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2019 Ford Ranger First Look: Welcome home

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2018-01-14 Motor Trend Staff

Finally. It has been seven years since the last Ford Ranger rolled off the line at the Twin Cities plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. Seven years of Ford insisting there was no market for a compact pickup in the U.S. when there was an F-150 full-size truck for every need and pocketbook. Seven years of Ranger fans clamoring for its North American return while it continued to be a sales success in the rest of the world. Seven years of General Motors and Toyota increasing sales and share of the midsize pickup segment.

Enough. Today Ford uses the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to unveil the 2019 Ranger that will go into production later this year, for sale in early 2019. It stems from the global Ranger sold and built elsewhere, but it is re-envisioned for this market with a more aggressive look and kinship to the F-150. Designed and engineered in Australia for the U.S., it relies on North American parts and will be built in the retooled Michigan Assembly Plant.

What has changed? The midsize pickup segment has seen sales increase 83 percent since 2014—when Ford decided to bring the truck back—with 452,000 sold in 2017. "We see an opportunity that didn't exist five years ago," said Todd Eckert, Ford truck group marketing manager.

Related Video: Exclusive first look at the 2019 Ford Ranger (Provided by Motor Trend)

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A decade ago, in the thick of the recession, the F-150 range continued to expand, and the price gap between it and the Ranger continued to shrink. The F-150 was the moneymaker and got the resources while the Ranger went largely unchanged. Sales continued to fall until the business decision was made to discontinue it after the 2011 model year and redirect customers to the base F-150 or an SUV.

Ford now sees the Ranger buyer as different from the F-150 buyer. The Ranger owner is an urban dweller who drives his truck to work—not for work—and uses it to play on the weekend with his toys in the bed in back. It is not about affordability but more about size, scale, and fuel efficiency, says Eckert. Nor is it about chasing the competition. Expect former Ranger owners, new customers, and even F-150 owners who want to downsize gravitate to a truck that is easier to drive, park, and fit in the garage.

a car parked on a dirt road © Motor Trend Staff

It can be argued that the two nameplates have, since inception, been different enough to attract separate buyers with different needs. But what has indeed changed is that today's consumers continue to favor trucks and SUVs over cars. More car buyers are likely to gravitate to a smaller urban pickup as an alternative to an SUV, and these same buyers might never consider an F-150. The Ranger might never become the staple it once was on American roads, but Ford sees it as viable again.

The 2019 Ranger will be offered with a single engine: the second-generation 2.3-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine with a forged steel crankshaft and Ford's new 10-speed automatic transmission—no manual. No specs are available yet, but the 2.3-liter gets 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque in the Ford Explorer.

a close up of a car © Motor Trend Staff

There will not be a diesel available at launch, and officials won't say if one will be added later. Diesel is available in other markets, and Ford is adding a diesel option on the 2019 F-15. But the timing is touchy—the automaker is being sued for misrepresenting emissions levels in its F-150 and F-350 Super Duty diesel pickups.

Ford also is not talking about a hybrid Ranger even though the company plans to electrify everything from the Mustang to the F-150 in the years ahead.

And although other parts of the world get a Ranger Raptor, the off-road version expected to be unveiled next month is not for North America. That said, we assume it is only a matter of time until one is sanctioned for North America to freshen the lineup.

The five-passenger, body-on-frame Ranger does not have an aluminum body. It is steel, like the global pickup it is based on. The North American version has a new fully boxed frame.

When putting pencil to paper, Ranger design chief Max Wolff started with the 2012 Ranger design. He was granted license to tweak every panel because he would be working with new suppliers—and the plant was being retooled—so there were no barriers to making changes.

Wolff gave the truck a solid steel front bumper with big frame-mounted hooks, a short overhang for off-road, a tougher-looking hood extending from the raked windshield, a high beltline, and fender overrides so the wheel arches appear to have more width. There is a steel bumper, but the tailgate is aluminum with a spoiler and Ranger stamped on it. The cargo box rails are designed with North American buyers in mind.

a car parked in front of a truck © Motor Trend Staff

There are unique grilles for the XL, XLT, and Lariat trims and optional LED lamps. The 2019 model has eight new wheel choices, some of them aligned with the F-150 for a brotherly feel. The truck comes in eight colors with optional chrome and sport appearance packages.

