Behind the Wheel

2020 Ford Ranger Review: Hitting many high notes but we can’t name the tune

The Ford Ranger is a solid entry into the midsize truck segment

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Chevrolet Colorado is a good working man's truck. Want a step up? Get the GMC Canyon. Toyota's aging Tacoma is built for reliably tooling around. The Nissan Frontier is anxiously awaiting an upgrade while the Honda Ridgeline is busy being the best-kept secret of the segment. The Jeep Gladiator is the Wrangler of trucks.

What is the Ford Ranger besides just a slot-filler for the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker? A week behind the wheel would surely sort that out. Surely.

2019 Ford Ranger Not much changed on the Ranger between the 2019 and 2020 model years. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

As tested, the 2020 Ford Ranger Lariat is a top-tier option that starts at $38,675 but had a number of add-ons driving the price up to just under $46,000 all-in. While the exterior isn't particularly striking sans lift or beefy tires, the Ranger is, by most accounts, a reasonable looking truck. It's certainly not nearly as polarizing as the Ridgeline.

In the Lariat trim level, the Ranger comes with a long list of desirable features including LED headlamps and fog lamps, front tow hooks, cargo box tie-downs, power-folding side mirrors, and approach lights. The interior features list includes dual-zone automatic climate control, a 110-volt power outlet, cruise control, Ford MyKey, push-button start, eight-way power-adjustable driver and passenger heated seats, and flip-up rear bench storage.

In its cabin, the Ranger begins to show more of its true colors. The truck's dashboard and center console design earn Ford a solid "alright" in terms of design and appointments. It's all functional though not particularly modern and without any revolutionary components. The 8.0-inch touch screen infotainment system, 4.2-inch driver's information display, and steering wheel date the model more than anything else - and that's saying a lot in a segment where the Tacoma and Frontier live.

2020 Ford Ranger The wheel of the Ranger is a bit dated in its appearance, but completely funtional.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

That's not to say that the Ranger's interior doesn't have a lot to like. The Medium Stone leather-trimmed seats were comfortable and the front row's seat design allow the driver and passenger great visibility.

Ford also gets points for its strong 270-horsepower, 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. That's the same engine that will power the new Bronco - the two are manufactured at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. The engine is paired with the same 10-speed automatic transmission that's is in the F-150 and proves to be just as smooth in the Ranger as in its big brother.

Operation of the switchgear inside the cabin is just as smooth. There's not particularly special about the buttons, knobs, and dials, but they do the job without much hassle.

In their most off-road proficient variety, the Colorado and Tacoma are forces to be reckoned with. The Ranger, though capable off-road, doesn't come in the ultra-proficient Ranger Raptor variant in the U.S. that is sold globally, and that's a shame. So, we're left with the more pedestrian variety and some available add-on packages. Still, it's a good daily driver leaving the average customer little to complain about.

2019 Ford Ranger The interior of the Ranger is not as outdated as the Frontier's, but it's not the most modern either.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

None of this moves one any closer to deciphering what the 2020 Ranger is. But, what if that's the magic of it? The Ranger doesn't have a defining characteristic or package or specialty. This U.S. model is a well-rounded machine that quickly leaves the impression that maybe what this Ranger is, is really good.

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The concept has been extensively modified for a life lived off the beaten path.

GMC

Overlanding has become a world of its own, with several parts and vehicle customization companies, media publications, and guide services popping up all over the place. GMC realizes this, and to capitalize on the overlanding craze, the automaker built a Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX off-road concept to show off at the Overland Expo Mountain West 2021, which took place last week.


GMC Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX Concept The OVRLANDX concept carries a kitchenette, solar panels, and more.GMC


Some of the upgrades on the truck include:

  • Cast-iron control arms
  • A heavy-duty front bumper with winch
  • Front and rear electronic locking differentials
  • An off-road jack and mount
  • Multimatic DSSV dampers
  • Off-road rocker panel protectors


Listing the rest of the upgrades would take more words than anybody cares to read but rest assured that they are plentiful and impressive. GMC says that the concept truck gained legitimate capability from the upgrades. The approach angle is 27.7 degrees, and the truck can ford water up to 32.1 inches, which come thanks to a ground clearance of 10 inches and a custom-built snorkel system. The truck rides on 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch BFGoodrich KM3 mud-terrain tires.

Since it's an overlanding concept, the truck needs the ability to support its passengers well off the beaten path. To do that, GMC gave the Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX a cooler and kitchenette, solar panel, and a truck bed storage system with drawers.



GMC Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX Concept You can build something similar to the concept with off-the-shelf parts.GMC


As a concept truck, it's unlikely the AT4 overlanding rig will make it into production as it sits. That said, it's an interesting idea for an intrepid Canyon owner to use as a blueprint. Outside of the chassis work, most of the parts and upgrades can be purchased and installed without a major hassle, but if you're in the market to build a rig, it's best to research your truck's payload capacity and capabilities before overloading for overlanding.

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New pickup truck

Nissan strikes a new path with 2022 Frontier

The Frontier is all-new for 2022.

