Mountain Wheels: Ford’s mid-size Ranger pickup returns with turbo power
An ongoing spree of trucks continues this week with some observations on the much-anticipated return of one of America’s favorite small pickups, the Ford Ranger — which is finally back on the U.S. market after an eight-year absence.
The truck, whose name goes back to the late 1950s, did not actually disappear globally, but Ford understood that the never-ending sales of its F-150 full-size trucks likely made more financial sense (and cents) and buyers here were instead migrating to mid-size favorites like the Toyota Tacoma or GM’s newer mid-size offerings, the Canyon and the Colorado.
So Ranger is back, though it is a largely updated and facelifted variation of the Ranger first designed by Ford’s Australian division since 2011 — popular in Pacific Rim countries and around the world.
To that end, the Michigan-made 2019 Ranger is equal parts modernish Ford, a lot like its crossovers and remaining larger sedans — especially in its angular and very black-on-black-plastic interior — with super-sculpted looks and full-blown truck versatility, including a 5-foot bed.
I got a very well-used, top-of-the-line Lariat Supercrew model (MSRP of $32,390, street price likely closer to $45,000) which apparently every automotive journalist in the Central Rockies had overloaded, run through creek beds and generally beaten up by the time I got to it.
I have to hope that an absolutely brand-new, straight-off-the-lot Ranger will have a little more spring in its step, and its springs. You’ll have to test that for yourself, as mine definitely had some issues.
Power for the sleek little truck is provided by a 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo, making 270 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque. That meant about 24-25 mpg for highway driving in my 4×4, and the ability to tow up to 7,500 pounds in certain models.
I believe the truck had repeatedly been loaded to its full 1,860-pound payload capacity, as the shocks and suspension were no longer at the rigid standards I’ve found in every other mid-size and full-size pickup on the market today — perhaps more noticeable since this Lariat was also equipped with the FX4 off-road package, complete with real metal skid plates under the engine.
All of which made for a curious experience as I headed up the hills to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area last Sunday and discovered a queer mixture of awkward and imprecise handling and excessive bounce over all of those many springtime potholes and bumps in the road.
Power is certainly not an issue, though the throttle control was also super-burpy during my in-town drives. I was also not sure what to expect from the 10-speed automatic transmission, though the ability (like that giant Raptor I wrote about a few weeks back) to drop to fifth or sixth gear to hold vehicle speed while descending from the passes was a useful touch. Braking was also a bit of a challenge, overall.
And frankly, the new Ranger — which blends a bit of the old Ford Explorer Sport Trac with extremely updated and lower-profile looks — mostly felt like a reasonably comfortable crossover, until I got to scooting around the curves on Loveland Pass. As I say, I am thinking this particular Ranger was driven hard and put away wet.
Capacity and general light-truck attributes were all positive, minus perhaps the somewhat cramped leg room of the second row (the seat bottoms do flip up for more storage, with some hidden cargo spaces underneath. I had the full spray-in bedliner and six tie-down points for cargo; unlike Raptor or the recent Ram 2500, no ladder was required to access the goods, and a set of running boards along the cabin looked good but were not necessary to climb aboard.
Ranger gets a contemporary, rounded grille, broad headlamps with LED wraps and a heavily contoured hood; in the rear, the tailgate looks just a little too tall and plain, perhaps because it is stamped with an embossed Ranger logo that seems just a bit silly.
The interior is also on the pleasant side, just a little too dark in spots. Leather trimmed bucket-style seats look super-bolstered but were comfortable overall, and the cabin got some black gloss trim and a wide array of dark plastic everywhere else.
Though certainly downscaled from the expanse of F-150, the ergonomics and setup were all pretty good, with a useful sextet of controls (trailer mode, hill descent control, differential lock) all near the oversized shift knob — with thumb controls for manual shifts.
Be sure to familiarize yourself with the hard-to-see heat and AC controls as they become absolutely invisible in bright light or while wearing sunglasses.
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