New Ford Ranger drives to high places

The only midsize pickup Built Ford Tough, the 2020 Ford Ranger is ready for adventure and packed with driver-assist technologies to enable easier driving both on and off-road.

Well that didn’t take long. Ford has been selling its new Ranger for only a year, and already the smaller hauler has moved into a comfortable second place in popularity among scaled-down pickup trucks.

Seven vehicle brands now sell pickup trucks that step down in size from large, standard-size pickups. The Ranger joined the group at the start of 2019. During the last quarter of the year – after the new Ranger had been around long enough to gain some momentum – Ford dealers were selling the new model at a pace that was much faster than the sales rate of every other smaller pickup except for the market leader, the Toyota Tacoma.

The Tacoma maintained a handsome lead over the Ranger during those last three months of 2019. Sales of the Toyota topped sales of the new Ford by about 46 percent. But Ford is making a play to reclaim the top spot in the field, which it held less than a decade ago.

“It’s a big seller for us,” said Chris Sawyer, sales manager at Portsmouth Ford. “We sell about 20 of them a month. We’re taking in Tacomas, and Colorados and Canyons as trade-ins.”

The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon are near-identical models sold by General Motors through its Chevy and GMC truck divisions. Together they had been the second most popular medium-sized pickup, behind the Tacoma. That was until the Ford Ranger moved into that second-place standing for the final quarter of 2019.

Portsmouth Ford, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a regional dealer that draws car shoppers from southern Maine, and the North Shore and Merrimack Valley regions of Massachusetts. Its sales rate of about 20 Rangers per month makes it the top seller of the new pickup in New England, according to Sawyer.

Before the Ranger disappeared for a span of about seven years, Portsmouth Ford was the top seller of the model for all of America. Just as Ford Motor Co. would like to reclaim leadership in the smaller pickup segment with its re-introduced Ranger, Portsmouth Ford is angling to regain its title as the country’s top Ranger dealer.

“We’re excited about it,” said Sawyer. “The Ranger is sparking conversations with people and we’re seeing a wide range of customers coming in to look at it.”

Ford had stopped making the Ranger compact pickup in the United States in 2011, and it sold off remaining inventory in 2012. That opened the market for Toyota’s Tacoma, which has reigned as the most popular moderately sized truck since then.

But Ford retains an enormous following among pickup drivers. That could help spur greater popularity for its re-introduced Ranger. Ford’s larger, F-Series standard-sized pickup truck closed 2019 as the top-selling vehicle of any type in America for its 38th consecutive year. The F-Series has reigned as America’s top-selling pickup for 43 straight years.

The appeal of the Ranger is its greater manageability compared to a full-size pickup, Sawyer pointed out. It is easier to maneuver and park, and fits readily into a garage, he illustrated.

Also, Ford loaded the new Ranger with advanced technology that is bringing in younger drivers.

The 2020 Ranger starts at a list price of $25,605 for a SuperCab version with rear-wheel drive and a fold-down jump seat in the back cabin that can squeeze in three additional riders – bringing capacity to five people. It comes with backup camera, automatic headlights, and a collision avoidance system that scans for forward obstacles, issues warnings and automatically brakes.

For higher prices, upper levels of the new pickup add such features as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitoring when backing, lane-drift monitoring with steering help, forward and reverse parking sensors, trailer monitoring, and distance-keeping cruise control.

At Portsmouth Ford, the inclusion of such driving aids and safety systems has created a new Ranger market among parents buying the smaller truck for teen drivers, stated Sawyer.

“We’ve had a lot of customers who are leasing or purchasing a Ranger for their kids who are 16, 17, 18 years old. They want their kids to be as protected as possible,” said the sales manager. At the same time, with the Ranger the family gains the advantage of an extra vehicle that has the haul-it-all usefulness of a pickup. But it’s a pickup that doesn’t hog too much driveway space.

Driving the new Ford Ranger through a one-week evaluation, I easily forgot that I was piloting a pickup. Its moderate size made for more comfortable trundling around town, for easier steering and for tighter, more controlled turning than I experience in any lumbering, full-sized pickup. The truck gave me the same vantage and sense of road command that comes from a high-riding sport-utility vehicle, because as a pickup the Ranger has an elevated stance.

My test model was a SuperCrew version, with a full four-door passenger cabin and a back seat suitable for regular use. The crew cab made the Ranger as accommodating as a family car when I picked up two youngsters from school.

The 22 miles per gallon gasoline consumption I averaged over a 600-mile week was less efficiency than I would get from a passenger car with a similarly sized cabin. But the Ranger is a truck, after all, with a rigid and rugged steel frame that makes it a heavier vehicle than a straight passenger cruiser. It’s prepared for hauling heftier loads than school children.

The Ranger’s SuperCab model, with a shorter cabin and occasional-use back seat, comes with a six-foot box in the back. The SuperCrew cab style has a five-foot back box, making room for its longer cab with conventional doors and full rear seat When equipped for maximum towing, the Ranger can pull a healthy 7,500 pounds.

An advanced, turbocharged four-cylinder engine drives the Ranger, with a quick, smooth shifting 10-speed automatic transmission sending its power to the wheels. The engine shuts down automatically at stops to save gas, and restarts automatically when the brake pedal is released.

Also arriving at Portsmouth Ford for the new Ranger are some Ford F-Series drivers who purchased the larger pickup during the years that the Ranger was not available. They would have preferred a scaled-down truck, but they bought the larger pickup out of loyalty to Ford.

“They didn’t want to go with another manufacturer,” said Sawyer.

Now they’re trading their Ford F-Series trucks for Rangers, he said.

The Tacoma remained the top-selling mid-sized pickup last year. But with the Ford Ranger now coming on strong, let’s see where things stand at the end of 2020.

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

PHOTO CAPTION:

During the last quarter of 2019, the new Ford Ranger moved into the number-two spot among middle-sized pickup trucks in the United States, a fast rise for a model that arrived at the start of the year.

 

 

2020 Ford Ranger

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

Price range: $25,605 to $39,870 (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

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

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