The Ranger nameplate has a long history at Ford.
It was one of the four names that was considered for a new mid-size Ford sedan way back in the 1950s. Instead, they called it Edsel. Anybody remember the other three candidates? They all became trim levels for Edsel.
About a decade ago, Ford resurrected the nameplate for a mid-size pickup truck that initially was offered only in various international markets. To make it suitable for North America, it needed some serious upgrades, notably a fully-boxed frame and revised bumpers to meet our safety standards. It hit our markets as a 2019.
For 2020, the Ranger starts at $32,159 for the “SuperCab” model – that is ‘Ford Speak’ for a six-foot pickup box with two small rear-hinged rear doors, and occasional seating for two in the back.
My tester was a range-topping Lariat trim. The “SuperCrew” on the same wheelbase brings a five-foot box, four full doors, and three more spacious seats in the back. The Lariat SuperCrew starts at $41,619 and is loaded with just about every option you can get. My tester topped out at $50,639.
Chief among those options was the FX4 off-road package, seemingly a bargain at $1,400. It brings fatter 265/60R18 A/T tires, front tow hooks, a steel “bash plate” to protect the engine if do you overcook it a bit, special suspension with off-road-capable dampers, an electronically locking rear differential, and an additional off-road screen in the main instrument cluster. The added height makes the running boards on this model a useful feature to help you climb up into it. Odd that the front passenger gets a grab handle, the driver does not. I guess you’ve got the steering wheel.
There’s decent room for four, with five not being too much of a squeeze. The rear seat cushions fold up to add storage capacity. One odd thing – the front seats have power adjustment for reach, rake, and height, but seat back angle is manual.
Also included on FX4 is the Terrain Management System, which lets you choose from five settings – “normal” (not sure what the definition of that would be), grass, gravel/snow, mud/ruts, and sand. The system then calibrates engine response, gearing and various control systems to provide the optimum traction, driveability and performance for the chosen terrain.
In off-road work, anti-lock brakes and traction control can sometimes interfere with smooth progress in the rough going, so the system allows more leeway before these nanny systems kick in.
Another system, Trail Control, is sort of a low-speed off-road cruise control. It’s similar to hill descent control systems used in other off-road capable vehicles. You set a speed, and the vehicle automatically takes care of throttle and brakes to maintain that speed, so you can focus on steering to make sure you don’t clobber that big rock. It isn’t just for hill descending either; it works going up hill too. These systems are controlled by a series of push buttons on the centre console, and are reasonably intuitive.
Less so – in fact, dead wrong – is the shift lever itself. First, you can’t go from Drive to Neutral without pushing the release button first, which in some tricky situations, notably off-road, you might just run it straight into Reverse. The electronic transmission probably won’t explode if you do, but it’s not the sort of thing you want to risk. No need for that release button.
The other error is when you pull the lever back to the last position (labeled “S” for some reason) you then toggle a switch on the side of the shifter forward to upshift, and backwards to downshift which of course is the opposite of how it should be. Why? Just think about how your body weight is being shifted as you upshift and downshift. It should be obvious, but apparently, it is not.
Ford gets the side-view mirror adjustment correct, so you can crank them far enough out, making the blind spot warning system unnecessary.
But like most other vehicles, it fails the ignition off/lights off test. This should be automatic. The “Technology” package is mostly good – a Bang and Olufsen stereo, a very handy for Canada windshield wiper de-icer and rain-sensing wipers. But it also includes on e technology I do not like – the remote start system.
Outside, Ranger looks – well, like a pickup truck. It has a broad-shouldered appearance, which seems to fit the role. Inside, it’s a bit of a mash-up. There are some fit and finish details that look decidedly low-rent, and some of the controls and fittings are looking their age. One advantage to this – you get a proper old-fashioned pull-up hand brake lever instead of a push button.
Still, my vehicle had most of the modern conveniences, including SatNav with pinch-zoom capability, and built-in WiFi.
It’s all matte black finish inside, which helps reduce reflections. The back-up camera gives a wide view, making backing up to hitch a trailer a lot easier. There are trays, cubby bins and cup/bottle holders all over the place. You have a variety of layouts to choose from for the centre instrument cluster; you’ll play around with this for a few weeks then pick the one you like. A big beefy steering wheel feels good in the hands. The steering is light enough, but feels somewhat remote – there’s not much feedback.
All Rangers come with a turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine (270 horsepower at 5,500 r.p.m., 310 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 r.p.m.) with stop/start, similar to the base unit in Mustang. It comes only with a smooth-shifting ten-speed automatic transmission. This provides decent performance. It sounds a bit ‘hashy’ at low revs, and gets noisy above about three grand. But because of the multiplicity of ratios, it doesn’t have to go there very often. All Rangers in Canada come with dual-range four-wheel drive, which you can switch to 4×2, 4×4 high range or 4×4 low range with a console button.
I didn’t really push this Ranger off-road much. A while back I had the chance to try it in an off-road park in the southwest U.S., where it proved quite capable. Like most 4x4s, it will go places most people wouldn’t dream of trying to go. Only when up against something like last week’s Land Rover Defender would you find it seriously lacking in capability.
The off-road suspension does extract quite a penalty in on-road comfort. Unless you plan on doing a lot of boonie-bashing, you might consider saving some dollars and staying with the standard suspension set-up.
In sum then, Ford Ranger is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of its features look quite dated, and that’s no lie. Yet is has most of the stuff most truck buyers are looking for.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.