New Ford Ranger Drubs the Tacoma in Media Testing
Ranger took seven of the 10 categories, beating class-leading Toyota overall by a comfortable margin.
The folks at PickupTrucks.com recently put the new Ford Ranger and the Toyota Tacoma head-to-head to see how the newest truck in the segment compares to the best-selling truck in the segment. Editor Mark Williams was joined by Cars.com’s Brian Wong, putting the two mid-sized trucks through their paces and evaluated them each in ten categories to see how the new Ranger hangs with the truck that has dominated the segment for years. In the end, the Ford beat the Toyota by a considerable margin, taking seven of the ten categories while beating the Tacoma overall by a score of 166 to 149 out of a possible 200 points.
Categories in the comparison test include Powertrain, On-Road Drivability, Off-Road Capability, Payload, MPG, Bed Technology, Interior Quality, Technology, Safety Features and Value. Those ten categories are ranked on a 20-point system and totaled up for the Overall score.
The head-to-head review is lengthy, being one of the most comprehensive comparisons we have seen, so here is a summary of how badly the Ranger beat the Tacoma.
The vehicles compared here by PickupTrucks.com are a 2019 Ford Ranger 4×4 Lariat with the SuperCrew cab and the 2018 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 TRD Sport Double Cab. The Ford is powered by a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder mill connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission while the Toyota packs a 3.5-liter V6 and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Both trucks were loaded with options and fitted with five-foot beds, and while the Ranger Lariat isn’t usually an appropriate competitor for the Tacoma TRD Sport, the Ford being tested was upfitted with the FX4 Off-Road Package.
In the Powertrain category, the 2019 Ford Ranger’s EcoBoost four-cylinder and 10-speed transmission beat the Tacoma’s V6 and 6-speed by a margin of 18 to 14.
“The more I drive the Ranger, the more I’m surprised at how powerful the four-cylinder feels, especially when you knock the shift lever down into Sport mode; the revs stay up, throttle response gets more sensitive, and when you want to jump into or out of traffic, you practically just think and it happens,” said Williams.
“The Ranger’s powertrain makes it a legitimately fun truck to drive around, even in town. Whether it’s in Drive or Sport, the engine is eager to rev and quick to get into the power, and that’s in stark contrast to the Toyota’s V-6, which needs to be poked and prodded,” said Wong. “The Toyota’s Atkinson cycle might be good for efficiency, but it also comes with throttle delays that I couldn’t get over. I much prefer the Ranger’s ability to feel lively in all of its drive modes.”
In On-Road Drivability, the score was close, but the Ranger won again, beating the Tacoma 16 to 14.
“The Ranger we tested had the FX-4 Off-Road Package with the off-road tuned suspension. Though it’s set up for off-road, I found it to be pretty good on pavement as well; its tuning isn’t so soft that you get too much body roll,” said Wong.
“I’m not crazy about the little thumb shifter on the Ranger’s gear selector but it’s hard to argue when you feel the quickness of the throttle when you want to merge into a small gap on the freeway,” said Williams.
Although the TRD Sport has features designed to make it a great off-roader, the Ranger also won this category, beating the Tacoma by a score of 16 to 12.
“When in low range, the extra gearing advantages of the Ranger’s 10-speed really helped on the rocky hill climbs with the better low-range gear (2.72:1 versus 2.57:1),” said Williams. “Trail Control is pretty interesting technology designed to turn over throttle and braking duties to the computer, but we did find it had some trouble keeping engine revs up and modulating braking. In fact, there were a few situations where we rolled backward during some challenging climbs, which was not fun.”
“The Ranger’s 10-speed transmission turned out to be quite good off-road after its impressive on-road showing, and for a turbocharged engine, the torque curve wasn’t as peaky as I feared,” said Wong. “It’s got good dexterity for crawling and good power output for running faster in the dry riverbeds we found.”
When it came to hauling with the two mid-sized pickups, the Ranger won by a fair margin, beating the Toyota 18 to 14.
“We weighed both trucks with full tanks of gas and they were remarkably close with only a 20-pound difference. The Tacoma tipped the scales at 4,540 pounds and Ranger at 4,560,” said Wong. “To get a true payload rating, we subtracted those numbers from the factory gross vehicle weight rating and the Ranger crushed the Tacoma, 1,490 pounds to 1,060 pounds.”
“This was probably one of the easier categories to score for me. It’s astonishing, to say the least, that Ford built the Ranger to be just as light as the other players in the class (with the help of aluminum doors, hood and tailgate), yet it’s able to carry more than any other mid-size pickup (Ford rates it at 1,860 pounds max). Here, specifically, the Ranger is rated to carry over 40 percent more weight than the Tacoma,” said Williams.
Both of these trucks scored high in the fuel economy tests, but surprisingly, the V6-powered Toyota took the category win by a score of 20 to 18.
“The expectation was the Ranger would win this, given its recently released EPA ratings of 20/24/22 mpg are the highest for a gas-powered 4×4 in the class. Our Tacoma came with the 3.5-liter V-6, and one would think its EPA ratings of 18/22/20 mpg would put it at a disadvantage to the Ranger’s turbocharged four-cylinder,” said Wong. “However, the Ranger missed its fuel-economy targets and finished slightly behind the Tacoma. The Tacoma checked in at the end of our loop with a 21.4 mpg average, edging out the Ranger’s 21.3 mpg.”
