For the past 8 years, the US has watched in envy as the rest of the world enjoyed one of Ford’s most successful projects. The Ford Ranger has been absent from the US since 2011, despite enthusiasts calling for its return almost every year. But in 2017, Ford answered that call at the North American International Auto Show when they spoke the words every mid-size truck enthusiast had been waiting to hear, “The Ford Ranger will be returning to the North American mid-sized pickup market in 2019.”
The Ranger wasn’t always the poster child for American mid-size trucks. In fact, it didn’t even start as a truck; it almost didn’t make it to market at all. So, before we look at what the 2019 Ranger has to offer, let’s look back at how the Ranger was born.
The Ranger nameplate started as a much less successful project of Ford’s. In 1958, Ford expanded its family with the goal of competing with GM’s high-end vehicles. To fill the gaps in their vehicle lineup and move the Continental to the top slot, Ford began producing cars under the Edsel marque with the Ranger coupe, sedan, and convertible as its base models. Despite an aggressive, year-long marketing campaign and state-of-the-art features, the Edsel brand was a flop and died in 1960. But, just like that awesome band name you’ve been holding on to for the day you grow your hair out and hit the road, the Ranger name would live on in Ford’s back pocket until economic turmoil would bring it back into the spotlight.
Fast forward 13 years after the death of the Edsel brand. As the 1973 oil crisis was leaving gas stations across the country dry, Ford’s heavy, gas guzzling, full-size trucks were losing popularity to Japanese light trucks. Even before the onset of the oil crisis, Ford and other US automakers were struggling to compete with the fuel-efficient imports. To catch up with the Japanese, Ford took the old mantra of “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer” to heart and partnered with Mazda. One year before the oil crisis hit the US, Ford began rebadging the Mazda B-series pickup as the Ford Courier, with a few small aesthetic changes. This light truck, with its fuel-sipping 1.8L engine and impressive 1,400 lb. load capacity helped Ford weather the oil crisis and compete with those small Japanese (branded) trucks for the next ten years.
While the Courier held off the Japanese trucks, Ford was devising its own compact truck. Codenamed “Project Yuma”, Ford began working in secret on what would eventually become the best-selling compact pickup in the US. But Project Yuma’s future wasn’t set in stone. In 1979 gas prices skyrocketed again, and the timing couldn’t have been worse for Project Yuma. Ford had just released the third-generation LTD and completed a redesign of F-series trucks. They were bleeding money and there was talk of scrapping Project Yuma.
However, Ford also knew that it wouldn’t be long before GM released their own compact pickups, so CEO Don Petersen intervened with a plan. Petersen believed that with just a slight change in name, Ford could sell their new compact pickup for the same price as the F-100, despite a significantly lower cost to build. That extra profit margin combined with the demand for small trucks would offset the costs of other slower-selling vehicles and keep the project alive. To give the truck an upscale feeling without increasing cost, Peterson borrowed the nameplate from the F-series top trim level, renaming Project Yuma to “Ranger.”
The first Ford Ranger rolled off the production line shortly after, and Rangers would continue to roll off that line for the next 28 years. At the same time the Ranger was taking the US by storm, Ford’s partnership with Mazda continued in the rest of the world where the Ranger was rebadged as the B-series pickup. In 1987, the Ranger became the best-selling compact pickup in the US, and Ford would sell over 7-million Rangers worldwide from 1983 to 2011.
The success of the Ranger couldn’t last forever, however. In the early 2000s, small trucks were beginning to be replaced by larger competition and Ranger sales were on the decline. Then, in 2008, the US recession sealed the Rangers fate. As car and truck sales across the country plummeted, Ford was forced to cut all but it’s best-selling vehicles. In the choice between the F-150 and the Ranger, Ford chose the best-selling truck of all time. In December of 2011, the last Ranger for the US market left the Twin Cities Assembly plant. The US would return control of the compact pickup market to the Japanese for the next 8 years.
2019 marks the return of the Ranger and a new era for the compact pickup in the United States. As fuel efficiency concerns continue to play a major role in truck buyers’ decisions, the compact and light-duty truck market is booming. Since the loss of the Ranger in the US market in 2011, Japanese trucks like the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, and domestic competitors from GM, have been the only options for MPG-conscious consumers. The 2019 Ranger aims to fill the void below the F-150 by combining the fuel efficiency of a light car with the power and capability of a pickup.
The 2.3L EcoBoost engine found in the 2019 Ranger is closely related to the same displacement engines of the Mustang and the venerable Focus RS. Despite only having four cylinders, the turbocharged and direct-injected 2.3L provides an impressive 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, all while maintaining an EPA estimated 26 MPG on the highway. Add optional four-wheel-drive, a payload capacity of up to 1,860 lbs., and a towing capacity of 7,500 lbs. and the 2019 Ranger is certainly the successor to its 1980s ancestor.
The 2019 Ranger is a huge leap forward from where it came from in 1983, but we here at Mishimoto know we can make it even better. As we’ve seen from our EcoBoost Mustang and Focus RS projects, the 2.3L EcoBoost is capable of making a lot more power than what Ford gave it from the factory. To help with that, we’ll look at improving the Ranger’s breathing through the intake and turbocharging system. With that extra power will come the need for extra cooling, so both the intake air and engine coolant will need help protecting the 2.3L EcoBoost. Finally, we’ll have to contend with the blow-by that the EcoBoost platform has become notorious for. If the Ranger’s 2.3L is anything like its F-150 big brother’s 2.7L or 3.5L EcoBoost, we’ll have our work cut out for us.
Lucky for us, we’ve gotten our hands on a 2019 Ranger Lariat to help with all these projects. We’re looking forward to diving in, creating the best possible products for the 2019+ Ford Ranger, and doing a little modding of our own. If you’re interested in following along, subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest updates on our engineering, and get notified of sales and contests for Ranger products. As always, feel free to let us know what you think or if you have any suggestions for products!
Thanks for reading,