2019 Ford Ranger first drive review: The mid-size pickup truck pace-setter

The bar for mid-size pickup truck excellence is not high. It takes only a few minutes behind the wheel of the 2019 Ford Ranger to realize that, for the way most drivers use their trucks, it’s the best choice.

Its 2.3-liter turbo-4 spools up its 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque with more vigor than V-6s in its rivals. Its 10-speed automatic transmission defies the odds to feel less confused despite more gears than the 8-speed automatics in the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Crisp, accurate steering and the gentle reminder of active safety tech not available in most competitors cements the Ranger’s credentials.

MORE: 2019 Ford Ranger throws down the gauntlet with best-in-class torque, towing, payload

The Ranger’s engine may be the smallest among competitive mid-size pickup trucks, but a properly outfitted model can tow up to 7,500 pounds or lug nearly 1,900 pounds in its bed. That’s 500 and nearly 300 pounds more than its best rivals. The 2019 Ranger makes a viable work truck for drivers who can be coaxed out of a costly full-size truck. It's also the least thirsty, at least when its power is factored in. Ford estimates 21 mpg city, 26 highway, 23 combined for rear-drive models and 1 mpg lower with four-wheel drive. 

With or without a load strapped into its bed, the Ranger accelerates briskly. Ford pumps some engine noise into the cabin, which gives it an artificial thrum accompanied by an unusual amount of turbo whoosh. High-spec Rangers have more sound insulation than the base models, but none are especially hushed.

2019 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger

Hustled down a mountain road east of San Diego, the Ranger Lariat I drove also proved surprisingly adept at corner carving. That tenacity may be a byproduct of its global upbringing. While Ford canned the compact Ranger nearly a decade ago in the U.S., the automaker kept the name around for a larger pickup developed primarily in Australia.

The Ranger is nonetheless a good fit for American roads, especially in its crew-cab configuration that adds a foot of rear-seat room and subtracts a foot of bed length. Its interior is on the narrow side, but supportive front seats with height adjustment make it a comfortable truck for an entire day of driving. The rear seat is sized about like a compact car such as the Focus Ford dropped to, well, focus on more popular and profitable pickup trucks and SUVs. Most Ranger crew cabs have a flop-down rear-seat armrest with small cupholders, too.

Generally, the Ranger feels well-finished inside with solid, serviceable materials. The leather upholstery on Ranger Lariats is dressier, but hardly luxurious. Small-items storage is limited to door pockets and an armrest bin, though.

Underneath, the Ranger rides on a conventional ladder frame with an independent front suspension and a solid rear axle suspended by leaf springs. Unladen, its bed bounces around in typical pickup fashion, but in general it absorbs bumps as well as some crossover SUVs. Overall, the Ranger has a refined feel with its quick reflexes and a Lincoln-grade turbo-4 idling gently underhood.

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