2019 Ford Ranger first drive review

Ford’s reincarnated Ranger feels like a car that does everything a truck can do

The 2019 Ford Ranger can handle weekly commutes, but it’s made for weekend adventures.
The 2019 Ford Ranger can handle weekly commutes, but it’s made for weekend adventures.
The 2019 Ford Ranger can handle weekly commutes, but it’s made for weekend adventures.

Highs

  • On-road driving dynamics
  • Off-road capability
  • Ergonomic cabin

Lows

  • Lack of multiple engine options
  • Plain exterior and interior

The Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck is the best selling vehicle in the United States, but when it comes to smaller midsize trucks, Ford is behind the curve.

When Ford withdrew its Ranger from the U.S. in 2011, the midsize truck segment was more or less dead. It was stocked with aging vehicles buyers didn’t seem to care about. But over the past few years, new versions of the Chevrolet Colorado (and its GMC Canyon twin), Honda Ridgeline, and Toyota Tacoma have reinvigorated the segment. The ancient Nissan Frontier continues to stubbornly hang around as well, and Jeep will launch its highly anticipated Gladiator in calendar year 2019.

So, for the 2019 model year, the Ford Ranger is back. Buyers have a choice of two body configurations – SuperCab with a 6.0-foot bed, and SuperCrew with a 5.0-foot bed – and three trim levels: XL, XLT, and Lariat. A base rear-wheel drive XL SuperCab starts at $25,395, while a fully loaded four-wheel drive Lariat SuperCrew tops $45,000. Dealers are taking orders now, but deliveries don’t begin until January.

Plain wrapper

Even after Ford stopped selling the Ranger in the U.S., it continued using the name for trucks sold internationally. The 2019 Ranger is based on the current global-market version, but Ford says it was heavily reengineered for North America.

“This [truck] is based off the global Ranger platform, however it is uniquely designed for the North American market,” Brian Bell, Ranger marketing manager, said. Major changes include a new frame and suspension setup, and a powertrain specific to the North American market. Exterior styling has also changed somewhat.

Ford and other automakers are making bold styling choices with their larger pickup trucks, but that doesn’t seem to be trickling down to the midsize models. The Ranger has a fairly conservative look, but then again so do most of the other trucks it competes against.

At least the Ranger’s design is functional. Unlike the Toyota Tacoma, the hood slopes down and the front overhang is very short, providing good outward visibility whether off-roading or just navigating a parking lot. In contrast to the Chevrolet Colorado, the front fascia also doesn’t hang down far, making it less likely that bodywork will be caught on obstacles.

Off-road capability was matched with on-road civility.

The interior looks as plain as the exterior, and isn’t exactly the last word in sophistication. Even the top-of-the-line Lariat version looks low rent, despite its leather upholstery. But this is a truck, after all. If you want luxury, buy a sedan.

The Ranger is available with a four-door SuperCrew cab or a SuperCab, with rear half doors and cramped rear seats that are only suitable for short journeys. As with many other trucks, the four-door cab is only available with a shorter pickup box, so buyers have to choose between cab space and bed space. Ford also won’t offer a traditional two-door cab sans rear seats. Interior space is about average among current midsize trucks, although the Honda Ridgeline offers substantially more passenger volume. That’s because the Ridgeline is essentially a Honda Pilot crossover with a pickup bed.

2019 ford ranger review fullwide
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

The 5.0-foot and 6.0-foot boxes will fit 43.3 cubic feet and 51.8 cubic feet of stuff, respectively, according to Ford. Both boxes are 44.8 inches wide at the wheelhouses, with a maximum width of 61.4 inches. Those numbers are comparable to the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, and Nissan Frontier, and well ahead of the Honda Ridgeline.

Tough tech

The 2019 Ranger gets Ford’s familiar Sync 3 infotainment system, with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, and a single USB port. Higher-level models can be equipped with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, additional USB ports, and a B&O Play audio system.

Sync 3 is an intuitive infotainment system, even if it doesn’t have too many bells and whistles.

