This week at the North American International Auto Show, Ford took the wraps off the long-anticipated fourth generation Ford Ranger – and it’s totally disappointing. What used to be a relatively inexpensive workhorse, small and fuel-efficient yet capable and durable, is now basically an also-ran in today’s small pickup market. The new 2019 Ford Ranger is a huge missed opportunity for Ford to stand out from the crowd.
In 2012, the last Ranger destined for North America rolled off its assembly line and into the fleet sales parking lot at Enterprise. It looked like exactly what it was: a smaller version of its bigger brother, the F-150. Sure the F-150 was on a newer platform, a generation removed from the Ranger, with expensive leather and Bluetooth, and door pulls instead of cheap little flaps, but whatever – a truck was a truck.
In the years between the third and upcoming fourth generation Ranger, the competition has gotten bigger, more sophisticated, and decidedly less boxy. They’ve eschewed the workhorse feel and look of yore and have adopted a curvier, friendlier design with modern interiors. These are casual trucks – more of a fashion statement, the one you drive while wearing a cardigan on your way to a local Public School restaurant, and you don’t mind valeting your truck as long as the attendant doesn’t mess with your power seat settings and steal your Lightning cable.
That’s all well and good. But Ford as a reputation, at least in slogan, of being “Built Ford Tough”. The F-150 is big and boxy, as if chiseled from a metal block using nothing but straightedges. Despite the aluminum frame and modern, comfortable interior, the outside screams “I’M A TRUCK AND I’LL HAUL THINGS AND GET MUDDY”. With the Tacoma and the Colorado/Canyon twins, that sense of rugged “go anywhere” just isn’t there in the same way it is with the F-150. With the F-150 already being a huge seller in the US, doesn’t it make sense to have a smaller version with the same tough image?
As much as the exterior lets me down, the interior is worse. (Mind you, its not the worst in its class – that honor goes to the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins.) It’s typical Ford fare here: dark plastics and switch gear and buttons that look like they came out of a Ford from the late-2000s. Toyota is the winner of the interior race here, purely on aesthetics because while it also has cheap looking bits, at least it has some visual flare. I knocked the Nissan Pathfinder for having an out of date interior, and I feel that Ford could do better with their center stack and dash designs.
While the stack itself is clean enough to be inoffensive, the shifter (with it’s toggle button for manumatic mode) looks like it came right out of a Ford Focus. Speaking of the shifter, please update your fonts, Ford. The side mirror adjustment controls seem awkwardly out of place, the steering wheel hub is huge and has a textured pattern that looks positively ancient and cheap. I am happy to report, however, that the infotainment system is Ford’s newest Sync 3 system, which has been totally overhauled and seems faster and more logically laid out than its predecessor. From what I understand, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay should work, the latter of which is mercifully subscription-free.
With over 308 horsepower and more than 281 lb-ft of torque, the Ranger will be more powerful than its competition. Mileage, payload, and towing figures have not been released, but they should at least be competitive. Ford has been out of this segment for a while and they won’t be gunning for mid-pack performance.
The Ranger doesn’t make or put down its power the same way its rivals do. Instead of a V6 engine, which is commonplace in this segment, Ford has fitted a turbocharged 2.3 liter in-line four cylinder. I can understand the move to forced induction as a means to keep fuel economy (after all, fuel efficiency used to be a desirable trait for a compact truck), but I’m not sure how hardcore compact truck fans will take to a turbocharged four-banger. Ford also fits its new 10-speed automatic to the Ranger, further upping its fuel efficiency game.
Don’t (?) call it comeback
For 2019, Ford remade the Ranger into what seems to be a worthy performer, on paper at least. In real life, however, I think the Ranger is destined to get lost in the sea of entrants in its class. It looks very similar to the Toyota Tacoma (I’ve mistaken pictures of the Ranger for a Tacoma more than once) and its turbo-power may be a turn-off for those looking for a naturally-aspirated option. I can respect what Ford is trying to do here and in a way, they’re in a have-their-cake-and-eat-it-too scenario. The Ranger will no doubt sell well, as Ford trucks are wont to do. But Ford missed the opportunity to really shake up the compact pickup truck market by introducing something with visual stance and muscularity – something sorely missing from its counterparts.
All hope is not lost, though. Allegedly, Ford is poised to give truck aficionados exactly what they’ve been asking for: