WHISTLER, B.C. – If you haven’t been behind the wheel of a full-size pickup truck in the last few years you might not realize how big they actually are. Having driven them all, I can tell you first hand that one of their biggest assets—size— is also the reason they might not work for everyone. For those who live in the city where large parking spaces and adequate overhead clearances are far and few between, the mammoth footprint and cringe-worthy fuel bills that come with these trucks aren’t exactly ideal.
Yes, you can get 4-cylinder engines in half-tons today, thanks to the rise of the turbocharger but volume sellers in this category nearly always leave the dealer showroom equipped with 6 or 8 cylinders.
Every successive generation gets more power and more capability but the truth is that most pickup buyers aren’t likely to use their shiny new trucks as workhorses, but rather a vehicle that will get you to work, or the gym, or the grocery store. Lavishly equipped crew cabs with interior niceties that rival an expensive German sedan are in, while basic single cab trucks are decidedly out.
Even heavy-duty pickups have moved upmarket leaving a gap for consumers that are infatuated with trucks but aren’t so enamoured with the thought of piloting a small house everywhere they go.
Enter the mid-size truck arena that’s seen a popularity spike in the past few years. Enough that the Ford Ranger—discontinued in North America since 2011—has been brought back for 2019.
It’s no secret. This isn’t exactly a new model per se, and probably not what Ranger fans clamouring for its comeback had in mind. When Ford axed the Ranger in North America, global markets got a brand new one. So the Ranger we get today is based on that 8-year old platform but with some market-exclusive differentiators like the doors, liftgate, and hood stamped from aluminum instead of steel. The lighter metal does indeed contribute to some weight-savings, in turn increasing capability but the frame-mounted steel bumpers (also a North American exclusive), admittedly nice to have, probably offset that a tad.
To keep things simple there are just three trims, two cab sizes, and one engine to choose from. If you’ve spent any time at all on a build-and-price website for a pickup truck you’re well aware that there are more ways to configure one than there are ways to design the extravagant abode of your dreams. So, choosing the perfect Ranger is an easier task for its target market. One that’s been steadily growing in the last 3-4 years as the world continues its obsession with all things truck.
Thrills in BC
Ford markets the new Ranger as a vehicle for adventure seekers and a tough truck that doesn’t mind getting dirty.
To prove this they flew me to Whistler to live a day in the life of a person that craves the rush of adrenaline, brought on by activities that might or might not involve desperately hanging on to the side of a mountain or hurtling through a concrete chute, at highway speeds, in a phallic-shaped fiberglass tube on wheels
Normally, I’m the type of guy that seeks adventure in trying a new Weizenbock but a little dose of excitement every now and again is good for the soul. So, I was excited to go on this Ranger adventure, which would involve traversing the epically breathtaking highways that meander their way through the snow-capped mountains looming over the British Columbian landscape. A prettier scene, you will not find anywhere.
Lots of kit
We spent most of our time driving well-equipped Lariat trimmed Rangers that start at a reasonable $41,389 and come only in a crew cab configuration in Canada. All Rangers sold here also come with electronic shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel drive, and rightly so, as most Canadian pickup buyers wouldn’t touch a rear-wheel drive truck with a 10-foot pole.
Those familiar with Ford interiors will feel at home here. Everything is within easy reach, and Lariat models swap some of the hard scratchy plastic of the lower-grade trims for some nicer-to-the-touch materials.
Lariat models come with all the features one expects in new cars today. Like leather seating and LED headlamps and taillamps, 18-inch wheels, an 8-inch centre touchscreen with the latest SYNC 3 infotainment software, and dual 4.2-inch instrument cluster screens that display a bevy of useful information in your line of sight.
An impressive list of safety and driver aids includes pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning and braking support, blind spot monitors, lane keeping system, trailer sway control, and a back-up cam. For those who like to pre-condition their cabins, a remote starter is also included.
A tech package can be tacked on for $3000 and it includes a B&O audio system, onboard navigation, rain-sensing wipers, and adaptive cruise control.
Driving the Ranger
As noted earlier, there is only one engine to pick from and it’s a good one. A 2.3-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder mated to a 10-speed automatic provides 270 hp and a stout 310 lb-ft of torque.