Sync 3 has proven to be a reliable and intuitive infotainment system, even if it doesn’t have too many bells and whistles. The plain graphics may be out of place in a Lincoln Navigator, but they fit the no-nonsense ethos of the Ranger just fine. They are also easy to read regardless of the vehicle. We also appreciate the array of analog controls in the Ranger for vital functions like temperature. The B&O Play audio system provides decent sound quality, but it’s not a must-have feature.

The Ranger is available with a host of driver aids, including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and blind spot monitoring. As on Ford’s larger trucks, the blind-spot monitoring system can cover an attached trailer as well as the truck itself.

In addition to tech for on-road driving, the Ranger has a couple of features designed to make off-roading easier. The FX4 package includes a version of the Terrain Management System from the F-150 Raptor performance truck, and a system called Trail Control.

Terrain Management System adjusts various vehicle parameters for different surfaces. It includes four modes: normal; grass, gravel, and snow; mud and ruts; and sand. On an off-road course set up by Ford, the Ranger was able to transition from driving on loose dirt to plunging through a mud bog with the push of a button. Trail Control acts like off-road cruise control, handling acceleration and deceleration while the driver steers. It was able to guide the Ranger up and down a steep hill with no problem. 

Fun to drive on road and off road

While most trucks offer a variety of powertrain options, the Ranger is only available with one. A 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, which is sent to the rear wheels or all four through a 10-speed automatic transmission shared with the larger F-150 truck.

Making a four-cylinder engine the only option seems like a risky move, considering that competitor trucks offer larger V6 engines. But it’s in keeping with Ford’s strategy of using smaller turbocharged engines to achieve better fuel economy without sacrificing power. It’s also part of the reason why Ford chose a twin-turbocharged V6 for its GT supercar, instead of a more exotic engine. But how did that plan work out in the Ranger?

Pretty well, actually. The Ranger’s engine has less horsepower than the V6 engines offered in the Toyota Tacoma (278 hp) and Chevrolet Colorado (308 hp), but the Ford offer more torque. The Tacoma and Colorado only produce 265 lb-ft and 275 lb-ft, respectively. However, Chevy also offers a four-cylinder diesel version of the Colorado with less power (186 hp) but substantially more torque (369 lb-ft) than the Ford (the same specifications apply to the Chevy’s GMC Canyon twin).

The aging Nissan Frontier’s V6 produces 261 hp and 281 lb-ft, while the unorthodox Honda Ridgeline (it’s based on the Pilot crossover’s unibody platform, not a traditional truck ladder frame) has a V6 rated at 280 hp and 262 lb-ft.

Ford claims the Ranger will tow up to 7,500 pounds when properly equipped, and boasts of a 1,860-pound payload capacity for the midsize truck. Both figures put the Ranger ahead of most other trucks in the category, but the Colorado diesel can tow up to 7,700 pounds, according to Chevy. The upcoming 2020 Jeep Gladiator is expected to offer a greater towing capacity (7,650 pounds) but a smaller payload capacity (1,600 pounds) than the Ranger.

2019 Ford Ranger
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

So the downsized 2.3-liter four-cylinder can match the muscle of larger engines, but can it improve on their fuel economy? Ford expects gas mileage of 23 mpg combined (21 mpg city, 26 mpg highway) with rear-wheel drive, and 22 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 24 mpg highway). That makes the Ranger the most fuel-efficient gasoline midsize truck, albeit by a small margin in some cases. Again, though, the Chevy Colorado diesel outperforms the Ranger with an EPA-rated 25 mpg combined (22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway) with rear-wheel drive, and 23 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway) with four-wheel drive.

While we’re on the subject of the Colorado, it’s also worth noting that Chevy sells the ZR2 off-road performance version in the United States, but Ford has no plans to bring the comparable Ranger Raptor here. At least the standard Ranger can handle a bit of mud and dirt.

An FX4-equipped Ranger is capable of doing more off-road than most buyers will ever ask of

The optional FX4 package adds special dampers and tires, as well as skid plates to protect the underbody. An FX4-equipped Ranger is a competent off-roader capable of doing more than most buyers will ever ask of it. The above-mentioned Terrain Management System and Trail Control features make it easy for even novice drivers to play in the mud.

