- WHAT’S GOOD: Good vehicle dynamics, Best towing capacity in the segment, Strong off-road capability
- WHAT’S BAD: Interior dated in spots, Rear seat room a bit cramped in SuperCab models, Limited model selection compared to some competitors
SAN DIEGO, CALIF.—Ford decided back in 2011 that for the pickup truck customer, bigger was always better.
So they dumped the Ranger, their then-compact pickup, leaving that market to the likes of Toyota’s Tacoma, Nissan’s aging Frontier and GM’s Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon twins.
That market has burgeoned in recent years as more people are turning to pickups. But many of these newbies don’t want to pay the fuel economy penalty for the leviathans.
Also, many of these prospects are urban dwellers. Ever tried to back a full-size pickup into a Canadian Tire parking spot?
So Ford rethought their strategy, rifled through their foreign pickup parts bin, and came up with the new Ranger.
Prices start at $30,969 for the base XL 4×4. That’s a massive $5,900 less than the entry-level Tacoma 4×4 which currently dominates this segment.
Ranger is now classified as a “mid-size,” because every pickup has also bulked up. The full-sizers are now so big you need deployable running boards to get into them.
Isn’t that nature’s way of telling you your truck is too big?
What’s next — a rope ladder?
Size-wise, the new Ranger actually isn’t far off what the F-Series was a couple of generations ago.
In other words, it’s all the truck about 90 per cent of truck owners actually need.
But then, new trucks — or new cars for that matter — aren’t about what owners need; they’re about what they want.
As noted, Ranger borrows its overall engineering from a truck that’s been sold in South America and Asia for some time, but with new sheet metal, upgraded interior equipment, a more modern drivetrain, and a reinforced frame for the heavier loads North Americans are likely to haul.
OK, so typically twice a year — taking the boat to the lake in spring, taking it back home in fall.
Properly equipped, Ranger is rated for up to 7,500 pounds, which leads this segment.
Only one engine is offered, essentially the base Mustang mill, a 2.3-litre turbocharged four. It’s been detuned a shade here, offering 270 horsepower at 5,500 r.p.m., and 310 lb.-ft. of torque peaking at 3,000 r.p.m., versus the 320/350 numbers in Mustang. Then again, those Mustang numbers are on 93 octane fuel; they’d be a bit closer to Ranger’s scores on regular unleaded.
Bolted thereto is a 10-speed automatic transmission, a joint venture with General Motors (never mind antitrust laws).
Ranger will only be offered with switchable four-wheel drive in Canada. Americans can save several grand at sign-off by opting for rear-wheel drive. Better stay on the pavement, my Yankee friends…
Ford could build the nearly one million unit model run of the Big Brother F-Series and never build the same truck twice, so extensive is the range of models and options.
By contrast, Ranger is offered in just two body styles, one drivetrain, and three trim levels.
The SuperCab and SuperCrew nomenclature makes sense only to Ford truckies.
If you aren’t one of those, here’s a primer: SuperCab means two real doors and two small rear-hinged back doors, a six-foot box, and marginal room for two in the back seat. It is available in base XL and one-up XLT trims.
SuperCrew trades off cargo space for people space. Within the same wheelbase, you get four proper doors, a five-foot box, more rear-seat space, and three seatbelts in the back. Whether there’s room for three actual people in the back depends on how wide they are. I’m dead-on average height and could sit back there fine. But I’d have to be very good friends with two others my size back there.
SuperCrew is available in the mid-range XLT trim, and is the only body style offered in the range-topping — dare I say Ranger-topping? — Lariat trim.
Both body styles offer a degree of under-seat storage. The seats can be flipped and folded in a variety of ways to increase the luggage-carrying options, although when folded down, the resulting surface is not completely flat.
Clever storage areas under the rear seat provide a place to hide valuables. Oh, did I just give that away? Thieves, please disregard.
Rather like the small EcoSport SUV which is also based on a South American/Asian platform, Ranger’s roots show up in the interior. Ford has hung most of their high-tech stuff — touch screens, all the modern electronic goodies such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an optional Bang and Olufson stereo — onto the rather lacklustre design and execution of the rest of the innards.
The seats are decently comfortable but don’t provide a lot of lateral support in brisk driving in which the truck is actually decently capable.
Then again, compared to the Toyota and Nissan trucks which are also pretty long in the tooth, the standards aren’t that high in this segment. Except, it must be said, for the GM duo, which easily lead in this department.
We tried Ranger on some nice smooth California highways, and it performs very well. The engine provides decent acceleration — it has the most torque in the segment — and is reasonably quiet while doing so.
I have no notes at all about the transmission, which means it works fine. You only notice a transmission when it isn’t very good.
Ride quality is also pretty good even on some rougher back roads we managed to find. The electronically-assisted steering is more than up to the task, with good precision and feel.
Ford built a pretty challenging off-road course on the property they rented for this launch. Needless to say, they wouldn’t design a course the truck couldn’t handle, but it was tough enough to be interesting, far more difficult than anything you’re likely to ever encounter. I got the truck equipped with the FX4 Off Road package to a 26 degree sideways angle on one banked corner, to that point the steepest anybody had managed, and it got through it with ease.
Ford also had another intriguing exercise — a set of what almost looked like steps, over which we could try the Tacoma and the Ranger back-to-back. Setting the vehicles to essentially rock-crawling mode, the Ranger just — well, walked through it no probs. The Toyota balked, clanked, seemed to have some difficulty figuring out which wheels to send the torque to. I mean, both made it. But it was simple for the Ranger, quite a challenge for the Toyota.
Ford is a bit late to this party. More accurately, a bit late returning to it. Pickup truck buyers are notoriously brand-loyal, so I don’t expect owners of competitive trucks to abandon their particular ships, at least not in any great numbers.
But for new buyers to this expanding segment, or for those wishing to downsize from an F-Series, the Ranger makes a good case for itself. I predict it will do pretty well.