019 while Tacoma had been dominating the segment practically unchallenged. Now in its second model year, the Ranger adds FX2 off-road package to rival Toyota’s TRD.

My first time in the Ford Ranger was right after Ford relaunched the smaller truck in 2019. The model I was in was stripped down and bare boned. In my review back then I was critical of how outdated the Ranger felt and how it lacked much of the pizzazz needed to compete in the truck segment.

While it’s true that trucks aren’t always glitzy and glamorous, especially in the compact truck segment, they still need to have enough. After spending a week in the 2020 Ford Ranger Lariat Supercrew, I’m ready to proclaim that the Ranger can compete with the Toyota Tacoma.

The Ranger and Tacoma are familiar rivals. The Tacoma has been around since 1995. At that time sales of the Ranger were starting to tail off a little. Ford would eventually eliminate the Ranger in the North American market by 2012, while the Tacoma remained, almost unrivaled as other auto manufacturers also jumped out of the segment. And as my colleague John Goreham wrote, the Tacoma has thrived atop the segment.

As such, Toyota was able to gain a strong footing amongst consumers who wanted a smaller truck. But, during this time, Toyota got somewhat complacent. And as Ford re-engaged in the segment, Toyota could no longer sit back on its laurels with the Tacoma.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRDTowing and Payload Comparison
You hear a lot about payload and towing in the full-size truck segment, where Ford dominates with the F-150, but since re-engaging in the compact truck segment with the Ranger, Ford has decided to make an emphasis on how much of a work-capable truck the Ranger is.

And it shows as the Ranger beats the Tacoma in both payload and maximum towing capacity. The Ranger leads the segment with a payload of 1,650 pounds, compared to the Tacoma’s 1,095 pounds. Standard towing, Tacoma takes the edge, but when properly equipped with maximum towing capacity, the Ranger wins the head-to-head battle with a max towing capacity of 7,500 pounds compared to the Tacoma’s 6,400 pounds.

If these are the numbers the consumer looks at, then the Ranger wins handily.

2020 Ford Ranger LariatTale of the tape: Tacoma vs. Ranger
It’s funny, I remember the Ranger of the 1990s and early 2000s as looking and feeling small. My first impression from the 2019 Ranger was that it looked like it was the same size as the F-150 and it certainly drove big.

That isn’t necessarily the case with the Tacomas I’ve driven. The Tundra drives big and hulky. And the Tacoma, even with the rugged and rough-riding TRD trim, still doesn’t feel like a behemoth. I will say that my time in the 2020 Ranger it did feel smaller and drove smaller.

2020 Ford Ranger Lariat

That’s a good thing, to be clear. And looking at the dimensions it’s a weird head-to-head comparison. The Tacoma wins the tale of the tape in length with 212.3 inches to the Ranger’s 210.8. The Tacoma also edges out on wheelbase by a small fraction.

The Ranger is 1.1 inches wider than the Tacoma and nearly an inch taller. And the bed length, one of the biggest selling points for truck consumers, the Ranger is much bigger with a bed length of 72.8 inches to the Tacoma’s 60.5 inches.

2020 Ford Ranger driver select knobComparing the engines of the Toyota Tacoma to the Ford Ranger
Where I believe Toyota has sat still for too long is in the powertrain of the Tacoma. The Tacoma only has a six-speed automatic transmission that is adequate, but uninspiring. In the 2020 Ford Ranger there’s Ford’s new 10-speed automatic transmission. It throws the shifts around seamlessly and does a great job in the lower gears too.

When driving a truck, even a smaller one, it’s all about torque for me. While the Tacoma’s engine puts out slightly more horsepower (278 hp compared to 270 hp), the Ranger’s 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine offers up significantly more torque than the Tacoma (310 lb.-ft. to 265 lb.-ft.

The energetic turbocharged engine in the Ranger feels more vibrant and more powerful. Ford has really done a great job with their turbo technology in both the Ranger and the F-150 (and even the Mustang for that matter).

The Ranger also wins the fuel economy battle with the Tacoma clocking in at 18 mpg/city and 22 mpg/highway to the Ranger’s 20/24 rating.

2020 Ford Ranger steeringOff road capability: Ranger FX4 vs. Tacoma TRD
Ford knew they were behind in this consideration so they added the FX2 package to the Ranger in the 2020 model year. When appointed with the FX4 it is pretty rugged and capable.

There aren’t true measurables to determine which one is better, but Toyota has mastered the off-road trim by offering a special, and pricey, TRD trim. It is a beast off the beaten path. So the Tacoma won’t get outdueled in the mud and rock by the Ranger, even one appointed with the FX2 of FX4 trim.

The Ranger I drove was able to toggle between two-wheel drive and four-wheel low or high. That is a nice option to only use all the wheels when you need them, rather than all the time, and costing fuel economy too.

