For decades, the Ford Ranger was America’s go-to cheap truck. Small, hardy and inexpensive, it was a go-to vehicle for workmen, businesses and anyone who just wanted affordable, durable transportation.
Ford discontinued the Ranger back in 2011 to focus on the more profitable full-size F-150 pickup. But in other global markets, Ford kept selling a different Ranger — this one sized between the F-150 and the old U.S. Ranger.
This year, Ford introduced that Ranger to the U.S. market. It’s nothing like the old Ranger, but for some buyers, that’s good news.
The new 2019 Ranger is a direct competitor to other “midsize” pickups. (That term is a bit of a misnomer since they have been the smallest pickups in the U.S. since Ford discontinued the old Ranger.) And like the midsize competition, you can only get the new Ranger in extended-cab and crew-cab configurations; the old extra-cheap two-door “regular cab” did not return.
The good news is that if you do want a midsize pickup — something like a Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon or Nissan Frontier — the new Ranger has some valuable strong points.
Notably, it borrows from Ford’s line of “EcoBoost” turbocharged engines, which promise hearty acceleration when you need it and thrifty fuel efficiency when you do not. The Ranger’s 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, makes a generous 270 horsepower. It is quick. It has a deep, throaty sound that is nothing like the rough thrashing that used to define four-cylinder pickups — which you’ll still find in competitors’ base engines.
What’s more, the Ranger achieves class-leading fuel efficiency of 23 miles per gallon in mixed driving with rear-wheel-drive and 22 mpg with four-wheel-drive. That’s better than even the low-power engines that come standard in the competition, and about 3 mpg more than similarly powerful midsize pickups. Only a pricey diesel option on the Canyon and Colorado ekes out a near-tie with the Ford. Our four-wheel-drive test vehicle matched the EPA estimate during a week of mixed driving.
The Ranger also boasts modern technology. Like the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, even the base model comes with a fully-featured infotainment system, with better graphics, superior smartphone integration and quicker responses than the aging Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. Meanwhile, the Ranger matches the Tacoma but beats the others for its array of advanced safety features — all of which are either standard or a low-cost option on even the base model.
The Ranger also has above-average interior room for a midsize pickup, with a more-natural-feeling driving position and a more-adult-friendly rear seat (in the tested crew cab model) than the Toyota Tacoma in particular. Though for true stretch-out space, the only pickup options are full-size models or the relatively light-duty Honda Ridgeline.
On the road, the Ranger is quiet for a midsize pickup, but it bounces over bumps when the bed is empty. It feels more civilized than a rough-and-tumble Toyota Tacoma, though not by much. It does not handle with agility, being a pickup truck, but it is reasonably maneuverable. Even if it is not a compact truck like the old Ranger, it is much easier to park than the F-150.
The Ranger’s main issues are its price tag and, for some potential buyers, its aesthetics.
Although the Ranger comes with more standard equipment than most competitors and a more powerful standard engine, it tends to cost more than a comparably equipped competitor. And its relatively high base price of $26,140 means that you can no longer get cheap, basic transportation like the old Ford Ranger offered (The 2011 model started around $19,000 and was often heavily discounted, unlike the new model).
Meanwhile, the Ranger’s gently curved body and unremarkable interior styling skip the butch “lifestyle-vehicle” vibe that brings fervent fans to the Toyota Tacoma and the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator. Nor does it match the blocky luxurious appearance of the GMC Canyon. The Colorado and Nissan Frontier remain the best options for bargain hunters, with stripped-down hardy work-truck versions along with relatively low prices throughout the model lineup.
That means the ideal Ranger customer is someone who does not mind a bouncy ride but also does not prefer or demand a tough-looking design and is willing to pay a price premium for a more-advanced powertrain.
This customer is either on a fairly strict budget or prefers the maneuverability of a midsize pickup over the extra capability and spaciousness of a full-size model. It may not cost that much more than the Ranger, given its price tag and full-size models’ frequent discounts.
That is not a tiny niche, but evidently, it’s not where pickup buyers are focused. The Ranger has been selling at about half the pace of the Tacoma and Colorado, and an even tinier fraction of the full-size Ford F-150.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.