Honestly, I never expected to like the new Ford Ranger.
Ever since the company announced this nameplate was returning to North America after a seven model-year hiatus, I viewed the move with narrow-eyed suspicion and an unnecessary dose of face-scrunching incredulity. I thought for certain Ford would do little more than hastily pluck a substandard product from its global portfolio and unceremoniously dump it on the market with as few changes and at the lowest cost possible, just like they did with the EcoSport crossover. But how wrong I was.
Dearborn’s latest pickup is a rough-and-tumble rig that brings unexpected capability, refinement, and technology to the flourishing midsize-pickup segment. Even though it’s a little late to the party, competitors should be concerned.
A Compact Pickup No More
You may remember the previous-generation Ranger, which departed from Ford’s North American lineup around model-year 2011. Crude and outdated, it was a compact pickup, truly the last of its breed as all the competition (save the Nissan Frontier) had morphed into midsize models as they were redesigned by their respective companies. Following suit, the new Ranger has grown as well.
Contending with the Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma and, depending on who you ask, possibly even Honda’s unibody Ridgeline, this truck seems to have been optimized to compete in the very heart of the retail midsize pickup market. Just three trim levels are offered: XL, XLT, and Lariat (with several available options packages). Also, two bodies styles are on the menu including SuperCab models with a six-foot bed and room for four people, as well as SuperCrew versions brandishing a five-foot-long cargo box and one extra seat. No matter the model, the width, wheelbase and overall length remain identical.
The Ranger can also be defined by what it does NOT offer. A regular-cab body is M-I-A, there are no optional powertrains, a manual transmission is absent, and engineers seem to have forgotten about fancy aluminum bodywork as you get with Ford’s bigger trucks.
This pickup’s cabin is well thought out and comfortable, though the Colorado might have a slight edge in overall quality. Ford’s swift and straightforward Sync 3 infotainment system is offered, with support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Available technology like adaptive cruise control, Amazon Alexa skills, Waze integration, and rain-sensing windshield wipers give the Ranger an edge over rival models.
As one would expect, this truck’s SuperCrew cabin is plenty roomy, with lots of rear-seat head- and leg-room, though the aft backrest is a little more upright than necessary, a minor gripe. For added versatility, the lower cushion flips up, revealing a small storage cubby or allowing the Ranger to swallow larger pieces of cargo.
This midsize truck’s front buckets are decidedly thronelike, supportive in all the right places and long-haul comfortable. Even with the lower cushions at a chair-like height it still offers tons of headroom. From a comfort standpoint, Ford’s new Ranger absolutely destroys the Toyota Tacoma, with its wonky, sitting-on-the-floor driving position.
Easing the burden of arduous trips, Ford CoPilot-360 is standard. This suite of driver-assistance features includes goodies like lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring and more.
Downsides to this truck’s interior are few. The shift lever is comically tall and its physical climate controls are far too small and dark, relegated to the bottom of the center stack. Using them with work gloves on is likely an impossibility. Fortunately, there are redundant controls for this within Sync 3.
No Choice for You!
On paper at least, the 2019 Ranger seems to be at a disadvantage compared to rival models like the Tacoma and Colorado. The former offers two engine options, the latter, a whopping three. For better or worse, just one drivetrain is available in Ford’s latest midsize pickup, a gasoline-drinking 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine.
Rated at 270 ponies, its horsepower is comparable to what rival trucks’ optional V6 engines deliver. As for torque, it peaks at an impressive 310 pound-feet, which gives the Ranger a distinct advantage over everything else in the segment, save diesel-powered versions of the Colorado and GMC Canyon, both of which crank out 369 units of twist (their horsepower is much more modest at just 186).
Tuned for truck duty, this EcoBoost engine differs slightly from units that are used in other Ford vehicles like the Mustang, Explorer or Lincoln MKC. For starters, the compression ratio has been boosted to 10-to-1; it also features a higher-pressure fuel pump, which runs at more than 3,600 PSI (250 bar). There is a cooled exhaust-gas-recirculation system, variable-displacement oil pump and grooved main bearings supporting the forged crankshaft. This powerplant is also tuned to run on more affordable 87-octane gasoline, however, if you fill the tank with premium fuel you can expect closer to 300 horses.
