2019 Ford Ranger Lariat FX4 — Ford brings back the midsize pickup

By Jim Prueter

(June 2, 2019) It’s been seven years since Ford last sold its midsize Ranger pickup. It was discontinued following the 2011 model year due to slow sales over the previous decade. Dodge/Ram did the same with Dakota, and then, a year later, GM pulled the plug on the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Those moves effectively ceded the midsized truck segment to just two players: Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.

But three years after vanishing, GM brought back all-new, slightly larger, better-equipped midsized Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups that were so far advanced from the previous models that they rekindled consumer interest. Sales boomed, with U.S. midsized truck sales up 83 percent since 2014. The new Colorado was even named the 2015 Motor Trend Truck of the Year.

Taking notice of booming sales for the new Colorado and continuing success of the Tacoma, Ford wanted back in, and was conveniently already selling a Ranger in 180 countries around the world. Except for North America.

For 2019, Ford brought Ranger back to the midsized pickup market in the United States. It really wasn’t difficult to modify the global Ranger with a tougher look, including an aggressive grille, a twin domed power hood, a shortened front overhang, finished with a higher beltline and packed with driver-assist technologies and other features designed for the North American market.

Last December, I had the opportunity to drive all three of the new Colorado-sized Ranger models — entry-level XL, mid-level XLT and high-level Lariat — at the media introduction in San Diego. I recently spent a week test driving the Lariat CrewCab 4x4 with the optional Sport Appearance Package and FX4 off-road package.

The new Ranger is available in SuperCab, a two-door model with a six-foot cargo bed; and SuperCrew, a four-door with a five-foot cargo bed. There is no six-foot bed option with the SuperCrew, but it is offered on the Colorado, Canyon, and Tacoma.

All models are available as either 4x2 or 4x4, powered by the same 2.3-liter EcoBoost twin-scroll turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with 270 horsepower and best-in-class gas-powered torque rating of 310 lb-ft, with auto stop-start technology and a standard 10-speed automatic transmission, the same transmission used in big brother F-150.

The FX4 Off-Road Package on our tester includes Ford’s all-new Trail Control technology. It’s like using cruise control with feet off the gas pedal, but is designed for low-speed, rugged terrain. Trail Control takes over acceleration with speeds set between one and 20 mph, sending power and braking to each individual wheel thus allowing drivers to focus on steering along the course.

Our Lariat FX4 test Ranger also included the available Dana Trac-Lok differential for increased all-terrain traction to go along with its two-wheel high, four-wheel high, and four-wheel low settings. Other FX4 exclusives include off-road-tuned shocks, chunky all-terrain tires, a frame-mounted heavy-gauge steel front bash plate, frame-mounted skid plates, exposed front tow hooks and “FX4 Off-Road” box-side badging.

The Trail Control technology includes four distinct drive modes: normal, grass, gravel and snow, mud and ruts, and sand. The system can shift on the fly to automatically change throttle responsiveness, transmission gearing and vehicle controls to tailor traction, drivability and performance to any given terrain or weather condition.

Trucks that are off-road-ready off the dealer lot are all the rage right now. I took our test FX4 to the challenging off-road Butcher Jones State Park in Arizona for a firsthand driving experience using the FX4 capabilities. The FX4 easily handled the naturally rugged and steeply banked, deeply rutted, and boulder-strewn trails, putting the Ranger in precarious positions in up to 25-degree angles, stepped downhill slopes, fording water, and deep sand. It handled everything thrown at it with ease, properly showcasing its extreme capability with ample power and a solid, rattle-free quality.

Still, while the Ranger is a solid new offering, not all is flawless for this iconic truck. While Ford claims the Ranger is “all-new,” the truth is it’s basically a makeover of the “T6” Ranger that’s been sold globally since 2011 with a few new features mentioned above. Manual vehicle operating controls such as audio, heated seats, climate control are very small and difficult to read. Lower trim levels still use a key for starting rather than push-button start that has become the norm for most vehicles today.

The overall cabin has a plain appearance, the power mirror controls are mounted on the instrument panel rather than the door and are hard to find and operate. Second-row seat room is small with minimal legroom. The tall bed height makes access from the sides difficult, especially for shorter people, and the tailgate isn’t damped so the tailgate will slam down when dropped. Finally, I found the running boards to be a nuisance rather than helpful, and get in the way when getting in and out of the vehicle, with my pant legs getting soiled with road grime or mud and snow.

Further, while a diesel engine is offered in other parts of the world, there are no plans for it — or any other engine options — to be offered in the U.S. at this time; manual transmission is also unavailable.

I’m tall and lanky, but the interior felt surprisingly roomy with ample head, shoulder and legroom. Entering and exiting the Ranger was easy. Yet, I found the interior to be staid, colorless (unless you like various shades of gray) and mostly utilitarian, rather than fun and inspiring. The interior was composed of various shades and a few textures of hard plastic. In fact, the entire instrument panel, center console door trim, and upper door trim was hard plastic, except for the door armrests and center console storage bin cover.

Upgrading to the Lariat offers little in the way of interior improvement, but includes leather seats and gearshift knob, leather-wrapped steering wheel and soft-touch covering on top of the instrument panel. It also adds ambient lighting and two 4.2-inch colored productivity screens in the instrument cluster. 

The new Ranger also comes standard or available with a wide array of driver-assist and advanced connectivity technology. Depending on trim level, Ranger offers or includes pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, forward and reverse sensing systems, lane-keeping system, blind spot information system with trailer coverage and cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, rearview backup camera, and hill start assist.

Overall, the new 2019 Ford Ranger is an excellent truck and is now one of the most capable and user friendly trucks in the class. Ford claims it can tow and haul more than its competitors and delivers an excellent ride with ample power and a comfortable ride. Its off-road creds are impressive and easy to use. There are numerous standard and available features, including a user-friendly infotainment system and plenty of driver assistance technology and safety features.

There’s little to complain about in the 2019 Ford Ranger and it deserves serious consideration from any midsize truck buyer. But be prepared for sticker shock; the price is a hard pill to swallow.

Vital Stats
Price: $38,565
Price as Tested: $44,240
Powertrain: 2.3-Liter EcoBoost twin-scroll turbocharged 270-hp I-4 connected with a 10-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 20-mpg City – 24-mpg Highway – 22-mpg Combined (4x4 configuration)
Seating: Up to 5

Where Built: Wayne, Michigan

Crash Test Results: The Ranger has not been crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as of this writing

Competes With:
Chevrolet Colorado
GMC Canyon
Nissan Frontier
Toyota Tacoma
Jeep Gladiator

Fab Features:
Superb on road comfort and off-road capability
Surprisingly quiet with comfortable seating and ride, easy to drive
Advanced safety and technology features