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2019 Ford Ranger XLT 4x4 – a Mid-Size F-150 Alternative

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 2/21/2019 Tony Quiroga

a car on a dirt road: Driving a pickup changes your perspective and, consequently, your outlook on driving. Part of it is that the truck is a bit of a costume-a cowboy hat and a Western shirt. But it's also that pickups are built to haul, not handle. From the pilot's perch in the new Ford Ranger, the road passes by somewhere way down there, whole feet below your toes. The suspension, frame, body, and even the seat work to numb away the passing asphalt.
Driving a pickup changes your perspective and, consequently, your outlook on driving. Part of it is that the truck is a bit of a costume-a cowboy hat and a Western shirt. But it's also that pickups are built to haul, not handle. From the pilot's perch in the new Ford Ranger, the road passes by somewhere way down there, whole feet below your toes. The suspension, frame, body, and even the seat work to numb away the passing asphalt.

Research the Ford Ranger on MSN Autos

Little more than a smooth hum makes its way into the cabin. We measured 68 decibels at 70 mph and a pleasing 76-decibel growl with the accelerator flattened. Bystanders will hear a whistling turbo, but aside from some almost diesel-like injector clatter, not much reaches the interior. The turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder keeps its distance as the 10-speed automatic keeps the revs low. It's soothing up here, despite some intermittent turbulence from the independent front and live rear axles' reactions to breaks and bumps in the road.

a car engine: The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success© Marc Urbano - Car and Driver The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success

Perhaps it's the off-road-focused FX4 suspension that's to blame for the occasional shudders that disturb the peace. A $1295 option available only on 4x4 models like our Ranger XLT, the FX4 package tweaks the damper tuning and adds off-road tires, a locking rear differential, skid plates, tow hooks, Trail Control, and the Terrain Management System, which allows the driver to tailor the throttle and transmission response to four different environments. This is a good place to mention that Ford isn't offering us a Ranger Raptor yet-it's already available outside our market. This seems like a mistake on the level of Jeep waiting decades to introduce a four-door Wrangler or Ford itself taking years to bring this Ranger to the U.S. After such a long wait, and based on the runaway success of the F-150 Raptor, Ford should hurry up and bring over the Ranger Raptor, which will likely be the most desirable-and profitable-version of the truck on our shores.

a car parked on the side of a mountain: The Ranger pickup truck should thrive with its new engine and transmission, quiet on-road demeanor, and slightly more manageable size.© Marc Urbano - Car and Driver The Ranger pickup truck should thrive with its new engine and transmission, quiet on-road demeanor, and slightly more manageable size.

That it isn't a Raptor didn't stop us from climbing desert hills and playing in the sand. We can conclude that the FX4 Ranger will go farther off-road than most folks will dare. Even though the FX4 suspension doesn't raise the 4x4 Ranger's ride height, its standard 8.9 inches of ground clearance and the off-road package's skid plates-Ford calls the front one a "bash plate," which is awesome-make trail work and boulder humping easy. The part-time four-wheel-drive system permanently locks the front and rear axles together in 4 High and 4 Low, and a button ahead of the shifter locks the rear differential. Traction control uses the brakes to keep the front diff from spinning the tire with the least grip. To make crawling and holding a low speed easy, Trail Control acts as a sort of off-road cruise control, using the engine and brakes to keep the Ranger at a preset speed without the driver having to touch the pedals. None of these features are quite as useful as the one that Ford doesn't offer, though. A pavement-friendly auto mode, like the one available in the Chevy Colorado, would allow the transfer case to behave like an all-wheel-drive center diff, ideal for on-road bad-weather conditions.

a car parked in a parking lot: The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success© Marc Urbano - Car and Driver The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success

Back on concrete, cracks and bumps use up the FX4 suspension's initial compliance and reveal a stiff suspension and ride harshness. Those impacts send vibrations rustling through the frame, but the structure quickly attenuates them. If you've driven an F-150 lately, the smaller Ranger will seem immediately familiar. In addition to the firm ride and solid feel (for body-on-frame construction, that is), you get sluggish, if accurate, steering responses, a hard brake pedal, and a quick-shifting 10-speed transmission.

