by Jared Rosenholtz
When it comes to pickup truck sales, Ford sits atop the charts with its full-size F-150. But not everyone needs a full-size truck, and for the past seven years, you haven't been able to buy a mid-size pickup from the Blue Oval. That changes for 2019, as the fourth-generation Ranger arrives in the US. In the time since the Ranger has been off the market, the Toyota Tacoma has dominated the mid-size segment, ranking behind only the best-selling full-size trucks. But can the return of the Ranger challenge Toyota's dominance in the mid-size segment? The Tacoma is showing signs of age, meaning the all-new Ranger should be a worthy challenger. There's just one issue. The 2019 Ranger may be new to the US but it has been around in other markets for a few years now, meaning it isn't quite as fresh as you might think. Ford sent us a 2019 Ranger Lariat finished in Lightning Blue to see how well it will challenge the mid-size pickup truck segment.
For 2019, the Ford Ranger is all-new! After the previous model went out of production in 2011, the world received a new Ranger, but the USA and Canada didn't. 2019 saw that change, however, as a USDM-specific Ranger has joined the Ford line-up. Based on the global T6 Ranger, the fourth-generation US model is sold in two body styles - SuperCab (extended cab) and SuperCrew (crew cab) - and has undergone development to ensure better performance and a higher payload compared to the international variant. Only one engine derivative arrives in the US - a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder developing 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque - and the Ranger is sold in three trim derivatives.
The Ranger occupies the midsize pickup segment, which fortunately means real estate is limited in terms of design elements like garish grilles and oversized headlights as seen on full-size trucks. As such, the Ranger shares design elements like the hexagonal grille with Ford SUVs, underscored by an exposed steel bash plate on 4x4 derivatives and two front tow hooks on all models except the 4x2 XL. The XL also boasts black bumpers, front and rear, while the XLT and Lariat get body-colored items and wheel lip moldings. XL and XLT derivatives boast standard halogen headlights and daytime running lights, but on the Lariat, these are upgraded to LED headlights and DRLs. The Lariat is further differentiated by a chrome grille, while also riding on the 18-inch machined aluminum wheels compared to the XLT's 17-inch painted aluminum wheels and the standard 16-inch steel wheels on the XL. Sport and Chrome appearance packages are also available for further customization. Our tester was finished exactly how we'd spec it with a Lightning Blue exterior and the Sport Appearance Package.
A midsize body-on-frame pickup available in two cab styles, both Ranger SuperCrew and SuperCab derivatives ride on a 126.8-inch wheelbase and measure 210.8 inches in length and 85.8 inches wide. Extended cab models play host to a 72.8-inch cargo bed, while crew cab derivatives get a 61-inch bed. There are differences, however, as 4x2 models only boast 8.4 inches of ground clearance, while 4x4 derivatives increase that to 8.9 inches. Height varies between bodies, too, with the SuperCab 4x2 standing the shortest at 70.7 inches while the SuperCrew 4x4 is tallest at 71.5 inches. Approach/departure/breakover angles differ only by drivetrain, with 4x2 models presenting 27.9/25.2/22.7 degree figures while 4x4 models provide angles of 28.7/25.4/21.5 degrees. Curb weights range from 4,145 lbs in extended cab 4x2 guise to 4,441 lbs in crew cab 4x4 format.
A total of eight hues make up the exterior color palette for the 2019 Ranger, with six basic colors available on the XL. These include standard options like Shadow Black and Oxford White, as well as metallic offerings of the striking Lightning Blue, Ingot Silver, Magnetic, and the Ranger's signature copper color, Saber, which requires the addition of the 101A equipment package. The XLTgets the option of Hot Pepper Red at $395, while exclusive to the Lariat is White Platinum for $595. Our tester was finished in Lightning Blue, which is by far our favorite color and the one we recommend for making a bold statement.
The US didn't get the fourth-generation Ranger at the same time as the rest of the world because Ford knew the truck needed to be improved for the US market. As such, its launch was delayed as the chassis was developed further to increase payload and towing capacities. The frame rails were redesigned to be fully boxed, enabling the Ranger to haul up to 1,860 lbs in SuperCab 4x2 guise and tow up to 7,500 lbs regardless of the cab or drivetrain configuration. Payload capacity is class-leading, with towing ability falling second to only the diesel-powered offerings from General Motors like the Chevrolet Colorado. As is the standard for the segment, 4x2 models are exclusively rear-wheel-drive, while 4x4 models can switch between driving the rear axle or both, with s low-range transfer case aiding off-road ability. Only the Honda Ridgeline offers an alternative with its front-wheel-drive platform.
