2019 Ford Ranger First Drive: Welcome Back to the Stage


It's been eight years since small pickup truck buyers had a new Ford Ranger option but given how many of the old Rangers are still being well used, it looks like Ford may have a deep and wide audience ready to take a closer look at this all-new celebrity.

It wasn't that long ago when Ford argued it didn't need a small pickup; customer tastes were moving to larger (and in some cases less expensive) half-ton pickups and other manufacturers retreating entirely from the shrinking mid-size pickup segment. Now tastes are shifting back, with manufacturers like Honda, Jeep and Nissan updating and increasing their investments in trucks for discerning lifestyle pickup buyers. Ford is the latest of the ensemble to return (some say kicking and screaming) with a version of the global Ranger (sold in many other parts of the world) and, from the looks of it, North American pickup buyers will benefit from the choice.

We recently had our first drive of the all-new 2019 Ford Ranger in Southern California to find out if this new entry will keep up with the competition, offering buyers something of a superstar — or if it will be just another face in the crowd.

We should note that Ford is being cautious, competing only in the most popular configurations. The 2019 Ranger has just one wheelbase length so it can offer two of the most common versions for the class: a SuperCab (the extended-cab choice) with a 6-foot bed or a SuperCrew (with four full-size doors) with a 5-foot bed. For simplicity's sake, the Ranger will be offered with only one engine (a turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four-cylinder gas engine) and a 10-speed automatic transmission with either 4×2 or 4×4 drivelines. Buyers will have their choice of three trim levels — XL, XLT and Lariat — and will be able to select between several special packages to provide the pickup with a more unique look. Those packages include the , Sport and Chrome appearance packages as well as a few technology and trailering packages.

Finding Your Motivation

Some may think choosing a four-cylinder engine to power a pickup truck (even a smaller one) is a risky move, but this new twin-scroll-turbocharged 2.3-liter engine makes 270 horsepower and 310 pounds-feet of torque and delivered plenty of motivation in all the configurations we drove; in fact, the only engine with more torque in this segment is the bigger and brawnier turbo-diesel option available in the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

We had the chance to run through some mountain canyons and passes above San Diego, with some stretches running more than 5,000 feet above sea level. We put (and pushed) the new pickup into and out of tight corners and through long straightaways where the road meandered from hilltops into long descents. Except for an occasional hard downshift when going off-throttle into a corner, engine power and gear selection was well-matched, especially when the transmission was in Sport mode where gears held longer both up and down the rev band. We especially liked how the throttle sensitivity and steering tighten up in this mode when you pull the gearshift lever all the way back to the "S" position. The chassis itself is well-balanced; we never found a situation where the front end didn't carve into the turn or where the rear end became unsettled.

for the 2019 Ford Ranger is 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined, making it the most fuel-efficient gas truck option in the mid-size class. We ran about 200 miles over freeways and two-lane mountain roads from sea level up above 5,000 feet and we finished our all-day run with a 21.1 mpg average — not bad given how enthusiastic we were through the fun parts of the mountain roads.

Clawing to the Top

It's also worth mentioning how well the part-time four-wheel-drive system integrates engine power with the transmission gears on nasty trails; the Terrain Management System software allows for the multiple terrain settings to change throttle response, traction control, steering feel, shift points and more. The four settings (for use in 4-high and 4-low range) are Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand and Normal. (Although this feature is not new to the mid-size class, Ranger is the only one that allows the system to work in both 4-high and 4-low — the Toyota Tacoma has a similar system but is accessible only in 4-low and the Honda Ridgeline uses the system as well but does not offer a low range.) Add to this system a strong FX4 Off-Road Package and you can see why we never found any obstacles on our off-road test track we couldn't conquer, even though we tried to get the Ranger stuck (full disclosure: this course was designed by Ford engineers at a private mountain ranch). FX4 includes uniquely tuned monotube shocks, a locking differential, more aggressive 265/65R17 Hankook Dynapro AT-M all-terrain tires, a rather flexible rear leaf spring (there is basically only one with an overload spring) and more.

The 4WD system has all the right parts, gearing and driver readouts, but what separates this new 4×4 pickup from the others is how well it all works together — you select the type of situation you're confronted with, you get to decide if you need the rear locking diff engaged, then you can engage (Ford software that works like a super-slow-speed cruise control) if the obstacles are too intimidating. The system controls throttle inputs and braking so you only have to steer. Engage the system with a simple touch of the button and set your speed with the regular cruise control buttons, and you basically sit back and let the truck navigate the problems for you. The system is similar to Toyota Tacoma's Crawl Control (which has been around for several years), but it is much quieter, much less jerky with its movements and more easily controlled with more fine-tuned settings.

Paying Your Dues

We also did a little bit of towing and hauling with our Rangers. Of course, we know that most people who buy a mid-size pickup will not tow or haul that often but given that most of these vehicles are purchased with adventure activities in mind, it's always good know how they perform just in case they get the call. We hauled a pair of motorcycles in one 4×2 SuperCab and another with a 500 cc all-terrain vehicle in a 4×2 SuperCrew — both likely adding around 500 to 600 pounds of payload. Although not anywhere near the Ranger's maximum payload capacity (1,860 pounds for a SuperCab 4×2 and 1,770 pounds for a SuperCrew 4×2), the load did provide us with some good information. The extra weight over the rear axle was almost neutralized by the fairly aggressive Tow/Haul mode, which kept the engine revving at a higher rpm by holding gears longer before upshifts and proactively downshifting when slowing down. The rear-end suspension is a standard feature as well, not feeling too soft or tuned for empty ride quality. Ford includes the same single parabolic arched leaf spring and overload spring (as well as a set of specifically tuned Hitachi monotube shocks for every configuration) on the entire Ranger lineup to more evenly distribute weight no matter what the load or harsh input.

When we took our turn towing a 5,500-pound wakeboarding Moomba Craz Pro watercraft (not so coincidentally powered by a Ford-sourced inboard 6.2-liter V-8) on the highways and streets of La Jolla, Calif., we found our little four-cylinder engine plenty strong enough to keep its revs up and slot the right gear in the transmission to make short work of the extra weight. Our only selfish complaint is that the Ranger will not be offered with towing mirrors, so getting a full view of what's behind will be tricky for anyone who tows — unless of course the load is cement board on a flatbed trailer. We found throttle response to be almost instantaneous, without a hint of lag.

And the Oscar Goes to …

The safety features that are standard or available on the 2019 Ford Ranger depend on the trim level and special packages ordered. for this new Ranger starts at $25,395 (4×2 SuperCab XL) and runs up quickly through the trims and cabs to the highest starting price of $39,480 (4×4 SuperCrew Lariat; prices include destination).

This new Ranger does not try to revolutionize the mid-size pickup class by offering features or technology never before seen; however, it does offer enough feature and trim choices to satisfy the vast majority of customers. There is a lot of value in what Ford is offering in the 2019 Ranger. We'll have to wait and see whether this new addition to a moderately growing segment can attract enough attention to win awards or make it a top seller. From our time behind the wheel, the Ranger certainly seems to have promise, offering several unique and well-integrated technologies at a reasonable price. If we were going to make any predictions, we'd say this could be one of the rare new entries to watch.

Manufacturer images; photos by Mark Williams




Latest expert reviews