Our first glimpse of the new mid-size pick-up en­try from Ford came on Jan­uary 15th in De­troit at the North Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Auto Show (NAIAS). A few years ago, the mid­size truck seg­ment in North Amer­ica had been whit­tled away to one sig­nif­i­cant choice - the Toy­ota Ta­coma. Fast for­ward to 2017, and we’ve seen Chevro­let in­tro­duce the Colorado, with the stun­ning ZR2 trim level for out­stand­ing off-road per­for­mance. Mean­while, Ford had been sell­ing the Ranger in 180 mar­kets around the globe - mak­ing it the num­ber two sell­ing com­pact pick-up truck glob­ally (a close sec­ond to the Toy­ota Ta­coma) - but not avail­able in North Amer­ica.

Why has it taken so long? Why not bring a few here? This is not the same truck that has been sold glob­ally. Ac­cord­ing to Jeff Siemen, Brand Man­ager for the Ford Ranger, “It was about tak­ing the good ar­chi­tec­ture that we have that’s been proven out, tear­ing it down to its very core and then build­ing it back up for the North Amer­i­can mar­ket. With the growth in the seg­ment (com­pact pick-up) this is the op­ti­mal time.” One vis­i­ble North Amer­i­can change is the front and rear steel bumpers, a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment from the plas­tic in­te­grated front fas­cia.

The bronze (Saber) coloured truck in the pho­tos has the FX4 Off-road Pack­age with the Sport Ap­pear­ance Pack. While all the de­tails haven’t been re­leased, there are some key fea­tures that are off spe­cial in­ter­est to the folks who want to do more than run to the gro­cery store or pick-up the kids from hockey prac­tice.

Start­ing from the ends and work­ing in­wards, we no­ticed the framem­o­unted steel bumpers front and back. Rigid­ity comes in the from the high strength steel frame with six cross-mem­bers. High strength steel lower con­trol arms beef up the dou­ble wish­bone sus­pen­sion sys­tem in the front end, while a solid axle on par­a­bolic leaf springs holds up the rear. The cab and bed are not alu­minum; just the hood and tail­gate while

the bal­ance of the body and frame are steel.

The 4x4 ver­sion (the Cana­dian favourite by a mas­sive mar­gin) will come with a steel front bash plate, un­der­body skid plates and a shift-on-the-fly 4x4 trans­fer case. The sus­pen­sion will also be tuned for of­froad ad­ven­ture and grab the dirt with All Ter­rain tires. We can also ex­pect to see solid ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles, and Ford says they have pri­or­i­tized ground clear­ance, although these num­bers haven’t been re­leased yet.

Be­fore you start an­a­lyz­ing the im­ages in an at­tempt to cal­cu­late these num­bers and de­ter­mine if you can fit a larger tire in the wheel wells, don’t bother. When I thought no one had time to stop me, I dropped to ground and started tak­ing pho­tos un­der the body in the front and then the back. Jeff Siemen po­litely tapped me on the shoul­der and ex­plained that this was not the Ranger frame and sus­pen­sion sys­tem. In other words, the truck shown is not a real Ranger - just a pre­pro­duc­tion unit built for the auto shows. With that caveat in mind, we ex­pect the di­men­sions of the North Amer­i­can Ranger to be nearly iden­ti­cal to the global mod­els.

FX2 and FX4 come stan­dard with Dana®Trac-Lok dif­fer­en­tials, which fea­ture an elec­tronic lock­ing rear dif­fer­en­tial, how­ever given all the off-road fea­tures, we were dis­ap­pointed that there is no op­tion for a front lock­ing dif­fer­en­tial, which we get with the Colorado ZR2.

Although the Ter­rain Man­age­ment Sys­tem in the FX4 Off-Road pack­age is sim­i­lar to the Rap­tors’, and it has many off-road de­sign fea­tures, it is not a mini-Rap­tor. “It is not an evo­lu­tion of the Rap­tor”, Siemen ex­plains. But, “it is proven out along side the F150. It runs all of what we call, the four tor­ture test­ing re­quire­ments, we do our cold weather work as they know, in Man­i­toba.” Trail Con­trol tech­nol­ogy is new for Ford and ap­pears in the FX4 Off-Road pack­age as well. De­signed for novice off-road­ers, it takes over the ac­cel­er­a­tion and brak­ing, leav­ing the driver to fo­cus on steer­ing.

