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2019 Ford Ranger: First Drive Review

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author photo by James Riswick December 2018

Before delving deep into what the 2019 Ford Ranger is, let's take a second to say what it isn't. The new Ranger is not a miniature version of the F-150, nor is it just an Australian-market pickup lightly modified for American crash standards. It's also not a me-too attempt at matching the attributes of a particular competitor.

Nope, the 2019 Ranger is its own thing and is better for it. True, its exterior and interior design are mostly unchanged from the Ranger that has been sold overseas for several years, but underneath resides a new fully boxed frame that's specifically engineered with the more rigorous demands of the American market in mind. Plenty of other mechanical components were changed as well, including its stout turbocharged engine and the 10-speed automatic transmission shared with the F-150.

Powertrains and Capability

That engine is a distinctive choice for the midsize truck segment for two reasons. First, there's only one powertrain choice to be had -- all other competitors offer at least a second choice, which is usually just an anemic base 4-cylinder. The Ranger's lone choice may only have four cylinders as well, but here's the other distinctive element: it's turbocharged. Producing a stout 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, this engine offers a different sort of power delivery for the segment. It has the sort of low-end grunt of a diesel engine, but with a more energetic power delivery indicative of an engine that also serves duty in the Mustang.

That 10-speed automatic, meanwhile, is another distinctive element in a segment that otherwise utilizes 6-speed units. That's not to say having a higher number of gears is better, but in this well-executed case, having so many results in less gear hunting (especially helpful when towing) and quick responses to throttle inputs. It also contributes to the Ranger being one of the most efficient pickups in the segment despite its ample power: 21 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in combined driving with rear-wheel drive and 20 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined with 4-wheel drive.

And as for towing, maximum capacity is 7,500 pounds regardless of drivetrain or cab choice. The Chevrolet Colorado maxes out at 7,000 pounds, while the Toyota Tacoma ranges between 6,400 pounds and 6,800 pounds. The Ranger's payload ranges from 1,560 pounds to 1,860 pounds depending on cab and drivetrain, which also outpaces competitors.

For further comparison purposes, the Ford F-150 ranges from 9,500 pounds to 16,200 pounds of towing capacity, with payload between 1,680 pounds and 3,270 pounds. So the Ranger can out-tow and out-haul its midsize competitors, but you'll still need to step up to the F-150 for bigger tasks. Little brother is not stepping on big brother's toes.

A Different Sort of Ford Truck Behind the Wheel

The two Ford trucks also don't look anything alike and have significantly different driving experiences. The Ranger actually feels more related to a Ford Escape or the brand's other cars and crossovers tuned to deliver a sporty, engaging driving experience. The steering in particular is quick for a pickup and imparts decent feedback. The Ranger feels small, responsive and even fun -- and not just in comparison to the F-150. The Chevy Colorado should feel lumbering by comparison, while even the fairly sporty Toyota Tacoma felt a little less lively when driven back-to-back.

Off-road, the 2019 Ford Ranger feels similarly nimble, and despite styling that doesn't overtly scream "I'm tough!" its ability to traverse a challenging off-road course proved otherwise. That fully boxed frame is definitely the real deal, and its ground clearance and approach angles are clearly ample -- we rode shotgun with a journalist who insisted on running into ruts and inclinations at speeds that we swore should've crunched the bumper and sent shudders through the truck. Instead, no problem at all. Even if it was, though, Ford is quick to point out that the bumper is made out of steel as opposed to plastic (nor is there a plastic air dam that needs to be removed for off-roading, as in the GM trucks).

Impressively, though, ride comfort is quite good as well. It's still a body-on-frame pickup, so there are impacts and jiggling felt over big bumps, but it's still well-damped and the highway ride is comparatively plush for the segment. Road noise is also notably lower than in the Tacoma. Really, only the unibody, crossover-like Honda Ridgeline should outdo the Ranger for civility.

A More Civilized Midsize Truck

The same can be said for the interior space, usability and quality. While the extended SuperCab's back seat really isn't suited to any sort of human transport, the SuperCrew features plenty of headroom and legroom, and a seat that's mounted comfortably high off the floor with a welcome seatback rake. Up front, the driver seat and telescoping wheel adjusts to a wide degree, unlike in the Tacoma.

The interior materials are also much better than those of its competitors, though that's admittedly a low bar. The dash in our upper Lariat test truck featured padded simulated leather with stitching, while the light-colored (real) leather seats looked and felt decent enough for the price. The Tacoma and GM trucks never pull off a comparably premium vibe, even in the supposedly ritzier GMC Canyon Denali. That said, the lower Ranger XLT trim we briefly sampled still featured an interior vibe that seemed a bit better than average.

In terms of functionality, that Ranger XLT had the basic Ford tech interface that consists of a color screen and supporting buttons. It's just not as user-friendly as the Tacoma and GM trucks' standard touchscreens, meaning stepping up to the Ford SYNC3 touchscreen is recommended. Especially since it brings with its Apple CarPlay, Android Audio and additional USB ports.

Unfortunately, the Ranger doesn't get the sort of clever center console storage solutions that are so commonplace in full-size trucks like the F-150, as well as the Tacoma. Although there's a smartphone-holding bin and OK cup holders, an awful lot of real estate is taken up by the various off-road system controls (or nothing at all if you get a rear-drive model).

In terms of really big storage needs, there also isn't a way to pair the SuperCrew with the longer 72.8-in bed found on the SuperCab. If you want the full 4-door cabin, you're stuck with a 61-in bed. That puts the Ranger at a disadvantage with its competitors: the Tacoma and GM trucks offer the option of 74-in beds with their crew cabs.

Features and Value

With a starting price of $24,300 for a base 4x2 SuperCab, the Ranger undercuts the Tacoma by $1,000 despite its superior interior space and engine (the Taco comes standard with an anemic non-turbo 4-cylinder). There isn't quite as much equipment, but should you opt for the Ranger XLT (the second rung up the trim level ladder) you're looking at a price tag consistent with a base V6 Tacoma.

The Colorado may represent better value overall (particularly in its upper trims and especially if you're considering the ZR2 off-road model), but unlike both the Ranger and the Tacoma, that truck doesn't come standard with accident avoidance technologies. Every Ranger comes standard with forward-collision warning and automatic braking, while all but the base XL (another reason to skip that) gain lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

Other noteworthy features include the Terrain Management system that provides four drive modes based on various surfaces (normal/grass, gravel and snow/mud and ruts/sand). There's also a locking rear differential that can be added with or without 4WD, but with the latter, you can also add the FX4 Off-Road package. That brings with it off-road-tuned shocks, all-terrain tires, a frame-mounted steel bash plate and Trail Control -- a sort of off-road cruise control adept at getting you out of especially tricky and sticky situations. Thankfully, this level of capability can be applied to lower and upper trim levels.

And thankfully, the Ranger's impressive capabilities, be it when off-roading, towing or hauling, don't get in the way of its day-to-day livability. Like the best full-size trucks, it can get the job done on Monday, while taking you on a road trip on Saturday. At the same time, unlike a full-size truck, it provides a more manageable size, an energetic powertrain and nimble handling that's just not possible in an F-150. The Ranger is its own thing and truck buyers seem likely to love it.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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New 2019 Ford Ranger 4x4 SuperCrew
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New 2019 Ford Ranger 4x4 SuperCrew
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New 2019 Ford Ranger 4x4 SuperCrew
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New 2019 Ford Ranger 4x4 SuperCrew
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2019 Ford Ranger: First Drive Review - Autotrader