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Above It All: 2019 Ford Ranger XL 4X4 Test Drive

Saturday, June 15 was a great day. It was even better after the sun went down. The light of the stars poked through the bluish-black night sky over the Hidden Falls Adventure Park in Marble Falls, Texas. Songs from the Counting Crows album “This Desert Life” radiated from my phone. I sat back in my red camping chair and smiled. I had my pal Dan sitting next to me, a campfire in front of me, and a cold beer in my hand. I didn’t know until that moment that that was exactly where I had wanted to be for years. The 2019 Ford Ranger got me there.

 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger XL Exterior

One of the Rangers Ford used to introduce media to its adventurous midsize truck had a two-person tent above its bed. When I learned it was available as a week-long media loaner, I immediately requested it.

Ford based the overlanding rig on the Ranger XL SuperCrew 4X4, but added a few options to dress it up and make it more convenient. It selected the STX Appearance Package, which added tow hooks, fog lamps, Carbon Black bumpers, silver 17-inch wheels, and decals on the rear fenders. Ford also equipped my Ranger test vehicle with the Trailer Tow Package and its Class IV receiver and four-pin/seven-pin wiring harness.

I didn’t reserve the Ranger to tow with it, though. I wanted to see what it was like to camp in it. A few years ago, I spent a night with my girlfriend, Eli, in the in-bed tent that Nissan offers as an accessory for its Titan XD pickup. Camping in the Ranger was going to be completely different because Dan and I weren’t going to be in it at all. We were going to be a few feet above its bed.

 Ford Ranger

The cargo box is one of the most important parts of a truck, but the Ranger’s five-foot bed had an added significance. It had to carry gear, keep it safe, and hold the weight of a pair of uprights, a 120-pound tent, and two 5’10” men (its official payload rating was 1,560 pounds). Before Dan and I made the trip from Austin to Marble Falls, we went to the grocery store to get food for our campout. We kept things classic and got hotdogs and buns, chips, condiments, everything we’d need to make S’mores, a case of bottled water, a six-pack of light beer, and plenty of ice. Once we checked out, we put the ice in a cooler and added as many things that needed to be kept cold as possible. I lowered the Ranger’s tailgate and we slid our box of goodies onto the floor of the lined bed. Dan and I used some bungee straps and the box’s tie-down anchors to keep the cooler in place. We knew it wasn’t going to fly out of the bed no matter how fast we went down the trails at Hidden Falls because Ford installed a sliding, lockable metal tonneau cover between the side rails.

 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger XL Interior/Safety

Everything else – sleeping bags, pillows, plates, paper towels, toiletries, duffle bags, and my camera equipment – easily fit in the back of the Ranger’s SuperCrew cab. Once Dan and I had everything in place, we headed toward Hidden Falls. The drive out there gave me a chance to take in my surroundings. Some vehicles are more about form than function. The Ranger XL took the exact opposite approach. Being the entry-level model of the Ranger lineup, it was relatively basic inside: hard plastics, black cloth seats, manual climate control, and a 4.2-inch center screen.

 Ford Ranger

There were a few surprises, though. Equipment Group 101A added features such as cruise control and power mirrors. The Ranger was a top-heavy rig so it was nice to know it had Hill Start Assist and a Pre-Collision System with Automatic Emergency Braking. The Blue Oval upgraded the Ranger’s level of safety equipment by ticking the box for the Ford Co-Pilot360 system. Its most noteworthy features were automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring that could cover the Ranger and a trailer, cross-traffic alert, and a multi-faceted lane-keeping system.

 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger XL Performance

Even with all of that extra weight over the bed, the Ranger’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine seemed to have plenty of get-up-and-go. Official output is 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. The 10-speed automatic had no problems adapting its timing to the additional load. In fact, I would argue that the tonneau cover, uprights, and tent made driving the Ranger a more pleasant experience. Unloaded 4X4 trucks can ride a bit rough, but my press loaner felt composed and connected to the road. Its steering also seemed to communicate with me more.

 Ford Ranger

After checking in at Hidden Falls and picking a campsite, Dan and I did a little light wheeling. Unlike my last Ranger test truck, which had Ford’s Terrain Management System, the XL had a basic four-wheel drive setup. Ford paired that with an optional locking rear differential with 3.73 gearing. It’s unclear how much, if at all, the uprights and tent affected the Ranger’s 8.9 inches of ground clearance and respective approach, breakover, and departure angles of 28.7, 21.5, and 25.4 degrees. Out on the trails, that didn’t really matter, anyway. Dan and I went over small rocks and through pools of muddy water without scraping or getting stuck.

 Ford Ranger

The last time I went truck camping, I made the mistake of erecting the tent way after the sun went down. I was determined not to repeat history with the Ranger. Dan and I made sure to get back to our campsite while there was still enough natural light around us. Getting the tent up was essentially a three-step process: Unclip, Unzip, and Flip. I undid the various clips that held the packed tent in place, opened the Velcro security flaps, unzipped a few zippers to let the tent expand, extracted the telescoping ladder, then used it to flip open and fully expand the dome of the tent. I took a quick peek inside and discovered that the mattress pad was surprisingly plush. The hardest part was inserting the hook-ended poles that held the rain fly away from the tent. Dan was kind enough to climb around the Ranger and insert them where they needed to go. From start to finish, everything only took about 15 minutes. The end result looked completely professional – which is saying a lot for a couple of guys from the suburbs.

 Ford Ranger

Dan started a campfire while I unpacked our dinner from the Ranger. We weren’t exactly “roughing it,” but I think we found the sweet spot of spending time outdoors and camping without being completely deprived of basic comforts. S’mores with one of my best friends made it even sweeter. With the tent set up and dinner over, I sat in my camping chair and enjoyed the moment. After playing Dan a few of my favorite Counting Crows songs, I turned my phone off so we could take in the sounds of the flickering fire and the quiet that filled the infinite space around it. When it was time for bed, we ascended the aluminum ladder and laid down under the well-ventilated dome of the Yakima tent. I drifted off to sleep feeling the satisfaction that comes from a day – and night – well spent. I’ll never forget that experience. Or the Ford Ranger that made it possible.

 Ford Ranger

2019 Ford Ranger XL Overall

You can find the 2019 Ranger at your closest AutoNation Ford dealership. Prices start at $24,300.* A Ranger XL SuperCrew 4X4 outfitted like the one you see here will have a final price of roughly $40,000. If you decide to get it, I hope you have just as wonderful an adventure in it as I did.

*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

**Photography assistance provided by Dan Wolff.

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