In the growing midsize truck segment, it's hard to find places where the 2021 Ford Ranger is the best at any particular thing. It's not as stylish as the Jeep Gladiator, nor as capable of venturing off road. It's not as versatile as the Toyota Tacoma, nor as likely to hold its value as tenaciously. Its ride and handling aren't as refined as the Chevy Colorado, and its interior isn't as homey as a Honda Ridgeline.
However, while it may rarely be No. 1 in a particular area, it's also rarely much deeper than No. 2. Others have high highs and low lows, but the Ranger is steadily executed, which is primarily reason it won our midsize truck comparison test. It's fun to drive on- and off-road, yet surprisingly comfortable. The cabin may be a bit dull in appearance, but it's functional and the quality is strong. Its unusual, standard turbocharged engine delivers ample power and above-average fuel economy.
Basically, the 2021 Ford Ranger is a well-rounded truck that can stand toe-to-toe with any competitor, while being considerably different in character and capability than an F-150.
What's new for 2021?
The Ranger carries over unchanged for 2021 apart from a new Black Package (blacked out Ford oval and bedside decals) and four new colors (Cactus Gray, Carbonized Gray, Cyber Orange and Velocity Blue). The Red Pepper paint color pictured above was discontinued last year.
What are the Ranger's interior and in-car technology like?
While it certainly doesn't have the design flair of the Jeep Gladiator or even the Toyota Tacoma, the Ranger's cabin is nevertheless tidy, modern and efficiently laid out. There are plenty of hard plastics about, but that's the norm for the segment, and these hard plastics at least look better than those in the Chevy Colorado and aging Nissan Frontier. This is particularly true in fully loaded versions where added leather and upgraded trim don't look or feel out of place. Basically, it looks like a Ford Edge inside, which means it's boring, not bad.
The base XL makes do with the ancient-looking, single-color 2.3-inch information screen between the analog gauges that provides basic trip computer information, but on optioned-up or higher trim trucks, there's the modern, multi-color 4.2-inch screen that has more available information and features. The top-of-the-line Lariat gets a dual-4.2-inch instrument cluster with an analog speedometer in between.
Likewise, the XL gets the basic Ford Sync infotainment system with a 4.2-inch screen controlled by surrounding buttons. It's not very good. The XLT and Limited's Sync 3 system improves things considerably with an 8-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Sync 3 is generally an acceptable tech interface. Graphics are crisp and easily deciphered, and the controls within menus make sense. However, going between them is a pain. It would be nice if menu shortcut buttons remained on screen (or there were physical surrounding buttons) to limit the amount of back-and-forth you must do between the Home screen and menus (audio, phone, navi, etc). CarPlay functionality is also heavily restricted when on the move, basically forcing you to use Siri voice controls when selecting a song, for instance.
How big is the Ranger?
The 2021 Ranger is the second-smallest midsize truck after the ancient Nissan Frontier, but it's not a big gap to larger competitors. Its 126.8-inch wheelbase and 210.8-inch overall length are only a smidge less than the Colorado (128.3/212.7 respectively) and the Tacoma (127.4/212.3). The bigger issue, and perhaps the Ranger's biggest issue, is that those two trucks come in a longer-wheelbase format that allows you to pair their crew cabs with the extended cab's longer bed. By contrast, the Ranger's cab and bed sizes are not interchangeable. If you want the SuperCrew's habitable back seat, you'll have to live with a 61-inch bed that's voluminous for its size but nevertheless still hampered by its length. The extended SuperCab has a 72.8-inch long bed (pictured below).
The SuperCrew's back seat is not only habitable, it's also more spacious than what you'll find in the Toyota Tacoma and Jeep Gladiator. Upper trim levels also gain a pair of USB ports and a 150-watt house-style electrical outlet. It could be more versatile, however. The seat bottom only lifts up as one piece, meaning you can't carry a passenger back there and stack baggage on the floor. The seat back also only flips down in one piece and doesn't fold flat. By contrast, the Gladiator, Tacoma and Colorado's back seats are split 60/40 and fold nearly flat like those in a car or SUV.
The front seats are comfortable over long drives, while the driving position (particularly with the eight-way power seats) is leaps and bounds better than the weird, too-low Tacoma's. The driver seat motors back further than the Gladiator's. There's also a decent amount of storage up front with a deep smartphone bin, sizable cupholders and door bins, and a usable under-armrest compartment.
What are the Ranger's performance, fuel economy, towing and hauling?
