Legit pickup stuffed into a confusing segment: There's a reason the midsize pickup segment was essentially dead for a brief period about a decade ago: There were too many options and no real consistency within the segment.
The midsize segment is now back and fully stocked, and the confusion returns with models ranging from the more-crossover-than-pickup Honda Ridgeline to the more-rock-crawler-than-truck Jeep Gladiator.
Stuffed in the middle of all this is the 2021 Ford Ranger and its "yo, I'm just a truck" attitude. With its basic features, potent powertrain, and impressive hauling abilities, it's a midsize pickup that truck buyers won't be embarrassed to drive. But some of its best features are also some of its most glaring shortcomings, like limited powertrain options and its lack of standard modern tech.
Continue reading to find out if more truck-like features can outmuscle its more modern competitors.
Strong four-cylinder engine, but no optional engine: The 2021 Ford Ranger's base 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers gobs of power: 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. With this setup, the Ranger can tow up to 7,500 pounds and haul up to 1,860 pounds in its bed.
This powertrain easily beats the base 200-hp 2.5-liter in the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado, which can tow up to 3,500 pounds each. It stomps the Toyota Tacoma's standard 159-hp 2.7-liter engine, which also tows just 3,500 pounds. The only midsize truck that outperforms it in power is the Frontier and its standard 310-hp 3.8-liter V6, but the aging Nissan can tow just 6,720 pounds.
On the other hand, this is the Ranger's only engine. The Canyon and Colorado offer an optional 308-hp V6. Plus, the GM brothers also have an optional 2.8-liter turbodiesel with 369 lb-ft of torque, a 7,700-pound towing capacity, and up to 30 miles per gallon highway.
Unique styling, but not truck-y enough for some: The 2021 Ford Ranger offers a unique take on pickup styling with its more rounded nose and wide grille. Down the sides and around back, though, things get more traditional.
Some buyers may enjoy this unique look, but others may prefer something a little more truck-like. These buyers will appreciate the Jeep Gladiator, GMC Canyon, and Chevy Colorado's flat noses and bold stances. The Tacoma also offers a more traditional truck-like look.
Inside, the Ranger falls flat with a chintzy-looking cabin that's slathered in hard plastics and early-2000s black-and-silver color combinations. Buyers looking for a more stylish interior can find this in the Tacoma, which boasts round air vents, a protruding center bezel, and more. To some degree, the GMC Canyon Denali also offers more style, but the base Canyon and Chevy Colorado are just as boring as the Ranger.
Standard automatic braking, but otherwise, it's the pool guy's truck: The 2021 Ford Ranger comes standard with automatic emergency braking, matching the Tacoma. However, the Tacoma also offers standard adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights.
On the fun side of things, the base Ranger LX is basically the pool guy's truck with its standard 4.2-inch non-touch display and lack of smartphone integration beyond Bluetooth.
At $26,015, the Ranger LX is cheaper than everything in its class, and Ford crams a large amount of that price under the hood. However, there are certain creature comforts even the pool dude expects, including the 7-inch touchscreen the rolling fossil that is the Frontier has or standard smartphone integration, which the Canyon, Colorado, and Tacoma all include.
Final thoughts: The 2021 Ford Ranger is a standout in several ways, including its exterior design, potent base powertrain, and capable towing. This all adds up to a midsize truck that any legit pickup buyer would be OK with. That said, with its lack of standard features, chintzy interior, and limited powertrain options, some buyers may find it too basic.
The GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado have plenty for shoppers seeking powertrain options. Buyers who crave a more robust interior will find this in the Jeep Gladiator and Toyota Tacoma. And if you're looking for more standard features from the base model, you can go to a Chevy, GMC, or Toyota showroom and find at least a 7-inch touchscreen and standard smartphone integration for about the same price, but there's a big trade-off in standard power.
Alternatively, you can check out the Honda Ridgeline, which comes loaded with a standard 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, tons of standard safety gear, a sharp cabin, and more. However, the Ridgeline is only a truck because it has a bed – otherwise, it's a Pilot crossover – and starts from an eye-watering $37,665 (destination fees included).
Check prices for the 2021 Ford Ranger »