2019 Ford Ranger Review

Christian Wardlaw | Jul 12, 2019

Introduction

People buy midsize pickups for several reasons. They’re typically more affordable, more efficient, and smaller than light-duty full-size models. The trade-off is that they can’t haul or tow as much weight. The new 2019 Ranger serves in this role for Ford, filling a vacancy in the company’s truck lineup that dates to 2012.

Available in extended and crew cab styles, the former with a long bed and the latter with a short bed, the 2019 Ranger comes in XL, XLT, and Lariat trim. They all get a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission, and 4-wheel-drive costs extra. Multiple option packages are available to tailor the Ranger to specific requirements, including an FX4 Package that adds extra off-roading capability.

2019 Ford Ranger Lariat Crew Cab Black Front ViewFor this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Ford Ranger Lariat SuperCrew equipped with Package 501A, the Chrome Appearance Package, the Trailering Package, a spray-in bedliner, and chrome running boards. The price came to $43,975, including the $1,195 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Ford Ranger, it is helpful to understand who buys midsize pickup trucks.

Overwhelmingly, men buy these vehicles, at 89% of owners surveyed by J.D. Power. Their median age is 58, and they earn a median annual household income of $101,820. Nearly a third (29%) say they are retired. Most midsize pickup owners agree that they prefer to buy from a domestic company (59%).

Midsize pickup truck owners most commonly agree on the following vehicle attributes:

--  97% agree that a first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is reliability

--  95% agree that a first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is quality of workmanship

--  91% agree that they avoid vehicles that they think will have high maintenance costs

--  91% agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration

Perhaps unexpectedly, half of midsize pickup owners (50%) agree that they will pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Ford Ranger measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Inoffensively styled, the Ranger is appealing but not eye-catching. Various wheel, grille, trim, and paint options help buyers to add character to the truck. For example, there are Chrome, STX Appearance, Sport Appearance, and Black Appearance option packages that alter the Ranger’s appearance. The test truck had the Chrome Package, making it extra shiny.

Interior

Lacking the industrial design of the larger F-150’s interior, the Ranger Lariat’s cabin is more like an SUV than a pickup truck. The test truck had soft synthetic leather covering the dashboard, helping it to look upscale. Most interior surfaces, however, are hard plastic ready for abuse.

Unfortunately, Ford forgot to make important parts of the cabin soft and padded, such as the upper door panel sills. The center console armrest lid feels plush, but lean on it and your elbow instantly sinks into the unyielding surface below. The steering wheel, however, has a thick rim and is enjoyable to grip.

A couple of possible quality issues were evident in the test truck. The fabric loop used to pull the rear center armrest down was fraying with less than 6,000 miles on the Ranger’s odometer. Also, when sitting in the back seat behind the driver, the front seatback appeared to be canted toward the middle of the vehicle, almost like it was bent.

Seats

When sitting in the Ranger’s driver’s seat, it didn’t feel as though the seatback was bent, so perhaps looks are deceiving in this case. It did, however, feel like the Barcalounger I have in my living room: soft, mushy, and wrapped in leather. That’s great for family movie night, but not so great in a truck.

Despite what should be an adequate range of adjustment, I had trouble getting comfortable. Sitting up high for the best visibility, I felt crammed behind the steering wheel, my right knee resting on the lower corner of the dashboard’s center control panel. The manual rather than power seatback recliner limited position possibilities, too.

Back seat comfort is on par with other midsize pickups. Legroom is tight, but the front seatbacks are soft and densely padded, making this a non-issue. Two USB ports and a 110-volt 3-prong power outlet greet passengers, but the Ranger lacks rear air conditioning vents. During a short heat wave that brought triple-digit temperatures to my city, my offspring made sure I knew about this oversight.

Climate Control System

In 100-degree heat, the Ranger’s air conditioning took quite some time to cool the Lariat’s black leather interior. The rest of the time, the truck had no trouble moderating cabin temperatures in mild Southern California weather.

Ford needs to improve the automatic climate controls. Instead of knobs, the Ranger has small rocker switches for adjusting temperature. They’re hard to see and use while driving, and if you’re wearing gloves, may prove even less user friendly.

Infotainment System

The Ranger Lariat test truck had the top infotainment system. Equipped with an 8-inch touchscreen, the Sync 3 system included Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a navigation system, FordPass Connect with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection, and Sync AppLink with Waze and Alexa integration. Two quick-charge USB ports were also present, along with a 10-speaker B&O Play sound system from Bang & Olufsen.