Nissan

The model that was the first compact truck in the U.S. is all-new again. Marking the sixth generation of the cult-like nameplate, the Datsun 220 Hardbody that arrived on these shores in 1959, Nissan has redesigned its Frontier. The new truck hits the streets and trails with new looks outside and in, an improved powertrain and chassis, upgraded safety and technology, and an updated collection of elements that enhance its ability for work and play. The rugged and utilitarian model has sold more than 4 million units and created a segment that is one of the most popular in the market. Its remake is timely as America's truck market heats up and, although appreciated for its stalwart capability, the previous generation Frontier lacked some of the latest technology and amenities that today's truck buyers expect.

The 2022 Frontier goes on sale late summer and comes in 2WD and 4WD versions and S, SV, SV LWB, PRO-4X trims; the new PRO-X desert runner trim comes in 2WD only. The S trim in 4 x 2 with a King Cab starts at $27,840, while the S Crew Cab version begins at $29,340. The truck is available with 5 ft. and 6 ft. beds, it now has a taller bed height and seven percent more volume, plus standard trailer sway control. It can tow up to 6,720 lbs. and has a maximum payload of 1,620 lbs.


2022 Nissan Frontier While the powertrain is the same as before, almost every other part of the Frontier has been redesigned.Nissan


Notable is the pickup's styling changes. It's been designed with a more aggressive overall look, with sculpted and blocky cues, large fender flares and a high bodyside. It sports a larger and wider, machined-out grille and newly-styled lights with LEDs and daytime running lights in the front and LEDs in the rear. The back-end sports embedded tow hooks on 4WD models. The newest model is 5 inches longer, with the same wheelbase, and claims a best-in-class approach angle, a benefit for backcountry forays. Of note is an integrated bumper step and the built-in spoiler and interlocking handle on the tailgate and increased bed illumination. Among the options is Kicker Audio's portable tailgate set-up.

The recrafted cabin is more upscale than the previous truck. It sports Zero Gravity front and rear outboard seats, has the largest-in-class 9-in. color touchscreen and largest-in-class 7-in. driver assist display, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, smart phone integration, wireless charging, Wi-Fi hotspot availability and up to four USB ports. A new center console and shifter, new premium accents and trims, along with eight beverage holders and more stowage compartments, including under-seat storage in the rear, make the interior more user-friendly.

A single powertrain motivates the truck that has been re-engineered with 93 percent new parts; the 3.8-liter V6 gets 310 hp. /281 lb.-ft of torque and is shifted through a 9-speed automatic, with a 99-percent wider gear range. Nissan says it has best-in-class horsepower against competitors Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado, and the Ford Ranger. The electronically-controlled 4WD system has 4H and 4L settings, as well as 2WD and Hill Descent Control, when four-wheel drive is engaged. Hill Start Assist is standard.


2022 Nissan Frontier The 2022 Frontier's interior is more upscale and tech-forward than before. Nissan


A cadre of automotive testers put the new midsizer through a one-day evaluation of nearly 150 miles motoring on a collection of roadways near Provo, Utah, as well as along a lengthy off-road track with high-mountain hill climbs that had sections of rocky and rutted terrain. I drove a pre-production version of the PRO-4X that stickered at $44,315, including destination and delivery (the base price is $37, 250). This toughened trim has a host of off-road goodies that includes larger underbody skid plates, an electronic rear differential, beefed-up Bilstein shocks; 17-in. beadlock style alloy wheels with aggressive all-terrain tires and an array of badging that enunciates its identity. Options on the model I drove included Nissan's Technology Package, the PRO Convenience Package and the PRO Premium Package that brought add-ons ranging from heated outside mirrors, steering wheel and seats to bed upgrades with a spray-in bedliner to the Utili-track system bed system for carrying a wide variety of items to power outlets and a trailer hitch. Other notable items were the Fender premium audio with 10-speakers, leather seats and an Intelligent Around View Monitor with Off-Road Mode.

Throughout my test drive, the Frontier had great power on tap and seamless shifting as well as strong linear braking. Nissan says the new hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering and upgrades to the steering gear and stabilizer bar will make drivers more confident with driving maneuvers overall and when towing. I found it a bit heavy-handed, especially in slow-speed maneuvers, however, I like the weight and size of the steering wheel and it was competent at all speeds. I was impressed by the upgraded suspension set-up with bigger front and rear stabilizer mounts, plus new urethane jounce bumpers and hydraulic cab mounts that reduce road vibration. Also of note is the quietness of the cabin as a result of 41 new parts applied to reduce wind, engine and road noise.


2022 Nissan Frontier There's plenty of room for passengers and gear.Nissan


The truck performed well off-road with good angles of approach and departure, 8.5 inches of ground clearance and efficient low-range gearing. Unlike many other systems today, the Frontier does not have terrain programs, but it handled steep climbs and rutted track with ease.

Nissan says the Frontier is "right-sized" for garages and urban life. And, with 80 available options, buyers can set it up for their own adventures and personal needs. With a base work truck available and pricing that starts below many others in its class, it likely to be a homerun.

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