On the Road Review: Ford Ranger XLT SuperCrew

Pickup trucks are such an ingrained segment of America’s driving fleet, any automaker that lacks these useful three-box designs in its lineup is forsaking a large profit opportunity. The Ford Motor Co., which currently sells more pickups than any other automaker here right now, ups the ante further this year with not only a new Maverick hybrid-powered small(er) pickup, but with two new versions of the Ranger.

This third generation Ranger has rocketed up the sales charts since its debut three years ago and now only trails Toyota’s Tacoma in the showroom wars. Jeep’s Gladiator is a close third, while Nissan returns to this battle with a new Frontier this year, a model replacing a 16-year-old design. Hyundai also joins the fray with a small pickup called the Santa Cruz.

Ranger fans will welcome the return of the Splash trim level later this fall, a festive body paint scheme that will be available in several bright colors including some Limited Splash motifs, while Ranger fans who lust for more off-road prowess can embrace the new Ranger Tremor package. Ford is also rumored to be working on a Ranger Raptor model.

The Ranger is still available as a Supercab or SuperCrew four-door pickup. Ranger pricing starts with XL trim, $25,000, rising through XLT, Lariat and top Tremor to $41,000. Every model has one powertrain; a smooth, very frisky 2.3-liter Ecoboost (turbocharged) in-line four-cylinder that pumps out 270 hp and 310 pound/feet of peak torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission. Two-wheel drive is standard, while 4WD is optional, a system that includes a terrain management system for selecting various off-road driving modes. The 2WD models earn EPA ratings of 21-26 mpg, while our 4WD Supercrew listed 20/24-mpg estimates against a realized 26.2 mpg on a drive from Augusta to Ellsworth.

While the Tacoma has dominated this segment for well over 10 years, both the Ranger and the Gladiator have added significant numbers of new buyers to this class — an indication that small pickup customers have been out there, but not pleased with the offerings.

Ford is confident that the Maverick, starting at just under $21,000, will not steal Ranger buyers, yet some erosion is surely to occur as hybrid powertrains resonate with Ford right now — F-150, Maverick and more to come. Many pundits, here included, believe that hybrid powertrains are the sensible bridge technology for the industry, as the cost is more easily handled by consumers, there is none of the range anxiety issues of electric vehicles, plus there are none of the charging and infrastructure issues that exist for electric vehicles. And, thus far, no recalls for battery fires as there have been with some recent electric vehicles.

While the current Ranger is adopted from a truck originally built for Asian markets, it seems certain that a Ranger hybrid is not far off.

Until then, the current Ranger remains a very appealing option for small truck shoppers. The Ranger offers good ingress and egress, the cabin is spacious, comfortable and even quieter than our recent Civic sedan, plus the standard features list includes comfort items and safety gear that generally exceeds its competition, with optional pieces such as upscale audio systems, more electric driving aids and several creature features optionally available.

Driving the Ranger is closer to a crossover than several of its stiffer-riding pickup rivals. Steering feel, ride compliance and general handling are just more compliant here, with much less of the typical pickup truck sensations. But this pickup is no slouch when it comes to work; payload capacity is over 1,400 pounds, while its tow rating of 7,500 pounds tops the class. It wasn’t that long ago that you needed a half-ton pickup to pull that much trailer.

In base XL trim, our Velocity Blue SuperCrew had remote start, folding rear seat, front tow hooks, hill-start assist, PowerPorts and USB-jacks, plus 4G Wi-Fi hotspot capability. Automatic emergency braking and forward collision protection are standard. So are plastic floor coverings, weather resistance synthetic upholstery and a rear-view camera.

Strong runner, useful loading height for the pickup bed, five-passenger space plus everyday driving composure combine to make the Ranger a solid bridge pickup between hard-working off-roaders like the Tacoma and Gladiator and soft-roaders like the Ridgeline and Santa Cruz. With new trim levels on the way, Ranger fans — and many others — have lots to like here.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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