The Ranger you remember is dead. Long live the new Ranger.
It’s around 9 a.m. at an upscale country grocery store in Ramona, California, a bit outside of San Diego. My drive partner and I are walking through the parking lot about to set off on the second leg of our drive of the 2019 Ford Ranger when a man pulls up in a 1990s-vintage edition.
“That the new one?” he asks. “When are they going to bring back a basic model? Single cab, manual, crank windows? I don’t need all this fancy stuff.”
I delivered auto parts in a fleet-special Ranger for a previous job, so I lament the loss of the no-frills small pickup as much as my inquisitor. Unfortunately, the truck he wants no longer exists. Sure, you can get the 2019 Ranger in a base XL trim with halogen headlights and steel wheels, but it’ll still come with “fancy stuff” like forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking and a 10-speed automatic transmission. As a result, you won’t find a Ranger for around $20,000 USD like you could before the model departed the U.S. market in 2011. The 2019 Ford Ranger starts at $25,395 USD and tops out around $45,000 USD.
The Ranger has changed, but that’s partially because the segment has changed. Today’s midsize pickup buyers aren’t just looking for a minimalist vehicle that gets the job done. They want fuel economy, creature comforts, and capability all in one easy-to-live-with package. At least that’s how Ford sees it.
According to Ford Ranger marketing manager Brian Bell, midsize truck customers want a vehicle they can commute in, park in their garage, and take on the occasional adventure. “It’s a lifestyle vehicle for them,” he said. “They need a vehicle that can haul them and their gear out to the place where they’re going to recharge.”
The Ranger is now positioned as a vehicle for buyers who don’t necessarily need to drive a truck every day but are willing to pay a little extra for one that meets their size requirements and expectations of a daily driver. Perhaps that’s one reason why Ford chose to hold the media drive of the 2019 Ranger in La Jolla, an affluent coastal neighborhood in San Diego. That ritzy setting would’ve seemed an odd choice for the previous Ranger, but the new one doesn’t feel too out of place in a town where you can surf in the morning and shop for high-end luxury goods in the afternoon.
Of course, “new” is a relative term. The 2019 Ford Ranger is based on the same T6 platform as the global Ranger, which has been available overseas since 2012. The North American Ranger looks just like the refreshed version of that truck, but the pickup has been engineered specifically for our market. Apart from getting subtly different body panels, including a steel front bumper, the North American Ranger has a new fully boxed frame reinforced by six hydroformed and through-welded crossmembers, along with a number of chassis improvements intended to reduce weight, improve comfort, and offer more towing capability. Some of those upgrades include rear parabolic leaf springs, hydraulic engine mounts, and cast-aluminum front steering knuckles. The 2019 Ranger has a max towing capacity of 7,500 pounds (3,402 kg) in all configurations.
Then there’s the lone drivetrain combo: a turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-four that’s tuned to deliver 270 hp and, more important, 310 lb-ft of torque. That engine is mated exclusively to the 10-speed automatic transmission that was co-developed by Ford and GM, a gearbox that’s becoming more ubiquitous. We’ve yet to find any faults with that transmission in several applications, so we’re not complaining.
Going with a mono-spec drivetrain is an interesting choice considering the Toyota Tacoma offers two engines and two transmissions and the Chevrolet Colorado has three available engines and just as many transmissions.
“Our competitors have a base four-cylinder powertrain that gets them the fuel economy, and then they have an optional six-cylinder powertrain that gets them the performance,” Bell said. “In our case, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost—we call it the ‘and’ solution because it gives them the best of both worlds.”
If you’re going to pick one drivetrain to serve an entire model lineup, the 2.3 EcoBoost/10-speed combo is a pretty decent choice. The turbo-four and 10-speed, which can also be found in the Mustang EcoBoost, each get unique calibrations that suit the truck well. Turbo lag is nearly imperceptible, and torque is always just a blip of the throttle away.
Just as it is in the F-150, the 10-speed auto is quick to smoothly kick down several gears on demand, each time landing you in the sweet spot of the engine’s powerband and delivering a satisfying rate of acceleration. I wish the gauge cluster had a display like the F-150’s to tell me how many gears I was dropping, however. Going uphill, the transmission would usually pick a gear and stay in it, though there were a few occasions when it needed to hunt for the right gear.
The Ranger is EPA-rated at 21/26/23 mpg (11.2/9/10.2 L/100km) city/highway/combined in rear-drive form and 20/24/22 mpg (11.8/9.8/10.7 L/100km) with four-wheel drive. I saw an indicated 22 mpg (10.7 L/100km), matching the 4×4’s EPA combined rating. Stop/start comes standard and is reasonably smooth on restart.
For a body-on-frame truck, the Ranger rides and handles well. Body motions were controlled on winding roads. The electric power steering system, also specific to our Ranger, provides enough resistance and feedback to not feel too artificial, and inputs are transmitted to the front wheels precisely. The ride is smooth on pavement, and even on rougher roads or dirt the suspension does an admirable job isolating the cabin from imperfect terrain.
Inside can be a nice place to be, thanks to comfortable seats, available tech, and handsome styling. The Ranger rides low enough that I could step my 5-foot-7 frame into the cabin without feeling like I was hoisting myself in. Yet the seating position is appropriately high, giving you the commanding view you expect from a truck. XL and XLT models get cloth seats, and Lariats get leather-trimmed buckets. The cloth-upholstered seats feel high quality and left my backside with no complaints after two hours of driving in and around San Diego. Ford’s optional Sync 3 infotainment system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen was another highlight, though the standard screen is on the small side at 4.2 inches. Despite its size, the rearview camera display comes through surprisingly clear.
The Ranger can be had in SuperCrew and SuperCab body styles. I found the back seat of the crew cab model comfortable enough, as I still had a couple inches of legroom sitting behind my own seating position. Taller passengers might find the seats cramped, though. The SuperCab rear seats are mostly vestigial, as they’re barely suitable for humans of any size; then again, that’s par for the course for any midsize pickup with rear half-doors. If you do cram people back there, at least charging their devices shouldn’t be an issue, as the Ranger offers up to four USB ports (two in front and two in the rear).
Ford set up an off-road course to give journalists a controlled taste of the Ranger’s four-wheeling chops. The course was pretty tame and didn’t reveal much about the truck’s capabilities, but a demo of Ford’s new Trail Control was impressive. First offered on the 2019 Raptor, the off-road cruise control feature works just like Toyota’s Crawl Control but can be used in any transfer case mode and set up to 20 mph (32 km/h). Where Toyota’s system floods the cabin with disconcerting noise from the ABS system, Ford’s is mostly quiet and a tad smoother. Less experienced off-roaders can use the system to get through just about any situation that calls for careful modulation of the throttle and brakes. The feature comes standard with the FX4 package, which is available on all 4×4 models.
With its responsive and powerful drivetrain, refined ride, and impressive towing and fuel economy numbers, the 2019 Ford Ranger disrupts the midsize pickup race between the Tacoma, Colorado, and Honda Ridgeline, and it might just lead the pack now. (We’ll reserve judgment until the Jeep Gladiator arrives later this year.) Fancy stuff and all, the Ford Ranger is back and better than ever.
|2019 Ford Ranger|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD/4WD, 4-5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||2.3L/270-hp/310-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,150-4,450 lb (mfr est)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||210.8 x 85.8 x 70.7-71.5 in|
|0-60||7.0-7.3 sec (MT est)|
|EPA ECON||20-21/24-26/22-23 mpg|