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Ford's Ranger compact pickup has been in the lineup since 1993 and represents the best-selling line of compact pickups in the United States.
How hot a seller is it? During one recent month, it actually outdid the industry's No. 1 sales car, the Ford Taurus.
The Ranger started out about a dozen years ago as a domestic basic pickup, built to answer the challenge presented by the Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Isuzu mini-pickups. They had become established on the West Coast and were in the process of moving eastward. Until then, Ford had no compact or mini-pickup of its own, but sold the Mazda B Series in this country as the Ford Courier.
The Ranger and the Chevrolet S-Series/GMC Sonoma are the dominant players in this league, though the Toyota and Nissan do well in the West and South. And, in the same way that the S-Series/Sonoma is the basis for GM's all-new sport/utility vehicles in 1995, the Ford Explorer sport/utility and the Ranger are related and continue to share a number of components and systems.
Ford also sells Ranger trucks to Mazda where they're known as the new B-Series line.
The Ranger was last redone with new sheet metal in 1993. At the time, designers deliberately split the 4x4 styling away from the 4x2 work/ family trucks by crafting jutting body-color grilles and other minor design touches.
The Splash sport-truck version of the Ranger, with step-side rear fenders instead of the slab - sided bed, was introduced in 1993, followed by the SuperCab Splash last year. In that respect the Ranger is equal to the Dodge Dakota but not to the Chevrolet/GMC compact, which was all-new in '94 from the ground up and therefore a design generation ahead of the other two domestics.
Ford maintains the Ranger's leadership position by offering a staggering array of modles and equipment - 22 in all, ranging from the bottom-end, 2WD, short wheelbase Regular Cab to the SuperCab 4x4. They are available in equipment and trim levels that include XL, XL Sport, Splash, XLT and the 4x4-only STX version.
Within that bewildering model matrix, there are six powertrains offered: the basic twin-spark-plug2.3-liter 4-cylinder (112 hp at 4800 rpm, 135-pound-feet of torque at 2400 rpm), the 3.0-liter V6 engine (145 hp at 4800 rpm, 165 lb-ft. at 3000 rpm) shared with the Ford Taurus sedan, and the 4.0-liter V6 (160 hp at 4200 rpm, 220 lb.-ft at 3000 rpm) shared with the Explorer sport/utility truck. All are available with either the standard 5-speed manual transmission or the new A4LDE 4-speed overdrive automatic. The economy-minded 4 cylinder isn't available in all models, but the two sixes are.
The "95 Ranger has improved engine cooling for both 3.0-liter and 4.0-liter V6 engines, and includes noise-control improvements for both the 2.3-liter 4-cylinder and the 3.0-liter V6 engines.
The standard Ranger is available with a 107.9-in. wheelbase, the long-bed variety has a 113.9-in. wheelbase and the SuperCab versions have a stretched 125.4-in. wheelbase. All models have a new structural-composite, transverse beam mounted inside the redesigned dashboard for added strength.
The 1995 Ranger has standard safety features such as a driver's airbag supplemental restrain system and front-belt system with adjustable-height shoulder belts for greater comfort.
There are also steel beams inside the doors for extra protection in side impact collisions. Although dual airbags will make their way into pickup trucks before too much longer, right now that's about as good as it gets for vehicles such as this.
We don't know why it has been packaged this way, but a rear-axle, two-wheel, anti-lock brake system (ABS) will be standard on regular and SuperCab 2WD versions, and the new four-wheel, ABS will be standard only on 4x4 models with the automatic overdrive A4LDE.
This year's Ranger shows off a completely new interior design, with the six main instruments housed together under a new curved hood. A large black pod next to it contains handy climate and entertainment system controls, as well as two central vents.
What Ford calls its new P100 radio has a larger bezel on all versions, with larger, easier-to-use buttons and controls than the cramped, tiny Ford radios of the past. There's a new one-piece magnesium steering wheel to hold the airbag, and the Ranger had new seat-covering designs similar to those used on its half-sister, the Explorer.
A 12-volt power point has been added to the instrument panel to facilitate the operation of cellular telephones, radar detectors or other after-market accessories.
Our maxed-out XLT had standard power steering, 60/40 split bench seats with cloth covering, fancy door panels with storage nooks, a mini-console, full carpeting, a color-keyed headliner with a grab handle and an electronic AM/FM stereo, all of which rendered it carlike and comfortable.
New options include a six-way power driver seat on SuperCab models only (no room for this in a Regular Cab version), power windows with a one-touch down feature, all illuminated entry system, 15-in. aluminum wheels, a 6-CD changer, and a remote entry/antitheft system. The electronic speed-control option includes a tap up/tap down feature and illuminated controls mounted on the outer edges of the steering wheel hub.
One problem, though, that the Ranger has had since day one - even after several interior redesigns - is the cramped feeling that comes as standard equipment with all Regular Cab versions. It has less room inside than the larger Dakota or the new GM trucks, and not much legroom or headroom for tall drivers. Of course, the SuperCab version makes all of that disappear, but it costs extra, whereas the competition throws roominess into the base-truck package.
If power is what you need from your 1995 compact pickup, the sales-leader Ranger unfortunately may not be for you. We're not saying it's weak, mind you, but with 160 hp from the extra-cost 4.0-liter V6, you'd still be 40 hp short of what Chevrolet offers in its 4.3-liter, 200-hp top engine and 60 hp short of the Dodge Dakota, the only compact truck to offer a 5.2-liter V8, rated at 220 hp.
Engine power aside, our 4.0-liter Ranger XLT was a snap to drive and maneuver. The Ranger still uses a Twin I-Beam front suspension with coil springs and conventional truck-style leaf springs at the rear. The combination provides good - if not great - ride and handling even when the truck is unloaded.
The driving position behind the new dashboard is commanding and provides excellent visibility. The new instrument package is several leaps better than the old panel layout, which in its day was very good. Fit-and-finish quality are top drawer. We noticed that the 4.0-liter engine could, at high rpm, be loud to the point of almost shuddering. But in normal driving it was fine, with plenty of grunt for most hauling chores.
With the Ranger not due for a complete redesign until 1997, this newly airbagged Ranger with its spiffed-up interior will have a tougher time this year competing against the all-new GM compacts and the larger Dodge Dakota. Still, Ranger XLT is a great all-around value with lots of extras and very good quality. It's well-suited to the trucking needs of a great many car-oriented families.