First Drive: 2019 Ford Ranger

First Drive: 2019 Ford Ranger

Story and photos by Dan Heyman

It’s not often that a manufacturer rejuvenates two once-loved nameplates in a single year, but so it goes with Ford, who this year have unleashed both the Ford Mustang Bullitt muscle car and Ranger pickup, arriving about four months apart, both as 2019 models.

While the Bullitt has the nostalgia aspects all wrapped up, the Ranger is the more notable release, if for no other reason than they should sell a ton of these, if the outcry when the last one rolled off the line in 2011 is anything to go by. Plus, it’s a pickup and pickups sell in droves, though the Ranger does have the little matter of the F-150 to worry about, what with the eight billion they sell every year, or whatever it is. Ford is confident that the Ranger won’t make much of a dent in that, but don’t think that means the Ranger won’t sell. Far from it.

You see, Ford has not just pickup people in mind for the Ranger, but crossover and even hatchback people, too. The thought is that as households continue to have fewer cars, the Ranger could potentially pull off the neat trick of offering the coolness and trendiness of an Edge or an Escape, but also the practicality of the much-ballyhooed F-150. If all goes to plan, people who were considering upgrading from a hatch to a CUV or SUV would look at the Ranger, and people who were considering re-buying a CUV or SUV might do the same.

For me, one of the big draws – aside from the styling, which we’ll get to in a minute – is how simple Ford is making the buying process. Unlike the F-150 (or any other full-size pickup, for that matter), with the Ranger there aren’t infinite combinations of bed lengths, cab lengths, engine types, or drive types; in Canada, all we’re getting is the 4×4 model, either SuperCab (XL: $30,969, XLT: $35,539) or SuperCrew (XLT: $37,339, Lariat: $42,289) cabs, two bed lengths (five feet for SuperCrew trucks, six for SuperCab models) and a single engine and transmission combination: a 270 hp/310 lb-ft 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbo four mated to a 10-speed automatic. There are a few colours to choose from, and a few wheel choices, and that’s it. Buying one of these should be as close to ordering a Tim Horton’s Double-Double as you can get in the truck or car world. And yes, you read that right: the top-spec Ranger with 4×4, turbo power and all that can be had for a hair over what it takes to get a base-model Tacoma double cab V6 4×4.

Styling-wise, it starts with colour. There are the requisite blacks, greys and silvers, to be sure, but they’re complemented by more out-there stuff such as burnt orange, bright blue and red. It’s all punctuated by one of three grille choices, some of which do a proper job of pulling off the pickup-as-CUV effect, especially when seen from head-on. Otherwise, a plethora of rounded edges, two-tone wheel choices and standard fitment of knobby all-terrain tires all point to the lifestyle aspects of the Ranger.

The theme continues inside; there may not be a gear select dial as there is in an Edge, but there is still a car-like console shifter (a column shifter is not an option), ultramodern gauge cluster and optional SYNC3 infotainment with B&O Play audio.

For its part, SYNC3 remains one of the better systems in the game, with well-aligned menus, sharp graphics and user-friendly interface. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also here, so the lifestyleists – people who love their in-car entertainment – should be pleased with what’s on offer.

What about the truckists, though? The folks who tow, who haul and who need their truck to work a day-to-day grind? Well, they’ll likely be happy to know that the Ranger tows up to 7,500 lbs. no matter which of the four configurations you choose, and while Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist tech isn’t available at this juncture, $600 gets you a tow package on all models. It provides a 4/7-pin wiring harness and Class IV receiver.

We had the chance to try some towing at the Ranger launch event in surfy San Diego (because where else would you launch an active-lifestyle pickup) and while the 1,500-lb. jet skis we were towing are a drop in the bucket considering the overall tow rating, how the Ranger behaved under both braking and acceleration was mighty impressive from a powertrain standpoint, while the way the blind spot system can accommodate a trailer was impressive from a tech standpoint, especially when navigating rush hour traffic.

As you can imagine, without the trailer anchor behind it, the Ranger is a properly sprightly thing, getting up to highway speeds in fine form – 310 lb-ft in an unladen 4WD truck will do that. They’ve also piped in a little artificial engine noise, so the turbocharged ‘plant gets a little more attitude, a quality often left behind with the switch to turbocharging. Apparently, like muscle car people, truck people like a bit of a growl from their trucks and a completely silent travel/work companion simply wouldn’t do. It quiets down as you get moving, however, as my driver partner and I found ourselves conversing at normal levels throughout our drive.

The quiet attitude is matched by the surprisingly smooth ride, one that, as I look back, is unlike any I’ve ever experienced in a truck before. Smart damping and spring settings have made for a ride that’s as crossover-like as the looks suggest, and it should be a strong selling point. If you want a slightly more serious chassis set-up, however, the $1,400 FX4 off-road package should do the trick. It provides all-terrain tires, electronic locking rear differential, front skid plate, and  special tuning for the monotube shocks, and pitch and roll angles as well as steering angles are added to the gauge cluster screen.

We were given the chance to take the Rangers – equipped with the FX4 off-road package, of course – on a proper off-road course, and they acquitted themselves well. Steep climbs over loose gravel were well-managed, even in rear-wheel drive mode, which I found myself in only because I’d forgotten to change out of Sand/Gravel mode, which locks the front wheels out.

It was here that we also tried the Ranger’s hill descent/ascent system. It makes use of the truck’s cruise control to haul you up or down hills, up to 32 km/h. So, all you have to do is worry about the steering – not a bad piece of kit to have when you’re navigating properly narrow passages as we were. It’s so easy to activate – a single button press will do – that I could see myself using it quite regularly as an owner.

It’s a great microcosm, actually, because I could see myself using the Ranger in its entirety quite regularly as an owner. That may seem an obvious observation, but while pickups are more and more becoming a daily driver, the Ranger is the first one I’ve driven – yes, that includes the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado – that I can honestly say “yeah, that could work as a single vehicle.” Thank the styling, thank the powertrain, thank the on-board tech or off-road chops, if you like; there really is something for everyone here.