2020 Ford Ranger Lariat InteriorComparing the interior of the Ford Ranger to the Toyota Tacoma
Toyota has sat back for a while and let a lot of their competition catch them in interior quality. It’s especially obvious when looking at some of their sedan line. In the truck world, it’s also the case.

While the Ranger isn’t dripping with luxury (like some F-150 trims), it has enough. My tester was the Lariat trim which is the swankiest trim available. It comes with remote start, Ford’s SYNC3 infotainment system, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

I often think trucks are too over-the-top appointed, and thus too expensive, so I think the Ranger finds its sweet spot when it comes to appointments and touch points. Comparing the two, the Ranger’s interior feels a little more updated and a little nicer than the Tacoma’s.

Both infotainment systems are easy to use, but I do like the vast improvements Ford’s made to the Sync3 system and I look forward to the soon-to-be-released Sync4. Toyota is due a major overhaul of the Tacoma and of the interior for sure in order to remain relevant.

2020 Ford Ranger Lariat FX4Which is more expensive, the Toyota Tacoma or the Ford Ranger?
Price is king. It’s really hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the two trucks, but looking at the Toyota Tacoma Limited vs. the Ford Ranger Lariat Supercab and the Ranger is less expensive (depending on how it’s appointed).

According to, the 2020 Tacoma has an average price paid of $39,907 to the Ranger’s $35,137. My tester was fully loaded and had a starting price of $38,675. With options and the Lariat package it had a final MSRP of $46,990.

I always hear about prices from readers and I get it. Everything is expensive, even these smaller trucks.

So, there’s a pretty fair comparison of the Toyota Tacoma and the Ford Ranger. As always, things are subjective. I like both trucks. If you had asked me last year which I liked better, I would’ve given the edge to the Tacoma. But after an impressive week with the 2020 Ranger, appointed the way I like it, the edge in my book goes slightly to the Ranger now. Hey, competition is good, so hopefully this segment continues to heat up and the consumer wins out with the ensuing competition.

Related story: KBB awards Ford Ranger Lowest 5-Year Cost To Own.

I want to hear from you tried and true Toyota fans out there too. Where did I go wrong? Am I wrong? Leave your comments for a good discussion. Also be sure to check out my thoughts on why the 2021 Ford F-150 is better than the 2021 Toyota Tundra.

Jimmy Dinsmore has been an automotive journalist for more than a decade and been a writer since the high school. His Driver’s Side column features new car reviews and runs in several newspapers throughout the country. He is also co-author of the book “Mustang by Design” and “Ford Trucks: A Unique Look at the Technical History of America’s Most Popular Truck”. Also, Jimmy works in the social media marketing world for a Canadian automotive training aid manufacturing company. Follow Jimmy on Facebook, Twitter, at his special Ford F-150 coverage on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can read the most of Jimmy's stories by searching Torque News Ford for daily Ford vehicle report.


Timothy Parker (not verified)    August 20, 2020 - 10:50AM

I think Ford has done well with the Ranger and it would be a serious consideration for me. I have a hard time calling it a "compact" truck, though. It is more of a mid-size truck, and I think that Ford even calls it that. So, for a utility, do-everything work vehicle for a home owner that doesn't feel like it overwhelms the driveway, I think it is still a bit large. I have read rumors of a smaller Ford truck in the works that I will be interested to see. For now, I think I'll stick with my trusted but aging S10. If Toyota would make a Prime version of their Tacoma, that would be a game changer.

Kraig MacKenzie (not verified)    January 21, 2022 - 8:37PM

In reply to by Jimmy Dinsmore

I got a great deal on an S-15. Traded it on a 2011 XLT SC first chance I got. Love it. Bought my roomie a 06' XLT RC. She wanted a foreign make until driving the ranger...I can't consider these new Ranger's compact truck's...?. She's 4'9" and need a come-along to get in there.

Brian Salisbury (not verified)    July 10, 2021 - 6:10PM

In reply to by Mark Hanson (not verified)

Exactly,plus the resale is so much better, the FORD right now is slightly better butv its a brand new model, you know they tested the Tacoma before coming out with it. I love the styling on my Tacoma so much better too.

Scott A Joseph, MD (not verified)    December 1, 2021 - 9:57PM

In reply to by Mark Hanson (not verified)

I work in the high desert of NM. My main interest in a truck is durability. I've not been aware that a Fix or Repair Daily could compete with the Toyota in that category. A truck in the shop is worthless. Concur with your comment.

Scott A Joseph, MD (not verified)    December 1, 2021 - 9:59PM

In reply to by Mark Hanson (not verified)

I work in the high desert of NM. My main interest in a truck is durability. I've not been aware that a Fix or Repair Daily could compete with the Toyota in that category. A truck in the shop is worthless. Concur with your comment.

