THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Pick-up functionality that’s a manageable size and easy on fuel.
- What’s Bad: Some desirable features like a heated steering wheel are not available.
It’s no secret that half-ton pick-up trucks are unbelievably capable workhorses. Most can tow 4,500 kg or more – in some cases, over a ton more – and the majority can handle a payload of close to or over 1,000 kg.
But what if you don’t need all of that? As more of us crowd ourselves into higher-density cities and suburbs, maybe we still want a vehicle that we don’t mind getting dirty but we know we’ll never come close to the upper limits of a half-ton’s functionality. Perhaps a lower purchase price and better fuel economy are higher priorities.
Enter the mid-size truck.
Sales in this class are trending upward recently as buyers realize that these smaller trucks check a whole lot of their boxes. Not only has this bolstered the position of the products that were already on offer – the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, and GMC Canyon are prime examples – but several other automakers have shuffled their line-ups to hop on the bandwagon: Jeep bolted a bed onto the Wrangler to launch the new Jeep Gladiator, and Ford has brought the Ranger back to North America for the first time since 2011.
The Ranger has been sold in overseas markets throughout that time and was last redesigned at the same time it was discontinued here, so what we’re seeing is new to us but is overall far from new.
How does it hold up? Surprisingly well, actually.
Functionality with Fuel-efficiency
When I first climb into the driver’s seat of the Ranger, it takes me a little while to get over the excitement of just being in any smaller pick-up. The seating position is high and upright, but I can back into my driveway stress-free. Suddenly, runs to the garden centre and home improvement store are far easier – if the bed gets filthy, I’ll just hose it out. I can get so much done!
My dad was a half-ton owner for years, and back when I was a downtown condo-dweller I constantly gave him a hard time about it. Why would he want to carry such high fuel bills for a vehicle he doesn’t fully use? Now that I live in a house myself, I completely get it. But I think that for most people, this smaller type of truck is the ideal solution – if for no other reason than the amount of money it will save you at the pumps if you don’t need a larger truck’s capability.
For efficiency-minded folks, the Ranger’s standard and only engine option, the 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder, makes it the most fuel-efficient gas-powered four-wheel-drive truck in its segment with a Natural Resources Canada rating of 10.9 L/100 km combined. My week with it leaned far more toward city driving than highway, probably 75-25, and I finished up with an average of 10.3 – although I spent much of the week in two-wheel drive since the conditions warranted it. Still, compared to an estimated 11.4 in a Colorado four-cylinder and 11.7 in a Tacoma, the Ranger’s figures are superior on paper. You can do better in a Colorado if you’re willing to go for a diesel, or in several competitors if you commit to two-wheel drive only, but in this precise combination the Ranger is as good as it gets.
Ranger is Aging, but Powertrain Isn’t
While we’re discussing the advantages of mid-size trucks, we also need to address the downsides: there isn’t a single one of these on the market – with the possible exception of the Chevrolet Colorado Diesel, which I haven’t tested – that has the brute-force drive feel of a larger truck with a V8. The largest engine you can get in any truck in this class is a V6, and even those tend to feel underpowered.
The 2.3-litre EcoBoost in the Ranger has the advantage of turbocharging, which gets you to its full 310 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm and helps its drivability a fair bit, although it does feel like it takes its time getting there. Regardless, the 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of this engine far outdoes the Colorado’s 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder (200 hp/191 lb-ft) and the Tacoma’s naturally aspirated 2.7-litre four-cylinder (159 hp/180 lb-ft, which only comes with 4×4 in the access cab). It even beats the torque in the V6 engines on both (308 hp/275 lb-ft for the Colorado, 278 hp/265 lb-ft for the Tacoma).
You’d think a turbocharged four-cylinder with output this high might have more conservative tow and payload ratings, but that’s not the case. Ford rates the Ranger’s maximum towing capacity at 3,401 kg and maximum payload with the crew cab at 707 kg, versus the same configuration in the Colorado (3,493 kg towing, 702 kg payload) and Tacoma (2,900 kg towing, 450 kg payload). If you’re going to tow toward the upper limit of that, or often, then opting for a naturally aspirated V6 is likely to spare the engine some stress. But for the occasional trip, this could be a solid combination.
The transmission used here is the same 10-speed automatic that’s available in the F-150 and was designed for truck use. I did experience a couple of rough shifts at lower speeds, but generally speaking it’s a smooth and stout performer.
A Nice Place to Be
If you can get past the fact that the Ranger’s cabin is an older design – and really, apart from the fact that there’s some black plastic involved, the stitched upholstery and glossy dash insert in this Lariat model make it not so hard on the eyes at all – there’s a lot about it that makes it a pleasant place to spend time, as long as you have some budget for equipment.
The seats are not only positioned well but are exceptionally comfortable, providing both space and good support. That’s the case on the leather seats exclusive to Lariat, anyway, though I imagine the cloth seats would be similar.
Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system is a $1,500 option on the XLT model and is standard on Lariat, and with that comes on-board navigation (an extra cost in either case), SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability (a GM truck would have both as standard; a Tacoma has neither), and a pair of smart-charging USB ports. This is a necessary upgrade for anything that’s not a pure work truck, in my opinion, so it’s best to budget for it. The pair of charging ports in the back row of this Lariat tester are another nice touch for those with frequent passengers.
For an additional $3,000, the Lariat model can be equipped with a Bang and Olufsen sound system (which is also packaged with the technology package, rain-sensing wipers, and remote start). I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the need to mention a sound system in a pick-up before, but the sound quality on this one is outstanding – a worthy investment for those who care about such things.
Heated front seats are optional on the XLT model and standard on the Lariat. This is similar to Colorado’s packaging, though on a Tacoma you’d start to see them at lower trims. There’s no heated steering wheel available on this or on a Tacoma, though, but you could get one on a Colorado.
Picking Up Things
This tester is set up with the five-foot box, which is how it comes with the crew cab. This one gives you a cargo volume of 1,225 litres. A six-foot box with a length of 1,848 mm and a capacity of 1,466 litres is available, but only with the smaller SuperCab. For most things that the people who want a truck like this will do with it the smaller size works fine, although you may find that you need to take the time to strap in longer things like bookcases or other Ikea cargo that would fit fine in a longer box.
In the Colorado, the short box is just a smidge longer – 1,567 mm versus the Ranger’s 1,550 mm – but the six-foot, 1,880 mm long box is available with a crew cab, which could be a clincher for some buyers. The same is true of the Tacoma, which has both 1,536 mm and 1,872 mm boxes available with the crew cab.
The Ranger’s FX4 Off-road package equipped here for $1,400 adds monotube shocks, all-terrain tires, an electronic locking rear differential, an exposed steel bash plate, a heavy-duty front skid plate plus undercarriage skid plates, and the terrain management system and trail control. I didn’t take this down any trails even remotely resembling off-road, but I did spend a lot of time on Toronto’s potholed highways – and let’s be honest, with every day that goes by they get closer to being in trail condition. What I can say is this: while the shocks used here do help to smooth out rough patches nicely, my initial impression is that they don’t do so quite as well as the shocks on a Colorado ZR2. Those shocks are magic; these ones are merely very good.
I’m a big fan of this truck, but I’m also a big fan of most trucks in this size bracket. On a more minute level, I think I’m more likely to choose a Chevrolet Colorado over this truck unless there’s a specific feature I want that’s better priced on the Ranger, or if fuel economy is a very high priority for me. In those contexts, the Ranger is a solid choice. And I can’t wait to see what Ford comes up with in its next generation of this truck, when the Blue Oval is no longer introducing us to an eight-year-old holdover and we can really put its best foot forward.