There is only one power and driv­e­train choice and that is an in­line four-cylin­der (I4) 2.3L GTDI (gas turbo di­rect in­jec­tion) Ecoboost, which will pro­vide the fuel econ­omy of a four-cylin­der with the per­for­mance of a V6, mated to a class ex­clu­sive 10-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

Horse­power, torque, pay­load, tow­ing and fuel econ­omy num­bers aren’t avail­able yet, although a sim­i­lar en­gine in the Ford

Mus­tang pro­duces 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. In com­par­i­son, the Toy­ota Ta­coma has a 3.5L V6 with 278 hp and 265 lb-ft, and GM’s Colorado/Canyon has a 3.6L gas V6 gen­er­at­ing 308 hp and 275 lb-ft. Add up the num­bers and the Ford en­gine has the po­ten­tial to be a con­tender in the gas cat­e­gory.

One ad­van­tage of ar­riv­ing last on the field means Ford can tune the en­gine to be top of the class in one or more ar­eas. Since Ford is tar­get­ing folks who need the ma­neu­ver­abil­ity and fuel econ­omy of daily driv­ing, along with a de­sire for of­froad ad­ven­tures, we ex­pect com­pet­i­tive num­bers across the board.

Three trim lev­els will be avail­able when the truck goes on sale in early 2019, the XL, XLT and Lariat, in Su­perCab or Su­perCrew cab con­fig­u­ra­tions. Au­to­matic Emer­gency Brak­ing comes stan­dard across Ranger lineup, while Lane Keep­ing As­sist, Lane De­par­ture Warn­ing, Re­verse Sens­ing Sys­tem and Blind Spot In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem with trailer cov­er­age (trail­ers up to 33’) are stan­dard on XLT and Lariat. Pedes­trian Detection and Adap­tive Cruise Con­trol are stan­dard only on Lariat. Avail­able SYNC® 3 fea­tures Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto com­pat­i­bil­ity, Ford+Alexa func­tion­al­ity and op­tional nav­i­ga­tion. Avail­able FordPassTM Con­nect pro­vides up to 10-de­vice Wi-Fi ac­cess.

What makes us think the Ranger will be a win­ner? First is the le­gion of Ford fans and the Ranger faith­ful, who will look at this truck as part of any shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence with a healthy dose of con­fir­ma­tion bias - they al­ready be­lieve it is the best. Sec­ond is the Ford pro­mo­tional ma­chine, eas­ily one of, if not the best, in the busi­ness. And fi­nally, Ford ex­pe­ri­ence. They can draw on their knowl­edge build­ing North Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lar truck, the F150, and sell­ing and test­ing the Ranger over­seas.

What could hurt sales of the Ranger is the lack of pow­er­train op­tions. Driv­ers look­ing for max torque can buy the Colorado with a 2.8L Du­ra­max I-4 diesel and get 369 lb-ft @2000 rpm. Other truck own­ers still feel the key en­gine at­tribute to re­li­a­bil­ity and longevity is more cylin­ders and no turbo, which makes a V6 gas the ul­ti­mate choice, and Ford’s 2.3L in­line four turbo a deal breaker.

Although fuel econ­omy, pric­ing, pay­load and max tow­ing num­bers haven’t been re­leased, you can bet they will com­pare or beat the Chevy Colorado. Which means you can ex­pect a high­way mileage of 7.9 L/100km (30 mpg), a base model price point of $23,000 CAD and a max tow­ing of just a hair over 3493 kg (7,700 lbs).

What we do know for cer­tain, is that Ford has had plenty of time to de­ter­mine what the world loves about the Ranger, and where and how the com­pe­ti­tion has been suc­cess­ful in North Amer­ica. It may or may not be the best truck for you. But it will be well built and well de­signed to be a strong con­tender in the North Amer­i­can mar­ket.

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