SAN DIEGO — In 2001, my best friend got a brand new Ford F-150 as a high school graduation gift (in large part because he scored a full-ride scholarship to college). We spent the whole summer in that truck, going to parties and the beach, and more parties, and wherever else the wind took us.
The truck wasn't anything special — it had cloth bench seats and no CD-player, though we did add one of the first XM Radio units to it once those came out. In a uniquely American way, that pickup represented freedom for us. But that was twenty years ago and I wonder if we graduated high school today if he would have gotten a Ford Ranger instead of the bigger, way more expensive Ford F-150.
The mid-sized truck segment has exploded in the past few years. There's the venerable Toyota Tacoma, which has been around forever; the Chevy Colorado / GMC Canyon; the Jeep Gladiator; and the Ford Ranger. That last nameplate returned to the US after an eight-year absence for the 2019 model year and I was excited to get behind the wheel.
At its base, the Ranger is a mid-sized pickup — the version I tested had a five-foot bed and 126-inch wheelbase with a full-sized two-row cab that Ford calls "SuperCrew."
My review truck was the mid-tier XLT with the Technology Package, FX2 off-road package, and a couple other items like a spray-in bedliner and towing prep added in. All-in it was fairly well-equipped at $37,290.
Each of the various mid-sized trucks have different pros and cons, and the best part of the Ranger is definitely its 2.3-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Ford, in what rivals Cadillac's NorthStar System as the marketing coup of the new millennium, has nicknamed the turbocharging "EcoBoost." EcoBoost doesn't mean anything except for "turbocharged," but it's catchy and, more importantly, the engines are terrific.
The Ranger will happily chirp its rear wheels if you're too heavy with the throttle from a stoplight — I had a 4x2 Ranger, but if you opt for the 4x4 your red light takeoffs will be even better. But the real strength of the Ranger's 310 lb-ft of torque is the 50-80 mph passing acceleration test. Zipping around the highways of Southern California, I was consistently impressed by the power reserves the Ranger always had available.
The little Ranger (which isn't really that little) is rated to tow up to 7,500 pounds if you opt for the towing package, which is more than enough for most weekend toys. In all, it's an extremely capable truck.
It's very attractive outside, especially with the off-road tires fitted like my model had, but the inside leaves me wishing for a little more. It's textbook Ford in here, with lots of hard plastic buttons and glossy surfaces that will attract scratches and dust over their lives. The blue theme is nice, but many of the buttons are tiny and will be particularly difficult to use with gloves.
I do like the cubby above the center infotainment screen, up on the dashboard itself — it's a good place to put sunglasses or your keys, and it's deep enough to keep your stuff from sliding around on all but the roughest terrain. The cupholders are big enough and there's a not-great bin in front of the shifter where your phone can live. You can get a 110-volt power port though, which will let you plug in a laptop if you want to make the Ranger an office, which is great for anyone who works out of their truck.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are here, and the Ford Co-Pilot 360 driver assist system is available (though not standard). It includes lane-keeping, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert (including while towing), automatic emergency braking and automatic high-beams. Opt for this essential safety system if you can. I think it should be standard, like Toyota offers with its very similar Tacoma, but at least it's available.
$37,000 is a lot of money for a mid-sized truck, especially when you can get a stripped-down F-150 with more capability and size if that's what you're after. But if you're looking for the pickup truck lifestyle without quite so much of the pickup truck bulk, the Ranger gets you almost as much usefulness as its full-size F-150 brethren in a slightly smaller package.
If you don't need to haul really heavy stuff, or you're looking to spend a touch less money, the Ranger could hit the Goldilocks pickup truck sweet spot for you.