Ford Ranger

The man waiting for his new tires to be installed was in a talking mood. Punctuated by the yelping of impact wrenches, he talked at length about what is wrong with the modern truck market. You see, he said, the issue is that new trucks are way too big, technological and expensive.

But he knew how to address the problem.

All that was needed to get affordable, new trucks into the hands of his blue-collar brethren was a company — of his creation — to manufacture a basic rolling chassis and body. These would be sold directly from the factory, no dealerships whatsoever, he said proudly. Buyers could then paint the body whatever color they wanted, spruce up the interior with whatever amenities and materials that tickled their fancy (my words), chose their own wheels and tires and make all the necessary connections. In just a short while, you can have a brand-new truck, mostly of your own creation, that will get the job done without breaking the bank.

I still have no idea what spurred the man into talking about his idea, maybe it was the rubber fumes, but his sentiments do have merit. After all, trucks these days are big and full of tech. Of course, that makes new models expensive and beyond the means of the average working man.

However, I can see more than a few holes in his plan to address the issue. So, while we wait for his kit truck company to get off the ground, those wanting a midsize truck will have to turn to the established market, which again includes the Ford Ranger, pronounced dead in 2011 but now back in the fray.

Mr. Tire Shop Man would likely not be happy with the price of the new Ranger. The SuperCrew (extended cab) in Lariat trim starts at over $38,000, and my tester had several options, including the Lariat technology, trailer tow, sport appearance and FX4 off-road packages, putting the grand total at nearly $44,000.

And that is the territory of the Ranger’s big brother. An F-150 Lariat SuperCrew starts at just a few hundred dollars more.

But of course, not all will want the added size of a half-ton. The Ranger is easy to park in crowded lots, it never felt cumbersome while traveling along city thoroughfares and most people will be able to fit it in their garage, a sphincter-clenching process in an F-150.

That is not to say the Ranger is miniscule. Whether a SuperCrew or SuperCab (short cab), the 2019 Ranger is seven inches longer, 14 inches wider and around four inches higher than the biggest 2011 model. Of course, in the 2002 Ranger XLT I once owned, you had to sit sideways on a pullout seat that was about as wide as a single buttock if you wanted to sit behind the front row. The 2019 model is far more accommodating in the rear, though calling it comfortable would be a stretch. The backrests sit straight upright, and the cushions rise sharply to the front and sit low to the floorboard. Sitting in the rear made me feel like I was standing at attention from the waist up and in the fetal position south of my belt.

Comfort increases exponentially in the front where there is plenty of room to wiggle and the seats are cozy, but the ride is a bit jarring.

My tester came with aforementioned FX4 off-road package, so the all-terrain tires, tuned suspension and off-road shocks could be to blame. If so, you will be sacrificing road comfort for ability off the paved paths — my Ranger bounced around town and over even the most insignificant road imperfections.

Ford recently announced an FX2 package which adds some of the same amenities for two-wheel drive models.

At this point Mr. Tire Shop Man would likely be huffing at my complaints over the rear seats and springy ride. Trucks are meant for work, not comfort, he’d likely say.

For that, the Ranger does fit the bill for those who need to do some hauling but do not need the capability of a half-ton truck. But don’t get the assumption it is a slouch. The Ranger’s bed can handle between 1,560-1,860 pounds with an extended cab providing 43-cubic feet of cargo space and the short cab offering nine more cubic feet. All models can tow up to 3,500 pounds but opting for the trailer tow package ($495) increases that figure to 7,500, which is actually more than some full-sized trucks depending on the engine under the hood.  

On the topic of engines, there is only one option for the Ranger, but it is a gem.

The 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline four dishes out 270 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque. The Ranger’s power plant is 30 horsepower in the negative compared to the Chevy Colorado’s 2.5-liter inline four, but it blasts the 152-horspower Nissan Frontier’s four-banger and is not far off from the ponies offered by the V6-powered Honda Ridgeline and Toyota Tacoma.

No matter the comparison, the EcoBoost is silky smooth while providing quick acceleration and plenty of grunt. Around town it’s mostly quiet and buttery in its power delivery and is highly responsive to acceleration input. The EcoBoost is paired with a 10-speed automatic that is generally unnoticeable but can stumble in stop-and-go driving.   

Although it would likely be deemed superfluous to Tire Shop Man, the base Ranger’s interior is pretty barebones. You get the same 2.3-inch infotainment screen and “productivity” screen in the instrument cluster that came in my wife’s 2014 Fiesta, vinyl floor covering and a legally required backup camera.  

Most buyers will want to opt for the mid-level XLT trim which adds a Wi-Fi hotspot, cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic high beams, a USB port, dual zone climate control and an 8-inch touchscreen. Lariat trim adds a B&O sound system, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, leather-trimmed seating and other features.

While the Ranger’s exterior is rather handsome, the interior look evokes a hearty “meh.”

Though some controls and buttons are small for those with sausage fingers, the layout is intuitive, and switching from two to four-wheel drive can be done on the fly with a turn of the console-mounted dial. The same knob controls Ford’s Terrain Management System that tunes the Ranger for driving on mud, sand, snow or other surfaces.

In its first year back, the revitalized Ranger can have a ride bouncier than a Baywatch babes’ chest, its backseat is best suited for contortionists and the price tag can balloon quickly to half-ton money in higher trim. But the Ranger also has a fantastic engine, good midsize capability, respectable MPG figures, and ample overall size without being a behemoth.  

But it is nowhere as memorable as Tire Shop Man’s tirade.

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