2019 Ford Ranger

SAN DIEGO — Back in 2011, after years of lackluster sales, Ford bumped off its mid-sized Ranger pickup. Dodge/Ram did the same with its Dakota, and then a year later GM pulled the plug on the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Those moves effectively ceded the mid-sized truck segment to just two players: Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.

But three years after vanishing, GM returned with all-new mid-sized Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups that were so far advanced from the previous models they rekindled consumer interest. Sales boomed, with U.S. mid-sized trucks up 83 percent since 2014. The new Colorado was even named the 2015 Motor Trend truck of the year.

Ford immediately took notice of GM’s success with its new pair of trucks. Ford was already selling an all-new Ranger in 180 countries around the world — except for North America. Finally, a full seven years later, in January of this year, Ford answered the call and revealed an all-new Ranger for North America at the Detroit Auto Show.

In June Ford converted its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., from building the Ford Focus to begin producing the new Ranger.

This week, I had the opportunity to drive all three of the new Ranger models — entry-level XL, mid-level XLT and high-level Lariat – at the media introduction in San Diego.

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. All models are available as either 4x2 or 4x4 and powered with 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 it big brother the F-150.

The new 4x4 Rangers also get some special off-road hardware with the available FX4 package, including the excellent Terrain Management System (TMS). It includes 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.

Similar to the F-150 Raptor’s TMS, it 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.

Our 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.

The FX4 Off-Road Package introduces 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.

Ford set up a special and challenging off-road course for media to have a firsthand driving experience using the FX4 capabilities. The FX4 easily handled the obstacle course that included steeply banked tracks, putting the Ranger in precarious positions up to 25-degree angles, stepped downhill slopes, fording water, and rough trails. It handled everything thrown at it with ease, properly showcasing its extreme capability and did so with ample power and a solid, rattle free quality.

Aiming squarely at the Toyota Tacoma, the Ford folks on hand clearly wanted to prove the Ranger’s off-road capability, power, and quality with a side-by-side and back-to-back trail and on-road demonstration. Driving both vehicles, the Tacoma while extremely capable off road, felt and looked dated by comparison and seemed a vehicle a bit past its freshness date. Tacoma’s refinement in the quality of its cabin, technology, switchgear and comfort pales in comparison to the new Ranger.

Still, while the Ranger is a solid new offering, not all is flawless for this iconic truck, returning after its seven-year hiatus. 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 and modest styling changes. Sold in Australia, the Ranger is also offered in both Raptor and Ranger Wildtrak editions. 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.

I’m tall and lanky, but the interior felt surprisingly roomy with ample amounts of 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 that includes leather seats and gear shift 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. It can tow and haul more than its competitors and delivers an excellent ride with ample power and a comfortable ride. While the cabin is roomy, it fails to impress with acres of hard plastic and economy looking materials. 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.

Vital Stats
Price: $24,300 - $32,200
Price as Tested: $38,320
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

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

— Jim Prueter