First Drive Review: The 2019 Ford Ranger plays to win the game

Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on our sister site Hard Working Trucks.

A deep blue Florida sky, cool weather (hey, it was morning still) and a brand new 2019 Ford Ranger FX4 Lariat. Not a bad way to start the day in Cape Coral, Florida.

We had made the 500-mile drive from hurricane-battered Panama City in the Panhandle to this area of Florida where the canals might outnumber the streets. There are roughly 300 miles of canals here making it the city with the most navigable canals in the world.

And with all these canals come plenty of boats which requires plenty of pickups for towing. It was a natural fit for Ford which stopped here recently at the Cape Coral Outdoor Expo and Boat Show during its Ford Ranger Drive Tour.

The tour, which ends on Dec. 30 in San Diego, allows folks to get behind the wheel of Ford’s new midsize truck and take the FX4 Lariat for a brief drive.

The interior is sharp and presents a nice balance of sporty high-tech, down-to-earth utility and ‘it’s been a long day at work’ luxury. Heated, leather-trimmed (available in ebony or medium stone) front seats feature 8-way power adjustments with power lumbar. Comfort is the first thing that comes to mind when sinking into the driver’s seat.

The second is opportunity, thanks largely to the FX4 package which includes:

  • Off-Road Tuned Suspension
  • 17-inch or 18-inch Off-Road OWL Tires
  • Electronic-locking Rear Differential (3.73)
  • Exposed Front Tow Hooks
  • Exposed Steel Bash Plate
  • Off-Road Screen in Cluster – provides feedback on pitch and roll, plus steering angle
  • Front Air Dam Delete
  • Skid Plates – Fuel Tank, Transfer Case, and Front Differential
  • Terrain Management System
  • Trail Control

In the video below, you can watch the truck take on a climb ramp with ease.

“A lot of these systems have come down from the Raptor, so it makes it a pretty serious, off-road truck,” explained Mark Fickert, a spokesman for Ford who gave us a ride up the ramp to demo the truck’s Terrain Management System and Trail Control.

It was a quick and effective way to show-off the truck’s climbing skills. You set the speed and let the truck do the climbing and braking. All you do is steer. Impressive for sure.

A display on the far left of the gauge cluster shows pitch, yawl and steering degree which will definitely come in handy for tight runs where literally every degree counts.

During our drive on nearby streets, I punched it a few times to get a better sense for the 270-hp 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine paired up with a ten-speed transmission and 3.73 rear end. In sport mode it definitely has some get up and go for an inline four minus a greedy appetite for gas.

Ford recently announced that it earned top EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings for a midsize truck equipped with a gas engine: 21 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined for 4×2 trucks. When configured as a 4×4, Ranger returns EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. This is the best-in-class EPA-estimated city fuel economy rating of any gasoline-powered four-wheel-drive midsize pickup and it is an unsurpassed EPA-estimated combined fuel economy rating.

So besides it’s obvious power, I like the 2019 Ford Ranger for its comfortable ride, its high-tech offerings, the hand-lever emergency brake between the seats and a gear-shift selector that’s actually in the form of a stick and not a dash-mounted knob (sorry, not a fan).

Obviously, Ford is entering a very competitive midsize segment that’s been dominated by the Toyota Tacoma followed by GM’s Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Though overdue for a serious revamp, Nissan is still appealing to value-minded consumers with its Frontier. Honda reintroduced its Ridgeline for model year 2017 and Jeep just unveiled its 2020 Gladiator pickup which will be available in the summer.

What sets Ranger apart? For now, it’s best-in-class fuel economy, torque (310 lb.-ft.) towing (7,500 pounds) and payload (1,860 pounds). Some of that will change in the summer, however, when Jeep’s 2020 Gladiator rolls out to offer best-in-class towing at 7,650 pounds and for model year 2021 Jeep will snatch best-in-class torque at 442 foot-pounds with the debut of their 3.0-liter EcoDiesel. The 2020 Gladiator’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 will offer 285 horses (15 more than Ford), but 50 less pound-feet of torque at 260 foot-pounds. But then Jeep has made the fight more interesting by offering an optional six-speed manual in lieu of its 8-speed automatic—something you won’t get with Ranger. We’ve still got plenty of manual transmission fans among truck buyers and Jeep has respectively given them the nod.

However, Ford swings back with its class exclusive Blind Spot Information System, or BLISS, technology. Radar housed in Ranger’s taillights monitors blind spots all the way to the back of the trailer. The system keeps drivers informed of the presence of a vehicle in the truck’s blind spots until that vehicle passes. BLISS also works when a trailer is not attached. Thanks to its cross-traffic alert technology, the system can warn drivers of an oncoming vehicle when they are backing out of a parking spot.

Bottom line here is that the 2019 Ford Ranger is a versatile, high-tech, powerful midsize truck available in various trim levels that will appeal to a wide range of customers. But unfortunately for fleets, there will be no regular cab—just SuperCrew and SuperCab. Is that a deal breaker? With an entry level price of $23,500 for the XL SuperCab with a six-foot bed, we’ll just have to wait and see.