2019 FORD RANGER

Shown is a 2019 Ford Ranger.

After 39 years, Ford stopped making its compact Ranger pickup truck in 2011 for the US and watched as Toyota dominated the country’s midsize pickup market while Ford’s F-150 ruled full-size pickup sales.

Now a bigger, more powerful 2019 Ranger becomes a direct challenge to Toyota’s popular Tacoma pickup that last year totaled more sales than its top three rival pickups combined — Chevrolet Colorado, Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Frontier.

Ranger’s base price is $1,850 less than the Tacoma and will entice comparison from buyers not locked into brand loyalty — a huge factor for pickup sales.

We test drove the XLT SuperCrew four-wheel drive with the 5-foot box bed, sandwiched between base XL and top trim Lariat.

All use the same 2.3-liter Ecoboost engine manipulated by a smooth 10-speed shiftable automatic transmission with mild clunky stop/start.

We averaged 22 mpg, same as EPA rating.

Ranger has myriad options — a pickup staple — and ours totaled $5,295. Top packages were $1,295 for FX4 off-road, $795 each for technology/safety and a sport appearance, and $495 each for bedliner “toughbed” spray and trailer tow.

Handling was excellent, responsive and controlled with no turbo delay in Sport mode, producing instant acceleration.

Truck bounciness was prominent over uneven pavement, less so at slower off-road speeds.

Towing capacity is 7,500 pounds with front tow hooks and payload reaches 1,560 pounds. Ground clearance of 8.9 inches resulted in some access effort with no driver grab handles.

Strong safety features included dynamic cruise control down to 10 mph, lane-keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, parking sensors and pre-collision assist.

FX4 package added skid plates, 17-inch Hankook all-terrain tires, off-road shock absorbers, a Terrain Management System and Trail Control.

Outside, the look is basic Ford with a separate steel front bumper and a “Built Ford Tough” look with huge wheel arches.

Inside, materials felt average and the cockpit has a slightly outdated look despite decent technology on the easily reached 8-inch pinch/zoom touchscreen.

Knick-knack space is sparse, but trays sit on and below the dashboard.

A pull-up rear bench covers two shallow storage bins and rear passengers get two USB ports and an EV outlet.

Cloth-covered seats were well padded; front seats adjust manually.

Voice activated navigation routes were not always efficient and speed limits occasionally posted wrong.

With no CD, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto use a six-speaker stereo for clear sounds. There is a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot. Visors extend; there is a spare tire.

LIKES: Handling, acceleration, price, off-road capable.

DISLIKES: Uneven navigation routings, bouncy ride.

BOTTOM LINE: Will become a player in midsize pickup market.

FACT FILE

2019 FORD RANGER 4X4

SUPERCREW XLT

Base price w/destination fee: $35,310 ($40,605 as tested)

Vehicle weight: 4,441 lbs.

Wheelbase: 126.8 inches

Length: 210.8 inches

Width: 85.8 inches

Engine: 2.3-liter, Ecoboost, DOHC, I-4

Horsepower: 270-hp at 5,500 rpm

Torque: 310 ft.-lbs. at 3,000 rpm

Transmission: 10-speed shiftable automatic

EPA rating: 20 mpg city/24 mpg hwy

Range: 18.8-gallons, regular

Performance: 0-60 in just under 7 seconds

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.