Free Press Truck of the Year: Ford Ranger returns loaded with value, big-truck features The 2020 Ford Ranger is Free Press Truck of the Year Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press You never know what you’ve got till it’s gone. When Ford ended production of the Ranger compact pickup after a 29-year run in 2012, it never occurred to me I’d miss the little truck that had been one of the affordable new vehicles of choice as a generation graduated from hand-me-down family wheels. It apparently, it didn’t occur to Ford either, because less than a decade after they dropped the little truck, here we are, celebrating a new Ranger that makes the case for value. Even loaded with off-road gear and tech that didn’t exist in 2012, prices for the new Ranger check in substantially below the year’s other midsize pickup sensation, the Jeep Gladiator. That combination of value, features and capability make the Ranger a winner. The first-gen Ranger — how does a vehicle remain in its first generation for 29 years? By being just successful enough it didn’t demand attention without generating the kind of profit that justifies investment in a new architecture — was chronically underappreciated at Ford HQ. But like the first time you see a former lover lookin’ fine on a date with a somebody new, Ford sat up and took notice when GM’s kiss awakened the slumbering midsize pickup market with the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. The Ranger went to the gym, got a new wardrobe and came back this year with a new attitude. The U.S. Ranger is based on a heavily reworked architecture that underpins workhorse pickups Ford makes in other parts of the world. It offers Ford’s latest goodies: A turbocharged 2.3L engine, 10-speed automatic transmission and collision alert with automatic braking. Features like Trail Control, which uses electronics to automate throttle control and braking in tough off-road situations, are shared with the F-150, evidence that Ford truly, if belatedly, appreciates the Ranger. The Ford Ranger also gets my vote for 2020 North American Truck of the Year. Second place: Jeep Gladiator The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Launch Edition sold out in one day. FCA US LLC The 2020 Gladiator midsize pickup was the truck a lot of Jeep fans were waiting for. Pickups were part of Jeep’s lineup for decades, but it last sold one in 1992, leaving a generation of owners thirsty for a pickup with the brand’s signature look and off-road capability. Jeep engineers thoroughly reworked the Wrangler’s chassis for the Gladiator. At 218 inches, the pickup is Jeep’s longest model, a full 28 inches longer than a Grand Cherokee SUV. It can tow up to 7,500 pounds and carry as much as 1,600 pounds in its five-passenger crew cab and bed. Best of all, it has signature Jeep features like a removable top and doors. Jeep knew what it had with the Gladiator: a premium and potential new brand icon. It’s only available with V6 and four-wheel-drive. A loaded Gladiator Rubicon can brush $60K. That barrier is likely to fall when a 3.0L V6 diesel becomes available in 2020. Third place: Silverado 2500 HD, 3500 HD The 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD was quiet and composed towing a 28-foot trailer in mountains and on logging roads. Mark Phelan Developing popular and profitable vehicles like the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD also require massive resources. General Motors Chevy’s 2020 Silverado 2500HD and 3500HD pickups brought a new level of sophistication and technology to the workhorse category of medium-duty pickups. The Silverado 3500HD can tow up to 35,500 pounds. As medium-duty pickups increasingly become accessories to luxury lifestyles that include show horses and six-figure Airstreams, the EASE of towing can make or break a medium-duty pickup, and the Silverado — and its corporate cousin, the GMC Sierra 2500HD and 3500HD — has eight digital cameras and computer processing to provide as many as 15 views around, into and even through a trailer. In a world of extravagant boats, trailers and horses, comfort and convenience matter too. The Silverado HDs deliver with quiet, comfortable cabins and GM’s state of the art connectivity and controls.