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2021 Ford Ranger Review

In virtually every respect, the 2021 Ford Ranger is a solid competitor in the midsize pickup truck arena. Its towing abilities are impressive and payload capabilities are class-leading. The cabins are comfortable (up front, at least), the engine is strong yet fuel-efficient, and some advanced safety features are standard.

The Ford Ranger is now in the second year of its current generation. And it still has to attract some buyers who would automatically consider a Chevrolet Colorado (or its GMC Canyon twin), the class-leading Toyota Tacoma, or the renewed-for-2021 Nissan Frontier. 

Since the full-size Ford F-150 pickup is one of the best-selling vehicles in the United States, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect this smaller sibling to enjoy a similar success. But maybe truck buyers are conservative types who like to stick with what they know.

We would like to see Ford make the longer bed available with the larger SuperCrew cab and install a touchscreen in all trim levels. Otherwise, the Ranger is a top-notch midsize pickup truck.

What’s New for 2021?

A Tremor Off-Road package goes beyond what the existing FX2/FX4 packages provide. Also joining the options list is a Black appearance package for the top two trims. Last year’s 8-way adjustable front passenger seat (optional in the XLT, standard in the Lariat) now only has 6-way power adjustment.

Cactus Gray, Carbonized Gray, Cyber Orange and Velocity Blue are new paint choices. Lighting Blue, Magnetic, Saber and White Platinum Tri-Coat are no longer available. And the heated wiper park feature has been discontinued. See the 2021 Ford Ranger models for sale near you

What We Like

  • Class-leading payload, impressive towing ability
  • Strong engine
  • High-end cabin for the class
  • Standard accident avoidance technology

What We Don’t

  • Limited cab/bed combinations
  • No standard touchscreen
  • No driver’s-seat height adjustment without powered seats

How Much?

$26,015-$36,280

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Ranger has a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine making 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. This is linked to a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Rear-wheel drive (RWD) is standard throughout the range, and a proper 4-wheel drive (4WD) system with 4Hi and 4Lo settings is optional. An electronic locking differential can be added to either.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 2WD 2021 Ford Ranger is rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg in combined driving (RWD). With 4WD, the Ranger is rated at 20 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined. The new off-road-focused Ford Ranger Tremor model comes in at 19 mpg city/19 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.

Maximum towing — regardless of drivetrain (4×2 or 4×4) or cab type — is 7,500 pounds. Payload ranges from 1,560 pounds to 1,860 pounds, depending on the cab and the drivetrain.

Standard Features and Options

The 2021 Ford Ranger is available as a SuperCab (extended) with a 72.8-in bed, or a SuperCrew cabin with a 61-in bed. There are also XL, XLT and Lariat trim levels. All vehicle prices include the $1,195 destination charge.

The cost for all-wheel drive differs according to trim level, but it’s around $4,000, which seems expensive. It’s available with any trim and either cab.

The XL (SuperCab $26,015; SuperCrew $28,415) includes 16-in steel wheels, automatic on/off headlights, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, rearview camera, air conditioning, vinyl flooring, cloth upholstery, power windows, 3.5-inch infotainment display, Bluetooth, USB port, AM/FM radio, wi-fi (for up to 10 devices), and a 4-speaker audio system.

A 101A package adds keyless entry, power-adjustable side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, 4.2-inch color infotainment display, 911 Assist emergency communications (works through a Bluetooth-synced phone), and a 6-speaker audio setup.

The STX option package brings 18-inch alloy wheels and cabin materials, plus an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration.

The Ford Co-Pilot360 package is also optional, adding blind spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, lane-keeping assistance, automatic high beams, and trailer tow monitoring.

XLT trim (SuperCab $30,065; SuperCrew $32,240) includes the Co-Pilot 360 driver aids, 8-inch touchscreen, smartphone integration, 6-speaker audio system and most of the 101A items. It also has 17-in alloy wheels, fog lamps, LED taillights, upgraded exterior trim, rear privacy glass, front/rear parking sensors, carpeting, dual-zone automatic climate control, perimeter alarm, and the Sync 3 electronics interface with satellite radio, two USB ports and voice control.

This trim level is eligible for power-folding side mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, self-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats, 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, 6-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, manual sliding rear window, and a remote start function.

Lariat (SuperCab $34,105; SuperCrew $36,280) includes most of the improvements above, plus 18-in alloy wheels, LED headlights, LED cargo lamp, heated/power-folding side mirrors, further upgraded exterior trim, keyless entry/ignition, leather seating surfaces, 110-volt AC outlet, ambient cabin lighting, and a universal garage door opener.

Lariat trim can also be ordered with rain-sensing wipers and a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.

Both the XLT and Lariat trims are offered with an optional Technology package that includes integrated navigation and adaptive cruise control.

A Black appearance package can also be applied to these top two trims. It includes exterior elements in smoked chrome, a black Ford oval badge and black-finished 18-inch alloy wheels.

