The verdict: Ford is late to the mid-size truck party, but the 2019 Ford Ranger is seriously compelling.
Versus the competition: You can’t beat the base powertrain in the 2019 Ranger (the only powertrain, actually), but the latest GM appointments do top the Ranger’s already dated interior trimmings.
Owners of older Ford Rangers are a fiercely loyal bunch. When Ford discontinued their compact pickup of choice more than a decade ago, much teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing ensued. When competitors kept renewing their own small pickups yet Ford kept pushing people toward base-model F-150s or Transit Connect compact vans, even more angst resulted. Finally, Ford relented to competitive pressure and reintroduced the Ranger to the North American market — an updated version of its global Ranger pickup, originally developed in Australia and sold everywhere but here. And there was much rejoicing.
As well there should be — the new 2019 Ford Ranger is nothing short of fantastic. It shares many of its components with the global model, but Ford insists there are significant differences, such as an all-new frame designed for U.S. crash tests and payload requirements. But Ford has limited some options: There’s only one powertrain, one wheelbase and only two cab styles and bed lengths to choose from. We sampled two different Ford Rangers to see how they stack up against their mid-size competitors — and to see if “better late than never” applies to the mid-size pickup market, as well.
Style Without Much Variation
The Ranger is immediately identifiable as a Ford — albeit one from a few years ago. The company didn’t do much to update the Ranger’s style when adapting it to the U.S. market, as it looks pretty much like it did when introduced in its current form in 2011. Still, it looks clean and contemporary, with distinctive Ford styling cues up front and a big identifying Ranger logo stamped into the tailgate.
You can have your Ranger in two different styles: SuperCab (short, rear-hinged back doors) or SuperCrew (four full-sized doors). There’s only one wheelbase and the overall length doesn’t change, which means you get a 6-foot bed with the SuperCab and a 5-foot bed with the SuperCrew. I sampled one of each kind of Ranger — a well-equipped Lariat in SuperCab configuration with an on-road suspension and tires, and a loaded Lariat SuperCrew FX4 Off-Road version with knobby all-terrain tires and a higher ride height.
All About That Powertrain
Putting a turbocharged four-banger in a pickup is still a new concept. Mating it to a 10-speed automatic transmission and making it the only available powertrain is an even bolder move on Ford’s part. But I have to say, it not only works, it works incredibly well. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine and 10-speed automatic is basically the Mustang’s base powertrain, producing 270 horsepower and 310 pounds-feet of torque in this application, which is more than enough to move the Ranger with astonishing alacrity. Put your foot down, and the snorty turbo motor spools up quickly and shoots you forward — the 10-speed auto may have a lot of gears and does indeed shift frequently to make use of all of them, but it’s extremely smooth and barely perceptible in its action. The truck is a genuine joy to drive; it’s astonishing that this is the base powertrain — it’s torquier, more responsive and far more enjoyable than the optional V-6 engines in competitors such as the Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier.
But the rest of the Ranger feels just as well sorted out. Ride quality for the on-road model is well-damped and smooth, and its steering is responsive and provides excellent feedback while demonstrating a level of sophistication on the highway that makes it feel like an expensive SUV instead of a mid-size pickup. Opt for the FX4 Off-Road Package and the characteristics understandably change — its thick Hankook all-terrain tires and more robust, lifted suspension make for a choppier ride and less steering feedback, though this is expected given the changes to improve the Ranger’s off-road ability and follow with the changes to how competitors feel. Braking performance is also good, with a firm pedal that produces repeatedly fade-free stops in strong applications. In short, it’s a fantastic platform for a truck that makes us wish it had never left the market — it’s going to push competing vehicles to be better than they currently are thanks to its refinement, performance and outstanding body control.
Fuel economy is still a question, however. While I didn’t get much time in the on-road-oriented Ranger due to a mechanical fault that saw it returned to Ford early (a connector for the four-wheel-drive system had not been plugged in, resulting in non-operational 4WD), I did get an extended drive in the FX4 version. The Ranger is rated at 20/24/22 mpg city/highway/combined with four-wheel drive, but a combination of package options and stiff headwinds saw my mileage vary considerably. Competitors offer a variety of powertrains, from four-cylinder base engines to V-6 options, but the Ranger beats them all thanks in large part to its 10-speed automatic. The only rival that can challenge it is the diesel-equipped Chevrolet Colorado, which almost matches the Ranger in city mpg performance but blows it away in highway mileage. Compare V-6, four-wheel-drive versions of the competitors, or see how the Ranger stacks up against four-wheel-drive four-cylinder versions.
