Words by Scott Burgess.
The sun’s not up and breakfast will consist of buffalo jerky, percolated coffee, and a banana for each of us. Camping and road trips can easily convert even the most persnickety foodie into a grab-n-go chow hound. The pragmatic importance of necessity supersedes frivolous matters of arbitrary tastes – though to be honest, buffalo jerky is pretty good any time of the day.
A good road trip, which must include some form of camping along the way, will pragmatically reveal the necessary over the frivolous for a vehicle that any other kind of testing rarely will. It’s one thing to drive carefully curated roads in some exotic locale to get a first impression of a vehicle’s dynamics, technology and other characteristics but it’s only a taste. The full meal evaluation comes when you clamp your personal 1,500-pound pop-up camper trailer onto the bumper and haul it 4,000 miles around America’s West. This is the kind of trip where your fingernails stay dirty for a week and your hair has that subtle scent of last night’s fire pit – OK, it’s not that subtle. The vehicle becomes an intricate member of the group, not just moving people and things to various places but serving as quick shelter from a flash thunder storm or playing the role of a screen from other travelers by strategically parking it to block the view of people walking by.
A week into this trip, the cab has a faint smell of back sweat and stale vegetable chips and white and green charging cables sticking out of every port to charge two phones, a camera, a lantern and something else that I can’t remember what that cable is for.
A good road trip will replace that glossy shine with dust and dead bugs splattered on the windshield, grille and mirrors in nature’s version of bug gut Jackson Pollack. Put a full work-week behind the steering wheel and you’ll know if the interior is livable. And you will understand if you can pass that annoying Ram 2500 hauling a 30-foot Jayco trailer when the driver rolls coal as your bumper passes his and there’s only 1,000 feet before two lanes become one. It was a dick move for sure.
Roughly 2,500 miles into the trip, the 2019 Ford Ranger Lariat FX4 edition, a fully-loaded 4X4 pickup with a price tag of $45,000 has performed beautifully. And for the record, we left that Ram in a dusty tailwind somewhere outside of Cody, Wyoming.
Even as I write this, we (my wife and I) are 279 miles northwest of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a mile above sea level on a plateau with nothing but summer-worn fields of fading sagebrush and an endless blue sky. This pickup is providing me with WiFi access even while my phone’s T-Moble is showing zero bars. Cowboys likely don’t use T-Mobile, or at least the ones who want to make phone calls. But they could use the Ranger as its use of technology focuses on the practical and workable instead of luxury for the sake of luxury.
The 2019 Ford Ranger, a pickup favorite of mine that left America eight years ago, returns more powerful and chock-full of technology, most of which makes this an extremely appealing workhorse for someone that does not need a bigger fullsize pickup. Full disclosure: I’ve always preferred midsize pickups because I have never had the need to haul a 30-foot Jayco trailer. And frankly, with a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds (when equipped with towing package and trailer brake control), the Ranger could easily fill the needs of any suburban cowhand.
So, brass tacks: For getting the job done, the Ford Ranger delivers and then some. First, the powertrain: The 2.3 L Ecoboost turbocharged four-cylinder engine creates 270 horsepower and 310-pound-feet of torque that often left me forgetting there was a trailer attached to the back. Mash the accelerator and the Ranger’s twin scroll turbo lets the truck charge forward with little lag or delay and spins through its 10-speed automatic transmission quickly, efficiently and seemingly effortless. On hard acceleration, say trying to pick up speed as you enter the highway, the Ranger blasts forward. This was particularly handy driving through the narrow roads of Yellowstone National Park, where passing zones are short and a burst of power is all you need to pass those lookie-loos slowing down to take photos of a tree or a lake or a buffalo. The well-calibrated transmission reacts in milliseconds to downshift to the aggressive accelerator input and jumps with turbocharged power that provided immediate additional power even while crossing the Continental Divide at 8,262 feet.
Cruising at 75 mph – the speed that felt best with the trailer – the engine sang at about 1,900 rpm but it could easily get up to 85 mph. The bigger all terrain wheels did make for a bouncy ride when the right combination of concrete seams and speed were met. But it’s an easy price to pay when you look that much cooler. And I did, as judged by all of the pickup owners at campsites in South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming who would walk up and ask, “So what do you think of that Ford Ranger?”
“It’s a blast, though its gas mileage takes a hit,” I would most often reply. But that’s always the case when towing something.
While the vehicle is rated at 20 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway, we managed 17 mpg overall, which isn’t great, but is acceptable considering the trailer we towed and the altitudes we were driving at. When we returned to lower lands across the Midwest, our overall mileage improved to 20 mpg. All things considered, that’s pretty good towing fuel economy.
Be sure to read the conclusion of the drive, the 2019 Ford Ranger Road Trip: Part Two.
Scott Burgess is a journalism professor at Wayne State University, and previously served as the auto critic for The Detroit News before joining the Motor Trend Magazine editorial staff. He loves reuben sandwiches.