Off-road capability was matched with on-road civility. The Ranger still feels like a truck, but the interior is relatively free of noise and vibration – even on the FX4’s more aggressive tires. The steering was remarkably precise for a truck, and the turbocharged engine provided power without hesitation. Despite having to juggle 10 gears, the transmission did its job smoothly and unobtrusively. The Ranger felt almost car-like compared to a Toyota Tacoma Ford brought along. Of the two, the Ranger seemed like it would be much easier to live with as a daily driver.

Rivals

The midsize truck segment is small but competitive, with a handful of automakers each taking very different approaches. Here are the 2019 Ford Ranger’s rivals.

Chevrolet Colorado (base price: $20,500)/GMC Canyon (base price: $21,400): The Colorado feels the most like the Ranger, in that it’s a traditional truck that aims for a high degree of on-road refinement. But while Ford went with a streamlined trim-level and powertrain lineup for the Ranger, Chevy offers myriad options for the Colorado. Diesel models can tow more than the Ranger and get better fuel economy, while the Colorado ZR2 offers more off-road capability. The GMC Canyon is mechanically identical to the Colorado, but has a more upscale interior, and doesn’t get the ZR2 option.

Honda Ridgeline (base price: $29,900): The Ridgeline is an outlier among trucks. It’s the only one to use a car-like unibody platform. This pays dividends when it comes to interior space and on-road refinement, but the Ridgeline lags behind the Ranger in towing and payload capacity. The Ridgeline is the perfect choice for someone who wants a truck but doesn’t want to deal with the normal truck compromises. But the Ridgeline requires some compromises of its own to make that happen.

Nissan Frontier (base price: $18,990): The current-generation Frontier dates back to 2005, making it one of the oldest vehicles on the market. Not surprisingly, it lags behind the Ranger and other newer rivals in tech, fuel efficiency, and overall refinement. But the Frontier does offer an honest simplicity that can’t be found with newer vehicles, and its base price also undercuts rivals.

Toyota Tacoma (base price: $25,550): The Tacoma is many buyers’ default choice, and rightfully so. Toyota has a well-deserved reputation for reliability, and the Tacoma is a capable off-roader. But on the road, the Toyota feels light-years behind the Ford. The Tacoma also has poor outward visibility and the current-generation model’s interior feels dated after just a short time on sale. 

Peace of mind

Ford offers a three-year, 36,000-mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty and a five-year, 60,000-mile, powertrain warranty. Because the Ranger is an all-new vehicle, it’s hard to predict future reliability. It also means crash-test ratings for the truck are not available at this time. Ford offers industry-standard safety features like stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. 

How DT would configure this car

Our ideal Ford Ranger would be a four-wheel drive XLT SuperCrew model with the FX4 off-road package. We think having usable back seats and more interior storage space is more important than a longer bed, hence our choice of the SuperCrew over the SuperCab configuration.

We would choose the XLT over the base XL and top-spec Lariat because we think it offers the best value for money. The XLT allows us to add the 8.0-inch touchscreen and additional USB ports, but we don’t think the higher-level Lariat model includes any must-have features. With its upgraded tires and dampers, as well as the Terrain Management System and Trail Control tech features, the FX4 package turns the Ranger into a competent off-roader. And what’s the point of buying a truck if you’re not going to take it off-road?

While the Ranger is a brand-new model, we’re expecting plenty of aftermarket upgrades as well. Ford will offer Yakima accessories through its dealerships, including kayak racks, bike racks, and a bed rack that can accommodate a rooftop tent. We would also keep an eye out for suspension lift kits and bigger, more aggressive tires to increase the Ranger’s off-road capability, as they become available.

Conclusion

Ford may have been late to the midsize truck party, but the 2019 Ranger was worth the wait. The Ranger does everything a truck should do, but it can still handle everyday driving like a passenger car. It’s ready to do battle with the Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, and other rivals.

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