Words by Scott Burgess.
Be sure to read 2019 Ford Ranger Road Trip, Part One: Intro, Fuel Economy
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.
The midsize Ford pickup truck goes out of its way to make towing easier starting with providing both 4-pin and 7-pin connectors mounted in the steel bumper. It then goes further with its electronic tow haul mode, and a radar-based blind spot detection system (placed inside the rear taillights) that will look for vehicles in the trailer’s blind spot that you preset before driving. The BLIS system proved invaluable when driving around Chicago, where drivers tended to tailgate more aggressively, and it was more difficult to be sure the lane was open. Using the yellow light in the exterior mirrors, the system would stay lit if a vehicle was in your blind spot and turn off once it was clear. Judging that I never hit anyone with the trailer, as tempted as I might have been, I can attest the system works perfectly. (When you first hook up the trailer, the truck will ask you to set the length of the trailer.) It will also notify you if the trailer lights are not functioning correctly, which it did once after hooking up the trailer one morning and not seating the 7-pin connector correctly.
With lots of open highway driving, I also used Ford’s adaptive cruise control and Lane Keeping Assist features often. The adaptive cruise control allows you to set your preferred distance for the vehicle in front of you with the tightest setting a little too close for my own comfort. It also did a good job when cruising down mountain sides by limiting speed build up. It does such a smooth job of slowing you down as you approach slower traffic, you may not even notice it. A few times, I found myself trailing a semi going 5 mph slower than I thought I was traveling. The Lane Keeping Assist will nudge the pickup back into the lane if it starts to cross over the lane paint. It works well but can cause you to feel like a ping pong ball at times as it continuously corrects itself while I was trying to eat Cheetos. It was very useful in South Dakota when a torrential rain hit us, and it was difficult to see the road. It will also fight you by tightening the steering wheel input if you don’t use your turn indicators, thinking you are accidently drifting out of your lane or if the highway has lane shift, as construction job will certainly do. My advice: In tight traffic, turn it off, but on big open roads, it’s a very nice feature.
As for other performance features, the ride was extremely comfortable, and I always felt solidly planted to the ground. The electronically assisted rack and pinion steering was firm and nicely weighted, much to my preference for highway driving. The 12-inch disc brakes on all four corners provided more than enough stopping power and were quick to action during those few moments of ill-timed highway cruising that involve a semi and a Toyota Sienna going way too slow in the left lane.
While the 2019 Ford Ranger interior is plain, it’s nevertheless quite functional. There are plenty of spaces to store things and the two USB ports at the base of the center console are easy to locate and your phone will fit nicely in the space. There’s even a small tray like table on the top of the dash, but if you put anything hard in that tray it will slide around and annoy your wife to the point she will forcefully remove it (tip: Ford, a rubber mat there would work wonders and likely save a couple of marriages). Overall, there were four USB ports and a 110 V plug, all of which we put to use.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Ranger is its connectivity. Ford plans to provide its entire lineup of vehicles with some version of 4G LTE and the Ford PassConnect system allows you to connect up to 10 devices to the vehicle’s WiFi system. This gives you a 4,300-pound mobile hotspot. While there were a few times that the system did not work because of our distance from civilization, we were surprised how often it did work when our phone didn’t. One night, while camping near the Little Bighorn battlefield, we streamed a movie on Hulu through a projector connected to my laptop.
For this trip, the cabin feels more spacious than it looked with nearly 40 inches of headroom and 43.1 inches of legroom. The high riding position provides a commanding view and the seats, with the optional adjustable lumbar support, never gave us a single ache on those long haul days – the longest which was 800 miles. We found the second row of the Crew Cab more useful with the seat down instead of folded up, which seemed to provide less space than more. The big touch screen in the center console would allow us to use Apple CarPlay and pull up Waze or Ford’s Sync 3.0 navigation system – both of which work well. The screen also provides a great view for backing up and hooking up the trailer, as you can quickly throw the truck into reverse and leave the ball only an inch away from the trailer’s hitch without a single word from your guide on.
While I was provided with a very capable off-roading pickup, that was one thing I did not test including Ford’s Terrain Management System, that allows you to select the surface your driving through and the vehicle will make numerous adjustments to the stability control and transmission. I did pop a couple of curbs, but that was merely for some free parking.
It was interesting to me to feel how quickly the Ford Ranger became part of our clan during the trip. It provided us with a comfortable ride, an endless loop of Sirius XM Pop Rocks (through a Bang & Olufsen stereo system), and just a comfortable ride day after day. While I think the 5-foot bed (61 inches) is too small and the tilted body, with the rear slightly higher than the front, take away from it’s overall good looks, it’s a solid ride and ready for the long haul.
And if I were to pick out a favorite feature, I loved the spring loaded cup holders. On a road trip, holding your beverage could never be more important and the Ranger managed to hold my coffee and Cokes better than just about any vehicle. Other vehicles let your drink flop around like an unrestrained baby with colic, but the Ranger doesn’t, it holds it in place. And better yet, every time you pull you drink out, it sounds like a Glock 19 charging. Seriously, I would want a sip of coffee and when I pulled out my cup, it would wake up my wife.
But waking her up wasn’t the worst thing. At least she could hand me a another piece of jerky and we could keep on driving. ‘Cause sometimes that’s all a road trip is about – cruising through the next mile. With the new Ford Ranger, those are pretty easy miles.
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.