2020 Ford Ranger Review

2020 Ford Ranger - Ranger returns after long sabbatical


It's Back... with chiseled good looks and impressive engine to match

Ford Motor Company's mid-size Ranger pickup truck returned for duty in the 2019 model year after a much too long eight-year hiatus.

During its sabbatical, Toyota's Tacoma kept hold of the best-selling non-full-size pickup truck title here in the states.  General Motor's GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado mid-size duo enjoyed a sales rebound after returning from their own much shorter production respite from 2012 to 2014. Another player, Nissan's Frontier pickup, soldiers on with a sturdy, but decade-old platform.  

Ranger's eager to make up for lost momentum. The automotive landscape looks quite different in 2020 than 2010, Covid-19 pandemic aside. Sales of crossovers, sport utility vehicles and work trucks have 'picked up' substantially to the point where Ford and GM have suspended sales of the once ubiquitous four-door sedan.  

The all-American pickup truck's evolutionary saga continues unfolding.  No longer satisfied to associate primarily with rural farming, these versatile transport modes are popping up in suburban driveways, sometimes in place of or next to crossovers or Sport Utility Vehicles.

One aspect remaining unchanged, Ford's full-size F-150 light-duty pickup truck continues as the best-selling vehicle in America for a record 43 consecutive years. Ford looks to tap into this momentum with its smaller sibling carrying forward the family DNA while embracing lessons learned during the 13th-generation F-150 redo the 2015 model year. Ranger utilizes lighter-weight aluminum to mold hoods and tailgates, helping to save weight while building upon a fully-boxed steel frame.

As with most pickup trucks, several mix and match opportunities exist.  Ranger offers three trim choices (XL, XLT, Lariat), two drive trains (4x2, 4x4) and two bed lengths (SuperCab's six-foot  bed, SuperCrew's five-foot version).

SuperCab translates from Ford Speak to an extended cab configuration, which translates into non-truck lingo as the shorter of the two cabin choices with half-sized rear doors opening into snug second-row quarters.   These pint-sized doors, hinged at back towards the cargo bed, open in clam-shell fashion when the full-size front door swings open first.  If grown adults, not cargo, primarily utilize row two, opt for SuperCrew, Ford Speak that translates to a larger, conventional-sized row two with standard-like hinges rear doors and outboard grab handles.

Ford kindly provided a 2020 SuperCrew 4x4 Lariat for testing with multi-flexible second row seating. In addition to carrying three adults comfortably, the single-unit backrest folds forward onto well-padded seat cushions if desired (this also provides access to the tire jack if needed). In addition with the backrest prone, the thick, bottom bench cushion flips up and accordions to meet the backrest if transporting items such as bicycles. Finally, when to riders occupy the back with cushions and seats in their proper people-friendly positon, an arm rest folds down from the center backrest complete with beverage holders.  Top-trim Lariat trims include a manually sliding rear window standard, increasing air flow, with defroster action during frosty mornings.

Artistically, the front features a horizontally stretched , black, hexagonal grill with Ford's blue oval logo front and center and 'Ranger' stamped in the above framing. The steeply racked windshield and high side belt lines add to a modern stance.

Our tester included an optional ($995) hard-paneled foldable bed cover, welcoming gobs of extra covered storage space and teamed with a lockable tailgate.

Save for updated exterior color choices and an optional off-road package now available in rear-wheel drive versions, Ranger remains unchanged in its sophomore season.

On the open road, Ranger's ride can feel stiff and a bit bouncy, not unusual for a body-on-frame workman design boasting rear leaf-style springs.

One choice Ranger keeps simple is a single available engine: a 2.3-liter inline twin-scroll turbo four cylinder pumping out a workable 270 horsepower. This well-tested, well-executed engine adorns several other Ford products including the Chicago-built Ford Explorer crossover and iconic two-door Mustang.  It's also found its way into some Lincoln Motor Company products. This powertrain architecture debuted in 2015 and impresses on multiple levels.

This twin turbo connects to a standard 10-speed automatic transmission and includes the fuel saving start-stop technology, sending the engine into a temporary sleep mode at prolonged stops.  The powertrain springs back once releasing the brake pedal.  Ford's system remained rather un-intrusive during our week of testing which included plenty of hot weather and air conditioning requests, which increases engine stress.

Some rivals, including Toyota's mid-size Tacoma pickup, offer a V-6 engine option, but Ford's advanced four provides class leading towing (up to 7,500 pounds when opting for the $495 towing package) while boasting impressive four-cylinder-type fuel economy numbers.

A 4x2 XL Ranger checks in at $24,410. Our top-trim Lariat 4x4 SuperCrew tester started at $36,675, ending at $47,305 after $7,435 worth of options and $1,195 destination charge.

Sales for the all-new Ranger started slow out of the gate, but by the 2019 calendar year's end, caught lightning in a bottle. Total 2019 U.S. Ranger sales reached 89,571 units, with more than 33,000 sold in December alone.

Radar-centric safety nuances increase as one travels up the trim level selections. Pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking comes standard across the board.  The XLT trim adds standard lane keep assist, lane departure warning, reverse sensing and a class exclusive blind spot monitor with trailer coverage.  These 'Co-Pilot 360' features remain optional in XL. Top choice Lariat includes all aforementioned Co-Pilot 360 hardware and adds the highway handy adaptive cruise control, which automatically slows and accelerates Ranger based on the distance of the vehicle ahead.  

Optional and recommended in all three trims are static (non- power-folding) side running board available in black or chrome finish design in the top two trims and solely black in XL.  Either style helps mitigate the 8.9-inches of ground clearance (4 x 4 models) when entering and exiting.

Once inside, electronic push button start comes standard. Ranger locates the transmission shifter between front buckets with a traditional, vertically sliding design. Four-wheel drive trims include a circular, electronic dial to move from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel high; and lower speed four-wheel low.

The easily interpreted upgraded instrument panel in Lariat features a traditional, circular analog speedometer front and center resting upon a horizontal transmission gear indicator (PRND), flanked by multi-paneled digital information displays. Each cycles through different windows via push buttons located on corresponding sides of the steering wheel.  

The multi-function, highly colorful eight-inch touch-sensitive in-dash screen continues forward with a user-friendly attitude, working in tandem with Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system (standard in XLT and Lariat and much improved/simplified compared with its first generation).  HVAC functions operate through the touch screen or from two rows of small push buttons beneath the screen.   

The fuel tank swallows up to 18.8 gallons of regular, 87-octane gasoline and includes a nifty self-sealing design behind a fuel door, eliminating the need for a pesky plastic twist cap. If trailer towing is planned, Ford recommends upgrading to premium grade with a 91-octate rating or higher during the duration of the tow.

Ranger's return coincides with a production home shift, although Ranger continues hunkered down in the Midwest. St. Paul Minnesota served as home sweet home before its production hiatus, now setting up shop in the Detroit area. This same assembly plant un-retires yet another familiar Ford name as the Blue Oval soon resurrects the rugged four-door Bronco sport utility.

At a Glance

Price as tested:  $47,305

Engine:  2.3-liter inline four

Horsepower: 270

Wheelbase:  126.8 inches

Overall Length: 210.8 inches

Overall Height:  71.5 inches

Overall Width:  73.3 inches

Curb weight:  4,441 pounds

Fuel Economy:   20 mpg city/24 mpg highway

Powertrain warranty: Five years/60,000 miles

Assembly:  Michigan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.