“Our measured efficiency of the Tacoma’s Atkinson cycle V-6 engine is impressive compared to the Ranger’s stronger and more powerful inline-four-cylinder with almost twice as many transmission gears,” said Williams. “The problem is that to have any fun with the V-6 Tacoma you have to do your own shifting and make sure you have the ECT Power button engaged — and that can really cut into your fuel-economy numbers. Of course, that’s not how we drove during our fuel economy loop.”
In terms of the functionality of the cargo area in each truck, the Toyota had a clear advantage with its power point and locking storage compartments.
“The Ranger has a standard deep steel bed with three strong mounting tie-down points near the floor, while the Tacoma uses a composite bed to save weight and prevent scratches from showing, but it also offers two lockable storage spaces tucked into the walls and ours came with the 400-watt three-prong outlet for outdoor electrical jobs (we should note the Ranger also has a three-prong 110-volt outlet, but it is inside the cab at the feet of the rear passengers),” said Williams.
“One positive note about the Ranger is that the tailgate is aluminum and very light, so it’s super easy to close, and you can easily lift it even with only a few fingers,” said Wong.
Mid-sized pickups aren’t generally highly-touted for having the nicest interiors, but the Toyota really took some lumps in this category. The Ranger scored 15 points while the Tacoma received just 11.
“Though the seat materials were close in quality, the front seats of the Ranger were much more comfortable,” said Wong. “Both trucks had excellent side visibility, but the Ranger’s larger windshield and copious headroom made it feel more spacious. It’s also a more modern cabin, while the Tacoma opts for a rugged look that felt like it needed updating.”
“This category is a big separator,” said Williams. “This is where the Tacoma is showing its age — the Ranger Lariat has plenty of soft padding in the center console, door arm rests and wrapped along the entire dash. It also offers a large touchscreen, plenty of cubby storage, along with two USB ports in front and two in back.”
This is yet another category where the new Ranger beat the Tacoma soundly, and it builds on the Interior Quality category a bit. With Ford being a leader in interior technology, this really comes as no surprise, but the reviewers gave glowing reports on the Lariat cabin. In this area, Ford won by a score of 16 to 12.
“Our Ranger’s multicolored information screen in the instrument cluster shows all the engine, fuel-economy and four-wheel-drive data you could want, much of it selectable with a button on the steering wheel. After that, the center dashboard touchscreen and updated Sync 3 setup makes controlling music, street info and climate quick and intuitive,” said Williams. “Toyota has done well adding technologies to the Tacoma during the last few years, but the smaller display screen and low button location, not to mention the small info screen between the large tachometer and speedometer, make hunting for info or buttons more difficult.”
“When it comes to connectivity options, the Ranger pulls away from the Tacoma again, offering Android Auto/Apple CarPlay with a screen that responds faster and is simpler to use,” said Wong.
In much the same way that the Motor Company is a pioneer in interior technology, the automaker is also a leader in safety technology, so it comes as little surprise that the new Ranger led in this category as well, beating the Tacoma by a score of 20 to 18.
“Both trucks came with an impressive array of safety features, which is not surprising given that Ford has offered these technologies in the F-150 and Toyota remains committed to making them standard on the majority of its vehicles,” said Wong.
“The top-of-the-line Ranger Lariat we tested came with a bevy of advanced safety features and given all the traffic issues (and unpredictable drivers) we had around Los Angeles, I experienced the collision warning and auto braking a few times,” said Williams. “That’ll wake you up.”
Finally, we come to the category that is the hardest to break down, as the reviewers clearly don’t want to base Value purely on which vehicle costs less. To do so, they gave a brief rundown of how they came to their score in this category.
“The value category long has been controversial because there are those who believe the least expensive should always win. Others argue that bang-for-the-buck is the priority, while still others defend whichever player best checks the most boxes for their specific needs, no matter what the cost,” said Williams. “In some ways I fall into all three categories, giving the nod to the Tacoma TRD Sport that costs almost $4,000 less than the Ranger Lariat yet is still fun to drive and returns decent power and fuel economy for a V-6.”
“I look at the Ranger’s $44,855 price tag and the Tacoma’s $40,670 and try to figure if you get $4,000 more truck with the Ranger. I do think mid-size pickups have a tendency to be slightly overpriced, but these both offered a good amount of features (especially on the safety front) and capability,” said Wong. “I think the Ranger comes close to offering enough in terms of better on-road and off-road drivability, technology and interior quality to make up some of that difference in price, but not all the way.”
In the end, after taking seven of the ten categories, the 2019 Ford Ranger beat the 2018 Toyota Tacoma in the Overall comparison by a score of 166 to 149. While the Tacoma got the nod in fuel economy, value and bed functionality, the Ranger dominated everywhere else.
Click here for a closer look at the PickupTrucks.com head-to-head comparison of the new Ranger and the Tacoma, complete with tons of pictures, full specifications on both trucks and much more information on the testing.