The Best Interior of 2012
While I’d certainly call the Ranger a very successful introduction based on its mechanicals and performance, it’s less successful when it comes to interior appointments. The problem: The interior feels like it’s straight out of the 2012 Ford Fusion sedan … because much of it is. There’s nothing wrong with it in terms of fit and finish, or even amenities and comfort (unless you’re in the cramped backseat), but the gauges, displays, multimedia systems, switches, even the steering wheel seem seven years out of date. These are Ford’s past-generation interior parts, and it gets really noticeable on lesser models of the Ranger. Opt for an XL or XLT with base-level multimedia and you’re treated to a nearly decade-old monochromatic display in a tiny 2.3-inch screen in the XL or a color 4.2-inch screen in the XLT; only top-level trims get a reasonably sized 8-inch display when Sync 3 is chosen on the options list. See what you get for your money on various Ranger trim levels.
Ford has moved on with the rest of its lineup but didn’t spend much money to introduce an updated version of the Ranger’s interior upon relaunching the truck for the U.S. Buyers who haven’t been in a Ford Ranger since the last one was canceled in 2011 will be thrilled with the new truck’s appointments. Anyone who’s been in another new Ford this decade, however, will recognize this as an old interior. We’re hoping an update is coming sooner rather than later.
Dated though it may be, it’s still a comfortable cabin. The front seats feel a little small in typical Ford fashion (all Ford pickup seats feel undersized compared with their competitors), but they’re supportive over long hauls. Visibility is fine thanks to the high driving position and relatively low beltline. The backseat on the SuperCab model is vestigial at best, but at least the two jump seats are no longer mounted to the sides of the cabin as they were in the previous generation. Still, they’re best suited only for emergencies or small children, yet children small enough to actually fit should probably be in child-safety seats. The four-door SuperCrew version is a bit more accommodating, but no truck in this class has a truly spacious or comfortable backseat even in extended four-door cab models. In that regard, the Ranger is at least competitive.
The new Ford Ranger has not yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ford does include its new Ford Co-Pilot360 safety system on all new Rangers at the XLT and Lariat levels, but it is an option on the base Ranger XL. The system includes standard lane keep alert, blind spot information system with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, a backup camera and automatic high beams; adaptive cruise control is optional. The Ranger’s safety equipment puts it at an advantage versus its American competitors from GM, which do not offer much in the way of standard safety equipment in this manner. Forward collision alert is optional on the Colorado, while autonomous braking and adaptive cruise control are not offered. The Toyota Tacoma’s equipment is more comparable to the Ranger’s, while the Nissan Frontier soldiers on as the outdated yet price-leading option.
Like its competitors, Rangers start at reasonable prices but quickly climb as you add options and niceties. We’ve already explored Ranger pricing and trim information, so suffice it to say that the cheapest one you can leave a dealership in will cost you $25,495 (all prices include destination fees) for a SuperCab XL 4×2, which might strike you as a little on the pricey side, but keep in mind you’re getting a premium standard powertrain. There’s a mid-level XLT trim and a premium Lariat trim to round things off. My two test vehicles rang in at $41,915 for the Lariat SuperCab 4×4 and $44,240 for the Lariat SuperCrew FX4 Off-Road model. Even fully loaded, the price only climbs by about another $2,000, and it doesn’t come near the $50,000 mark.
Competitor trucks start out cheaper — the Nissan Frontier famously starts at just $20,135 — but the cheaper trucks don’t feature nearly the level of equipment that the Ranger does, and certainly none of them feature an advanced turbocharged engine and 10-speed automatic transmission as standard. But then, other trucks offer more choices for powertrains — the Colorado has three, including a base four-cylinder, a V-6 and a unique turbo-diesel. It also offers a more dedicated hardcore off-road version in the ZR2, mirrored by Toyota’s highly capable Tacoma TRD Pro.
So while competitor pickups may offer buyers more choice, Ford takes the one-size-fits-most approach with the Ranger’s powertrain and body configurations. And that’s OK — the mix they’ve chosen is a tasty one. All the truck needs to be a smash-hit success is an up-to-date Ford interior and it’ll be a home run for sure.
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