A year and a half after the Ford Ranger nameplate finally made a return to showrooms across North America it can be said that it was a good idea and maybe one that should have been acted on sooner. Perhaps Ford was afraid of cannibalizing F150 sales with what is now a mid-size truck, however with 2019 ringing up about 90,000 Ranger sales in the US and Canada while the F-series didn’t see much of an effect on sales (13,000 less year over year) and this year looking on track for similar Ranger results, bringing the Ranger back was clearly a wise move.
Our readers on other continents are likely wondering what the hubbub is about as this Ranger has been sold to them for years, in fact this marks the tenth year of this basic bodystyle that was refreshed in 2015. Yes, Ford adapted it for North American sale with mainly a completely different engine and transmission than the rest of the world gets along with a different (steel) front bumper assembly and assembles ours here in Wayne, Michigan, but it more or less got its green card as an already amortized design.
Nevertheless, to us it looks fresh and maybe even tastes a little of the forbidden fruit that we are always clamoring for. At the prices charged, even if it does take some F150 sales, so be it, Ford likely makes as much profit from the typical Ranger as they do the F150, especially as discounts on Ranger seem lower than those on F150. And if nothing else, there clearly are people that want or need a truck but don’t want or need something so large, or at least so wide, might as well keep them in the fold or just bring them into it altogether.
Our extremely bright red (Race Red) example is every bit as bright and almost fluorescent as it appears in these pictures. With the blackout package applied it stands out even more, it’s a little bright for my own tastes but at least it’s an option. As with most trucks there seems to be a bit more variety in the color palette than other vehicles lines and of course the number of trims and options is fairly comprehensive as well – while not targeting all of the potential market, the available selections likely cover the vast majority of that market.
Looking at what Ford did is interesting in that there are only two body styles available, a SuperCrew as here and then a SuperCab design with clamshell rear half-doors. The 5-foot bed is standard on the SuperCrew but a 6-foot bed is standard on the shorter cab and no, you cannot mix and match, hence there is no 6-foot bed available on the SuperCrew, although all of the competition does offer such a combination.
Perhaps it will be added if sales keep up the momentum, but it’s unlikely as nowhere else in the world is that combination offered either and it would involve a longer frame, which would add development expense. Basically they played it quite safe and likely economical by only offering what they figured would be the most popular versions. I suppose either of the other possibilities (SuperCab with short bed or SuperCrew with long bed) would add some incremental volume but likely less than anything of real significance and would introduce more complexity into the supply chain as well as dealer inventory mix.
The interior at first glance looks fairly modern or at least contemporary compared to the competition. Yes, it’s a sea of blackness but for a truck that gets dirty not a bad choice. Looking at the plastics everything seems of decent to good quality; once you start touching everything you realize that this interior does in fact have just as many hard plastic surfaces as the Nissan Frontier.
The big difference is that most of the plastics are grained attractively and the very (very) slightly softer dashtop looks identical to the rock hard plastics below it. However the points that most people would contact on any given day are soft, such as the console lid, armrest inserts, wheel, etc.
Thinking about it further it becomes apparent that the sheen of the plastics makes a big difference and is done correctly here, i.e. it looks like it could be soft somehow. Whatever the case, it’s not at all bad, comparatively speaking. The portions that weren’t textured to look like leather were a graphite-painted plastic, mainly on the dash ahead of the passenger with the Ranger logotype molded into it, around the air vents, instruments, and the door handles. Not unattractive, as well as durable and better than raw plastic.
The seats, leather-clad in this one, are soft and offer a multitude of adjustments as does the wheel, it took me a bit longer to get comfortable than in most vehicles, I couldn’t ever find a position that didn’t leave the steering wheel a little flatter-angled than I’d prefer but got used to it after a few days. That’s fairly subjective, however, and not an indictment, it’s really something one has to try for themselves.
Headroom was abundant, and the center console was not intrusive, I mostly drove without my leg resting on it or being at all impinged by it. The leather itself felt fairly thick and durable, I haven’t generally been very impressed with how Ford leather ages over the years but this seemed better than in years gone by to my eye at least.
