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This is a pickup that really makes a style statement. Its looks have their origin in the Southern California custom craze of the `50s, when pickups ranked along with coupes and roadsters as the vehicle platform of choice.
New for 1994, the Ford Ranger Splash is available in regular and extended cab configurations. The styling involves a sculptured look rather than the usual slab-sided pickup, look. The sculpturing provides step-up access to the cargo bed just behind the cab. It gives the 4x2 Ranger Splash a definite low-rider appearance, reminding us of the custom of channeling, or dropping the vehicle body lower on the frame, and modifying the suspension. We acknowledge that the Ranger Splash only recalls this look, because its clearances above the pavement are well within those of a normal 4x2 midsize pickup.
The advent of the Ranger Splash is another move by Ford to remain a sales leader in light trucks. People who never would have considered such a vehicle in the past are now moving into the light truck market. Including vans, minivans and sport utility vehicles, light trucks now account for some 40 percent of all vehicle sales. One of the reasons for this is model selection-the number of light-truck models has doubled in the last 15 years, while that of car models has increased only 30 percent. The Ranger Splash certainly represents a dramatic new choice in the midsize truck field-neither Chevy nor Dodge has anything like it.
The Ranger Splash doesn't look like, nor is it, an economy truck. Our well-equipped test model had the optional high-output 160-hp V6 engine, optional automatic transmission, air conditioning and upgraded interior with sport bucket seats. The bottom line sticker price was $17,033. Although no one else markets a truck exactly like this, the price puts it firmy in the midsize truck market against similarly equipped competition.
This vehicle has a "wow" look, enhanced by its paint, suitably called Vibrant Red by Ford. Most pickup fans will like it, although many will decide to stay with the traditional slab-sided pickup because making a strong visual impression doesn't suit them. Ford calls the look "flare side" because the rear fenders flare out of the pickup bed. It also is monochromatic, with the grille, bumpers, wheel opening flares and outside mirrors all finished in body color. The special handling suspension, standard on the Ranger Splash, works to give the 4x2 a lower stance than other Rangers and competitors. It combines with the styling to foster the low-rider look.
Special Splash graphics are the only subtle feature. They include some small but distinctive exterior tape stripes on doors, front fenders and the tailgate. The word Splash is included, and the touch is right out of a beach-front surf shop. Completing the nautical accents are four marine-like cleats recessed into the sides of the pickup bed for cargo tie-downs.
Ford's solution for the safety-mandated center high mounted stoplight is worth noting . It is centered on the cab over the sliding rear window. Flanking it are cargo lights, operated from the cab. Except for some glare intruding into the cab at night, this is a good solution to the problem of where to mount the stoplight; those mounted on the tailgate seem vulnerable to damage during loading and unloading cargo.
The looks are completed with 15-inch deep-dish cast aluminum wheels carrying Firestone steel-belted all-season radials.
The cab interior, in the style of the day, resembles that of a well-appointed car rather than a pickup. The interior of our truck was finished in Opal Grey cloth and vinyl-sort of a charcoal to us. The sport bucket seats had integral headrests and lumbar and seat-length adjustments. We found the seats to be more comfortable and supportive than the competition's. We did think, however, that there wasn't enough rear travel in the seats to accommodate reclining. The center console had storage and cupholders, although we found cups prone to tipping and/or spilling when we made abrupt stops.
All gauges, controls and switches were sensibly placed for easy viewing and operation. We especially liked the placement and operation of the power window and lock controls and the outside mirrors on door-mounted armrests. We also liked the carpeted inserts in the door panels, where scuffing is likely to occur.
Performance of the Ranger Splash equals its looks. Step on the accelerator and it moves out more than smartly. Of the vehicles we've come across, it was closest in terms of performance to the Dodge Dakota with its 220-hp V8. Handling was outstanding for a pickup. Ford's unique twin I-beam front suspension really worked well in handling various road surfaces. The front coil spring/rear leaf spring suspension is traditional and very stable. We did notice some choppiness in the ride, but this was more a result of the comparably short 108-inch wheelbase than any suspension deficiency.
Our truck had optional power steering, providing good feedback while easily handling all steering situations. The standard power front disc/rear drum brake system had anti-locking on the rear. Brake performance was always sure and steady, with good straight-line stops.
We gave the Ranger Splash quite a workout on a variety of surfaces, including gravel, dirt and mud. The truck performed well on all these surfaces, including some large, hidden potholes.
The Ford Ranger Splash is on the leading edge of a "new think" pickup strategy. Pickups are no longer just for farmers or building tradesmen: They're being used by those out for some recreation. These buyers want a load bed out back, but they also want style, performance, comfort and quality.
Locked in a seemingly endless competition with Chevrolet for light-truck sales leadership, Ford has been more aggressive in generating new trucks for a wider market. The Ranger Splash is just one example, and we think it will be a huge success. Nitpicking over cupholders and fore/aft bucket seat travel can be overlooked, because this is a great-looking truck that's fun to drive. In fact, if a retail salesperson had been present during our test drive, we would now own a Splash.