The Ranger is no one-trick pony, however, as the turbocharged 2.3-liter engine gives it some impressive clout in a straight line. It's quicker than all rivals with 0-60 mph being achievable in under seven seconds, with plenty of punch on offer, particularly in Sport mode.
All Ranger's sold in the US at present are powered by a handy 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-four. The gasoline motor uses a twin-scroll turbocharger for added refinement, developing outputs of 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, the latter arriving at 3,000 rpm. While rivals offer manual gearbox options, Ford gives you just a single self-shifting transmission option, equipping all Ranger derivatives with a ten-speed automatic gearbox.
Ford's 10-speed transmission ranks among our favorites in the mid-size truck segment, where many competitors are hampered with older gearboxes. It can offer the occasional rough shift, but it is well-behaved most of the time. We had no such complaints about the engine, which makes the Ranger feel like a rocket ship compared to competitors like the Tacoma. Its 310 lb-ft of torque provides smooth acceleration and the 2.3-liter EcoBoost makes some interesting boosty noises. As much as we'd love to see a more powerful Raptor variant, the existing EcoBoost engine is one of our favorites in this segment.
From the moment we took the Ranger out on the road, we were impressed by its refined ride comfort. Other trucks in this segment can bounce around over rough bumps but the Ranger absorbs them like a car or an SUV would, making it a more comfortable daily driver than many of its rivals - we are looking at you Toyota Tacoma. The steering is light and vague, making the Ranger easy to negotiate around tight parking lots despite its relatively large size. When the road runs out, the Ranger can be equipped with tons of off-road features, making it easy for even a novice driver to traverse rough terrain. We didn't have an opportunity to explore the Ranger's full off-road potential but it is nice to know Ford built it to get dirty.
Smaller trucks like this may end up replacing an SUV as a more capable family vehicle and in that purpose, the Ranger succeeds. The seats in our Lariat trim tester felt comfortable and we wouldn't mind spending time in the Ranger over a long road trip. We just wish the adaptive cruise control could bring the truck to a full stop - an issue that seems to be prevalent in this segment.
A single engine and gearbox combination makes for consistent gas mileage estimates on all trims, with the only differentiating factor being drivetrain. The Ranger is most economical in 4x2 guise where the EPA claims it'll consume 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined, while 4x4 derivatives boast estimates of 20/24/22 mpg. These class-leading figures rival even the diesel-powered Colorado, and the 18-gallon gas tank onboard the Ranger should yield an estimated range of 414 miles in 4x2 configuration. Fortunately, the impressive economy is achievable on regular gasoline. In our week of testing, the Ranger matched its EPA rating with an average of 22.2 mpg.
The Ranger's chassis might have gone a substantial amount of continued development for the US market, but the interior of Ford's smallest pickup still looks and feels like it came out in 2011 when this architecture first debuted elsewhere in the world. The design is unimaginative and the material quality feels lacking - particularly in the poorly-equipped base model. Some of the controls are awkwardly laid out, and the buttons for the climate control are small and hard to use on the go. The Ranger also suffers from a lack of rear passenger space, even in five-seat crew cab configuration, and while the front occupants have loads of space and ingress/egress are made easy by the step up into the cabin, drivers might struggle with the lack of rearward visibility from the pilot's seat.
We had no complaints about the leather chairs in the front of our Lariat trim, which feel supportive even over long driving stints. The rear seats are less steller, even in our SuperCrew tester, with 34.5 inches of legroom. That's more than Tacoma but we still wouldn't want to sit on those up-right seatbacks for more than a few hours. The SuperCab model only offers four seats instead of five and provides just 30.4 inches of rear legroom.
Headroom is pretty decent with 39.8 inches up front and 38.3 inches in the back in SuperCrew guise (35.9 inches in the SuperCab). These numbers are only slightly larger than the Tacoma but the Ranger's cabin feels more roomy in practice.
Lower trim Ranger models are available with a choice of either a cloth or vinyl interior but you will have to step up to the top Lariat trim to get leather. Our tester was fitted with the Ebony black leather but Medium Stone beige is also available and might look nice with certain exterior colors. We found the cabin materials to be up-to-par with other trucks in this segment, with a few cheap plastics scattered throughout the interior. These mid-size trucks haven't reached the same level of luxury found in the full-sizers but the Ranger still has one of the better interiors in this class.
Looking at the numbers alone, the Ranger seems like a highly practical buy. A 7,500-pound maximum towing capacity and peak payload capacity of 1,860 lbs seems impressive, but the latter is only available on the extended cab 4x2 model, and most recreational buyers will be looking at the 4x4 crew cab. In this guise, the Ranger can only haul up to 1,560 lbs - a figure beaten by several rivals. With only one wheelbase available, despite a choice of cab styles, the crew cab also only gets a measly five-foot cargo bed, although the 44.8 inches between the wheelhouses is decent. The extended cab models get 72.8 inches of length in the cargo bed, which allows for 51.8 cubic feet of storage capacity, compared to the crew cab's 43.3 cubic feet.
