Sometimes, it’s OK to start a story in the middle. Just ask Ford.
The 2019 Ranger is not new, but it’s new to us. The underlying engineering was handled by Ford of Australia, and the truck was first introduced back in 2011. Ford has been selling it all over the world ever since. Well, almost all over the world. The U.S. and Canada were left out of the party. Until now, that is.
There are upsides to this. While the Ranger may be “old” by passenger car standards, its age means Ford has had time to refine and improve it. Thus, the version we finally got for the 2019 model year should be the best Ranger Ford has built.
But that’s not to say there aren’t some teething issues. While the Ranger may have been taken whole cloth from Ford’s overseas markets, there was more to introducing the truck here than simply throwing a few on a boat and shipping them across an ocean. Otherwise, Ford probably would have done it sooner.
As trucks go, the Ranger is available in relatively few configurations. There are two cabs (the 2+2 SuperCab and 2+3 SuperCrew four-door), two beds (5′ and 6′, and each length corresponds to a just one cab option) and two drivetrains: rear-wheel drive and 4×4.
There’s just one engine: Ford’s newer 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder. It’s no slouch, producing 270 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque, and it’s paired to Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission. Towing caps out at 7,500 pounds regardless of trim; payload ranges from 1,560 to 1,860 pounds depending on cab size and drivetrain choice.
You can get into a 4×2 Ranger for about $25,000, but for that you’re getting a pretty basic truck. Our Lariat tester rang the till at $44,960 all-in, with just under $5,500 of that coming from optional add-ons including a spray-in bedliner, the FX4 package, and trailering equipment.
My early impressions were good. The first leg of my trip took me from Baltimore-Washington International Airport north to Hanover, Pennsylvania, where I picked up my co-driver before heading deep into coal country.
We relied on Android Auto for directions to Danville, and were quite satisfied with its performance. Our ride north was comfortable (and uneventful) enough, and despite our truck’s aggressive tires and extra ground clearance, it managed the advertised 24 mpg on rural Pennsylvania highways.
Over the course of three days, we spent several hours behind the wheel of the new Ranger, and we were generally happy with it, but we couldn’t help but notice that it didn’t much feel like a $45,000 truck. GM has a similar problem with its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, but it’s more pronounced in the Ford. On top of feeling a bit cheap, it also had its share of flaws.
Our tester showed signs of what we’ll call “first year syndrome.” The Sync 3 system was laggy, giving us delayed instructions and responding sluggishly to inputs when using the integrated navigation software. Smartphone-based apps behaved much better.
The transmission seemed equally befuddled on more than one occasion. Ford’s new 10-speed has rarely given us any headaches, so we’ll chalk up this unit’s hesitations and awkward low-speed behavior as the quirks of an early build.
And then there are the downsides that aren’t so easily addressed. The SuperCrew model we evaluated is the largest Ranger variant, but we found the rear bench surprisingly cramped. Two adults and a couple of backpacks were more than enough to overwhelm the available passenger space.
The suspension tuning was also a bit of a head-scratcher. Our truck was equipped with the FX4 off-road package (more on that in a moment) and a set of charcoal-finished wheels wrapped in Hankook all-terrain tires.
We’re not going to chastise Ford for building an off-road suspension that compromises on-road comfort, but to be perfectly frank, we never really found ourselves in a situation that the suspension seemed tuned for, asphalt or no asphalt.
We tried our best, too. We put the Ranger up against some big names in the growing midsize off-road truck segment, and despite not having a flashy name like “Rubicon” or “Bison” tacked to the end of its name, it acquitted itself pretty well. A locking rear differential and bumpers designed for better approach and departure angles make a big difference when you hit the trails.
Our biggest gripe was that the suspension just couldn’t quite reign in the Ranger’s exaggerated body motions, leading us to behave more cautiously over potential obstacles that could threaten its critical underbody components.
Those who want the electronic locking rear differential and off-road suspension but prefer a prerunner-style setup to a 4×4 are also in luck, as the 2020 model is offered with a “FX2” package that includes all of the FX4’s goodies in a two-wheel drive model.
Ford started marketing the Ranger in the first quarter of 2019 and had managed to move more than 55,000 by the end of September. That’s about half the volume of GM’s Chevy Colorado and a quarter of the Toyota Tacoma’s, which is respectable for its first year in the segment.
We’d like to see Ford take a shot at the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon and Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 with a more robust off-road offering. The Ranger is offered in a Raptor variant overseas, but Ford has already said it has no interest in selling the smaller performance truck here, largely because its price would encroach on that of the F-150 Raptor’s.
The Ranger’s other major shortcoming—its undersized rear seat—is here to stay, at least until it comes time for a full-blown redesign. As we got the Ranger fairly late in its life cycle, we may not have to wait as long as we normally would.
In the meantime, Ford’s revived Ranger is a competent and capable truck, and if you go easy on the options, one that you can afford.
Byron was among a select group of media invited to the Trail Trek Tour Midsize Truck Off-Road Challenge and the 2019 Ranger was provided by Ford for the purposes of that comparison and this review. Travel and lodging were provided by the event host.