Ford Motor Company knows a thing or two about building and selling America's favorite mode of transportation.
During the past 44 years, its full-size F-150 pickup truck ranked as the best-selling vehicle sold in America with 787,422 units out the door in a Pandemic-inspired 2020 calendar year followed closely behind by Chevrolet's full-size Silverado and Ram's full-size pickup. In 2020, these three vehicles alone accounted for 13 percent of all vehicles sold in America. Riding this wave of pickup popularity, Ford reintroduced the smaller-sized Ranger to the U.S. market in the 2019 model year after departing earlier in the decade.
Consider the 2021 five-passenger Ranger a right-sized mid-sizer. Key category combatants include the Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma. The Blue Oval Company also has immediate plans to debut an all-new compact pickup (Maverick) beginning in the 2022 model year.
The notable Ranger update for 2021 is the all-new off-road Tremor package ($4,290) adding elevated suspension with 0.8 inches of additional ground clearance, 32-inch all terrain tires, underbody skid plates, hoop-style exterior steps (rather than traditional narrow running boards) and a locking rear differential. New exterior hues include Cactus Gray, Carbonized Gray, Cyber Orange and Velocity Blue. A black appearance package is also available; otherwise, this vehicle largely carries over from the first two model years.
As with the past two model years, one engine and transmission powers all trims: a workmanlike 2.3-liter four-cylinder twin scrolled turbocharged engine garnering 270 horsepower and an impressive 310 pound-feet of low-end torque providing quick acceleration. The 'twin scroll' design all but eliminates turbo lag, a hesitation perceived when pushing the floor pedal to the metal; by far the best four-cylinder selection in its class. It's marketed under Ford's EcoBoost label and teamed with an electronic 10-speed automatic transmission.
EcoBoost is the Blue Oval's mantra for a multitude of family engines combining direct fuel injection ('Eco') with tweaked up turbo charging ('Boost'). Start/Stop technology comes standard allowing the engine to quiet at prolonged stops. Lifting the right foot off the brake pedal perks the engine back to attention. The system deactivates if desired via a push button between front bucket seats.
This popular, potent and well tested engine adorns other Ford products including the Chicago-built Ford Explorer crossover and iconic two-door Mustang.
Ranger has yet to introduce a gas-electric hybrid variant or all-electric version, but the same holds true for other mid-size rivals. Most competitors offer more than one engine selection with Chevy's Colorado the only one of the bunch with a torque-enhanced turbo diesel-engine option. Ford made headlines in mid-2021 with a plug-in, all-electric version of the full-size F-150 arriving in the 2022 model year (aptly repurposing the "F-150 Lightning" name). Got a premonition Ranger gets electrified or hybridized sooner rather than later.
SuperCrew is Ford's cab designate with four full-sized conventional doors swinging open in the same direction. A SuperCab offers four narrower rear doors opening in a 'claim shell' fashion. SuperCrew comes standard with a five-foot cargo bed swallowing 43.3 cubic feet of payload while SuperCab's bed extends to six feet upgrading cubic feet to 51.8. No single row, three seat regular cab is offered.
SuperCrew models exclusively upgrade to a 10-speaker B&O (Bang and Olufsen) featuring high-definition radio. Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity working in conjunction with Ford's latest version of Sync (Sync 3) come standard in XLT and Lariat trims (optional in base XL). These Smartphone teams interact with an easy-to-interpret eight-inch, in-dash touch screen with clear, large graphics and two large dashboard twist dials monitoring volume and station selection. All three trims emit their own WiFi hot spots. Ventilation functions below screen opt for small push buttons.
Three trim levels return (XL, XLT and Lariat) all available with 4 x 2 rear drive or 4 x 4 four-wheel drive. The new-for 2021 Tremor off-road package is available only in XLT and Lariat 4 x 4 SuperCrew trims. All configurations tow a very impressive 7,500 pounds. Our tester's part-time four-wheel drive (4 x 4) system locks the front and rear axles together for improved low-speed travel via an electronic dial between front buckets and adjacent to the hand-operated, pull-lever parking brake.
Only top-trim Lariats come with push-button electric start. Lower trims require a steering column key turn.
Ranger shares a tall, high seating style with rivals, with minimal visual blind spots and clear views in multiple directions. Front coil springs coupled with a leaf-type rear suspension add to a body-on-frame, truck-like bounce to the daily ride around town.
Pickups from all manufacturers include a steady stream of stand-alone and packaged factory options allowing potential buyers to outfit in ways they see fit. Our mid-level XLT tester 4 x 4 SuperCrew featuring the new Velocity Blue exterior listed for $34,750.
In addition to the $4,290 Tremor off-road package (and $750 Tremor-specific graphics) Ford added a $495 spray-in bed liner, $995 technology package (adaptive cruise control, forward radar sensing, SYNC3 in-dash navigation tech), $95 keyless key pad, $195 remote vehicle starts and $1,670 for Equipment Group 301 (reverse radar sensing, leather-wrapped steering wheel/shifter, row two USB ports). The bottom line ended at $44,430 with $1,195 destination charge. All Rangers conveniently include five years (or 60,000 miles) of complimentary roadside assistance).
A base XL Ranger starts at 25,070, one of the lowest entry points for any 2021 mid-size truck.
Our SuperCrew rear region included flexible bench seating with a long lower cushion foldable upward to meet backrests and revealing small storage compartments built into the floor. The single-unit backrest also folds down onto the cushions, if desired. SuperCrew's standard-sized rear doors remain strongly recommended when compared to SuperCab's smaller design allowing easier exit and entry. Row two leg and headroom remain manageable, but minus the full-size stretch of Ford's roomier F-150.
The sizeable fuel tank accommodates 18.8 gallons of regular, 87-octane gasoline and features a nifty self-sealing design behind the driver's side swing-out fuel door, eliminating the need for a pesky tethered 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, raising low-end torque numbers. Otherwise the 20 miles city and 24 highway fuel economy estimates rate above average in the four-wheel drive four-cylinder configuration.
The rear tailgate lacks the 'dampening effect' all the rage in full-size counterparts. Rather than a measured, calm trip downward, the gate quickly 'thuds' to a sudden stop. A full-size spare resides in an under frame rear carrier.
Depending upon each individual's vertical measurements and preferences, the 8.9 inches of ground clearance may or may not necessitate optional long, narrow five-inch side running boards. Our Tremor tester's pair of stylish-yet practical step-like rungs below each door got put to use often and were appreciated. While the shotgun passenger enjoys an inside "A-pillar" mounted grab handle to assist entry, the driver's side is sans one with no ceiling grab handle either.
At a Glance2021 Ford Ranger
Price as tested: $44,430
Engine: 2.3-liter turbo inline four
Wheelbase: 126.8 inches
Overall Length: 210.8 inches
Overall Height: 73.2 inches
Overall Width: 85.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,441 pounds
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Five years/60,000 miles
Assembly: Wayne, Michigan