AMERICAN FORK — The Ford Ranger went missing from the U.S. market in 2011 when the automaker discontinued the model. In fact, Chevy's Colorado has been without competition from an American brand for the past few years.
But the Ranger has made an impressive return in 2019.
Surprisingly, the new Ranger and rival Colorado are very different trucks and will likely appeal to different potential buyers. And that was only the first of several of the Ranger's hidden surprises.
According to Zach Madsen, fleet manager of Ken Garff Ford in American Fork, the mid-size trucks of today are quite different from what they used to be.
"The new Ranger is nothing like people remember. It's larger, more powerful and capable. The price points may have some reconsidering an F-150 full-size truck, and I doubt they would have thought that coming in," he said.
Ford is also expected to use the Ranger's platform for a new Bronco SUV and has already announced that most of its car offerings will soon be going away as the manufacturer meets consumer demand for trucks, SUVs and crossovers.
The Ranger and Bronco sharing a four-cylinder powered platform helps get that ball rolling.
Ford's styling choices for the Ranger immediately distinguish the truck from Chevy's Colorado. The Ranger is beautiful inside and out but takes fewer risks on the outside. While the Ranger's front end is dramatic with several hidden details, the rest of the exterior looks traditional and plain compared to the very angular Colorado.
This is a plus from my perspective, but some will certainly disagree.
The Ranger's interior also shines, and the styling cues take a more elegant path than the workhorse look of the Colorado. A leather-wrapped dash and steering wheel compliment the rest of the interior nicely, and a bold dash inlay of the word "Ranger" sits above the glove box.
The center-mounted touchscreen is surrounded by large vertical vents, and the climate and media controls below are organized well with four large dials that give off a truck-like vibe.
Storage is plentiful and well-placed on top of the dash, the large center console, and behind and under the rear seats. The headroom and legroom are excellent for rear-seat passengers.
While the stylish interior and well-appointed tech and safety controls make a positive first impression, it's almost immediately undone by the Ranger's ride quality. The competing Colorado has a large advantage here.
The Ranger is unlike most modern vehicles, which often offer harsh rides. Perhaps Ford was attempting to correct that in a mid-size truck — but without success.
The ride is definitely softer than expected, but in a way that is bouncy and uneven. There were times, even on the freeway, where the bounce didn't end. Fortunately, moving the shift lever to sport mode stiffens things up a bit and evens out much of the bounce — while sacrificing fuel economy, of course.
The height of the rear bed is a bit difficult to reach since the truck's step-up options are lacking. The bed itself is well-equipped with tie-downs and lower-than-average fender flares that make it easier to deal with wider loads once you've climbed into the bed.
The Ranger's driver controls and center console layout is favorable to the Colorado's. The 4X4 and trail controls are near the shift lever, where you'd expect. The trail controls worked flawlessly and not only provided settings for different terrain and weather but acted as a cruise control for the steep descents.
One minor quibble I have is that the Ranger's top-end trim, the Lariat, chooses more digital enhancements over the larger analog gauges found on the next trim level down, the XLT. The Lariats gauge cluster is boring and less impressive with an outdated and large speedometer front and center — similar to a 1990s Ford Taurus sedan.
Some will question Ford's decision not to offer a V-6 engine for the Ranger, but the 2.3-liter, turbo-four Ecoboost motor delivers 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque in this configuration. While both numbers are smaller than the Mustang it is sourced from, it's plenty to move the Ranger down the freeway on-ramp quickly and, with the available towing package, deliver an impressive 7,500-pound tow capacity.
While the rival Colorado has a decided advantage in ride quality, I found myself walking away from the Ranger more impressed. The tech and driver safety features, the impressive interior and exterior styling, and the peppy 10-speed drivetrain make for an excellent truck.
Vehicle type: four-door, five-passenger, 4X4 pickup.
EPA estimated mileage: city/highway/combined 20/24/22 miles per gallon
Engine: 2.3-liter Ecoboost, turbo
Transmission: 10-speed auto with sport and manual modes
Power: 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque
Performance: 7.3 seconds zero to 60 mph
Warranty: 3 year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper; 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain
MSRP as tested: $38,720