Ford's Ranger is a midsize pickup that's available in extended- and crew-cab models. It was introduced in 2019 and has seen only minor trim and package revisions for the past two years. Ranger has a traditional body-on-frame design and is offered with rear- or four-wheel drive. Though Ranger relatively is new to the US, a similar version has been on sale in other markets, including Australia where the truck was originally designed. Ranger competes with the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Jeep Gladiator, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma.
Three trim levels are offered: XL, XLT and Lariat. All are powered by a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque and mates to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Towing capacity is 7,500 pounds when equipped with the optional trailer-tow package. Payload ranges from 1,609 to 2,128 pounds, depending on cab configuration.
XL pricing starts at $36,805 and includes 16-inch steel wheels, manual-locking tailgate, automatic headlights, cloth upholstery, 4-speaker audio system, SYNC infotainment control system, air conditioning and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Prices rise to $39,940 for the XLT, which adds 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, foglights, cruise control, 110-volt power outlet, keyless entry, remote tailgate locking and Ford Co-Pilot360, which includes blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and forward-collision warning with brake assist. The Lariat starts at $46,020 and includes 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, cargo lamp, power and heated front seats, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, 8-inch touch screen and Android Auto and Apple Car Play support.
New for 2021 is the Tremor off-road package. It includes an off-road-tuned suspension, 0.8-inch additional ground clearance, Fox shocks, 32-inch all-terrain tires, auxiliary switches for user-specified accessories, side steps, additional recovery hooks and underbody protection.
Though the Ranger's 2.3-liter engine isn't tops in class for horsepower, it does dominate the torque charts. And when you are talking trucks, torque is more important that horsepower because torque is what launches the vehicle off the line and allows you to tow heavy trailers. Unloaded, the engine will push the Ranger from 0 to 60 MPH in less than 7 seconds, making it the stoplight drag-race champ among midsize trucks.
Unfortunately, the engine doesn't mate well to the 10-speed automatic, which is constantly shifting to provide the best balance of power and economy. During slow acceleration and in stop-and-go driving you can feel slight undulations in power delivery and subtle jerks as the transmission shifts gears. In addition, there a loud transmission whine in first gear when you first startup in the morning -- a trait typical of larger trucks with two-speed transfer cases.
The Ranger offers a true off-road-ready 4-wheel drive system with low range for rock crawling. If you are the adventurous type and know you will spend a good deal of time away from pavement, you'd be wise to add the FX4 or Tremor package, which adds all of the off-road goodies, like upgraded shocks, skid plates and locking differentials. If you will spend most of your time on road, you might just consider opting for a 4WD version to help provide the best traction on wet or snow-covered roads.
There is a slight fuel economy disadvantage to selecting 4WD on the Ranger. The rear-drive version nets EPA numbers of 21/26 MPG while the 4WD version's numbers are 21/24 MPG. In routine suburban commuting with an empty bed, a 4WD Ranger can average 24 MPG, perhaps as high as 26 MPG if you throw in some gentle highway cruising. Add two or three passengers and a modest load of cargo and economy drops to about 21 MPG overall. All Ranger models run fine on regular-grade gasoline.
Dynamically, Ranger tries very hard to offer a ride that's as car-like as possible. That's by design as Ford figures many buyers will be utilizing the Ranger as a daily driver, rather than a dedicated work truck. For the most part, the ride is comfortable and composed, impressive given the truck's rear leaf-spring setup. Bump absorption is quite good with lots of suspension travel. Undue body motions are mostly kept in check with just a hint of bouncing and bobbing on badly broken roads. One note, the FX4 and Tremor suspensions have a somewhat bounding ride quality that might make it a no-go for some shoppers.
From the behind the wheel the Ranger drives as if it were a large SUV rather than a traditional pickup truck. Road manners are pleasant and benign. The steering has a slightly over-boosted feel but is precise and has good straight-line stability on the highway. There's a fair amount of body lean in quick maneuvers (exacerbated by the off-road packages), but certainly not out of place or inappropriate. Brakes seem to have good stopping power, but get deep into a hard stop and there's a lot of nose dive and a hint of insecurity at the rear -- again not uncommon in pickup trucks.
Other than the previously mentioned gear whine when first moving out in the morning, Ranger is a surprisingly quiet truck. There's little highway road or wind noise and the engine remains quiet in around-town cruising. Stomp hard on the gas and the engine gets more vocal, but in an impressive and expensive-sounding way.
Inside, Ranger sports a modern and contemporary design that's more car than truck. Materials are more utilitarian than posh, though Lariat models get trim upgrades. Fit-and-finish is good, for a truck.
The instrument cluster is fairly straightforward with a traditional analog tachometer and speedometer. Between the two is a programmable information display. The gauges are clearly marked and mostly easy to read, though the speedometer numbers are tightly grouped, making it hard to get an exact speed reading at a glance. The center stack is dominated by a touch screen on higher trim models, but all get somewhat small and poorly marked climate controls. The small control theme spills over to the steering-wheel and ancillary controls. Overall, the interior fits the theory that Ranger will be used more like a car or crossover than a truck.
Ford's SYNC infotainment system provides voice-activated-command that's a step above most competitors. For example, you can raise the temperature, change the audio input and answer text messages with voice control. The addition of Android Auto and Apple Car Play makes this one of the most robust systems in the business.
The front seats are nicely shaped and well padded. Somehow, they seem to be more comfortable than others in the class and able to accommodate a wide variety of body types. Head and leg room are good. In the back, crew cab models offer great comfort and room. Extended cabs have good seat comfort and plenty of width, but they really don't offer adult-size leg room unless the front seats are pushed well forward. Wide opening doors open and modest step-in (though higher than a conventional crossover) provide easy egress. Visibility is great to all directions.
Extended cab models get a 6-foot bed and crew cab models get a 5-foot bed. Both have high bed sides that increase overall cargo capacity but can hamper loading. The tailgate is undamped, meaning it's a bit heavier than others to close. Interior storage is modest with just a few open and covered bins and a few storage bins under the rear seats. Others in the class offer more innovative storage options. Payload is impressive as is towing, making the Ranger more "truck" than others in the class.
Bottom Line -- Ranger is a credible entry midsize pickup. While it lacks some of its competitors' imaginative features, it backs up its cred as a true pickup with ample power, towing capacity and hauling capabilities. Offering a car-like demeanor, plenty of safety and tech features and a very quiet highway ride, Ford's efforts to make this vehicle a daily-use vehicle are not unnoticed. Blue-oval fans have been asking for this truck for years and Ranger does not disappoint.