2021 Ford Ranger

By November 9, 2020

The 2021 Ford Ranger is a mid-size pickup truck. After an eight-year hiatus, Ford brought back the Ranger name, and it’s now two years into its latest generation. It remains a compelling option for those who might find an F-150 too big.

The big news for 2021 is the new Tremor option package. It includes a small lift, Fox shocks, and meatier all-terrain tires.

Under the hood of every Ranger comes a 2.3-liter turbo-4 that mates up to a 10-speed automatic transmission. The combo produces a stout 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque.

Rear-wheel drive is standard, with four-wheel drive available on all trims and mandatory with the Tremor package. The four-wheel-drive system is a part-time affair that isn’t intended for use on dry pavement.

The turbo-4 makes the Ranger fairly thrifty for what it is. The EPA rates rear-drive models at 21 mpg city, 26 highway, 23 combined, or 20/24/22 mpg with 4WD.

The NHTSA issued the truck four out of five stars overall, and its imperfect results with the IIHS kept the group from naming it a Top Safety Pick. Ford equips every Ranger with automatic emergency braking and all but the base XL get blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and automatic high-beam headlights. Adaptive cruise control is available on the higher trims.

Model Lineup

Ford offers the Ranger with two cab choices and two bed lengths.

The lineup starts off with the Ranger XL. As the work-spec option, the XL is light on features, getting 16-inch steel wheels, cloth upholstery, a 4.2-inch display infotainment screen, Bluetooth, and a single USB port.

The mid-grade XLT is next up. It gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto software, two USB ports, keyless start, dual-zone climate control, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The top trim is the Lariat. Its numerous features include leather upholstery, LED lighting, 18-inch wheels, and parking sensors front and rear.

Exterior

The Ranger’s contemporary look is handsome and well-proportioned, and unlike some trucks it doesn’t go heavy-handed on the details. Ford kept the gingerbread light on this one, and the result is a clean, fresh design.

The Ranger never tries to downplay its truck bona fides, but the hexagonal grille and slim headlights recall some of Ford’s cars and crossovers more than it does the F-150. The rest of the truck makes up for the more car-like front end with strong creases along the body sides and a tailgate that’s proudly embossed with the Ranger name.

The new Tremor package amps up the testosterone with all-terrain tires and a lift. The functional mods add a purposeful attitude that’s absent from the regular truck. Chevy’s ZR2 still outdoes it in cool factor, though.

Interior

The Ranger’s basic interior has a plain, straightforward design punctuated by lots of buttons and hard plastics. You’ll need an F-150 King Ranch if you want a Ford truck with a nice interior.

A 4.2-inch display screen is standard, which runs an older version of Ford’s Sync infotainment software that goes without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Besides looking tiny in the dash, it can be cumbersome to use, especially for those coming from a touchscreen setup. Stepping into the XLT or Lariat nets the much-better 8.0-inch touchscreen with Sync 3 and the all-important smartphone capability.

Passenger count is limited to five on the Ranger as unlike the big trucks no front bench is offered. Extended-cab models, known by Ford as SuperCabs, only seat four, but good luck getting two adults in the back; the severe lack of room makes it best for kids or pets. The crew cab SuperCrew model and its full-size back seat is a much better choice for anyone planning on shuttling more than one passenger.

Like any pickup, cargo space is excellent. The bed that comes with the SuperCab measures 6 feet long, while a shorter 5-foot bed hangs off the SuperCrew. Max payload for the Ranger is 1,860 pounds and its max towing capacity is 7,500 pounds.

Driving Impressions

Small trucks aren’t exactly renowned for their refinement, but Ford did a good job banishing any unwanted noise and uncouth behavior from the 2.3-liter turbo-4. What’s left is a surprisingly eager engine that is unexpectedly refined. It pulls hard, delivering 60 mph in about seven seconds. Any noises it makes along the way are largely muffled.

The 10-speed automatic deserves equal praise. Its shifts are smooth, and its algorithms don’t skip a beat when it comes to picking the best gear. Bury the pedal and it’ll consummately drop a few gears without further prodding or waiting.

Pickup trucks are inherently rough riders, and the Ranger doesn’t surprise there. But turn onto the trail and the Ranger holds its own—and the new Tremor package should give Ford an even better foothold. Its equipment list is right on the money, complete with all-terrain tires, skid plates, long-travel Fox shocks, and a mild suspension lift as well as four terrain-management modes.

Final Word

A jittery ride and a dull cabin can’t overshadow the strengths of the 2021 Ford Ranger. Its spec-sheet numbers put it at or near the top of its class not only for payload and towing but also for gas mileage and straight-line performance. The sizable list of standard-safety features on XLT and Lariat trims is also impressive, considering this segment has been slow to adopt this technology. Our choice of Ranger would be a SuperCrew model in XLT guise.

 

—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

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