A gentle whir surges behind the firewall as the ABS pump builds pressure. Throttle and braking modulate as the vehicle ascends an incline over treacherous terrain. My only job is steering as the 2019 Ford Ranger’s Trail Control system smoothes and manages the climb. This is the same truck that just carved up the Southern California canyons on the street and it took to the off-road terrain like a duck to water thanks to a tuned suspension and a lot of onboard tech.
If you buy a Ranger FX4, the truck is meant to get you to the adventure. — Rick Bolt, Ford Ranger Chief Engineer
“We have Trail Control in the Ranger. We call in ‘cruise control for off-roading.’ You can set it from one to 20 mph, so it kind of fills the void that cruise control has because cruise can’t go below 20 and cruise isn’t designed for such transient off-road environments,” Brandon Cameron, Trail Control Feature Engineer, enthused.
Ford designers were charged with drawing up a truck with an aggressive design that connotes its toughness. We think they pulled it off. The Ranger is sharp and looks at home on the street or in the rough. (Photo Credit: Steve Turner)
Reentering the North American mid-size truck market was all about walking that tight rope of balance between a comfortable daily driver and a capable weekend toy. As such it is available in a variety of trims, including the off-road-centric FX4 package, which is the only configuration to include the aforementioned Trail Control feature, a version of which debuted on the F-150 Raptor.
“The goal with Ranger was [to] give people the choice of a truck that they can commute with during the week — it’s comfortable, it’s refined, and it’s not hugely extroverted so they fit into the parking lot and the commute,” Rick Bolt, Ford Ranger chief engineer told us. “Then, for people who want to go skiing or mountain biking on the weekend, it is very capable and comfortable getting to where they want to go.”
If you like kayaking, mountain biking, riding motorcycles, driving ATVs, or camping, Ford had the weekend adventurer in mind when creating the new Ranger. It can haul over 1,800 pounds and tow up to 7,500 pounds. (Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company)
While it is ready for some outdoorsy fun, don’t think that the 2019 Ford Ranger FX4 is quite as capable as the Raptor, despite sharing some of the same tech. This truck is for those who want a Swiss Army knife pickup that does it all pretty well.
“If you buy an F-150 Raptor, the truck is the adventure. If you buy a Ranger FX4, the truck is meant to get you to the adventure,” Rick added. “You don’t use your truck as the adventure, you use it to get to the adventure. It’s the biggest backpack for your gear.”
To ensure that backpack has the grunt to haul all your gear, Ford’s powertrain engineers sought to deliver the payload and towing capacity of a six-cylinder truck while offering the quiet, fuel-efficient operation of an in-line four-cylinder-powered machine. The reasoning being that it doesn’t force customers to chose between economy and performance.
What we were trying to do is find the right places to spend the time, energy and money on the truck, which is why we have a 10-speed transmission with stop-start in it. — Rick Bolt, Ford
“Traditional truck buyers are comfortable with making that choice. They know what they are going to use their truck for. It’s a work truck. They know that they have to make a choice,” Rick said. “Our hypothesis is that it’s not what midsize truck buyers really want to do. They want to buy one tool that gets all the jobs done.”
To deliver an engine that can deliver both performance and economy, Ford engineers beefed up the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine that we know and love from the Mustang with a variety of upgrades. Most obvious of those changes is a revised front-end accessory drive designed to drive a mechanical cooling fan which was deemed necessary for effective cooling in this broad-reaching application.
The tool that gets that job done is the familiar 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine we know and love from the Mustang. However, this is no mere carryover powerplant, the powertrain crew beefed up the gas-turbo direct-injection engine with a host of upgrades designed for performance and durability.
Most notably, they redesigned the front-end accessory drive to accommodate a mechanical fan for improved cooling across the engine’s broad range of use. However, the upgrades are far more than skin deep. Inside it received a forged crankshaft, grooved main bearings for improved oiling and a half-point bump in compression ratio to 10:1. It even gained a variable-displacement oil pump integrated into its balance shaft. This on-demand oil delivery maximizes efficiency.
The 2019 Ranger interior is comfortable, clean and dare we say, car-like. It can also be optioned with upmarket features like eight-way power seats, a leather-wrapped wheel, and a leather-trimmed shift knob. It can also be packed with technology ranging from Sync 3 and navigation to a B&O Sound System and Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 features, many of which we detailed after driving the Edge ST. However, if you opt for the FX4 package you while get the Terrain Management System and Trail Control, which can adjust the truck’s performance in off-road environments (see sidebar below).
Speaking of efficiency, its twin-scroll turbocharger makes use of an electronic wastegate for more finite boost control, while its direct-injection fuel system delivers up to 250 bar of pressure to feed the engine’s 270 horsepower and class-leading 310 lb-ft of torque. Obviously it is tuned for a truck versus the more powerful Mustang engine, but those specs are based on running 87-octane fuel.
“It will make close to 300 horsepower on 93-octane,” powertrain engineer Kerry Baldori told us, and he knows a thing or two about performance, having previously served as Chief Functional Engineer - Global Performance Vehicles.
If you choose a four-wheel-drive 2019 Ford Ranger with the FX4 Off-Road Package you’ll get a Terrain Management System designed to tweak the engine, transmission, and vehicle control parameters to improve traction and performance in normal; grass, gravel and snow; mud and ruts; and sand conditions.
The TMS features similar logic to the system in the F-150 Raptor (which features two additional modes), and the FX4 Rangers are also equipped with a Trail Control system that manages acceleration and braking at each wheel to help it traverse rough terrain a 20 mph and below so you can focus on steering through the terrain. That power is distributed via a Dana limited-slip diff and an optional rear e-locker.
