2024 Ford Ranger Better than Tacoma? - SUV VEHICLE

2024 Ford Ranger Better than Tacoma?

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The 2024 Ford Ranger has a steep challenge to overtake the reigning mid-size sales king and they just might have done it.

Our first drive of the new Ranger comes nearly a year after it was unveiled in Michigan. A UAW strike threw a huge wrench into the Ranger’s timing to beat the 2024 Toyota Tacoma to market, yet patient consumers will be rewarded.

Behind the wheel of the 2024 Ford Ranger

Let’s get right into what it is like behind the wheel of the 2024 Ford Ranger since exterior and interior walk arounds of the midsize truck have been out for months.

Our first drive took place in the picturesque mountains surrounding Salt Lake City, Utah. The high-country elevation was an ideal place to test out the 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine since turbos should do an excellent job at elevation.

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Ford took the F-150 front-end and put it on the Ranger due to global customer demand. (Photo by Tim Esterdahl)

The drive route, assigned by Ford event members, winded its way through this beautiful countryside with twisty roads. It would take me down then up the various canyons until I reached a ski resort then back down to the starting point. That is, until I made a wrong turn and ended up on the expressway for about 15 minutes. Whoops.

These roads were mostly 40-50 MPH except for the aforementioned interstate and really showed the Ford Ranger acted much more like a sedan than a truck.

Back to those twisty bits, as Managing Editor Jill Ciminillo calls them. I pushed the truck Into and out of the corners and didn’t exhibit the characteristic body roll. Sure, I wasn’t pushing it like a Porsche 911, but for a truck it did well. I felt really relaxed behind the wheel.

Stepping on the throttle, the little four-cylinder, yes folks a four-banger, felt pretty damn good for a base engine. Sadly, there were none of the optional 2.7-liter V6 EcoBoost engines available. That comes later in the year.

Now about that highway section. I intentionally decided to slow to 55 and then go to 70 to simulate a passing maneuver like you’d face on a two-lane road. The Ranger wasn’t the fastest truck I’ve driven, but it did the job I asked and even surprised me a bit about how quickly it got up to 70.

Also, the often complained about 10-speed automatic transmission didn’t hunt for gears either or show any of the harsh shifting owners have sued Ford over.

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Lots of good visibility for the driver for the Ford Ranger. (Photo by Tim Esterdahl)

Finally, the visibility inside the cabin was flat-out amazing for my driving position (5’7” male). It seemed like the dash was intentionally lower than I expected, the A-pillars are pretty narrow and the windshield seemed to be like a huge picture window showing off the white-capped mountain peaks.

It was about as good of a first impression I’ve gotten from a truck in a very long time. That could be because I wasn’t a huge fan of the prior-gen Ford Ranger and this feels much more finished.

Towing with a four-cylinder?

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The 2024 Ford Ranger hooked up to a small tear-drop camper. (Photo by Tim Esterdahl)

After driving empty, I returned to get a truck hitched to a small tear-drop camper. This, I thought, was going to be a realistic test of the truck and engine.

Sure, the Ford Ranger can tow 7,500 pounds, but there’s no chance in hell I’m towing that much weight with one. Nothing against the truck or the powertrain, it is just pushing a mid-size truck too far in my opinion. A 7,500 pound load is like a 24’ camper and the sidewinds I’m used to in Western Nebraska would turn that into a kite. With a smaller wheelbase than a full-size truck, the Ford Ranger would be like trying to control a skateboard on wet pavement.

Instead, this tear-drop camper was the perfect tow rig as would be a set of jet skis, a side-by-side or a utility trailer with lawnmowers. Sadly, the tear-drop camper didn’t have a sticker sharing its weight and I guessed it to be around 3,000 pounds.

Hitting the road, I was overall impressed at how the truck handled the load. The 310 pound-feet of torque helps get things moving without causing a fuss and the 270 horsepower was plenty for keeping the load moving.

Equipped with a trailer-brake controller as part of an optional towing package, and the impressive trailer backup assist from the F-150 and Super Duty, this truck has the equipment to make towing less stressful.

Speaking of the trailer backup assist, Ford had a demonstration for us to try backing up a trailer with it on the Ranger and without it on the Toyota Tacoma.

Backing up comparable loads, the Ford Ranger was simply easier to backup a trailer by using a dial instead of the steering wheel. No need to remember to turn left to go right and vice versa. Just turn the dial the direction you want to head and the 360-degree camera allows you to see the trailer and where you are heading much easier.

I will say, I, the experienced towing guy, was able to backup the Tacoma without much fuss with only pulling forward once to miss a set of cones.

However, I will admit the trailer backup assist will allow less experienced towers to backup trailers with less stress.

Like the non-towing drive route, it followed the mountain roads down then back up to our staging area. I experienced no trailer swaying or issues getting off the line and up to speed.

I was also impressed that the Ford Ranger XLT I drove had 1,579 pounds of payload and came with all the features I wanted for around $45,000. Ford doesn’t intentionally put prices on test vehicles, instead I priced it out on Ford.com quickly at the event.

And I was impressed I saw about 22 MPG and 17 MPG when towing. Keep in mind, MPG from first drive events tends to be pretty sketchy with the short drive routes and hammering the throttle.

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This step, mounted to the frame, is a simple solution to a problem getting items out of the middle of the bed. (Photo by Tim Esterdahl)

Also, compared to the Tacoma, the Ford Ranger feels more refined and you get more features (like the big screen, built-in bed step, trailer towing features, 2kW in-bed power) as standard or optional for a reasonable price. It is like the stock Ranger, not the Ranger Raptor, is meant for an older buyer meanwhile the Tacoma is geared to a younger buyer who plans to spend more time in the dirt than on paved road. The Tacoma Limited is more for the older buyer, but with a starting price at $7k more than the Ranger, it is hard to see what you get for that up charge.

The bottom line

Is it better than the Toyota Tacoma? Maybe IF Ford can improve their quality AND you can actually find one to buy. Both of those issues have plagued new vehicle launches from Ford.

For me, I like it a lot. Frankly, I wasn’t over the moon when I first saw it in Michigan last May. Ford has gotten my attention now. This is one solid contender and I’d put my money where my mouth is and buy one.

Editor’s note: the Ford Ranger Raptor first drive was a separate event and article to come soon. Ford provided airfare and lodging for this event.

 

 








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