2019 Ford Ranger Midsize Pickup Review: What’s New Again Is Old

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The Ford Ranger nameplate returns to the US after an eight-year absence. Once again Ford has a credible entry in the booming midsize pickup truck market with a powerful turbocharged engine and extensive safety technology. The ability to tow 7,500 pounds or carry 1,800 pounds of cargo means you don’t always need a Ford F-150.

While the 2019 Ranger is new to the US and Canada, it has been out in the world markets since 2011. The Ranger cockpit has not aged well and some of the technology is past its sell-by date.

Only in the world of pickup trucks can a vehicle be 211 inches long and described as a midsize. The 2020 Ford Explorer at 199 inches is at the top end of what’s considered a midsize SUV.  The Ranger is a two-row pickup. The SuperCab version trades snug rear seat legroom for a six-foot cargo bed while the costlier SuperCrew variant (you have to pick one or the other) gets a passable back seat but the bed is only five feet long (both 44.8 inches wide inside, meaning 4×8 plywood or drywall won’t lie flat). Which is too bad, because the Ranger carries 1,560-1,860 pounds of cargo.

The Ranger I tested was a premium Ranger Lariat 4×4 with the SuperCrew configuration (bigger cabin, smaller cargo bed) and off-roading configuration, coming in just under $ 45,000. But the cheapest Ranger XL at $ 25,395 has the same powerful turbo-four engine mated to a 10-speed automatic delivering 270 hp and 310 pound-feet of torque, which is a lot for something with just 2.3 liters of displacement. That’s why Ranger has a higher base price than the competition: Every Ranger built gets the good motor.

It only took a decade for Ford Sync to get good (about the same as BMW needed for iDrive): less complexity, bigger fonts, and slick features such as the audio volume indicator when you’re turning the dial.

Technology of the Present and Past

That cheaper Rangers come with the Ford Sync version that dates to when Ke$ ha was breaking in. It has a 4.3-inch screen. Move up to Lariat and you get Sync 3, which is one of the best infotainment interfaces available, thanks to a simpler interface and bigger fonts. One of the Sync 3 signature tricks is the big ring and number inside showing the volume or temperature you’re adjusting. The darker portion of the ring shows what fraction of max volume or temp you’re at.

As standard equipment, Ford provides telematics, Sync Connect, and a Wi-Fi hotspot serving the cabin and about 50 feet outside the truck. On a jobsite, until the accessory power times out (about 20 minutes, then run back and press the ACC button again), you can get internet access for a tablet and the car’s antenna pulls in a better signal than your phone does.

The left side of the steering wheel controls the instrument panel (arrow buttons) and adaptive cruise control. The ACC buttons are small to medium size and on the downward slope of the wheel. Sometimes they’re hard to punch accurately.

Driver Assists: Helpful Above 10 mph

The Ranger offers Ford Co-Pilot360 technology: blind spot detection (Ford term: blind spot information system) with cross-traffic alert for truck and trailer, lane keeping system, pre-collision alert, and automatic emergency braking. It’s a $ 735 option on the entry XL that also includes front and rear sensing and a 150-watt AC outlet.

It’s been months since I’ve tested a 2019 or 2020 vehicle whose adaptive cruise control wasn’t full-range, meaning it didn’t take you down to a full stop and then back up to speed. The Ranger’s ACC cuts out at 10 mph, making the feature unhelpful in stop-and-go traffic.

The older instrument panel design of a mechanical speedometer with a 4-inch LCD on each side tried to jam too much information into too little space. Having the fuel gauge next to the ACC following-distance info, both as vertical strips, was hard on the eyes.

Also missing is Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist, a slick knob that figures out how to make the truck back up, in the direction you want, without jackknifing.

Ford Ranger in its element: bulk garden supplies section of Home Depot.

Should You Buy?

2019 Ford Ranger FX4 Off-Road badging.

The 2019 Ford Ranger is new to the US market, but otherwise, it’s an eight-year-old vehicle. The ride is generally soft, perhaps too soft for some. The opposite may be the case if you order the $ 1,295 FX4 off-road package: everyday driving will be too stiff for others, and it doesn’t have the off-roading cred of the F-150’s Raptor version.

The entry Ranger XL is short on features such as cruise control (not adaptive cruise control) or power door locks, although you can add them in an options package. You’ll want that and the Co-Pilot360 package.

The mid-range Ranger XLT is $ 32,290 including$ 1,195 freight. The Ranger Lariat is $ 33,585 and includes Sync 3 standard. On all three trim lines, the SuperCrew adds $ 2,400 to the price. Four-wheel-drive adds $ 4,000, more than twice what you pay in an SUV to go from two- to all-wheel-drive. The SuperCab is too snug for adults, so SuperCrew is probably the Ranger you want.

The 2019 Ranger makes the most sense if you’re buying a work truck and not a family car, and if you don’t need adaptive cruise control. If you think you’ll be towing, you need the $ 495 tow package to get the 7,500-pound tow rating. When you’re not towing, you’ll get decent mileage: 21 mpg city/26 mpg highway with rear drive, 20/24 with four-wheel-drive. For a pickup, those are exceptional. That’s topped only by the Chevrolet Colorado with the optional turbodiesel engine: 20 city/30 highway.

As for the competition, the Honda Ridgeline, Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma, and the new Jeep Gladiator are all solid competitors with more contemporary interiors. The full-size F-150 is more well-rounded than the Ranger, and it’s also the best-selling vehicle in the US (more than 800,000 in 2018). The Ranger may be a suitable midsize pickup, including against the F-150, if you’re towing heavy loads or carrying a bed of heavy material; just not extraordinarily heavy loads / materials. It fits the sweet spot for pickup owners and there’s no wimp engine in the base trim to keep the price down. Just buy knowing you’re getting a capable pickup with some throwback technology. Ford will need a new Ranger in the next two years to be competitive going forward.

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