If you ever want to know how many people drive a certain type of vehicle, buy one for yourself; the moment you pull out from the dealer’s lot, you’ll see hundreds of them. It’s a weird phenomenon, but it works. It’s not, however, something I was expecting to happen when I took possession of a 2019 Ford Ranger for a week-long evaluation. But it totally happened. Well, sort of.
Prior to stepping foot in Ford’s latest offering in what used to be called the “mini truck” segment, the first (and last) Ford Ranger I rode in was a brand-new 1994 second-generation model. Back then, the truck featured a slowly slanted hood, offered a ride that was questionably soft up front, and they were plentiful on the road. Two truck generations later (plus an eight year Ranger-less gap), there are lots of similarities between the Ranger of today and that of yesteryear – and there are still tons of mid-1990s Rangers on the road.
My first day behind the wheel of the 2019 Ford Ranger, I spotted at least 10 second- and third-generation Rangers. Most were being used commercially and, without exception, I towered over them all in the 4×4 version of the new truck.
The new Ranger outclasses its older siblings in nearly every measure; in fact, it’s as capable as most half-ton trucks of that era. It’s fascinating that the 2019 Ranger’s 2.3L four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, producing 310lb-ft of torque and 270hp, has nearly as much torque and is up 30hp on the first generation Ford Lightning pickup’s 5.8L V8; and with a 7,500-lb tow rating on models with the tow package, the new Ranger can pull as much as many 1990s half-tons. Add in the 10-speed automatic transmission in the 2019 Ranger, and the new mid-size truck tows better, too. Make no mistake, the 2019 Ranger is no “mini” truck.
My evaluation saw trekking a well-equipped 2019 Ranger Lariat SuperCrew 4×4 to a racetrack, not loaded with a race car and gear, but with kids and three bicycles for a day of watching a round of the Hoosier SCCA Super Tour road races. The following day, once again with the kids in the decently sized back seat and the bikes strapped down in the five-foot bed, I headed to a friend’s house pulling my trailer as we moved his car to a new garage. And the Ranger powered through it all with nary a stumble.
If your needs are for a full-size pickup, it’s easy to nitpick midsize trucks. Trucks in this segment aren’t workhorses. The beds are tough enough, but they’re not intended for truly large jobs. Trucks in this segment also have rather soft suspension, and the Ranger excels on this front; the nose of the new Ranger features very soft springs, while the back is slightly rough when unloaded. Add a trailer and the rates even out, but this is not something we noticed when testing the Chevrolet Colorado.
The Ranger can also be a little awkward when using the interior controls. For instance, the small HVAC buttons are placed very low on the dash, and the dual screens surrounding the speedometer are not as dialed in as you’d expect. I also found the placement of the lane departure defeat button rather odd (hidden at the end of the indicator stalk), and the eight-inch touch screen wasn’t the most responsive.
But there are big plusses to the 2019 Ranger, like the incredibly comfortable leather seats that come standard on the Lariat, and the optional spray-in bed liner that took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’ during my mini torture test. And, as one passerby said as he slipped out from behind the wheel of his F-150 as my kids and I stopped for dinner on our way back from the racetrack: “That’s a nice truck. But what can I say, I’m a Ford guy.” If you’re a Ford guy (or gal), this is the midsize truck for you.
Will we see a plethora of fourth-generation Rangers on the road in a decade? Probably, although price is the kicker. In 1994, $10,000 would land you a basic Ranger, and for $18,000 you’d be driving a Ranger 4X4 with all of the bells and whistles. Twenty-five years later, you need $24,300 to step into a base Ranger, with the Lariat I tested ringing up at $43,695.
But what I do know for sure is that the 2019 Ford Ranger is not a mini truck of the 1990s; it’s a bona fide, usable pickup that’s small enough to be functional in the real world. It has oodles of power, it tows with ease, it has a fully functional bed, and the interior is comfortable for four (or maybe even five). And none of that can be said about the 1994 Ford Ranger.