Curiously, the Ranger also has a mechanical fan. This decision might result in additional parasitic drag, but engineers say the design flows more air than an electrically driven alternative, helping keep under-hood temps in check while towing or hauling heavy loads in challenging conditions.
As for the transmission, just one is offered, the same automatic (the 10R80) found in Ford’s larger F-150, though it’s fitted with a different bell housing adapter and torque converter for use in the Ranger.
Underneath that handsome body is a fully boxed frame that’s reinforced with six through-welded cross members. Parabolic rear leaf springs provide a controlled ride without sacrificing capability. Speaking to its toughness, this truck has endured the exact same durability testing as Ford’s larger F-150.
But what can you do with the new Ranger? Well, a lot. It offers a best-in-class payload rating of 1,860 pounds. It can also tow up 7,500 pounds, more than any other gasoline-powered midsize truck. For the record, when properly equipped, GM’s diesel duet should be able to drag a couple-hundred pounds more.
Two-wheel-drive Rangers sticker at 21 miles per gallon in city driving, 26 on the highway and 23 mpg combined. Opt for the available 4×4 system and those figures drop to 20, 24 and 22, respectively. Still, this should be the most economical gasoline-powered rig in its class. A seamless stop-start system helps bolster these figures.
And for all you truckers out there, the Ranger’s fuel tank is rather modest at just 18 gallons (68 liters) so you might be making a few extra stops on those cross-country drives.
Concerns about Ford only offering one engine in the new Ranger are unfounded. The truck’s EcoBoost delivers excellent performance and fuel economy, the efficiency benefits of a base four-cylinder engine with the performance than an up-level V6.
This four-pot engine is smooth and muted, offering plenty of off-the-line scoot with more-than-acceptable top-end pull. Just don’t expect it to sound like a V8, or even a six-cylinder engine for that matter. The Ranger’s 10-speed transmission makes the most of what this powerplant has to offer.
Despite having so many ratios in its stack, this transmission never seems to hunt. It’s almost always in the right gear given the current driving conditions; it’s also quite smooth. Upshifts are usually imperceptible and so are downshifts, well, most of the time. In my testing, the gearbox would occasionally jerk when dropping a gear or two, particularly while climbing hills but perhaps it was still adapting to my driving style.
The 2019 Ranger’s handling is secure and stable. Its steering wheel, which has a pleasantly meaty rim, provides agreeable amounts of heft for a planted feel. If there’s one glaring dynamic downside to this truck, it’s probably the brakes. Stopping power is never in question, but the pedal itself is far too mushy, sinking what feels like half a foot as you apply gentle pressure. A bit more starch in the pedal would be appreciated.
Two-wheel-drive Rangers deliver a refined on-road ride that’s nicely balanced, neither too firm nor overly soft. Four-by-four models are a bit stiffer. Models so equipped can also be had with a Terrain Management System, which adapts the truck’s behavior to different driving conditions. They even offer Trail Control, which is like cruise control for off-road driving.
The Verdict: 2019 Ford Ranger Review
Better late than never, the old adage goes. In taking its time entering the midsize-pickup market, Ford has delivered a truck that could be the segment’s best. Ranger has a dynamite powertrain, is very refined and how can you argue with its capability? I wouldn’t be surprised if it rapidly became the best-selling midsize pickup in America.
Rangers sold in Canada will only be offered with four-wheel drive. While the trim structure remains the same as in the U.S., base XL models will only come with SuperCab bodies, while top-of-the-line Lariat versions are SuperCrew only. Splitting the difference, XLT variants can be had with either cab configuration.
In the U.S., base price for a two-wheel-drive, SuperCab XL model is $25,395 including $1,095 in destination charges. Swing for the fences and nab a loaded Lariat version and plan on spending at least 40 grand. Look for the 2019 Ford Ranger at dealerships very soon.