Where the Ranger falls flat is its limited in-cabin storage. The rear seat is a single-piece bench, and even when the base is flipped up, the support mechanism hampers useful storage space. The seatback doesn't fold very far forward, either. Small-item storage is marginally better, with a small center console box beneath the armrest and a couple of cupholders up front, while the door pockets are compact at best and the glovebox is average in size. For a utility vehicle, though, utility doesn't seem to be at the forefront of its priority list.
Mid-size pickups aren't known for being feature-packed from the ground up; they are primarily workhorses, after all. But, from a base level, the Ranger is kitted out with manual air conditioning, manually adjustable front bucket seats, three 12V power points, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a backup camera, while also boasting driver-assist technologies like forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. The XLT adds cruise control, a 4.2-inch driver information display, front and rear park sensors, and Ford's Co-Pilot360 suite of safety systems, which adds automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keep assist. It gets the availability of eight-way power-adjustable seating, and dual-zone climate control, all of which are standard on the top-spec Lariat. The Lariat also boasts heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, keyless access, and push-button start, while optional features include the likes of adaptive cruise control and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.
Our tester was optioned with Equipment Group 501A, which takes the Sync3 infotainment with an eight-inch touchscreen and adds a 10-speaker B&O audio system. We've become accustomed to Ford's Sync3 system, which is easy to navigate and offers excellent standard features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa integration. Touchscreen response is starting to feel a bit laggy compared to the competition but Ford is getting ready to roll out its highly updated Sync4 to certain 2020 models soon.
Despite the revival of the Ranger nameplate after an eight-year hiatus, the pickup hasn't had the best start to life as a reliable workhorse, being the subject of four recalls in its first year back on the market. These ranged from 17,965 vehicles recalled for a potential electrical short in the HVAC system to 7,579 vehicles recalled for incorrectly assembled front passenger seatbelts. Two further recalls pertained to the automatic gearbox that may incorrectly indicate being in Park, may unintentionally self-shift out of Park, and vehicles that could potentially roll despite being in Park. Despite these issues, J.D. Power ranks the Ranger 78 out of 100, matching all core rivals.
Ford also covers the Ranger under a three-year/36,000-mile limited warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty with five years or 60,000 miles of free roadside assistance.
One of the reasons the Ranger took so long to arrive in the United States in its current iteration was the furthering of its development to meet stringent US crash test standards. The delay wasn't in vain, as the Ranger achieved class-par scores of four stars overall from the NHTSA. The IIHS awarded the best possible scores of Good in five out of six crashworthiness tests and gave the standard front crash prevention systems on upper trims a Superior rating.
In 2019, we expect all vehicles to pack six airbags (including side curtain airbags), ABS, LATCH child seat anchors, and stability control - all of which are standard on the Ranger. It also has a standard rearview camera, automatic emergency braking, and forward-collision warning. Standard from the XLT, but available optionally on the XL, Ford's full suite of safety features falls under the Ford Co-Pilot360 banner, adding automatic high beam headlights, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, trailer tow monitoring, and lane keeping assist.
Mid-size trucks do not pack the same level of capability or luxury as their full-size counterparts, which is why we (and most consumers) just spend a bit more on the larger model. But in the mid-size segment, this revived Ranger makes a strong case for itself with handsome styling, an upmarket interior, solid safety and cabin technology, and capable off-road chops. The benefits greatly outweigh the flaws here and we would have no problem recommending the Ranger.
It feels more civilized than the Tacoma, more upscale than the Colorado and Canyon, and more capable than the Ridgeline. Plus, even though it has been around in other markets for seven years it's still seven years newer than the Nissan Frontier. The Jeep Gladiator might be the Ranger's toughest competitor but with a much higher price tag, the removable roof and doors might not be worth it for most truck buyers.
Priced more or less in the middle of the segment, the Ranger is available from $24,300 in XL 4x2 extended cab configuration, with the XLT grade pushing that up to an MSRP of $28,10 and the Lariat escalating the MSRP to $32,390. Depending on the trim, upgrading from extended to crew cab will add a little more than $2,000 to the price, while opting to switch from 4x2 to the 4x4 drivetrain adds $4,000 on the upper pair of trims and $4,160 on the XL. Prices exclude tax, licensing, and registration fees, as well as Ford's destination fee of $1,195. Various incentives are available, though, so it pays to shop around at multiple dealerships.
Unlike rival manufacturers who offer a plethora of trim options, Ford sells the Ranger in a simple three-tier lineup: XL, XLT, and Lariat. All are available in either extended cab or crew cab forms, all are powered by a 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder with a ten-speed automatic gearbox, and all three trims can be had in 4x2 or 4x4 guise.
