New Ford Ranger's midsize is a big deal

Ford photoFord introduced its new Ranger medium-sized pickup truck at the start of the year, aiming to attract drivers who want the heavy-hauling usefulness of truck, without all the heft of a full-size pickup

I had been trying out the new Ford Ranger pickup truck for a short time when a very large question arose. Why did the auto company ever stop making a stylish and sturdy, useful yet moderately sized pickup in the first place?

The mistake goes back eight years, when Ford assembled its last compact Ranger pickup in the United States at the close of 2011, selling off remaining models in 2012. Ford continued to sell smaller-scaled pickups in some other countries. But in America it went solo with its big, F-Series full-size hauler.

It’s tough to say it was a mistake to stick solely with the F-Series. After all, the Ford truck is a wildly successful vehicle. The F-Series is the top-selling pickup by a handsome margin, and its popularity outpaces just about every model of any other vehicle type, sold anywhere in the world.

A large pickup like the F-Series is more metal than some people want or need – even some people who appreciate the heavy-hauling convenience of an open-box truck. I bet their numbers are even greater today than they were eight years ago, because full-size trucks grow larger with each new generation that automakers create. This year’s re-introduced 2019 Ranger, which arrived as a new model at the start of the year, should please a lot of people. It should also advance the standing of the company that’s already the clear truck leader in the United States.

“In the next year or two the Ranger is going to take off,” predicted Chris Sawyer, sales manager at Portsmouth Ford in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “We’re seeing a wide range of customers coming in to look at them.”

That wide range is already a factor that sets the new Ranger apart from the model Ford discontinued eight years ago, he said.

“The older Ranger appealed more to the older gentleman who needed a truck, but didn’t want a full-size pickup,” explained Sawyer. “Now we’re still getting the 50- and 60-year-old customers coming in. But there’s also a lot more of a younger crowd looking at the new Ranger.”

One big reason for the cross-generational appeal of the new Ranger is the advanced technology Ford packs into it, Sawyer stated.

All models use an advanced, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and smooth shifting 10-speed automatic transmission that launch the pickup nicely. The engine includes a stop/start feature that shuts it down at stops to save gas, and restarts automatically when it’s time to move.

Even the lowest priced XL level, starting at a list price of $26,140 for a rear-drive model and $30,300 for four-wheel drive, comes with automatic headlights, a back-up camera, and a collision avoidance aid that detects forward obstacles, including pedestrians, issues warnings and automatically brakes.

Stepping up to the middle-level XLT model, at $33,960 for four-wheel drive to start, adds features that include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitoring when backing, lane-drift monitoring with steering assistance, forward and reverse parking monitors, trailer monitoring, Ford’s trademarked SYNC voice-operated entertainment and communication system, WiFi support for mobile devices, and remote starting (nice on cold mornings).

The top level Lariat version, listing as high as $40,405 (before options) adds LED headlights and taillights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for linking to smart phones, and a big LCD color touchscreen for operating cabin controls. The Lariat also bundles in luxuries like leather upholstery, heated from seats and cabin accent lighting.

“The technology in the Ranger is the same as in the F-Series,” noted Sawyer of Portsmouth Ford.

Although it’s smaller than Ford’s fully grown pickup, the new Ranger isn’t a small truck. It’s classified as a mid-size pickup, in a class that once was called “compact.”

Ford sells two cab variations;.a SuperCab model that has an occasional-use back seat, with back doors that open from the front, and a six-foot box in the back. The SuperCrew style has a five-foot back box, to make room for its longer cab that has a full rear seat and conventional, rear-opening back doors. The Ranger can tow up to 7,500 pounds when properly equipped, which is a good load.

“You’re not giving up any towing capacity, even though you step down in size,” said Sawyer. “It’s an impressive little truck.”

Undeniably the Ranger is set up for serious work. Its high-torque engine enables it to handle heavy loads for its size. And its elevated ride on a rigid, high-strength-steel frame helps it get in and out of work zones as handily as it parks on city streets.

At the same time, the Ranger’s scaled-down size should strike a lot of drivers as more manageable.

“It’s very maneuverable. It’s easy to park. It fits perfectly in a garage,” Sawyer summarized.

My week in the new Ranger came right after I had spent time evaluating the F-Series Super Duty – the big and brawny king of Ford’s pickup family. The contrast between the ultra-sized Super Duty and Ford’s new middling-sized model was acute. I appreciated the Ranger’s easy-driving maneuverability. In a parking garage and at an urban curbside space, the Ranger steered easily into place. And I didn’t feel at all conspicuous among urban drivers more attuned to dainty hybrid-drive cars than to hard-hauling trucks. Both the Ranger’s smaller size and its appearance helped it fit in.

It is appropriately shaped to look like a serious truck, without appearing overly muscular.

With the earlier version that Ford Motor Co. nixed at the start of the decade, Portsmouth Ford was the top Ranger dealer in the country, outselling every other outlet in America, Sawyer said.

“We’re trying to reclaim that title,” he added. Already Portsmouth was the top seller of Rangers in New England during May, and was on track to repeat the feat in June, said Sawyer.

“For years the Ranger was the number-one selling compact pickup truck in the country. When it went away in 2011, the Toyota Tacoma took over,” he stated.

The Tacoma does well, reigning as the fourth most popular pickup behind the very successful full-size models sold for Ford, General Motors and the Ram unit of Fiat Chrysler. Last year Toyota sold a quarter-million Tacomas.

In the Ranger’s first few months, Sawyer sees it making inroads against the current mid-pickup leader. He said that Portsmouth now has a number of pre-owned Tacomas for sale at its used car center.

“They were all traded in for the Ranger,” he said.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2019 Ford Ranger

Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, rear- and four-wheel-drive medium-size pickup truck

Price range: $26,140 to $40,405 (plus options)

Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles roadside assistance

Base engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged I4

Power: 270 horsepower at 5,500 rpm; 310 lb.-ft. torque at 3,000 rpm

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 127 inches

Length: 211 inches

Width: 86 inches

Height: 71 inches

Weight: 4,232 pounds

Turning circle: 42.0 feet

Fuel capacity: 18.0 gallons