The 2021 Ford Ranger comes only with a 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four good for 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, and a 10-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is 21 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined with standard rear-wheel drive and 20/24/22 with AWD. That's considerably better than the V6 engines found in the Tacoma and Colorado.
The Ranger can carry up to 1,860 pounds of payload, which is class-leading. The Gladiator can do up to 1,600 pounds, and the others are closer to 1,500 pounds. The Ranger can also tow up to 7,500 pounds when properly equipped, second only to the Gladiator's 7,650-pound rating. The Colorado can do 7,000 pounds, and the Tacoma and Frontier tie at 6,700 pounds. So the Ranger's absolute hauling credentials are stellar.
What's it like to drive?
If you're expecting a shrunken F-150, think again. The Ranger feels more like it sprouted from the same family tree branch as Ford's sporty crossovers. It feels small, responsive and even fun compared to its rival midsize trucks. The steering in particular is quick and responsive and imparts decent feedback. The turbocharged engine contributes further to this comparatively lithe feeling, though we've found the 10-speed automatic transmission can be prone to low-speed hesitations.
Ford really nailed the Ranger's ride quality, especially considering it wears unusual parabolic leaf springs on the rear instead of a conventional leaf pack. On our first drive review, we found the ride firm enough to prevent wallowing or tippiness, but also compliant enough to absorb bumps without giving the frame the jitters. We credit smart tuning of the dampers and spring rates for this.
Off-road, the Ranger isn't a mountain goat like the Jeep Gladiator, but its ground clearance and approach/departure angles are ample, and its FX4 package grants it impressive capability. The front bumper is even made of steel rather than plastic, and unlike the Colorado, you don't have to remove a big plastic airdam before getting it dirty (lest an errant rock remove it for you).
What more can I read about the Ford Ranger?
A full comparison, including video, of the Ranger taking on its top competitors. (Spoiler: It wins!)
Testing the top Ranger trim level. Although it isn't priced too far away from a comparable F-150, its size, driving manner and overall character provide plenty of reasons to go with the smaller truck.
Our first driving impressions of the Ford Ranger, mainly on-road with some off-roading on a prepared course. We discuss its design, capability, and history. The accompanying video is below.
What features are available and what's the Ranger's price?
Pricing for 2021 was not available at the time of this writing, but as there are no mechanical or standard feature changes, we don't not expect anything more than a modest price bump beyond last year's starting point of $25,605, including destination, for a SuperCab XL 4x2. Adding the SuperCrew adds $2,400 to any Ranger, while four-wheel drive is $4,160.
A base Ranger XL doesn't include much in the way of creature comforts. It even has vinyl flooring instead of carpet, arguably a benefit if the truck's likely to get dirty. Stepping up to the XLT brings alloy wheels, standard cruise control, carpeted floors, dual-zone climate control, an upgraded instrument panel, and, crucially, the Sync 3 touchscreen interface that brings with it satellite radio, an extra USB port, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Lariat is the top-dog trim, featuring 18-inch wheels, body-colored bumpers, and leather-trimmed seats, among other things.
There are a variety of optional packages, including the FX4 and FX2 off-road packages (the numbers indicate the number of drive wheels), off-road Performance packages, as well as the SXT, Sport, Chrome and Black appearance packages.
Switching any trim to a SuperCrew cab with its 5-foot box will run you roughly $2,220. Four-wheel drive is a roughly $4,000 option on all Ranger trim levels. From there, the buyer can choose from several appearance and equipment groups, including the FX4 off-road package, the SXT, Black, or Chrome appearance packages, and on some trim levels, a Sport appearance package. All of these packages vary in cost and equipment, and some can be combined to offer a lot of potential customization.
What are the Ranger's safety equipment and crash ratings?
By modern standards, there isn't a lot of standard safety equipment beyond government-mandated items like stability control, front airbags and a rearview camera. While there are side curtain airbags, there are no seat-mounted side airbags up front.
Standard on XLT and Limited, and optional on the base XL, is the Ford Co-Pilot360 package that includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-sport and rear cross-traffic warning, and lane-keeping assist. The optional Technology package adds adaptive cruise control.
The government gave the Ranger SuperCrew four stars out of five for overall crash protection, along with four-star frontal, five-star side and three-star rollover ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the SuperCrew its top rating of "Good" in all crash tests but one: the small overlap front passenger side test where it got an "Acceptable" rating. We wouldn't stay up at night worrying about that. Its standard forward collision mitigation system received a top "Superior" score for vehicle-to-vehicle accidents and second-best "Advanced" for vehicle-to-pedestrian. Its headlights were rated "Marginal" (level two of four). Neither safety body has tested the SuperCab.