2019 Ford Ranger first drive review: The global pickup truck goes American

December 18, 2018

The 2019 Ford Ranger looks all-American, but it waves more flags than just the stars and stripes.

Its chunky looks blend Detroit swagger with southeast Asian swoopiness because it was initially designed for places like Thailand where workhorse trucks sized like the Ranger make sense. Underhood, the small turbo-4 engine’s specs look continental, but its power makes it a hot-rod among mid-size pickup trucks.

MORE: Read our full review of the 2019 Ford Ranger

That’s because the Ranger isn’t an entirely new product. A version of the mid-size Ranger, which shares nothing with the pint-size model once sold in the U.S., has been on sale outside the U.S. for the better part of a decade.

The Ranger pickup set to hit dealers next month is already a relatively common sight in American border towns like San Diego. While Ford exited the sub-F-150 pickup market in the U.S., it kept selling a Ranger-badged small pickup in nearly every market—including Mexico.

The lone Ranger Ford will sell here has much in common with its global siblings, even if its details are different. For now, the only engine is a 2.3-liter turbo-4 rated at a healthy 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission.

2019 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger

As I was reminded while hustling an orange extended-cab Ranger Lariat through the hills east of San Diego along the Mexican border, there’s a replacement for displacement. It’s a turbocharger.

The Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon’s optional 3.6-liter V-6 delivers more horses (308 hp) but fewer torques (275 lb-ft). Those GM trucks need ample use of the throttle pedal to move quickly. The 10-speed automatic transmission in the Ranger—developed with GM, ironically—always seemed to be in the right gear at the right time. It kept engine revs low during highway cruising, which should help the Ranger deliver on Ford’s 23 mpg combined promise (22 mpg combined with four-wheel drive).

Underneath the Ranger’s plain body sits a separate ladder chassis with conventional coil springs up front and leaf springs holding a solid axle out back. The ace up its sleeve is the terrific tuning of its electric power steering. The nicely weighted steering let me muscle a Ranger extended-cab with about 500 pounds worth of ATV strapped into its 6-foot bed along down a road better suited to sports cars. The quick, slack-free steering makes the bulky Toyota Tacoma’s hydraulic setup feel antiquated.

Unladen, the Ranger takes big bumps well with a bit of jiggle from its light rear end. Its ride is controlled better than the bouncy Tacoma, although the Toyota seems to muffle road noise better.

2019 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger

Optional part-time four-wheel drive activated via a control knob is par for the mid-size pickup course. The Ranger will go as far as most owners are likely to take it, but don’t look for a Raptor version (yet). The $1,300 FX4 package is as close as the Ranger gets with its skid plates, tow hooks, all-terrain tires, and mud-slinging traction control modes. Savvy shoppers can save about $800 by opting for just the $420 locking rear differential.

Where the Ranger doesn’t pull as far ahead of its rivals is in its interior. Yes, its front seats are more supportive and offer better head room than the Toyota Tacoma. And the back seat on crew cabs has leg room for average-size adults. However, the Ranger’s price climbs quickly from its $26,500 entry point and the furnishings inside don’t change much.

The plain dashboard looks only slightly dressier with a stitched surface on Ranger Lariats than it does on vinyl-floored, work-ready Ranger XLs. It’ll take spending more than $30,000 to replace the basic AM/FM radio with its 4.2-inch display with a competitive 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment fitted with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Want a crew cab with four-wheel drive and the big screen? Plan to cut a check for at least $36,000 for a Ranger XLT with a few options.

The Ranger comes standard with automatic emergency braking, a feat matched only by the Tacoma, and its bundle of optional active safety tech such as active lane control, blind-spot monitors, and automatic high-beam headlights is priced inexpensively at about $750.

Ultimately, the Ranger nudges the bar forward—but not by a lot, given its relatively aged basic design—compared to its rivals. This latest rehash of a global workhorse will fit in well in the American landscape, but leaves us wondering why the land of the pickup truck was last in line.

Ford provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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