David Jacobson (not verified)    December 24, 2021 - 7:38AM

In reply to by Mark Hanson (not verified)

My Toyota Tacoma sets at 365000 miles right now, going on 23 years of faithful service (No major issues). I’m sorry, but I don’t think you will get anywhere close to that with your Ranger. And don’t get me wrong, I love old school Fords!

Joe (not verified)    February 8, 2022 - 7:15PM

In reply to by Mark Hanson (not verified)

It might last 300,000 miles it will just cost you a small fortune in repairs to get it there. I have a Ford Edge & it is junk even my mechanic tells me it is garbage who works on them every day.

Daniel O'Gorman (not verified)    December 18, 2021 - 1:12PM

In reply to by Timothy Parker (not verified)

Tacoma's lack any creature comforts compared to ford. The keyless push button entry on a ford would sell me. I had my AC fail in just over the warranty covers. Toyota wouldn't even discuss it. Overpriced product!

Allen McDonald (not verified)    January 17, 2022 - 3:22PM

In reply to by Daniel O'Gorman (not verified)

Your argument on features (or lack thereof) on Toyota is a valid one because Toyota is very slow to jump on the bandwagon, especially with regard to technology. A perfect example would be how long it took them to get power seats. However early or low mileage failures compared to Ford (or really any American midsize) is probably not an argument you want to have.

Nathan Stacy (not verified)    August 22, 2020 - 12:00AM

Ya but 20 years down the road tell me which one is still going to be driving like new and actually have a resale value worth boasting. Toyota!!!! Toyota all the way. everything else is a wasted investment in the long run.

David Colipapa (not verified)    August 28, 2020 - 3:32PM

In reply to by Nathan Stacy (not verified)

I can attested to that...have a 2005 TRD Sport 4x4 4dr. w/203,xxx miles that drives very similar to my 2016 TRD Sport 4x4 4dr. w/40,xxx miles...every feature and options on the 05 still works fine...I’m most impressed with the ride rattles... Suspension if I decide to sell my 05 I know I can still get $10,000 plus off an msrp of $32,565.....

Dwight (not verified)    December 25, 2020 - 9:26PM

In reply to by Nathan Stacy (not verified)

Resale Toyota vs Ford Tacoma Wins
Longer lasting? Toyota Wins
Aftermarket accessories, Tacoma wins!
Off Road. Not sue because you don’t see many Rangers because most are buying Tacoma

Terry Miller (not verified)    January 1, 2021 - 6:52PM

In reply to by Nathan Stacy (not verified)

My 2002 Tacoma V6 won The black death of sludge award at 99K. Toyota refused to recall the engine for the Tacoma like they did for the Toyota Camry and Avalon V6. I never will own another Toyota.

Ben (not verified)    August 22, 2020 - 7:15AM

Just briefly looking online it seems as though you are not doing an apples to apples comparison. The Tacoma has a long bed as well up to 73.3 inches. Payload ranges from 1100-1620. Plus, if there is a hybrid coming soon and the tundra specs give any indication with a twin turbo hybrid I am assuming Toyota will put a nice kick in the tacoma. Mileage will probably jump to high 20's as well. I have a long bed Tacoma and love it. Plus one more thing that should always be talked and thought about.... reliability. Ford cannot touch Toyota in that department.

Rbrittne (not verified)    March 23, 2021 - 4:11PM

In reply to by Ben (not verified)

What are you talking about? all I've been reading is how the tacomas had engine and transmission problems tell me something I don't know. I am going out of my mind going back and forth between the ranger and tacoma! Help me please!!!

Ron Fithen (not verified)    August 22, 2020 - 8:41AM

I narrowed it down to these two and simply went w the Tacoma due to the legendary reliability. The Ford is nice, but the Tacoma is of legend.

Vash (not verified)    August 22, 2020 - 10:56AM

Another contender has been left out 05-2020 Nissan Frontier has had more power then the Tacoma unit 2016. Between 05-16 the Frontier was at 265hp with Tacoma 236hp. Also the ranger is a little bulky to say compact granted the Tacoma and frontier have gotten bigger than their respective 1st Gen. But the ranger is the bulkiest of the group.
I believe all these manufacturers have slid away from the true compact pick-up in the US. So people have resorted to either buy old, importing or custom build a true compact pick-up.

Lol (not verified)    September 21, 2020 - 5:52PM

In reply to by Vash (not verified)

The Frontier is left out, because it’s been left far behind. Nissan either needs to refresh it or kill it off. The Titan is a gorgeous truck, while the Frontier looks unchanged for the last decade.

John Botts (not verified)    August 22, 2020 - 11:08AM

Talk to me when you have 350,000 miles on that Ranger and still have the original clutch, brakes, and have NEVER had any sort of major mechanical issue like my 2003 Tacoma. OH, and Toyota put a brand new frame under it at 308,000 miles. Ford would NEVER do that! Their products last AND when they screw up, they stand behind 'em! Tacoma for life! We now have a 2016 Tacoma SR5 in addition to my '03!