The 2020 Ford Ranger is the second-best “mid-sized” new truck you can buy for daily driving right now, and for the moment it’s my personal favorite.
If you really want your truck to be as comfortable and competent on the road as possible, you want a Honda Ridgeline. But if you like the way traditional trucks roll, even if most of your driving isn’t necessarily off-road or heavily loaded, the Ranger starts looking pretty sweet.
I put “mid-sized” in air quotes like an A-hole because modern trucks in this category tend to seem pretty large compared to the trucks I grew up looking at in the ’90s. In reality though, the current Ranger kind of splits the difference between an old Ranger and an old F-150. A quick comparison of SuperCab (extended cab) standard-bed truck size specs from Ford and Ford-Trucks.com:
- 2020 Ranger overall length: 210.8 inches
- 2000 Ranger overall length: 201.7 inches
- 2020 F-150 overall length: 231.9 inches
- 2000 F-150 overall length: 225.9 inches
Now that I’m done yelling at the clouds, I finally got to drive the top Lariat trim of the new Ranger and I have thoughts.
Full Disclosure: I asked Ford’s reps if I could borrow a Ranger on a recent trip to Michigan, and they were kind enough to oblige.
Testing Conditions: Highways, town driving, and dirt roads through farm country under sunny midwestern skies. Yee-freakin’-haw. No off-r0ad testing, or towing, or hauling this time.
Ford Ranger Explained
Ford “Ranger” was a trim level on the F-Series pickup back in the ’60s, but more Americans have nostalgia for the Ranger that was its own small, simple, single-cab (effectively) truck that introed in 1983. The U.S.-market Ranger had three distinctive generations: A really square design for the ’80s, rounded for the ’90s, and a trapezoidal-grille’d look for the 2000s.
The last new Ranger you could buy in the U.S. has actually aged quite nicely and still looks good, despite having been dismissed from Ford’s lineup in 2012. I think the automaker realized it could make more money on bigger trucks at that point, which is why the model was sunsetted stateside.
Outside the U.S. though, the Ranger was revised for a fourth-generation known as the T6, which was facelifted for 2015, and then adapted for the U.S. market as the “all-new” Ranger for 2019 after production of the C-Max got moved to Mexico and American UAW factory employees needed something to build at the Michigan Assembly Plant. At least, that’s my take. I asked Ford’s people why the Ranger was brought back and they were kind enough to provide a statement on the subject:
“While Ranger left the North American market, the nameplate continued to progress with a new-generation (T6 architecture) elsewhere around the globe - and its Built Ford Tough Design, capability and reliability elevated Ford’s truck dominance.”
“As consumer tastes shifted stronger toward pickups, an opportunity to update Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant to build body-on-frame vehicles enabled an upgraded, and now mid-size North American-spec Ranger to fulfill an unmet customer and showroom need with its more adventure-ready features, yet executed with BFT tough-truck standards.”
When the now-current Ranger was launched at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, Ford’s reps were adamant that it’s not the same truck as the T6 Ranger seen in other markets. It does have a unique powerplant and may very well have structural differences, having driven several non-U.S. Rangers, I can tell you it’s pretty darn similar from a practical perspective.
Fortunately, you won’t really mind if this Ranger’s not a brand-new idea, because it’s still a fun little truck. Today’s U.S. Ranger can be had in super-basic XL work truck trim, better-equipped XLT, and much more livable Lariat which is the one with Ford’s nice two-screen gauge cluster and heated seats.
You can spec any of those trims with two-wheel drive or engageable four-wheel drive with low range, and either get a two-door with a tiny sports car-sized back seat (SuperCab) and a six-foot bed or a four-door (SuperCrew) with a five-foot bed.
I really enjoyed jouncing around Michigan in the Ranger because it lives in a great sweet spot between “feels like a truck” and “feels like a car.” The cabin is comfortable but simple and chunky. Your view of the road is commanding, but not intimidating. And the ride’s soft, the steering’s numb and distant, the turning radius feels terrible... OK, from a driving dynamics perspective, it’s definitely a truck. But driving trucks that feel like trucks is fun. I’m serious! That’s why so many Americans cruise around with these things without ever bothering to get them dirty to put them to work.
