After a seven-year hiatus, the Ford Ranger is back. But it's no longer the no-nonsense work truck that solidified its status in the U.S. for nearly 30 years – now it's better looking, loaded with more tech, and with a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder, the most-efficient option in class. That engine returns a hearty 23 miles per gallon combined.

But we were less concerned about fuel efficiency when driving the new Ranger, admittedly; Ford invited us out to sunny San Diego to drive the new mid-sizer, both on road and off. In our day with the Ranger, we learned that it's a hugely competent truck on the road. The 2.3-liter engine produces a best-in-class 310 pound-feet (420 Newton-meters) of torque and a modest 270 horsepower (201 kilowatts), and the stiff suspension and quick steering rack make it a joy to drive. But it's also pretty damn good off the road, too.

With the optional FX4 package and all-wheel drive, the Ford Ranger tears up tough terrain like a pro. Granted, it's no mini F-150 Raptor, but with four driving modes (Normal; Grass, Gravel, and Snow; Mud and Ruts; Sand), it can tackle different settings with ease. In our tests, it climbed a steep, sandy incline, ran through a mud puddle, and showed off its lateral travel on a ramp – up to 27 degrees in some cases.

All told, the Ranger really impressed us. It's as dynamic on the road as it is on the dirt, and depending on which trim you choose, relatively well equipped in the cabin. The base Ford Ranger starts at $24,300, but the range-topping Lariat trim can go all the way up to $47,000 depending on how you spec it. The Ford Ranger goes on sale next year, and buyers in this segment should take the truck seriously. It's one of the best options in its class.

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