Every 2021 Ranger with all-wheel drive is eligible for the FX4 Off-Road package, which includes off-road-tuned shock absorbers, all-terrain tires, frame-mounted steel bash plate, and Trail Control — a sort of off-road cruise control adept at extricating the Ranger from especially tricky or sticky situations. An FX2 version of this package is available with rear-drive Rangers, with an off-road-specialized instrument cluster displaying yaw, pitch and roll.

The Tremor Off-Road package debuts this year. Priced at $4,290, Tremor option is available in all-wheel-drive XLT and Lariat variants with the SuperCrew cab, adding Fox suspension components (Fox is a well-respected third-party supplier), 32-inch Continental General Grabber all-terrain tires, package-specific seats with suede inserts, and an auxiliary power pack with six switches that can run things like winches, lights and compressors.

Other options include an electronic locking differential, tow package, spray-in bed liner, tonneau cover, aluminum cross-bed toolbox, and Ford’s SecuriCode locking/unlocking keypad.

Safety

The Ranger comes with an impressive amount of standard safety equipment. Besides anti-lock brakes, stability control and airbags (front and side curtain), every Ranger has forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.

Blind spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, trailer-tow monitoring, lane-keeping assistance and automatic high beams are optional in the XL, and standard in the XLT and Lariat.

In crash testing performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Ranger SuperCrew cab earned an overall score of four stars out of a possible five. Front impact protection received five stars for the driver, four for the passenger. Side impact tests all resulted in five stars. And the rollover test took a 3-star score.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Ranger SuperCrew top scores of Good in most major crash-test categories. But the small overlap front passenger-side crash test resulted in a second-best score of Acceptable.

Behind the Wheel

The 2021 Ranger does not drive like a scaled-down F-150. The two are fundamentally different. If anything, the Ranger feels more like an engaging midsize SUV to the driver than a truck.

The steering in particular is quick for a pickup and imparts decent feedback. The Ranger is responsive and even fun. The Chevrolet Colorado feels somewhat lumbering by comparison. And the fairly sporty Toyota Tacoma would feel a little less lively if the two were driven back to back.

Road noise is notably lower than in Tacoma. Only the unibody, crossover-like Honda Ridgeline might outdo the Ranger in terms of civility. Even in the off-road Tremor, the ride is comfortable and compliant, thanks to the generous suspension travel allowed by the Fox shock system. Even the more aggressive tread of the off-road rubber doesn’t add much in the way of additional tire noise.

Off-road is where the Tremor comes into its own. It smooths out rough surfaces and has greater capability in rugged terrain than the FX2/4. Tremor benefits from its locking differential and makes full use of the multiple drive modes including Trail Control, which allows you to set what essentially is off-road cruise control at low speeds in half-mile-per-hour increments.

The Ranger is a body-on-frame pickup, however, so there are impacts and jiggling over big bumps. And the suspension is tuned to have some weight over it, otherwise it feels stiff.

The interior is more than pleasant. The quality of materials is plusher than its GM and Toyota competitors, while the design is more indicative of a crossover like Ford’s Edge.

We wish Ford would make the Sync 3 touchscreen standard (in common with its rivals), as the more basic interface can be frustrating. And storage up front for small items could be better.

In terms of space, the SuperCab comes with a bench seat which is best left to emergency transport. Besides the near-zero legroom, the backrest feels like it’s mounted at 80 degrees. The SuperCrew is the clear choice for people with actual back seat needs. It’s especially spacious and comfortable for the class.

Other Cars to Consider

2021 Honda Ridgeline — If the Ranger’s stronger towing, hauling and off-roading capabilities are not required, the crossover-like Ridgeline surpasses the Ranger’s comfort, space and civilized driving experience.

2021 Toyota Tacoma — The Tacoma is a characterful choice a more rugged driving experience. It’s also well regarded for its off-road prowess. Read more in our comparison: 2019 Ford Ranger vs Toyota Tacoma: Which is Better?

2021 Chevrolet Colorado — The Colorado aces the Ranger in two main areas. It’s available with a Crew Cab/long bed combination. And its ZR2 off-road models offer hardcore capabilities the Ranger can’t touch. Otherwise, the Ranger has the edge.

Used Ford F-150 – The Ranger is not just a cheaper or smaller version of the F-150. But a used or certified pre-owned F-150 can be acquired for the price of a new Ranger.

Questions You May Ask

How much can the 2021 Ford Ranger tow?

Despite its relatively small engine, the Ranger can tow up to 7,500 pounds and has a payload rating of 1,860 pounds, which is the class best.

How well does the 2021 Ford Ranger hold its value?

Kelley Blue Book expects the 2021 Ford Ranger to hold 5-year resale values better than the Nissan Frontier and comparable with the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon and Honda Ridgeline. But the Toyota Tacoma is still the best in this respect.

How reliable is the 2021 Ford Ranger?

According to JD Power, the Ranger is predicted to have above-average reliability. It has a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Autotrader’s Advice

Cab size and the number of driven wheels is down to each individual’s needs. An XL with the STX package could be something just nicer than a no-frills work truck. But the XLT enhanced by the height-adjustable driver’s seat and the Sync 3 touchscreen would be an ideal choice. Find a Ford Ranger for sale

Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More

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