After several years studying abroad, the Ford Ranger is finally coming home to the States, more capable and more refined than ever. This isn't just a rehash of the same old formula. Ford is bringing the midsize Ranger sold in the rest of the world since 2011 to us. Since the return was announced last year, there's been a ton of speculation about the truck. Well, here it is in all its glory. (Spoiler alert: We couldn't wait for the new Ranger, so we went to New Zealand to drive one.)
The original Ranger soldiered along for nearly three decades with just a few sporadic updates, but by the time production ended in 2012, sales of the compact truck market had been steadily declining for years. The full-size F-150 offered far more space and utility for not much more money — as well as more profit for the automakers and dealers. But after seeing the sales of the new Chevy Colorado, the folks in Dearborn have taken the hint. Since the Colorado was reintroduced in 2014, the midsize truck market has grown by a whopping 83 percent.
In the U.S., the Colorado and Toyota Tacoma rule the roost, with the the aging Nissan Frontier playing a much smaller role. Globally, the show looks a little different since midsizers have evolved differently abroad. The Ranger not only survived but thrived, comparing favorably to stalwarts like the Toyota Hilux. The current T6 generation Ranger has been on sale since 2011 in 180 markets around the globe. It's a completely separate and far more modern truck than the one previously sold here.
That global Ranger is indeed what you see here, but there are a number of changes to tailor it for an American audience. Rather than a four- or five-cylinder diesel, under the hood you'll find a 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged inline-four. This is a variant of the same engine that's in the Ford Focus RS and the Ford Mustang EcoBoost, though Ford didn't go into details on what separates the engines. It features direct-injection, 16 valves, a twin-scroll turbocharger, forged-steel crank and connecting rods, and chain-driven cams.
Power hasn't been announced, but Ford is targeting class-leading torque for gasoline engines. For reference, the Colorado has 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque while the Tacoma makes 278 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. The Ranger beats both of those in gear count, too, as the 2.3-liter engine is mated solely to a 10-speed automatic. This transmission was co-developed with GM and is found in everything from the Chevy Camaro ZL1 to the Ford F-150 Raptor to the refreshed 2018 Mustang. Don't rule out a five-cylinder diesel sometime down the line.
Other changes for America include revised front and rear styling. The grille and lower bumper are different than the global model. Ford touts that the Ranger is the only vehicle in the class with a steel bumper. The tailgate has the Ranger logo embossed in a large font along the bottom, similar to that of the revised F-150. There is also new trim on the wheel arches, giving the Ranger a buff, muscular look. Still, it's mostly the same styling that the rest of the world has known for years.
The Ranger has skid plates underneath and tow hooks in the bumper. The vents in the front fenders are functional. Both the hood and tailgate are made from aluminum. The cost of completely switching the Ranger to aluminum like its larger siblings was prohibitive, so that's as much alloy as the Ranger gets. Underneath, you'll find a live rear axle, monotube dampers and high-strength steel in the frame. As with torque, Ford is targeting best-in-class payload. The Ranger's tow rating is likely to be competitive, though Ford seems to be focused more on payload capacity.
Stepping up to the FX4 trim adds a number of performance upgrades. There are knobbier tires, a steel bash plate up front, reinforced skid plates underneath, and upgraded shocks. The Ranger FX4 also comes with Dana axles both front and rear, with an electronic locking rear differential and a two-speed transfer case. There's also a Terrain Management System that has four modes: normal; grass, gravel and snow; mud and ruts; and sand. There's also a Trail Control system. Think of this as off-road cruise control that works from 1 to 20 mph.
While Ford was mum on the subject, expect a Ranger Raptor to make a debut sometime soon.
The Ranger comes in three trim levels: XL, XLT and Lariat in both SuperCab (extended) and SuperCrew (four-door) configurations. In addition to the FX4 package, customers can opt for Chrome and Sport appearance packages.
While the old Ranger saw service in a lot of fleets, Ford is marketing the new Ranger toward a lifestyle-oriented market and isn't offering stripped-down models. Instead, the Ranger is aimed at the crowd interested in getting outdoors, since all the marketing materials show people using the new Ranger to go camping, off-roading, cycling, climbing, and the like. If you want a work truck, look to the F-150.
The interior appears to be straight from the global Ranger, though we'll have to get a good look in person to spot any differences. There's an available 8-inch display for Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system. Sync 3 has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa integration. FordPass Connect gives customers Wi-Fi access for up to 10 devices through a 4G LTE modem. Active safety features include blind-spot monitoring with trailer coverage, pre-collision assist, lane-keep and lane-departure assist and automatic cruise control.
Pricing hasn't been announced, but expect it to start at the low- to mid-$20,000 range. A base Colorado starts at $21,195, while a Tacoma will set you back at least $24,480, though both of those are about as stripped-down as a modern vehicle gets. Look for the Ranger to hit showrooms later this year.