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Meet The Ford Ranger: Is This Your New Midsize Truck King?

Truck / 96 Comments

More bark and bite, but an EcoBoost engine and 10-speed auto ensure the Ranger stays zen in the city.

Diehard fans may not want to think of it this way, but the return of the Ford Ranger is an echo of the same rush to fulfill consumer needs that gave rise to the crossover. Automakers have learned how to iron out powerful engines and make them fuel efficient while teaching themselves how to wrangle daily drivability, off-road ability, and delivery truck utility into a single package and deliver it to customers, who moan "we want it allll" like undead zombies, with a bow on top.

With the midsize truck segment up 83% since 2014, it's unreasonable to expect the truck maker that has figured out how to remain an incumbent in America's best-selling vehicle segment to not fire back at GM, Toyota, and Nissan with a truck of its own. It's all thanks to those buyers who want a daily commuter that can keep up with an active outdoor weekend lifestyle that we have the pleasure of reintroducing the 2019 Ford Ranger to the segment. While Ford already sells the Ranger in just about every market except the American market, our wants and needs aren't the same as the rest of the world.

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To cope, the Blue Oval took the same architecture it uses for the global Ranger and reworked it, filling its new steel frame with US-specific components. Subjectively, we like this one better despite the fact that it's a lifestyle vehicle, not a work truck. Unlike Rangers found in, say, Australia, ours gets a more muscular body courtesy of a raised belt line that compliments a raked grille and windshield to combine strength with the logical art of aerodynamics. The the Ranger-stamped tailgate and steel front bumper both add visual strength to the truck, as do the optional LED headlights and taillamps, but aesthetic-first thinking did not prevail here. That's proven by the fact that both the front and rear bumpers are bolted directly to the frame.

Short overhangs also serve the dual purpose of cleaning up the Ranger's stance while enabling those bumpers to crawl over rocks without scraping. Looks, however, are nothing without a bite that backs it all up. No surprise here, Ford turned to EcoBoost for that. Under the twin-power dome hood is a 2.3-liter twin-scroll turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder that sends an undisclosed amount of power and torque to the wheels exclusively through a 10-speed automatic transmission. Ford claims torque figures to be on par with a V6, or enough to carry 5 passengers with gear and whatever ATV, watercraft, or camper that crowd decides to tow with it.

If towing is the goal, Ford shuffles optional exterior lighting that includes puddle lamps and bed lights into the options deck. Keeping the crew comfortable during the journey is a live rear axle and electric steering while entertainment responsibilities are doled out to the 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system loaded with SYNC 3 software, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. Technophobes can opt out by selectively not using the system, but on opposite day they can play with onboard WiFi, AC power outlets and USB charging, an optional B&O sound system, and Amazon Alexa integration. That's all good and well for the weekday commute, but the ability to get away from the silicon world is part of the Ranger's appeal.

For those intent on reaching that goal, Ford marries the capable Ranger with its FX4 Off-Road package that adds off-road tuned shocks, all-terrain tires, a heavy-gauge steel front bash plate and skid plates—both mounted to the frame, and the Ford Truck division's Terrain Management System. Though it's similar to the software on the F-150 Raptor, the Ranger's TMS gets four modes: Normal; Grass, Gravel and Snow; Mud and Ruts; and Sand. By fine tuning the throttle, transmission, and traction control, the TMS enables drivers to milk the most out of the Dana Trac-Lok differentials and chunky off-road tires to truly enjoy the outdoors.

The latter hardware comes standard on both 2WD and 4WD models with an electronic-locking rear differential on only the 2FX and 4FX models. Ford kept that e-diff as an option for the rest of the range in case that's your piece of make-it-or-break-it equipment. New for FX4-equipped Rangers is Ford's Trail Control system that acts similarly to Toyota's Crawl Control function in all but the fact that it can operate at a greater range of speeds so off-road novices can utilize it too. Ford acknowledges that coming back to the city after a weekend playing mountain man can be tough on the senses, so it gave the Ranger a few of its own like automatic emergency braking, which comes standard on the lowly XL trim.

Opt for the XLT or top-trim Lariat and Ford throws in lane keep assist, lane departure warning, a reverse sensing system, and a blind spot information system that accounts for trailers of different sizes into the pile of technological incentives. Meanwhile pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control remain Lariat-only standards, ensuring all eight optional colors and available Sport or Chrome Appearance packages stay in mint condition. Ranger fans and Donald Trump, get those hands ready to sign checks or Tweet because this Michigan-built truck is coming to market in early 2019.