The XL starts things off as the bare-spec workhorse of the range, equipped with 16-inch steel wheels, halogen headlights, and black bumpers. Seats are manually adjustable, the air conditioning, too, and the seat upholstery is standard durable cloth. The SYNC infotainment system comprises a basic AM/FM radio, six speakers, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot while basic driver assists include a rearview camera, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking.
The XLT improves on this with 17-inch alloy wheels, body-colored bumpers, cruise control, front and reak parking sensors, and Ford Co-Pilot360 software including automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assist.
The Lariat is the most luxurious model in the range with standard LED exterior lighting, 18-inch alloy wheels, a model-specific chrome grille, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, leather upholstery with heated eight-way power front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Ford's Sync 3 infotainment suite with an eight-inch touchscreen, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, and SiriusXM satellite radio.
2.3-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
2.3-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
2.3-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Despite a basic three-trim structure, a number of packages and standalone options are available to improve the specification levels of the Ranger. The bare-spec XL, for example, can be upgraded with the $1,135 101A equipment group, which adds cruise control, power side mirrors, remote keyless entry, and a perimeter anti-theft alarm. It can also be upgraded with Ford Co-Pilot360 safety features for $735, adding blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, and automatic high beams - all of which are standard on the XLT.
The XLT can be equipped with the eight-inch SYNC 3 infotainment system with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror for $995. Also available is the 302A package for $2,800, adding heated eight-way power-adjustable front seats, a sliding rear window, remote start, and the contents of the Sport Appearance Package. A $795 Technology package for the XLT and Lariat trims adds adaptive cruise control and navigation.
Being extensively equipped already, the Lariat can only be improved on through the 501A package, which adds a B&O ten-speaker sound system with HD radio on crew cab models, the contents of the Technology Package, remote start, rain-sensing wipers, and a windshield wiper de-icer.
All models are eligible for the Trailer Tow Package to unlock the 7,500-pound maximum towing capacity, and 4x4 models are available with the $1,295 FX4 Off-Road Package. The FX-4 package adds off-road-tuned suspension, off-road tires, an electronic locking rear differential, exposed steel bash plate, off-road screen in the instrument cluster, additional underbody skid plates, a terrain management system, Trail Control, and "FX4 Offroad" decals.
Unless you are fine driving a pretty utilitarian truck, we recommend skipping the XL and XLT trims to opt for the Lariat. This is where the Ranger finally starts to feel more like a vehicle you could drive every day and less like a vehicle from a work fleet.
Equipment Group 501A offers a better audio system, adaptive cruise control, built-in navigation, rain-sensing wipers, remote start, and a windshield wiper de-icer for $1,795, making it a well-priced package. We also recommend the Sport Appearance Package for $895, adding Magnetic Grey trim and giving the Ranger a more aggressive look. Our tester also included the FX4 Off-Road Package for $1,295 and a few other miscellaneous items, bringing the as-test price to $44,785 after destination and delivery.
In the hauling and economy stake, the Chevrolet Colorado is one of the only mid-size trucks capable of rivaling the Ford Ranger, with the optional turbodiesel engine matching Ford's economy figures and besting its towing capacity by 200 lbs at 7,700 lbs in total. With the V6 engine equipped, the Colorado is also a match for the Ranger's straight-line speed. However, the Ranger offers a higher maximum payload, and a more practical cargo bed despite the Colorado boasting a wider range of configurations. Both are similarly cramped and have fairly low-rent interiors, but at least the Colorado has more usable internal storage. It's a close battle between these two, but on-road handling dynamics swing the way of the Ford, especially with a more powerful engine from the start, while if it's off-road prowess you're after, the Colorado is the better bet. However, if your main consideration is price, a bare-spec Colorado starts at $3,000 less than the Ranger.
The Toyota Tacoma is a benchmark among mid-size pickups, offering multiple cargo bed and cabin configurations and a base 2.7-liter engine, but it still starts at $1,550 more than a base Ford Ranger. But it's not the most practical pickup, with its 6,800-pound maximum towing capacity falling short of Ford's 7,500-pound figure. The maximum payload also falls short on the Toyota, although its a little more practical inside the cabin. Ford bests the Toyota in terms of cabin feel and infotainment, with the available SYNC 3 system outgunning the Tacoma entirely. Toyota claws back with higher levels of standard safety across the range, and with the better off-road ability with dedicated off-road trims. However, the Ford is more livable daily, cheaper to purchase, more economical to run and operate, and more user-friendly. It doesn't do anything vastly better than the Tacoma, but it does a lot of things just a little bit better.