Unlike the climate controls, the radio controls include big volume and tuning knobs. Sync 3 is easy enough to use, but the system in the test truck loaded slowly. During a shopping trip to our favorite Swedish home goods store, the voice activated navigation had no trouble understanding where we wanted to go, but directed us to a closed location in Burbank, Calif., rather than the new location about half a mile away.

I’m a big fan of Bang & Olufsen sound systems, and while B&O Play doesn’t use the same high-end components that you’ll find in a luxury vehicle, this might be my favorite thing about the Ranger Lariat.

Storage and Space

Storage space is adequate, and could be better if the Ranger didn’t have a quirky hand-operated emergency brake on the center console. Still, my family didn’t complain about a lack of bins, trays, and cubbies.

The Ranger’s tailgate is not damped. It just drops with a thud, and isn’t particularly light. Six cargo tie-downs are in the bed, but none are adjustable. Nevertheless, bungee cords kept the haul from the Swedish home goods store secure during an hour’s drive home.

Visibility and Safety

While I didn’t find the driver’s seat comfortable, outward visibility was excellent and in all directions. A standard reversing camera and parking assist sensors helped, too.

Every Ranger includes standard forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Additionally, the XLT and Lariat trim levels include Ford Co-Pilot 360 technology. This bundles adaptive cruise control, a blind spot monitoring system with Trailer Coverage and rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, driver attention monitoring, and automatic high-beam headlights.

That is an impressive list of safety systems for a midsize truck, and all of this stuff is optional on the XL trim. So, kudos to Ford.

Noe that the Ranger’s stability control engages easily, due in part to the Lariat’s excessive suspension motion. It does so in fairly subtle fashion, though.

Engine/Transmission

Every Ranger is equipped with a turbocharged, direct-injected 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine with fuel-saving automatic start/stop technology. It makes a robust 270 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque, managed by a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The optional 4-wheel-drive system does not have an automatic mode, so you must run in 2-wheel drive, 4-Hi, or 4-Lo. Depending on configuration, the Ranger hauls up to 1,860 pounds of payload and tows up to 7,500 pounds of trailer.

Terrific, if thirsty, the turbocharged 4-cylinder provides strong acceleration, good passing power, and sounds great when revved.

The 10-speed automatic is not quite as satisfying. It frequently shifts smoothly, but not always. Upshifts sometimes result in an unexpected shove from the rear axle, which can catch the driver by surprise. Also, when reversing and turning, there is a sensation similar to axle binding.

Overall, the drivetrain feels somewhat unrefined.

Fuel Economy

The EPA says that the Ranger 4WD should get 22 mpg in combined driving. The test truck returned 19.6 mpg on the testing loop. Given that 91% of midsize truck buyers avoid vehicles with high maintenance costs, this shortfall could result in buyer dissatisfaction.

Driving Dynamics

As is expected in a truck, the Ranger’s steering is slow but provides consistent weighting throughout the range of motion. There isn’t a dead spot on center when you’re driving on the highway, lending the truck a much-needed sense of stability. The brakes are fine, too, exhibiting no flaws with regard to pedal feel or response.

Ford needs to address the Ranger’s suspension tuning. This truck is too soft, and while that translates to a magic carpet ride quality on smooth pavement, the Ranger’s roly-poly ride and handling characteristics get old, and fast.

On the street leading to my kids’ school, the rear end bucked over the speed humps. Entering my driveway, the Ranger rocks and rolls, tossing everyone’s heads to and fro. On an undulating mountain road, it wobbled and shimmied. On cracked pavement with potholes, this Ford skittered its way down the street.

Simply put, the Ranger just doesn’t feel battened down, which leads me to recommend the FX4 Off-Road Package.

Handling is predictable, though, with low limits. And even those low limits do exceed the ability of the flat, cushy seats to hold you in place.

Final Impressions

With the Nissan Frontier staking a claim to value, the Jeep Gladiator to off-roading capability and cultural cool, the Toyota Tacoma to bulletproof durability, the Honda Ridgeline to people who want an SUV with an open cargo bed, the GMC Canyon to upscale luxury, and the Chevrolet Colorado to diesel-powered towing and ZR2 boulder bashing, it’s hard to figure out what Ford is doing with the 2019 Ranger.

Wholly unexpected from the company which has dominated the full-size light-duty pickup segment for decades, the midsize Ford Ranger comes across as an average student in all areas, and compelling in few.

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