We wrote a 4 Best Ford Ranger Mods guide, in which we discussed an upgraded intercooler being one of the best performance upgrades. A larger intercooler will decrease intake air temps which results in more power, consistent performance, and a healthier and more reliable engine. The stock FMIC on the Ranger is sufficient for stock power levels, but once mods are added it can easily become overwhelmed and actually result in power losses.
Even if you aren’t tuned or modded, upgrading the Ranger intercooler is a fantastic move for anyone who frequently tows with their Ranger, especially if you live in a hot area. Towing puts a lot of stress on the turbo which results in higher engine temps and exhaust gas temps which can cause a number of reliability issues.
This guide is going to discuss the performance benefits of upgrading the Ranger FMIC, various considerations for picking an intercooler like design and sizing, and give a few recommendations on our favorite products on the market.
Ford Ranger Intercooler Basics
Historically, the older generation Rangers didn’t have intercoolers because they were all naturally aspirated engines. Since the newest Ranger has the turbocharged 2.3L EcoBoost, it now has an intercooler and various other new components like a downpipe.
Turbochargers generate a lot of heat which therefore increases the temperature of the air it compresses. Since hot air is bad for engines, this air needs to be cooled down before entering the combustion chamber. Therefore, the “charge air”, or air after it’s been compressed by the turbo, is sent into the intercooler where it is cooled down before being sent into the engine.
The Ford Ranger uses an air-to-air intercooler that sits within the front bumper. It uses ambient air outside to cool the charge air that is inside the intercooler. The intercooler has air galleries, and the outside air passes through these air galleries which in turn cools the air inside.
As mentioned above, the stock intercooler is sufficient for a stock engine. It’s also sufficient for towing, however, this doesn’t mean that upgrading it isn’t still worth the money. If you add a tuner to the Ranger, boost pressure is increased and the stock intercooler can become ineffective and cause performance issues like power loss, heat soak, and knock. Additionally, if you tow frequently especially in hot temps or at altitude this can cause higher engine temps, higher EGTs, and have a negative impact on reliability as heat is terrible for engines.
Upgrading to a performance intercooler will improve cooling capacity and efficiency resulting in lower intake air temps, lower EGTs, power gains, consistent performance, and a more reliable engine.
2.3L Ranger Intercooler Size & Design
Performance FMICs differ from the stock system in a few different ways. The first is size. Aftermarket intercoolers will use a larger core and a larger surface area to increase the capacity of air it can hold and efficiently cool. The larger the intercooler the more air it can cool and the more effective it is. However, there is a such thing as going too big. Second, there are two main types of intercooler designs: bar and plate or tube and fin. Each design has its own pro’s and con’s which we’ll discuss below.
Ranger FMIC Sizing
The most important thing to consider when choosing an intercooler for your 2.3L Ranger EcoBoost is its size. Sizing has two components: core size and surface area. Core size refers to how much air the intercooler can hold. Surface area is the external part of the intercooler. More surface area means the intercooler catches more ambient air and therefore is more effective at cooling the internal air.
Most aftermarket intercoolers have core sizes and surface areas that are 25%-50% larger than the stock intake. However, there are a few intercoolers on the market that have 100% or larger increases in core volume. While bigger sounds better, this isn’t actually always true.
If you put an intercooler with a 100% larger core on an otherwise completely stock Ranger, you will see big pressure drops and a huge increase in turbo lag. This is because when you are on a stock tune and stock turbo, you aren’t pushing that much air through the intercooler. And now that the intercooler is so much bigger there is a lot more distance that the air has to travel before entering the engine. Additionally, all the extra space in it will cause a drop in air pressure, or psi, since there isn’t enough air to fill all the space.
We recommend sticking with an intercooler that is around 50% larger than the stock intercooler. Unless you are upgrading your turbo, you won’t need or want anything bigger, otherwise you will cause a bunch of lag and can actually lose some power from the pressure drop inside the intercooler.
Bar & Plate vs Tube & Fin
This is sort of a less important point since most of the aftermarket intercoolers are bar and plate designs. But we’ll discuss it briefly for educational purposes. These two types of intercoolers are in relation to the designs of the fins/air galleries in the intercooler.
Bar and plate intercoolers have rectangular air galleries which increases the amount of air that passes through, and have larger capacity. Additionally, they have less of a pressure drop and can handle higher boost levels. They are also more durable and aren’t as easily damaged from rocks and other road debris. The only downside to them is that they are heavier, but not really by enough to warrant getting a tube and fin.