The back seat similarly was comfortable with enough headroom; a mid-size truck like this will never have the lounge space of a full-size but I was able to sit upright without my knees or head touching anything (I’m 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam) and could hold that post for at least a couple of hours if unexcited about a transcontinental journey. The center section of the front seatback is recessed a good inch or so relative to the surround, so if you sit more demurely with your legs closer together you have more room than if you don’t.
In short, for two people it’s great, for a family with up to two middle-school-aged kids it’s perfectly fine, if four adults or larger kids or greater than four occupants total, then a full-size truck will be vastly more comfortable. No big surprise there.
Underneath the back seat were a couple of compartments to load more oddments into along with the jack handle and lug wrench. The jack itself is behind the seatback which folds forward as one piece. One unfortunate aspect of the whole design is that the whole rear bank raises as one unit, it was not split, so if you wanted to haul something back there it eliminated the possibility of having a passenger along as well.
The rear sliding window was of particular interest to my kids, our own truck does not have one and it was the first thing they noticed about this one (well, besides the bright color, of course!) Note the crimped seal on the tonneau cover, that’s a result of opening the tailgate and closing it again without unlatching and lifting the cover a bit, if the tailgate is closed before the cover, then the seal lays correctly (flat). It has no problem closing either way, but over time that seal will likely either get damaged or become permanently deformed.
One aspect I particularly enjoyed was the proximity of the Ford Sync 8″ touchscreen to my right hand. It was a very short movement to change radio stations or whatever else with my hand that was on the wheel as the screen is at the same height and almost on the same plane, it ended up being about the same focal length away from my eyes as the instruments.
Those instruments were interesting in that there is a speedometer in the middle with two digital gauges on the sides. The right side mainly showed either radio data or navigation instructions (per user choice), and the left side showed other date such as fuel economy, trip length etc along with a digital fuel gauge and surprisingly a small ribbon-type tachometer that sat right next to the fuel gauge. It wasn’t of much use, as it was too tiny, but interesting to see what kind of rpm the engine was turning at time. But hardly necessary and not something that would be missed, hence it being a toggle selection in one of the menus.
Note the buttons on the steering wheel, there are a lot of them. They control the menus in the display screen, the adaptive cruise control, audio system (volume for example has two buttons, and there is a knob about 6″ to the right on the center console), as well as the phone and of course to engage the voice assist function. I got decently familiar with all of them over my week, but it’s getting to be borderline overload with too many of them similarly shaped.
In case anyone hasn’t seen Ford’s Sync3 screen at this point, this is it in “Audio” mode, you can tune using the arrows or with a button on the steering wheel or via voice command. Or choose one of the presets towards the bottom. It’s crisp and easy to decipher (better in real life than these pictures). If you want to change to something else controlled by the screen, just choose it at the bottom of the screen.
For example this is the “Climate” screen, adjust at will but of course these options are all duplicated with hard buttons below in the center stack which generally are the default option although this is better placed, in the Ranger the angle of the HVAC controls makes them a little less than intuitive to use without glancing down.
And here is the Navigation screen, you can zoom in or out and change the orientation using the superimposed buttons or you can pinch, zoom and scroll around as on a smartphone. It works well, but with Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto all of these navigation systems are starting to become somewhat obsolete in many people’s minds. However, and this is a big deal that nobody ever really mentions, those options do not work if you are somewhere without cell phone coverage which could certainly happen in a truck that is capable off road and you decide to take full advantage of that, the satellite navigation would still work in that instance.
And lastly here’s a sample image from the backup camera. With a truck (or any vehicle) of this size, the 8″ screen is plenty, if it was much bigger it’d just take up space. However it’s easy to note that the bezel is quite large, so I’ll bet an 11″ screen would easily fit. Who knows what the future will bring…There’s also an option to angle the shot straight down which is useful when hooking up a trailer, no longer does one have to get out and climb back in repeatedly or drag the trailer around.
The gear shifter was a traditional center console style with +/- buttons on the side in order to hold a gear. Ahead of it was a large cubby with two USB ports, well-sized for a phone and/or sunglasses and two cupholders to the side of the shifter that mostly held my small stuff and of course something like a cup or bottle as well. Behind that a console box with a padded lid, no more USB or other connectivity ports inside that though.