Spend any amount of time behind the wheel and you’ll never miss those extra cylinders. There’s more than enough power for day-to-day driving, and passing slower traffic on the highway is easily accomplished thanks to all that low-end torque. The 10-speed doesn’t hunt for gears and shifts quickly and smoothly. There’s some bucking at low speeds but it goes away as soon as you gain momentum.
Steering is overboosted and numb with not much in the way of a connection to the front wheels, however, it’s not like I expected a talkative rack here. Furthermore, the Ranger’s relatively compact dimensions make it a fun rig to scoot about town in. It’s easy to park and easy to see out of. If the bigger half-tons seem intimidating to drive the Ranger’s size is just about perfect.
You’ll wonder why you ever thought you needed a bigger truck. And equipped with the trailer tow package the Ranger can tow like the bigger trucks too. Up to 3400 kg (7500 lbs), or it can haul over 700 kg (1560 lbs) worth of stuff in the bed and cabin.
From Sea to Sky
Taking the Sea-to-Sky Gondola in Squamish, which rises almost 900 metres in just 10 minutes, provides breathtaking views of the Howe Sound Fjord and Stawamus Chief.
Once at the summit you’ll find hiking trails, multiple lookouts, a fully licensed restaurant and bar, and a 100 metre long suspension bridge hanging thousands of feet above the ground, well above the forest canopy.
Soak in the crisp alpine air or take one of the many guided tours or hikes deep into Squamish country. The Gondola opened up this part of the Stawamus Chief area to hikers and backcountry enthusiasts that would have had a much more difficult time accessing it in the past.
One of the offered activities is the Via Ferrata: an assisted climb up the mountain using built-in ladders and cables. While this is a family activity open to children 8 and over, you still need to be in reasonable shape.
“Looking down is optional,” reassured our guide as she patiently coached our group up the vertical cliffs. It was an option that I decided wasn’t for me as I clung to the iron rungs, eyes focused on the grippy Squamish granite inches away from my sweaty brow. I did sneak a few peeks, mainly because the view was unlike anything else I had ever seen before. We finished the course under that suspension bridge I walked across earlier. I could have kissed the solid ground beneath my boots.
Back in the Ranger, I breathed a sigh of relief, proud that I completed the Via Ferrata but relieved to be behind the wheel again.
There’s a lot to do in Whistler in the summer when it’s not snowing anymore. It’s an alpine playground with a beach-bum vibe. The pace is slow and relaxing. A world’s worth of backcountry waiting to be explored—the perfect place for an off-road stint in the Ranger.
An FX4 off-road package adds an electronic locking diff, stronger shocks, and a bevy of underbody skid plates for protecting vital organs. It also unlocks the Terrain management system that provides multiple off-road drive modes.
The trail we took wasn’t one designed to catch the Ranger off-guard and we subsequently made it through the course quite easily. The hill descent control was a standout for enabling smooth descents down rocky uneven terrain. I’ve experienced other systems like this where the ABS motors sound like they’re having a nervous breakdown trying to control downward progress.
Bucket list activities
What else can you do in Whistler? Well, you can visit the Whistler Sliding Centre and fly down the same track you saw Olympians rocket down during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Except the track is not frozen this time of year so the bobsled you ride in has wheels instead of steel runners.
While they might not be as fast as they are on ice, zipping down a narrow half pipe at over 90 kph pulling multiple g’s and trying not to fly off the edge is an exhilarating experience. So much so, we did it twice.
The skilled staff are passionate about sliding sports and make you feel safe through the entire process from track walk to strapping in. Better yet, this is a not-for-profit business and all the proceeds from public rides go directly back to supporting bobsleigh, skeleton, and luge athletes.
The new Ford Ranger, back after nearly a decade, is not the utilitarian, crude little Mazda-based runabout it once was. The old truck was positively tiny and this new one isn’t.
While it might disappoint some of the hardcore fans of the old one it’s nearly impossible to please everyone.
Slotting perfectly under the F-150 the Ranger is likely more truck than most consumers in this market will need for any type of adventure in town or out in the wilderness and we’re sure happy to see it back in Ford’s truck lineup.