About a decade ago, Ford’s Ranger was a compact pickup made primarily, or so it seemed, for teenage boys to range around small towns and suburban areas.
Rangers were small, had inexpensive wheels, and were often the first truck a kid owned. Eight years after Ranger disappeared from Ford’s truck landscape, it’s back and it has grown into a midsize pickup, a true hauler that you could use to tow a decent-sized trailer and boat, or snowmobile.
Now, Ranger goes nose to nose with the likes of GM’s Colorado and Canyon pickups, plus Toyota’s top-selling Tacoma. One might also toss in Honda’s refined Ridgeline and now Jeep’s pricey, but distinctive Gladiator pickup.
Lucky for me, I had the Ranger XLT SuperCrew to test the week after the new Gladiator, and a week before Chevy’s Colorado ZR2 Bison with a diesel engine. The short-take on this trio is that the Jeep is way too pricey, the Ranger has better handling and is more pleasant to ride in, and the Chevy is somewhere in the middle.
But back to the Ranger, which was a modest $41,990 compared with the Gladiator’s nearly $56 grand price tag.
First impressions: like the Gladiator, it was a bit tough to climb aboard as there were no running boards. Grab the steering wheel and pull while bouncing off the left leg and you’re into a much quieter cockpit than the Jeep offers. This being the mid-level XLT, there’s a premium cloth interior.
There's gray cloth in this snazzy Hot Pepper Red (metallic) SuperCrew model, which means it has standard opening rear doors. The other model is a Super Cab (no way to confuse those names, right?), which has two rear-opening half-sized side doors beyond the front doors.
The dash is easy to see, understand, and use with a matte silver dash trim, a flat black console and lower stack with chromed air vents and a gray headliner; it's attractive without being overly macho, compared to the Jeep. Plus, the Ranger’s cockpit is much quieter than the Gladiator’s with little wind and road noise.
But this is a pickup for crying out loud, so you expect major muscle and the ability to haul and tow and go off-road if need be, whether it’s your sweetie or best duck hunting friend in the seat next to you.
The Ranger will do all that to be sure.
First, the 2.3-liter Ecoboost I4 engine is strong and delivers quick power to Ranger. The turbocharged engine packs 270 horsepower and a torque rating of 310 lb.-ft. Tromp the pedal and Ranger will march up to highway speeds with authority, although acceleration is rather noisy at the lower speeds. But once it settles down to lower revs, the engine and the cockpit quiet right down.
A dial lets you decide if you’re in 2-wheel-drive or 4-wheeling mode and that transition is quick and seamless. The test truck included a $1,295 optional FX4 off-road package with locking rear differential, aimed at serious off-roaders.
Speaking of seamless, Ford’s new 10-speed automatic (a couple more gears than the other brands offer) shifts easily and smoothly to give Ranger a more refined feel than most other pickups, save the Honda, which feels almost like a luxury sedan in truck form.
Compared to the Gladiator, what stands out is the Ranger’s handling. The steering wheel feels firm and directly connected to the front wheels. There’s little play in the steering. Handling is excellent and the pickup is easy to control on the highway. There’s no lane creep here as there had been in the Jeep. Ranger is designed for street and highway driving primarily, while the Jeep leans heavily toward off-road handling.
Ride, as in other pickups, is a bit bouncy on our area’s rough roads. You feel potholes and road imperfections with some vibration passed along to the seat of your pants. But all the while the truck is easy to control and whip through tight turns along with easy maneuvering into parking lot spaces.
For the record, there’s an independent front suspension with tubular stabilizer bar and a Hotchkiss-type non-independent live rear suspension with leaf springs and gas-pressurized shocks. Ranger also has four-wheel disc brakes for strong stopping power.
Properly equipped, and this one included a $495 trailer towing package, the Ranger will tow 7,500 lbs. and has a class-leading payload capacity of 1,860 lbs with the Super Cab model and 1,770 lbs. with the tested SuperCrew.
The XLT is one step up from Ranger’s entry-level XL. The Lariat is top-of-the-line. XLT comes well equipped and features Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 safety package that includes a blind-spot warning system, cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, automatic emergency braking and smart cruise control. I’d want all that, so moving up to this level makes solid financial and safety sense.