Tube and fin has more curved or oval shaped air galleries. Therefore it has a bit less air capacity. However, they also tend to be more efficient and are good for weight savings. But, they have more pressure drop than bar and plate intercoolers and can’t handle as much boost. Additionally, they are more fragile and easily damaged by rocks and debris.
Overall, we recommend bar and plate designs as they have less pressure drop and more cooling capacity, despite being heavier and less efficient.
Ford Ranger Intercooler Upgrade Benefits
- 10-20whp gains (tuned)
- Reduced heat soak
- Prevents power loss and provides consistent performance
- Decreased chance for engine knock
- Better ignition timing
- Lower EGTs and IATs
- Better towing
Power gains from an intercooler tend to depend on what existing mods you have. On a stock Ranger you likely won’t notice a ton of power benefits, but you’ll probably still notice lower EGTs and engine temps while towing. The more power and boost you are pushing then the more power gains you’ll notice. Gains of up to 20whp are possible on the Ranger EcoBoost.
Intercoolers aren’t just power adders, they also prevent power loss. When you’re driving aggressively, or towing, the consistent high boost levels can cause heat soak. Heat soak can cause the Ranger to lose 10-20whp from the increased IATs it causes. So not only will an intercooler provide power gains but also prevent power loss.
The reason we recommend an intercooler for anyone who is tuned or tows frequently is because of the reliability benefits. An insufficient intercooler can cause misfires, knock, pull timing, pre-detonate and so forth. Lowering intake air temps will lower engine temps, exhaust temps, provide better timing, and reduce any likelihood of knock or misfires. Cooler engines are healthier engines and that’s why this is one of our favorite upgrades for the 2.3L Ranger.
Best 2.3L Ranger Intercooler Upgrades
There are only a handful of options on the market currently. However, the new Ranger is getting a good bit of attention in the aftermarket scene so more options should be popping up in the near future. With that said, the most important thing to consider right now is intercooler sizing. Bigger isn’t always better.
Considering the majority of readers here probably don’t have and don’t plan on upgrading their turbo, we recommend sticking somewhere around 50% larger than stock.
CVF offers our favorite intercooler on the market as it offers one of the best combinations of price, quality, and performance on the market. With a 46% larger core, the CVF intercooler is right where we want it from a size perspective. Additionally, it has high-flow end tanks which help improve flow to and from the intercooler which is important for reducing restriction. The surface area is also about 50% larger for effective cooling. Also, this is a bar and plate design.
Fitment on the CVF FMIC is great and is a direct bolt-on replacement. Most folks can DIY this in 2-5hrs in their driveway. At $599 it’s pretty competitively priced compared to other options on the market which are $750+. Combine that with their quality and lifetime warranty and it’s hard to find a better option out there.
2) Levels Performance Ranger Intercooler
Our second favorite option on the market is from Levels Performance, a Florida-based company that specializes in EcoBoost performance products. Levels makes all of their intercoolers in-house and offers exceptional quality.
Testing on their dyno in Florida showed a 50-degree reduction in IATs. While they don’t provide sizing, they appear to have a larger core than the CVF product but a slightly smaller surface area. One unique design feature is their oversized end tanks which provide exceptional flow to and from the intercooler.
At $800 it’s a great option for anyone looking to support a small business who manufactures all of their products in house for exceptional quality.
Ford Ranger Intercooler Upgrade Summary
An upgraded intercooler is one of the best Ford Ranger performance upgrades for both power and reliability. Offering up to 20whp gains an intercooler will not only add great power but will also reduce the chances of heat soak resulting in more consistent performance. The lower IATs reduce the change of knock, misfires, pre-detonation, and help keep the engine cool which is great for added reliability when tuned.
While upgrading the intercooler on a stock Ranger isn’t necessary, it’s still a great mod. If you live in a hot climate or frequently tow, you’ll notice the benefits of the intercooler immediately. If you are tuned and running above stock boost levels then we highly recommend this upgrade.
Sizing is the most important consideration for intercoolers. We recommend sticking with something that is about 50% larger than the stock intercooler in terms of core size and surface area. If you are upgrading your turbo you might want to look at custom intercooler options that are 100% larger or more, depending on power gains.
CVF offers our favorite intercooler on the market as it provides the best bang-for-the-buck in our opinion. If you are interested in other Ranger mods, we have a downpipe guide and a guide on the 4 best ranger mods.