Ford Ranger — Back in the game

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Probably one of Ford's most debatable decisions of the 21st Century was to ax the aging Ford Ranger in 2011 — for many years a compact/mid-sized pickup truck leader — instead of building an all-new version. It left General Motors a clear playing field when it introduced all-new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-sizers that were far advanced from previous models.

By that time Ford was selling a new Ranger in180 countries around the world — except for North America. Finally, a full seven years later, in January of this year, Ford answered the call — as mid-sized pickup sales soared in the U.S. — and revealed an all-new Ranger for North America.

We're sure Ford fans have not been disappointed. The new Ranger looks, feels and drives much like a slightly smaller version of the best-selling F-150 full-sized pickup. The Ranger comes in familiar trim levels — the entry XL, mid-level XLT and range-topping Lariat. We drove the Lariat.

On the inside the Ranger mimics the F-150 with Ford's Sync 3 technology in addition to available features such as smartphone connectivity, blind-spot monitoring and even in-car Wi-Fi. The Ranger also comes with a healthy number of advanced safety features including forward collision mitigation and lane keeping assist.

The Ranger is available in SuperCab 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 are 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 its big brother F-150.

Don't be fooled with the truck's mid-sized moniker, it still stretches out 210 inches in both SuperCab and SuperCrew configurations with a 126.8-inch wheelbase and a SuperCrew curb weight of 4,441 pounds.

The 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.

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.

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. Manual vehicle operating controls 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.

We were happy with the performance of the turbocharged four in our SuperCrew test truck proving it has the wherewithal to hustle down the road, pass slower-moving vehicles and effortlessly merge into fast-flowing four-lane traffic. It can also flex its muscles in around-town cruising. The SuperCrew has been timed from 0-to-60 in the mid-6 second range, speedy for a truck in the mid-sized segment. It has a healthy 7,500-pound towing capacity with a 1,560-pound maximum payload capacity.

Hats off to Ford for offering the same active-safety features in all its trim levels, something many other segment players reserve strictly for their top-of-the-line models. Both the XLT and Lariat get Ford's Co-Pilot 360 package (also available on the XL for a reasonable $750) that includes forward-collision warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitor, front and rear parking sensors and automatic high-beam control. Adaptive cruise control is optional across the trims.

Prices start at $25,495 for the XL SuperCab including a $1,195 destination charge. They range up to $39,760 for a Lariat SuperCrew with four-wheel drive. Note that you can save around $4,000 across the trim levels if you can live without four-wheel drive. Our Lariat SuperCrew 4X4 test truck with $4,705 in options carried a bottom line of $44,285.

Base price: $25,496; as driven, $44,285
Engine: turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 270 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 310 pound-feet @ 3,000 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Drive: four wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 126.8 inches
Length: 210.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,441 pounds
Turning circle: NA
Cargo capacity: 43.3 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 7,500 pounds
Payload capacity: 1,560 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 18 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 20 city, 24 highway, 22 combined
0-60: 6.5 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, Jeep Gladiator

The Good
• Healthy turbocharged engine
• Full range of safety features
• Long list of options available

The Bad
• Some controls small and difficult to use

The Ugly
• Built on aging T6 platform