The knob on the center console just this side of the gear selector controls the drive, i.e. 2Hi, 4Hi and 4Lo. I tried it and it worked like in most any other truck and as you’d expect, i.e. pretty seamless although I never had occasion to actually use 4Lo. And the handbrake was old-skool, a real handle that pulled up and with a pushbutton at the end to release. I vaguely remembered how to operate this type of design and didn’t screw it up once…
Driving the Ranger was as one might expect of a body on frame truck, i.e fairly softly spring, some bounciness from the tires and suspension, but able to provide the type of ride on the typical far from perfect roads that are more and more becoming the norm – in other words you could run over virtually anything without being concerned about breaking something in the suspension or one of the wheels or tires, in fact I think this is a large part of the attractiveness of trucks to a lot of people these days.
No, not an overly smooth ride, but a sort of fun one in that you know what is going on underneath but the truck takes it in stride and absorbs the impacts, sharing them with the occupants on their cushioned seats rather than just jarring them.
One of the big things that sets the Ranger apart from its competition was the decision to use a 2.3liter turbocharged four-cylinder “EcoBoost” engine coupled with a 10-speed automatic transmission. The engine was interesting, in this application it didn’t drive at all how you’d think a turbo-four does, in fact it did a very good impression of a large-ish V-6 except in higher speed driving situations (freeway) where it seemed MORE willing to provide a good boost of power as and when needed or desired. It was not peaky, overtly laggy, or anything else, in fact the engine was great and suited the truck very well. I’d happily consider either this engine or a slightly enlarged version of it in an F150 as well, a similar spec F150 weighs maybe 500 pounds more than this Ranger did.
With 270hp at 5500rpm and 310lb-ft of torque at a somewhat high 3000rpm it acquitted itself well up here at our 5000′ altitude and just as well up around Laramie, Wyoming, at over 7000′. I never felt it was underpowered, and there was always “more” available. The transmission, while shared with the Ford Expedition that we reviewed recently, was however tuned quite differently and I would say much rougher, i.e. whereas in the Expedition the shifts were very smooth and mostly imperceptible as in a luxury car/truck, here they were often noticeable, although not particularly bothersome.
I know that sounds odd, but the whole package somehow felt more “mechanical” here, more than once it reminded me a bit of driving an older Ranger with a V-6 and a manual transmission, with a winding up of torquey power and then a shift and then more power. Hard to explain, but different than the Nissan Frontier for example which while having a new V6 and 9-speed, that 9-speed was smoother than this 10-speed in this particular application and at higher speeds (at least at this altitude) the Ranger is definitely more powerful.
The engine is equipped with stop/start technology along with an “off” button, overall the system is middling, you know when it turns off with a little shudder, then as the AC gets warm it turns itself back on with another little shudder. It’s there and it’s noticeable but it’s also saving some gas at longer lights so whatever, I’m mostly becoming inured to these systems and only noticing the ones that are really good or really bad. This one is typical.
As said it likely improves gas mileage slightly and this truck really did well in that department. I drove 475 miles in it (I’ve been busy!) that includes almost 200 miles to and around Denver’s freeways, a 150 mile roundtrip to Laramie, about 100 miles locally running around to various houses for showings and other errands, and maybe 25 miles off paved roads which included lots of stops and starts as well as idling while taking pictures.
After all that the displayed average came in at 23.8mpg and was right on when I got gas for it in the middle of the week. The government figures call for 20City, 24Highway and 22Average, so almost 24 for my average is quite good. On regular unleaded to boot, for comparison the new Frontier engine combo with similar off-road package did around 19mpg in similar driving although this week featured vastly hotter temperatures and that was during a week of heavy snow with more 4WD usage.
It was an easy vehicle to drive for distances with good visibility, that decade-old design manifests itself in thinner A-pillars than is the norm nowadays. The suite of safety items (lane keep assist, blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning with automated emergency braking etc) seemed to work fine to the extent that I used or needed them and are becoming more and more invisible, needing less and less adjustment to them in every new vehicle I drive so equipped.
I won’t say I took this off-road any further than I could conceivably have gotten with a basic Ford Fusion and some good judgment mixed with a little daring, but I did drive far faster on unpaved roads with it than I would have with said sedan. The ride on such roads was excellent, in 2WD the truck allows for a little fun involving the rear end, and once 4WD is engaged it’s all business again or at least until far higher speeds than I was willing to risk here were achieved. You’ll have to figure that out for yourself on a test drive with the dealer in the passenger seat if he/she lets you.