When you work at a car magazine, you sometimes forget what you're driving and throw a Ford Ranger into a series of canyon corners. It's moderately entertaining for a bit, but then the desire to clip apexes and pull g's fades, though our Ranger did post a decent 0.78 g on the skidpad, which matches a 1992 Nissan Maxima SE. That might seem like an odd data point, but consider that the Maxima was marketed as the four-door sports car. Is the Ranger the lifted four-door sports car? Hardly, but drivers of old Rangers will be thrown by the connected control feel of the new truck. It'll seem like it's from another century, which is basically true.

a truck that is driving down the road: The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success© Marc Urbano - Car and Driver The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success

Hooked to the 10-speed automatic and under the hood of every new Ranger is the aforesaid turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four. Related to the turbo fours of the Mustang and the Focus RS, the engine makes less power here than it does in those cars. But the Ranger's 270 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 310 pound-feet of torque at 3000 rpm pushed this 4536-pound SuperCrew pickup to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and through the quarter in 15.0 seconds at 93 mph. That's 0.4 second behind the V-6 Colorado and a tenth off the Honda Ridgeline's pace but nearly a second quicker than a V-6 Toyota Tacoma. There's virtually no lag from a stop, and the low-end torque motivates the Ranger without much effort. We didn't tow with it, but we have no doubt that this engine and transmission combo would have no real issue hauling near the truck's 7500-pound tow limit. (Lacking the Trailer Tow package, our test truck was rated to pull 3500 pounds from its bumper.) Compared with the six-cylinder trucks it competes with, this Ranger's city figure of 20 mpg is best in the class and its 24 on the highway is 1 mpg shy of the Ridgeline's and tied with the Colorado's. We only managed 16 mpg during our boost-filled week with the Ranger. It's likely you'll do better.

Driving more slowly than we do won't improve the interior. Boring and uninspired in the manner of a cheap car from 2011 (or a modern Mitsu­bishi), the design is at least simple and the controls are easy to decipher. Ford offers an 8.0-inch touchscreen, but the lines, materials, and switch­gear are straight out of Obama's first term. At least the Ranger's cabin is much larger than before. In the new-to-this-gen SuperCrew configuration, there's plenty of space for four large adults, and the rear doors open wide to allow easy entry. This Ranger is also 3.9 inches wider than the last rear-drive SuperCab model and 7.2 inches longer.

a car parked on the side of a vehicle: The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success© Marc Urbano - Car and Driver The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success

Like the interior, the exterior design is a bit dull. But the Ranger isn't trying to be something it's not or play up its truckiness the way full-size pickups do. There isn't an offensive amount of chrome adorning our test truck, no attempt to make it look like a Class 8 tractor, and the ornamentation isn't trying to win a badge-measuring contest. We did notice some spotty panel fits where the hood meets the fenders, and the gap between the bed walls and the tailgate is large enough to see through. SuperCrew models, with their four full-size doors, come with a bed that's just over five feet long, while the SuperCab, with smaller half doors, has a six-foot, three-quarter-inch bed. The bed of our SuperCrew 4x4 can hold 1560 pounds of feathers, or lead, or water, should you want to make your Ranger into a mobile hot tub. That's less than half of what some F-150s will haul, which brings us to how the Ranger will fit into a world dominated by the F-150.

A base rear-drive Ranger starts at $25,495, and a SuperCrew 4x4 opens at $31,875. Choose our truck's XLT trim and that jumps to $35,310. Options brought our total to $41,725, a price that doesn't include leather and would put you into a nicely equipped F-150. Big incentives on full-size pickups and dealers motivated to move F-150s may hurt Ranger sales, but that's true for all mid-size trucks, and yet the segment is growing. Toyota sold nearly a quarter-million Tacomas last year, Colorado and Canyon sales were just shy of 170,000, and Nissan came close to selling 80,000 Frontiers-which is remarkable considering the Frontier carbon-dates to 2005. Although this Ranger isn't wholly new, mid-size-pickup buyers are clearly a forgiving lot. The new engine and transmission, quiet on-road demeanor, and slightly more manageable size should allow the Ranger to thrive in the shadow of the F-150.

Competitors

a close up of a map: The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success The Ranger Looks to Repeat the F-150's Success

From the March 2019 issue

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