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Ford has completely redesigned its Ranger. It's the most popular compact pickup on the market today and this new one is arguably the best. The 1998 Ford Ranger offers responsive handling on the highway, impressive suspension performance off road and a comfortable ride everywhere.
The Ranger has always been a capable truck in the dirt, but the new one is even better, a benefit of a redesigned chassis based on the Ford Explorer. We drove a Ranger 4x4 in the Hungry Valley off-road park northwest of Los Angeles. Rough, sandy roads failed to upset this truck even when it was driven quickly through rutted corners. But what was really surprising was its impressive handling and steering response on paved mountain roads. After spending a few hours in the new Ranger, we were lulled into thinking we'd climbed into a sports sedan.
A more rigid chassis, a new front suspension, a redesigned interior, improved engines, new styling and, on 4x4 models, a clever new four-wheel-drive system are elements that add up to a great truck.
The new Ranger does not drive like a traditional truck. Steering response and handling in transient maneuvers could almost be described in sports car terms. Winding over narrow mountain roads north of Los Angeles, we found the Ranger to be a vehicle that inspires confidence in the driver. Before long we were rounding curves with bravado usually reserved for sports sedans.
It rides nice, too. Only the slightest choppiness on the four-wheel-drive versions betrays their off-road suspensions with front torsion bars and multi-leaf rear springs. The standard two-wheel-drive versions ride even better than the four-wheel-drive models, a benefit of their front coil springs and two-stage rear leaf springs. The harshest ride is found in the Splash models with suspensions tuned for improved handling. A load improves the ride quality of all of these trucks as the rear tires hop around over bumps when the bed is empty.
While the ride quality of the two-wheel-drive trucks provides a compelling case, it seems a shame to pass up the superb four-wheel-drive system. The vacuum-assisted hublock system works seamlessly, allowing the driver to shift in and out of four-wheel drive at any speed. Shift out of four-wheel drive, and the 4x4 model rides only slightly rougher than the two-wheel-drive model. The ride quality is still surprisingly good and handles twisty roads with amazing prowess for a four-wheel-drive pickup.
Our 4x4 SuperCab came with the 4.0-liter V6, which really shined with the optional five-speed automatic transmission. This five-speed automatic shifts as smoothly as a Lexus and always keeps the V6 in its primary torque range and its efficiency matches that of the 5-speed manual. It's a great combination.
The new Ranger may be the best compact pickup truck on the market. Its driving qualities leave the other trucks in the dust, yet it offers plenty of power and hauling capacity to get the work done. Handling is superb for a pickup and the optional five-speed automatic offers impressive response, making this truck a good companion for everyday driving.
Mazda is selling mechanically identical models, the B-2500, B-3000 and B-4000, each named for engine displacement. The styling is completely different, however, giving each a distinctive appearance. While the Ford looks tough, the Mazda looks sporty. They are both good-looking trucks and a debate rages as to which is more attractive. Mazda B-Series trucks offer a compelling alternative to the Toyota Tacoma, with the Mazda delivering more truck per dollar.