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Ford's Ranger is one of the best compact pickups on the market. It's certainly the most popular. Responsive handling on the highway, impressive suspension performance off road and a comfortable ride everywhere make it a great choice as a light-duty truck.
The chassis was re-engineered two years ago and it really paid off. It handles rough dirt roads well, but what's really impressive is its handling and steering response on paved mountain roads.
This newest-generation Ranger boasts a rigid chassis, a new front suspension, a redesigned interior, improved engines, fresh styling and, on 4x4 models, a clever new four-wheel-drive system-elements that add up to a great truck.
For 1999, the SuperCab models offer four doors as an option.
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. 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. Four-wheel-drive models handle twisty roads with amazing prowess. Rough dirt roads failed to upset this truck when we drove it quickly around rutted turns in Southern California's Hungry Valley off-road vehicle park. Point it where you want to go and it goes there. It absorbs big bumps, while showing remarkable stability.
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.