Mountain Wheels: Deja vu all over again with Ford’s resuscitated Ranger pickup
Back in the dreamy idyll that was pre-9/11 America, I spent a moderately successful period over in the Vail Valley without a car at all — the total antithesis to the past few years of life as a vehicle reviewer.
And great as it was to avoid payments, gas and adult responsibility — a common trait among today’s young people, I hear — eventually I got sick of waiting for buses and mooching rides, and I headed down to dark and dirty Denver to see what kind of wheels I could land.
Apparently, I was lucky to not have enough credit to get a two-door Explorer (one of my friends in Pennsylvania still has his late-‘90s one, which might be the only one still on the road), so I was convinced to buy a base 2000-model Ford Ranger.
The truck served me well, even after a short-lived acquaintance forgot to set the parking brake on her car, and I watched it roll directly into the side of my new Ranger. Then she left town before helping me with my deductible. You know how it goes in the mountains.
Flash forward to 2019, and I had quite an interesting experience last week as I got the absolutely brand-new rendition of my own Bush-era Ranger — same color, same stocky look. But very different, indeed.
Earlier this year, I had a new ’19 Ranger that literally had the crap kicked out of it, so a much fresher example of a Lariat-level Supercrew 4×4 with the off-road FX4 package. For the 2020 models, you also have the somewhat unusual option of a two-wheel drive, FX2 package, with bigger tires, an electronically locking rear differential, tougher suspension, the front quasi-skid plate and off-road screens on the information cluster.
Those of us who kinda need four-wheel drive a lot (especially this snow weekend) will instead appreciate Ranger’s 4×4 dynamic, and the FX4’s move to much heartier off-road-ready 265/65 17-inch tires and slightly lifted suspension will certainly make it a valuable mountain vehicle. The system also was easy to move from two-wheel drive to high-range four-wheel drive, even on the fly.
A relatively fresh test truck also indicated that the new, single-choice engine, a 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four, is probably going to do everything you need for this smaller (but not necessarily cheaper) alternative to the F-150.
While I think my old, old Ranger stickered at just over $20,000, the 2019 I drove came in at $44,960, though it was about as loaded as they come, with leather seats, floor and bed liners, and even Ford’s strangely classic five-button keyless entry keypad.
The new engine is rated at 270 horsepower and boasts towing capability of up to 7,500 pounds; the 310 foot-pounds of torque meant that uphill slogs were not so sloggy and even allowed me to hastily motor away while being aggressively tailgated by angry dudes in Tacomas. So many angry dudes in Tacomas.
Making my deja vu entirely complete were two distinct factors: unimpressive gas mileage, and ride and handling quality that made me hold on for dear life as I bounced and bounded along the pockmarked and pummeled stretches of Interstate 70.
I was getting a pretty solid 20-something mpg, with a window sticker estimate of 24 mpg for highway travel, which reminded me of my old V-6 in the Ranger’s ancient cousin. The 10-speed transmission does what it can to help, and can be thumb-shifted to aid in speed control on downhill runs.
Drive quality also was pretty sketchy in spots, and maintaining a lane or compensating for not-so-insignificant air time over expansion joints made my trip precipitous at points.
Ranger has certainly improved for size and interior comfort, with a spacious front cabin and survivably large rear seats and leg room in the SuperCrew configuration. All models of Ranger ride on a 126.8-inch wheelbase and are 210.8 inches in length. The truck weighs in at 4,441 pounds and the very deep cargo box — a little hard to reach into, with the FX4’s extra height — offered a 61-inch-long cargo space.
Interior finishings are pleasant, and mine had the upgraded smoked-metallic/plastic trim, full leather and a genuine Bang and Olufsen stereo system. I can no longer really say nice things about Ford’s absolutely dark and tiny-buttoned HVAC control system, part of which also requires the smallish touchscreen for fan direction — it’s impossible to see the hot/cold switchgear. My bouncy travels also meant that the tiny “home” button on the Sync navigation screen was sometimes very difficult to hit.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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