Nobody makes a small pickup anymore. The two newest trucks — the Ford ranger and the Jeep Gladiator — are classified as midsize trucks, which are the smallest offered these days. But they are both nearly as large as full-size trucks used to be when the first small trucks from Japan were introduced in America in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
And that's a good thing. The 2019 Ford Ranger, the subject of this test, is a genuine workhorse that can carry up to five adults and tow up to 7,500 pounds. But Ranger much smaller than its full-size brother, the best-selling F-150 pickup, which makes it a lot easier to drive around town.
Like the F-150, the Ranger comes is a variety of configurations and trim levels. Body styles include an extended SuperCab with a small back seat and a six-foot bed, and the four-door SuperCrew with a larger back seat and a five-foot bed. Trim levels start at the basic XL and proceed through the mid-range XLT and the luxury Lariat. Optional equipment includes the FX4 off-road package, which features an upgraded suspension, and skid plates, and Ford's Trail Control terrain management system.
Unlike the F-150, the Ranger is only offered with one engine, a turbocharged 2.3-liter inline four mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. But although it is small, the EcoBoost engine produces an impressive 270 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque. That's enough for serious acceleration and towing capacity, when properly equipped.
In a week of test driving, the Ranger felt as competent as the best-in-class selling Toyota Tacoma. That's saying a lot, because Ford stopped making the Ranger in 2011 and only reintroduced it for 2019, while Toyota has been making and refining the Tacoma for just about as long as anyone can remember. The Ranger was comfortable, road well over rough roads, and — because it was a top-of-the-line Lariat model — came was such plush features as a full leather interior and virtually all the most advanced infotainment and safety features. The engine in out test Ranger was a little noisy and surged a but when first started on cold mornings, but quickly quieted down and smoothed out as it warmed up.
Of course, our fully equipped Ranger was more expensive than the last generation. The price topped $45,000, which more than the cost of lower-trim full size trucks. And, of course, more than previous generation Rangers. But consider the differences, not just in the Ranger, in all midsize trucks over the time. Gone are the front bench seats, replaced by supportive bucket seats divided by a center console with the shifter, other controls, and a lot of convenient storage. The automatic transmission, like the 10-speed in the Ranger, are much more sophisticated than before. There are more available options than ever, allowing buyers to choose everything from well-equipped base models to luxury levels. And they get even better mileage than the smaller original models.
Small wonder that consumers are buying more and more trucks these days. The 2019 Ford Ranger is an ideal example of how far they have come in recent years.
2019 Ford Ranger 4X4
Base price: $24,000
Price as tested: $45,355
Type: Midsize pickup
Engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (270 hp, 310 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 20/24
Overall length: 210.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,922 pounds
Final assembly: Wayne, Michigan
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