The last time you could buy a new Ford Ranger was in 2011, and by then it was a tired platform dating back to 1983. It hadn't undergone a significant refresh since the early 1990s and dated back to a time when compact pickups were truly compact. It languished as a fleet vehicle in its final years, dwarfed as the competition grew in both size and sophistication. The sad Ranger was left behind.
2019 Ford Ranger Pickup First Look
A Long-Lost Friend Returns
You can now scrub that image from your memory. The 2019 Ford Ranger will make its long-awaited return later this year. And from what we've learned so far, it stands a good chance of reasserting itself as a serious player in the midsize truck segment.
Two things are apparent right away. The midsize 2019 Ford Ranger is recognizable as a Ranger, and it looks strikingly handsome. Available trim levels are the XL, XLT and Lariat. It's no surprise that rear-wheel-drive and part-time four-wheel-drive versions are available, and the latter can be upgraded with the FX4 Off-Road package. You can choose a crew cab with a short bed or an extended cab with a standard bed, but the regular cab that was once favored by your local cable company is not returning.
The Little Engine That Could
There is but one engine, but all indications suggest this won't be a problem: It's a 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder with a stop-start system. Since the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 is such an overachiever in the larger Ford F-150, we like the notion of a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine in the smaller Ranger. We'll have to wait and see how it stacks up. The four-cylinder's power rating of 270 horsepower lags behind the V6 competition — that's a small deficit compared to the Toyota Tacoma, but it gives up a full 35 horses to the GMC Canyon and the Chevrolet Colorado. Still, torque is king in the truck universe, and here the Ranger's rating of 310 lb-ft gives it a huge advantage over the Tacoma (265 lb-ft) and the GM twins (269 lb-ft).
This competitive matchup is even more likely to swing in Ford's favor because the 2019 Ford Ranger's standard (and only) transmission is the very same 10-speed automatic that is proving to be a fantastic smart-shifting piece in the full-size Ford F-150. We expect more of the same with the Ranger. The extra gears narrow the rpm jumps between shifts, so the ideal gear for the job can always be close at hand. This should totally kill off the potential for gear hunting on grades, something that plagues the Tacoma. On paper, the Ranger's high-numeric first gear suggests a very favorable low-range crawl ratio, while the highly overdriven upper ranges of ninth and 10th gears should do wonders for highway fuel economy. Official mpg figures have not yet been released, but an announcement of class-leading efficiency wouldn't surprise us. Whether those fuel economy ratings will be easy to replicate in real-world driving is another matter. That's been a bugaboo that has haunted other EcoBoost powertrains, and in the case of the Ranger, we'll have to wait until it hits the streets.
Ford is confident enough in this powertrain to assign it a maximum tow rating of 7,500 pounds with all cab and bed combinations, which makes it the new class leader among gasoline-powered midsize trucks. But such a high tow rating also requires a chassis that can shoulder the load. This pays dividends in the form of class-leading payload capability when you're not towing. A two-wheel-drive Ranger with an extended cab has a payload of 1,860 pounds, a number that far exceeds the next-best figure of 1,620 pounds with a similarly configured Tacoma. Be warned: Other Ranger configurations are rated significantly lower, and Ford hasn't released enough details to determine the payload of a typical 4x4 SuperCrew, the most popular configuration.
The Road Less Paved
The FX4 Off-Road package could give some of the Ranger's competition pause. It includes the expected off-road tuned shocks, locking rear differential, skid plates and hill descent control system. The front air dam is gone for extra clearance, and it rolls on either LT265/65R17 or LT265/60R18 white-letter all-terrain tires. We've not seen the 17-inch combination yet, but the 18-inch setup had more wheel, less sidewall, and a tamer tread than we like to see on an off-road package tire. Off-road enthusiasts will probably gravitate toward the 17-inch offering, but the 18-inch rubber does fill out the fenders nicely to produce a terrific-looking stance.
Beyond that, the FX4 also sports a pair of advanced traction management features that have so far been the exclusive midsize pickup territory of the Tacoma TRD Off-Road. Setting aside the default Normal mode, the Ranger's Terrain Management System allows the driver to optimize the traction control and throttle response for three off-road scenarios: grass, gravel and snow; mud and ruts; and sand. We can't help noticing that a "rocks mode" is conspicuously absent, however. But the Ranger FX4 also has something called Trail Control, which works uphill and on uneven level ground. Essentially, it's a low-speed off-road cruise control that manipulates the throttle and manages wheelspin so that the driver can concentrate on choosing the best line over and around obstacles. We don't yet know if this system has the smarts to dig itself out of deep sand the way the Tacoma's can.
To be clear, the FX4 package is not intended to go head to head with the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 or the Tacoma TRD Pro. That task is reserved for the so-called Ranger Raptor, which has been introduced in other parts of the world with a much more powerful engine, wide-body styling, and significant upgrades to the suspension and tires. Ford will surely get into the specifics of a U.S.-bound version at an unspecified future date, but they're not saying anything now.
Interior and Tech
Inside, the Ranger presents the driver with a logical and functional array of instrumentation and switchgear. A rotary knob controls the state of the 4x4's transfer case, and it includes a neutral tow mode to enable four-down towing behind a motorhome. Buttons to enable Trail Control and hill descent control and the locking rear differential are nearby. The 10-speed's console shifter employs a straight-pull design, but that dooms manual mode control to the kind of thumb-operated rocker switch that we find irritating, all the more so with 10 gears to sort through.
The centerpiece of the infotainment system is Ford's impressive Sync 3 architecture, and among other things, that means the Ranger will support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are two console-mounted USB ports. Other options include Ford+Alexa enhanced voice control, built-in navigation, and a B&O Play by Bang & Olufsen premium sound system. Our main misgiving has to do with the smallish size of the touchscreen itself. Whether it means anything in real life will have to wait until we get behind the wheel on a bumpy road.
Automatic emergency braking comes standard across the Ranger lineup. Move one step up to the XLT and the list of standard active safety features includes lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, a reverse proximity alert system, and a blind-spot monitoring system than can be configured to account for an attached trailer. Take another step up to Lariat and you'll also get adaptive cruise control and enhanced automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.
All this adds up to a 2019 Ford Ranger that could be an instant hit, especially among Ford fans who drifted away to other brands when Ford vacated the midsize truck segment. Their long wait is almost over because the new Ranger is scheduled to go on sale in early 2019. Pricing and technical specifications are trickling out, and we're scheduled to get behind the wheel before the Ranger appears at dealerships. Keep an eye on Edmunds for more updates and a full review of the 2019 Ford Ranger in the weeks to come.