The Ford Ranger was such a successful compact pickup truck during its 1983-2011 run that some estimates say there are still more than 2 million of them on the road today. That includes the 2005 model that sits in my driveway.
But by the time the last new ones were sold, American tastes were changing. Buyers wanted bigger. Sales of Ford’s F-150, the bestselling vehicle in the country, were rising. Sales of the small, inexpensive Ranger were falling. Ford dropped it from its lineup.
Now Ford sees tastes changing again, and the Ranger is back. It’s no longer small, and it’s no longer inexpensive. In fact, it has moved up a whole class. “The old Ranger was smaller and less capable, and at the end of its life was sold principally on cost,” said Ranger marketing manager Chad Callander. “We saw that the opportunity and the room existed to bring it back as a midsize truck.”
Truck sales across the brands are strong, as drivers increasingly eschew sedans for SUVs and pickups. Typically cheaper to produce than passenger cars, they sell at high average transaction prices. That number for the F-150 is about $48,000, said Edmunds manager of industry analysis Jeremy Acevedo — and even higher for new full-size truck entries from Chevrolet and Ram.
That makes the new Rangers a relative bargain. “This is the perfect time for a vehicle like this, especially for buyers who want a truck and have a lot of Ford loyalty but don’t want to make that $48,000 plunge,” Acevedo said. “And Ford hasn’t had anything for that customer.”
At first glance, especially to someone like me who has owned a Ranger or two, the new truck is huge. Advertised as a midsize pickup, and built in a Michigan factory that will also be responsible for reintroducing the Ford Bronco, the 2019 Ranger looks as big as an F-150.
The updated Ranger is powered by an updated four-cylinder, 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine, mated to Ford’s new 10-speed automatic transmission. It’s a perky power plant, putting out 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. It’s strong enough, and still efficient enough, to allow for what the company boasts is the best payload, towing capacity and fuel economy for any gasoline-powered vehicle in its class.
That’s worth boasting about, and almost hides the significant detail that the Ranger comes with only one engine option — no V-6, no V-8 — and is not available with a diesel. That could deter some buyers.
Offered in three trim levels, the truck can be had in both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive formats. I drove the latter — a SuperCrew 4x4, with the special FX4 off-road package — loaded with dirt bikes for a trip to the desert, and it was a hoot.
The Ranger comes standard with multiple drive modes. A sport setting kicks the torque up a notch and sharpens the gear changes, so that it squirts around town like a hot rod. This served to make the Ranger feel less big and bulky.
For other conditions, it can be driven in modes suited to mud, snow, gravel, sand and more. Even in standard two-wheel-drive mode, the truck managed deep sand and rocky ruts with alacrity, seeming as stable and quiet off-road as on the highway. In the four-wheel off-road modes, it didn’t even notice the rocks and sand.
If the truck felt solid, that’s no accident. Callander said the new Ranger was put through the same durability tests that the heavier F-150s got. It took me a day or two to figure this out, but the new Ranger wasn’t as enormous as it first seemed. Though it appears to dwarf the Rangers of old, the new model hasn’t experienced as much bloat as, say, the F-150 has.
The 2019 model-year truck, for example, is only 7 inches longer than the 2011, only 4 inches wider and — comparing the tallest 2019 with the shortest 2011 — 5 inches taller.
So, though I was at first anxious about parking it, or taking it into a public parking lot, I soon realized it was quite a bit more manageable than it looked.
The Ranger comes in SuperCrew and SuperCab body designs. The first is fitted with a 5-foot truck bed, the second with a 6-foot bed. The truck can also be had with the FX4 off-road package, similar to a rugged system offered on the Ford Raptor.
What’s missing is any variation on the simple Ranger one sees everywhere on the road — and in my driveway. There is no longer a two-door, bench-seat, no-back-seat version of the truck. The SuperCrew seats five; the SuperCab seats four.
The Rangers are priced accordingly. The entry-level XL truck — as on the Starbucks coffee menu, there’s no such thing as “regular” or “small” — can be had for as little as $25,395, almost half the average transaction price for a new F-150.
Unlike the Rangers of old, which were very analog machines that did almost nothing electronically — I mean, you have to lock the doors and roll up the windows on mine by hand — the new Rangers have some smart technology as standard equipment. Among the most essential: All models come with a forward collision-warning system and, importantly, an automatic emergency braking system that will stop the truck in the event of an impending crash.
But the features that will attract most Ranger buyers will cost extra. Among those might be the $1,295 FX4 off-road package, the $495 trailer-tow package, or the $795 technology package, which includes advanced safety features.
That could easily bring the price of an average midrange Ranger — Callander said the XLT trim, which I drove, will be the volume seller — well into the mid-$30,000 range.
Kelley Blue Book senior managing editor Matt DeLorenzo said he thought Ford would find an eager audience for a midsize truck, particularly among buyers who for financial reasons have had to be content with used-truck purchases of Nissan Frontiers or Toyota Tacomas. “There is a core audience for this truck,” DeLorenzo said, “and they will take a hard look at the Ranger.”
But Ford may risk abandoning the compact-truck segment and giving someone else an opportunity to move in, the analyst said. Watch for Hyundai, for example, to come forward with a small truck and pick up some sales.
On the other hand, DeLorenzo said, moving up a niche may be Ford’s own way of reentering the small-truck market with a new pickup based on the Ford Focus platform.
“That bears watching,” he said, “because that’s still a viable market.”
2019 Ford Ranger SuperCrew 4x4
L.A. Times' take: Bigger, better, costlier
Highs: New technology, off-road capability
Lows: May be too big for utility truck shoppers
Vehicle type: Four-door pickup truck
Base price: $35,210
Price as tested: $40,410
Powertrain: 2.3-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Torque: 310 pound-feet