All those safety features worked well and there’s also a tow-optimized blind spot monitor that can be adjusted to watch your trailer’s blind spot to warn you of a possible obstacle in your blind spot as you tow a trailer. Clever, and as a guy who has done a lot of towing, I can say it would be a welcome feature. Note that a back-up camera is standard on all models.
Seats here are mildly contoured and comfy, and head and legroom are generous front and rear. Four adults could travel comfortably, and five will fit if needed. The front seats are powered, including a power lumbar support for the driver, but the seatbacks are manually adjusted. XLT’s front seats also are heated.
I found all controls easy to see and use and the infotainment screen is nicely sized and simple to use. There are large radio volume and tuning knobs just under the screen, which helps, and the climate controls are tightly packaged on the center stack just behind the console-mounted shift lever.
The test truck had an option package that included dual-zone climate controls, a sliding rear window, rear window defroster and remote start for $2,800.
Other interior pluses include smart cruise control on the manual tilt/telescope steering wheel, a button to fold the side mirrors flat to the body, a couple 12-volt outlets and charger plug-ins, a stop-start system to save gas (and yes you can turn that off), plus sun visors that both flip and slide.
The smart cruise, satellite radio, navigation system, and 6-speaker stereo along with Ford’s Sync3 infotainment setup were part of a $795 technology package.
In the back is a five-foot bed with $495 spray-in bed liner Super Cab models come with a 6-foot bed. Oddly, Ford didn’t opt for a gentle-open tailgate, which nearly all pickups now have. This one drops like a rock, with the old-time bang of a loosed tailgate as it bangs open.
On the gas front, the Ranger includes a capless fuel filler behind the filler door and regular unleaded will do the job. The EPA rates the truck at 20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. I managed just 19 mpg in a fairly even mix of driving.
Base price for the tested XLT SuperCrew was $35,310, including delivery. With its many options, including $395 for that awesome paint job, the test tuck hit $41,990. If you think that’s a lot, well, you haven’t priced a new pickup lately. Again, the Jeep was $55 grand and $45 grand is about the average price for a truck these days.
Need cheaper wheels? The base XL in Super Cab form and rear-drive starts at $25,395 or $27,615 in SuperCrew trim. Go to the Lariat Super Cab and it lists at $35,480 for 2WD and $39,480 for 4WD, as the 4-wheel mode adds about $4,000 to any Ranger model.
If you long for the Ranger name, drove one as a kid or young adult, it’s a good bet you’ll love this new Ranger. Likewise, Jeep lovers will likely fall hard for the Gladiator. If you’re simply in the market for a mid-size pickup, this one feels more refined than the Jeep and handles much better on streets and highways.
Next week we’ll see how the Chevy Colorado ZR2 compares.
Hits: Good power, handling and 4x4, plus comfy and quiet interior, little road noise. Heated, seats, blind-spot warning w/trailer tow monitor, smart cruise, lane departure system, park assist, back-up camera.
Misses: Bouncy ride, no running boards, noisy acceleration at low speeds, tailgate drops quickly (no gentle open mechanism).
Made In: Wayne, Mich.
Engine: 2.3-liter Ecoboost 4-cylinder, 270 horsepower
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Weight: 4,441 lbs.
Length: 210.8 in.
Wheelbase: 126.8 in.
Tow: 7,500 lbs.
MPG: 20/24, 19.0 (tested)
Base Price: $35,310 (includes delivery)
Group 302A (XLT series, dual-zone climate control, sliding rear window w/defroster, remote start), $2,800
Hot pepper red metallic paint, $395
R17 A/T OWL tires, $175
Technology package (adaptive cruise, sync3, satellite radio, navigation, 6 speakers), $795
Spray-in bedliner, $495
Tray-style floor liner, $135
Trailer tow package, $495
Keyless keypad on door, $95
FX4 off-road package w/electronic locking dif., $1,295
Test Vehicle: $41,990
Sources: Ford, kbb.com
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.