Beside the high-tech off-road assistance, the FX4 also features off-road tuned shocks, all-terrain tires, and a frame-mounted heavy-gauge steel front bash plate and frame-mounted skid plates.
Being that we drove the trucks outside of San Diego, California, they couldn’t have run better than 91-octane fuel, but the beefy 2.3 delivers balanced acceleration for a 4,000-plus-pound truck and enough grunt to haul and tow those weekend toys, and part of that is due to the deployment of the elixir that is the magical 10R80 10-speed automatic transmission that performs so well in the Mustang and F-150.
The 2019 Ranger is available in a variety of trim levels, including Lariat, STX, XL, and XLT. Depending on the trim level an option package, the truck rides on one of seven different wheels ranging from a 16-inch steelie to an 18-inch chrome beauty.
It even shares the same gearing as the F-150 version, but as with those other applications, the auto keeps the engine in its powerband to maximize performance when needed and fuel economy when appropriate. Not only does it save money for you, but it also keeps the truck affordable by excelling in so many areas.
“What we were trying to do is find the right places to spend the time, energy and money on the truck, which is why we have a 10-speed transmission with stop-start in it,” Rick said. “It’s the right place because it gives you benefits on both ends of the spectrum — capability and efficiency.”
Of course, you can’t have all that capability if the truck’s frame is not up to the task of serving as a solid foundation. During our drive we traversed an aggressive patch of moguls and at one point we opened to door to see of the frame were flexing at all. The door swung open and closed easily as the frame held its shape.
That frame is hewn from high-strength steel and braced by crossmembers that are through-welded on both sides of the frame rail to evenly distribute load.
With the weekend adventure in mind when developing the 2019 Ford Ranger for North America, Ford went a step further with its latest mid-size pickup. The company partnered with aftermarket accessory maker Yakima to offer several products to expand your truck’s capabilities for the outdoors, including kayak racks, bike racks and tents, which can be financed along with the truck and feature three-year or 36,000-mile Ford warranties with optional extended warranties.
“We know our customers see their vehicles as extensions of themselves,” said Eric Cin, global director, Vehicle Personalization. “With the addition of Yakima accessories, Ford aims to enhance the experiences of adventure-driven customers by delivering innovative solutions such as truck bed racks that preserve cargo space by lifting kayaks, bikes and skis off the floor of the bed. It’s about making each adventure better.”
“When the frame is getting twisted it is trying to do two things: it is trying to lift the frame rail and rotate the framerail because the leaf springs do sit slightly outboard of the frame rail. If you weld the crossmember to the outside and the inside, you are effectively transferring the load through both walls of the frame,” Rick said. “If you just welded it to the inside wall of the frame, the outside wall is not fully loaded. Again, it is all about efficiency. Using a lower-gauge frame that’s lighter and still getting all the stiffness and durability that you need – it works really well. It is amazing the way the through-welding helps.”
Building off that solid foundation, Ford’s engineering team further reduced weight with a couple of key suspension features.
“Similarly, you look at where we have done some weight saving. We did the parabolic leaf spring at the rear. It essentially gets you the same function at less weight, which means more payload and better ride. So, you get this win-win of making the ride better and the payload better,” Rick explained.
“At the front we went to a forged aluminum knuckle. If you are going to save weight, a nice place to save it for on-road use is in the knuckle and it’s also good for on-road use,” he added. “What we tried to do is find those places where there was that win-win of getting something for everything. That’s how you make a cost-efficient, durable truck. You don’t have to do a bunch of gimmicky stuff to make it work.”
To increase payload capacity, reduce weight, and improve ride, Ford engineers opted for parabolic leaf springs in back. They also put in a lot of time designing uniquely shaped bump stops for each configuration. These stops stiffen progressively to smooth the ride under heavy load. Engineers even went as far as ensuring that nothing hangs below the framerails to ensure maximum ground clearance.
In our experience, the truck walks that tightrope nicely. The ride quality is really good on smooth roads, while bouncing a bit on rougher surfaces when it is unloaded.
“It’s mostly a function of payload. Most cars don’t carry 50 percent of their weight as payload. Therefore they can tune the springs of the car heavily focused on ride quality,” Rick said. “With a truck you have to go stiffer on the springs because if you put a heavy load in the back it would drag on the ground if you didn’t. Effectively you have to go slightly higher in spring rate to account for the fact that there is a much bigger span of weight.”
Though it still reminds you it is a truck, the Ranger feels right at home on the street as well. It doesn’t drive ‘big,’ which is great for fans of smaller vehicles, like your scribe. And, when that suspension is under g-load in corners it even handles well enough that we started driving it like a car in the twisties.
Turning off the pavement, the truck does exceptionally well given all the bases it covers. In the FX4 with Trail Control on it will smoothly traverse the rough stuff and with the Terrain Management mode selected properly it will pull through loose dirt or sloppy mud.
We spent most of our time driving the shorter Super Cab with the 6-foot bed, but the Ranger is also available in the Super Crew you see here with a bed that’s one-foot shorter but with full-size rear doors for easier passenger hauling.
We blasted around the off-road course Ford set up for us several times — especially the mud pit — and the truck never struggled from rough patches and 24-degree banks to loose dirt and that mud, it just kept us moving without giving up a single creature comfort along the way. It’s not as capable as a Raptor, but it’s not meant to be.
At first blush it appears that Ford delivered on its mission of creating a mid-size truck that’s all business on the street and ready to party off the pavement. And with a starting price of $24,300 and fuel economy of 21 mpg in town and 26 mpg on the highway, it’s an affordable option whether your hobby includes towing camper or a race car.