72 Hours With the New Adventure-Ready Ford Ranger

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Becoming the maker of America’s favorite full-size pickup truck came at a price for Ford. The Ranger, once a strong contender in the mid-size truck market, disappeared nearly 10 years ago, partly so Ford could focus on strengthening the full-size F-150’s position in the market. That left the door open for Tacomas, Colorados, and Canyons to divvy up the pie. But now the Ranger’s back to reclaim a bigger chunk of the small pickup market by delivering a truck that’s less a junior F-150 and more of an adventure vehicle designed to take you, and your gear, wherever you want—from the top of a mountain to the corner grocery store. We spent some time in the Ranger’s top trim level, the Lariat, to see if it’s worth parking in your driveway.

Ford Ranger Lariat
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Day 1: Cutting Through the City and Hitting the Highway

Cruising out of New York City on our way east, the Ranger’s mostly smooth ride is clearly very different from the way it was, with handling that felt more like an SUV than a work truck. Ford’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, paired with a 10-speed automatic, was responsive, punchy, and impressive. It’s a system Ford’s perfected in other rides like the Mustang and Explorer, beefed up here to handle truck duties like towing. With 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, the power plant won’t flinch at competing against beefier V6 engines.

Well-behaved, it passes cars on the highway with ease pushing through the gears when you mash the pedal down and call for more power. Mostly comfortable up front, there’s some unpleasant feedback at times over dingy roads—a reminder you’re actually driving a pickup truck with leaf springs in the rear. But that’s common feedback from a truck, but what isn’t is a Sport mode that does 0–60 in about seven seconds.

Ford Ranger Lariat
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Day 2: Loading Up

What Ford’s hoping buyers do with this truck is load up quads, bikes, and kayaks to take adventuring. While we’ve got no doubt it’s capable enough to handle those tasks, we used it for more mundane but equally important purposes: hauling a bed full of boxes during a move.

The Ranger’s five-foot bed is as you’d expected: a grippy, sprayed-on liner with six tie-down loops along the sides. The box felt sturdy, but we’d love to see a corner bumper step to help with access once the tailgate is down—or even a bed step borrowed from the F-150. We liked the tall sides which help nestle cargo, but shorter users might not agree. If you’re looking to tow, the Ranger won’t disappoint, at least not on paper. Rated at 7,500 pounds, with the upgraded trailer tow package, the Ranger can haul more than the competition’s can using gas.

Interior of Ford Ranger Lariat
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Day 3: Piling In

Capable of taking you and your gear on your weekend adventures, if the Ranger’s going to make it as a revised, more capable version of the family sedan or SUV, it had better haul that family in comfort. The leather front seats in our Lariat trim were cozy and supportive. Backseat space in the SuperCrew configuration is doable for an average adult in the neighborhood of 5’10”, but much taller people or extended road trips might be an issue. The 8-inch Sync 3 infotainment system is intuitive and responsive through a touchscreen, where it takes up the common controls for things like the radio, but also the HVAC system.

We like the pair of 4.2-inch displays flanking the speedometer, which keeps info like the trip computer separate from the info you’d find on the infotainment system. It’s a familiar setup that’s found in Fords dating back to 2010s and works well, one that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Ford’s interior is comfortable with plenty of soft materials and brushed aluminum-looking plastics.

Ford Ranger Lariat
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Ford has hidden cubbies through the cabin, including two wells under the rear flip-up seat—though the main console is on the smaller side. Four USB ports (two up front that send data, plus two in the rear that recharge) help keep phones juiced up on trips. The controls are intuitively laid out, including a dial that selects the driving mode. What physical buttons are there make sense, like the override for the automatic engine shutoff—we hate when that setting is buried in the infotainment screen.

[From $24,300; ford.com]

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