Is The 2020 Ford Ranger Enough Truck Or Do You Need The Full-Size 2021 Ford F-150?
The mid-size truck market is now fully back in business, with the recently-arrived Ford Ranger joining the Toyota Tacoma, the Chevrolet Colorado, the GMC Canyon, the Jeep Gladiator, the Honda Ridgeline, and the Nissan Frontier in a bid to soak up demand from buyers seeking a more modestly-proportioned truck. That's a long list of competitors that nearly doubles the options available only five or so years ago, when full-size pickups ruled the roost.
Still, the question remains: is a mid-size hauler 'enough truck' to satisfy the needs of the average pickup fan, or would they be better off sticking with a larger model? I spent a week with the 2020 Ford Ranger to see just how practical a pickup it really is, how well it compares against the recently-announced next-generation 2021 Ford F-150, and how much the smaller truck's not-inconsiderable price factors in to the decision.
Yes, the Ford Ranger is definitely smaller as compared to the F-150 and other similar full-size trucks—but their proportions are much closer than you'd think.
Regardless of which version you order (four-door SuperCrew or rear-hinged SuperCab), the Ranger checks in at 210.8 inches long, as the larger cab gets a shorter five-foot, one-inch box versus the standard six-footer. This is roughly the same length as the shortest single-cab F-150 (which features a six-and-a-half foot box), and within two feet of a four-door. Surprisingly, the trucks are also within two inches of each other in terms of width, with the Ranger five inches narrower, on average, than the 'bigger' Ford.
The Ranger feels a lot less ponderous around town than a four-door F-150 due to its reduced weight, shorter overhangs, and somewhat narrower track, but the biggest difference between the two trucks has to do with volume. That is to say, the interior of the Ranger is nowhere near as capacious as that of the full-size Ford, especially when comparing four-door options.
Ranger's maximum cargo capacity also checks in at 25 cubic feet less than an F-150 with an eight-foot box, and the SuperCrew Ranger's smaller bed still offers 10 cubes less than the tiniest five-and-a-half foot F-150 option. Length, too, is compromised, as every F-150 delivers extra inches of lay-down compared to the Ranger, which has no equivalent to the utility of the full-size truck's eight-footer.
Not only is the new Ford F-150's interior larger, but it's also far more modern than what is found inside the Ranger.
Naturally, being all-new for 2021 gives the bigger truck an advantage over the two-year old mid-sizer, but in truth the differences go deeper than that.
Although the Ranger appeared in American dealerships for the 2019 model year, it was imported from the global market, where it had been tooling around for more than a few years. As a result, the truck's cabin feels dated, reflecting the styling trends of five years ago rather than the current state of the pickup segment. This is underscored when comparing the Ranger's abbreviated suite of features to the 2021 F-150's long list of work-oriented conveniences (folding center console), advanced infotainment (available 12-inch touchscreen with Sync 4), and of course luxuries (high end leather upholstery).
EcoBoost All Around
Another area where the Ford Ranger's configurability lags its latest full-size sibling is found under the hood. Whereas the F-150 provides V6, V8, turbocharged V6, turbodiesel, and even hybrid options for 2021, the Ranger is restricted to a single turbocharged four-cylinder motor.
This 2.3-liter EcoBoost is certainly stout, what with 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque on tap, and it's more than capable of towing (which is relatively drama-free, even with larger loads of up to 7,500 lbs), or handling rough terrain (when equipped with four-wheel drive and the FX4 package, like my tester was). It's just that it's the only choice - there's no upgrade in the cards, and certainly no turbodiesel like you'd find with the global Ranger.
While power is good, and the tow rating is a respectable chunk of the larger F-150's, in actual operation the 2.3-liter is let down by its 10-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox seems to get hung up in the mid-range a little too often, which can lead to hesitation when cruising city streets at lower speed. Would that there was a manual, or even a V6 option, to try and mitigate the EcoBoost's occasional stumble.
Value Is An Issue
No one expects the Ford Ranger to match the F-150's long list of class-leading attributes, especially given its smaller platform. The main question when comparing these two vehicles instead becomes which one best fits into your lifestyle.
It's tempting to recommend the Ranger to anyone who's looking for a comfortable daily driver that can occasional pinch-hit on truck duties, especially if you live in an urban area where parking concerns make F-150 ownership more of a hassle. It might also be easier to live with the truck's somewhat balky drivetrain and aged interior if the price differential between the two vehicles made the Ranger feel more like a bargain.
Unfortunately, that's not the case. A base Ranger is just $4k less than the least-expensive F-150 at around $24,000, and if you're looking at a more comfortable spec you can easily bump up against the $40k mark. That's real money for a small truck, and within spitting distance of an XLT-trim full-size model, which makes it a lot harder to like. Unlike rivals from Chevrolet, GMC, and Toyota, the Ranger's too-rich window sticker isn't likely to convince many potential buyers to stray from the F-150's charms unless its more reasonable form factor is their number one concern.
Curious to learn more about the next-generation F-150? We've got you covered.