This particular truck was equipped with the FX-4 OffRoad package which consists of specially tuned shock absorbers, offroad-friendly tires that were remarkably good on tarmac as well (I believe I’ve liked these same Hankook DynaPro AT-Ms on the Nissan Frontier we tested earlier this year as well), and electronically locking rear differential, various steel skid plates under the front bumper and to protect vital underbody components, as well as a special screen selection that will show pitch, roll, and steering angle information.
The bed at 5 feet long is a bit limiting if used to larger beds, but for occasional use it’s adequate, this one was equipped with a tri-fold hard tonneau cover that provided some locking protection although not completely weather proof, a few trickles of rain did enter during overnight rains. I did use the bed to transport a full load of items to Laramie, and while more space is always better than less when needed, the flipside is that much of the time it’s just extra space with a larger wrapper. There wasn’t anything I left behind or could not make fit, but it wasn’t as easy as just tossing everything in the back of a full-size or longer bed.
The Ranger lineup (XL, XLT, Lariat) starts at $24,410 plus $1,195 destination for an XL SuperCab 4×2 with 6foot bed and a killer set of steelies, but this top of the line Ranger Lariat starts higher of course, that being $38,675. Of course the SuperCrew body and 4WD accounts for a large chunk of that, however other standard features include Automatic High Beams, LED headlights, foglights and taillights, and Power locks including tailgate.
Additionally, Heated and powered leather seats, leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel, FordPassConnect 4G WiFi HotSpot, Keyless entry and start with every door handle having overall lock and unlock capability, most of the above mentioned safety systems (BLIS, LKA, AEB), the SYNC3 8″ screen, HomeLink, as well as Perimeter Alarm come along for the ride. AppleCarPlay and AndroidAuto is included as well, and showing how quickly this has become an industry standard, isn’t even mentioned on the window sticker in this case anymore, although they do still list stuff like a “Belt-Minder Chime” in the safety section of same.
Option though on this truck accounted for another $7,040 which seems like a lot, but I suppose it doesn’t cost any less to build a smaller truck than a larger one and it’s hard to begrudge Ford for trying to make a profit. In this case, Equipment Package 501A for the Lariat series pays for the Sync3 system configured with the Bang&Olufsen Sound System (as good here as in the Expedition) with HD radio, SiriusXM, and ten speakers; Remote Start, Rain-Sensing Wipers, and the Technology Package which includes Navigation and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Oddly the Adaptive Cruise Control is listed again as being part of the next $1,995 option package which also includes the 265/60R18 Outline White Letter Off Road Tires, Black Appearance Group, Black Painted Aluminum Wheels, Running Boards and the Spray-In Bedliner.
The Tray Style Floor Liner fetches another $160, Trailer Tow Package will suck a further $495 from your wallet, the Securicode keyless keypad that looks very added on here as opposed to how integrated it is behind glass on the Expedition for $95, and the FX4 OffRoad Package, detailed above for $1,295. The Tonneau cover runs $995, but the front license plate bracket is generously included at no charge.
Grand Total $46,910 which is lower than the same level of equipment in an F150 but may be more usable to a subset of the buying public. You could spend more than that but you could also be more judicious in the selections and come out the door for a lot less. I myself could probably configure something using the basic XL trim level to start and be happy with it, but some people need all the toys and that’s fine as well of course. Keep America rolling and all that jazz.
The Ranger represents an interesting entry in Ford’s lineup that shows they aren’t just a one-trick pony, they can scale down from the F150 as well as they can scale up from it. I still think they shouldn’t have canned all the passenger vehicles but a Ranger is a far smaller jump from a passenger car or small CUV than an F150 is, so if for no other reason than that this seems like a good investment with well thought out configuration variables that is likely generating a decent return for Ford.
The segment isn’t very large at this point (compared to full-sizers), and a ten-year old platform with more modern mechanicals can hold its own against the competition, which frankly isn’t generally really cutting edge either. It may be a big country, but you may not need that big of a truck. Finally there are some options.
Thanks go to Ford for providing us with this vehicle and a full tank of gasoline for the week. We appreciate it!