The Ranger will be offered in supercab and supercrew cab with four fullsize doors. The global Ranger sold elsewhere has a standard cab option. Ford is not providing exact dimensions, but they should not vary much from the global Ranger—which would make it about 201 inches long, 73 inches wide, and 71 inches high with a 127-inch wheelbase. Ground clearance is about 9 inches, making steps unnecessary.

It will feature the terrain management system in the Raptor with four drive modes for Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, and Sand. Trail Control is a new feature to Ford, making its debut on the Ranger. It sets a low vehicle speed, replacing hill control and operating like an off-road cruise control that can be set to 1 mph for rock crawling. It can be used on any transfer setting and set with steering wheel controls or by braking to the desired speed, and it will set there. The system was developed by Ford. Others have similar systems, but not all work in all modes and both transfer settings.

The FX4 off-road package has upgraded tires, a steel front bash plate, off-road tuned shocks and suspension, reinforced skidplates mounted to the frame, and standard Trail Control and Hill Descent Control. There is a two-speed transfer case and electronic-locking rear differential that is an option without the FX4 package.

Safety features include blind-spot detection with trailer coverage, precollision assistance, lane keep warning and assist, available adaptive cruise control, and emergency braking.

Inside there are two color choices: ebony and medium ash. There's also Sync 3 with an 8.0-inch touchscreen and waterproof storage under the rear seat.

"We made this a serious truck," said Rick Bolt, a fitting name for the Ranger's program engineer. "We expect best-in-class payload when we launch."

There was speculation the North American-market Ranger would be different from the global truck—perhaps even ride on a unibody platform. But it is the same architecture, developed in Australia but with new parts, some shared with the F-150. And the Ranger underwent the same strenuous testing as the F-150, Bolt said.

Pricing has not been announced but should start below $25,000.

an old photo of a truck © Motor Trend Staff

Ford Ranger: A Little History

A little history: When Ford introduced the original Ranger in 1982, replacing the Mazda-based Courier, the thinking was that the Ranger and F-150 would appeal to different buyers and together Ford would dominate the truck market.

It was a tough sell even back then. When the original pitch was made, the F-150 was coming off a record sales year in 1978, and the F-Series was the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. with 956,600 pickup sales. But two years later, auto sales were at a 19-year low and Ford was losing money on trucks. Resources were drying up, product development had to be prioritized, and creating a new small truck to battle Toyota and Datsun did not top the list.

But the Ranger, codenamed Yuma, had a champion in Ford President Donald Peterson who was convinced buyers would pay as much for a small truck as a large one. It would not be a less-profitable competitor to the F-150, and it would replace the base F-100. And it would be competition for General Motors, which was launching the Chevrolet S-10 and GMC S-15 in 1981.

Yuma was designed to take on the Japanese imports by adding a couple inches to the length for more room, better seats, a real ashtray, and some American payload and toughness. It was to look like a Ford but not an F-150 clone—it needed to look like a fuel-efficient import-fighter.

a car parked in front of a body of water © Motor Trend Staff

Peterson persevered and a rear-drive compact pickup was introduced for the 1983 model year with a 72-hp 2.0-liter or optional 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine to bring horsepower to 80. A 4x4 was quickly added, and there were two wheelbases to provide the choice of a 6-or 7-foot bed.

By 1990 you could get a 160-hp V-6 and optional four-speed automatic transmission. The first big redesign came for the 1993 model year, and the platform gave birth to the Mazda B-Series for 1994. Another face-lift came for 1998 with a more usable standard cab. An extra 4 inches of wheelbase and new front suspension provided a more comfortable ride. Four doors became an option. There was even an electric Ranger for fleet customers, but range was less than 60 miles. There was another update was for the 2001 model year. A new FX4 came in 2002.

When Ford killed the Ranger for North America, it updated the global truck for the rest of the world. Ford currently builds it in Thailand, Argentina, South Africa, and a satellite kit plant in Nigeria.

This latest Ranger has been a long time coming. Back in November 2015, the United Auto Workers union signed a tentative agreement with Ford that included signing bonuses, a commitment to bring the Ranger back to North America, and a revival of the Bronco nameplate. Both the Ranger and Bronco would be built at the Michigan Assembly Plant, which would stop making the Ford Focus and C-Max in 2018 to retool for the two new body-on-frame trucks.


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