Many people told me they’d heard the Ranger is underpowered, but I didn’t feel that at all. I had no issues getting up to speed on the highway, and in two-wheel drive with AdvanceTRAC off, the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-banger is happy to roast some rubber.
The Lariat uses a two-screen gauge cluster that’s ubiquitous in Fords but quite tidy and informative.
Just what I touched on already: The fact that it’s a nice-sized truck that’s just easy enough to live with to be a great daily driver for people who like pickups.
I had a feeling 10 forward gears might be too many, but who am I to question Ford’s wisdom in putting 10-speed automatics in every 2020 Ranger? I will, though. This truck’s transmission is way too clunky and busy at town traffic speeds. To hell with it.
The back seat, even in the four-door cab, is too small to be comfortably occupied by adults for any significant period of time. If you’re looking at buying a four-door Ranger with the intention of using the back seat a lot, make sure you check it out back there before committing.
The IIHS was generally pleased with the Ranger’s crash survivability but deemed the headlights and LATCH system (for securing car seats) “marginal.” That’s not great. I didn’t find the Lariat Ranger’s headlights to be noticeably crappy myself though.
The NHTSA gave the Ranger an overall safety rating of four out of five stars.
Braking felt adequate to me, though I can’t say I’d be super confident about taking the Ranger through high-speed panic swerving on account of its soft suspension and uncommunicative steering.
Jalopnik Recommended Options
I wrote a whole blog about how I’d spec my Ranger: A short-cab 4x4 base truck can be had for about $31,000. But after driving the Lariat, I’d be tempted to take advantage of the better trim’s heated seats and nicer gauge cluster.
Most people will buy the four-door, but honestly, I wouldn’t bother. Even with Lariat leather, the back seat sucks to sit in. It’s just too cramped back there, at which point, you might as well just accept the fact that you’ve got a two-seat vehicle and opt for the bigger bed. You’ll still have mini seats in the SuperCab if you need to haul a couple of extra asses for a short distance.
The FX4 package with a locking rear differential, skid plates, inclinometer, and terrain management system, seems like a great deal on its own at about $1,300, but if you’re not ordering it on the Lariat you’ve got to bundle it with some expensive luxury features.
If you’ve got even more money to burn, check out the Ford Performance packages that can net you extra HP and off-road capability. (We’ll be running a. review of a Ranger equipped with the Level 3 off-road loadout on some proper dirt tracks in the near future.)
You can’t go wrong with the color choices, regardless. Especially if you pick Race Red or Lightning Blue.
Class And Competition
Besides used vehicles, the 2020 Ranger’s closest rivals in America are the Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline, Chevy Colorado, Jeep Gladiator, and Nissan Frontier.
The Gladiator barely counts because, as a pickup truck with a removable roof and doors, it’s kind of in a class by itself. The Tacoma feels more truck-like, the Ridgeline feels more car-like (and is objectively the best “truck” for daily driving for that reason), while the Colorado (and GMC Canyon) really are quite similar to the Ranger.
The logical followup is, of course, “Colorado or Ranger?” I personally prefer the Ranger’s styling and turbo engine over the Chevy’s slothful V6, which claims more power than the Ford’s I4 EcoBoost but feels slower. I did find the Colorado’s transmission to be smoother and I love, love, the ultra-plush ride of the ZR2. I haven’t driven one since the hi-po Chev was brand-new and I still think about it to relax sometimes.
The 2020 Frontier finally has a new engine for the first time in about a decade and is supposed to be getting a whole new design soon, but the outgoing model is a little less refined than Ford’s offering.
The new Ranger’s not a particularly exceptional vehicle but I can’t deny that I really enjoyed driving it. It just felt good and stout, and after a couple of days with it, I just got the vibe that I was in my truck. High praise for a loaner vehicle, I reckon.
Its claimed capabilities are impressive and its creature comforts are decent. I think it’d make a fine work-and-play vehicle you could enjoy for a long time.
There’s a big batch of pictures of the new-for-2019 U.S. Ford Ranger on Netcarshow, which looks the same as the 2020 model so you should be able to find any detail shots I might have missed in there. Or, you could look at Ford’s big batch of Ranger pics on its media site.
Meanwhile, here are the rest of my shots from my road test: