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Ford Ranger is the overwhelming first choice among compact pickups. Prices for basic work trucks start at less than $13,000, while the availability of a powerful V6 engine with a five-speed automatic, along with a slick four-wheel-drive system and a variety of trim levels and body styles make the Ranger appealing to a wide audience.
Last year, fresh styling, new engines and redesigned components made the Ranger stronger, more practical, more convenient and more comfortable than ever. Those strengths have all been carried over to a largely unchanged 2002 model.
Topping Ranger's power chart is a 4.0-liter single-cam V6 built by Ford in Germany. With this engine, the Ranger leaps off the line and runs quickly to speed. More important it provides strong low-rpm torque for off-road work in four-wheel-drive or pulling trailers or heavy loads.
The V6 teams with either a heavy-duty five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic with adaptive shift logic. Rather than a taller overdrive, the five-way autobox adds a gear between what would be first and second in a four-speed automatic. This produces closer ratios for better throttle response when accelerating, towing a trailer or driving off road. A high-gear lockout switch on the tip of the shift lever enables the driver to kick down a gear with the tap of a finger.
A Ranger SuperCab 4x4 with the 4.0-liter V6 and optional five-speed automatic delivered good performance for passing, even at altitude. It could scamper up mountain grades or effortlessly pass a line of heavy freight haulers.
The Ranger handled bumps and curves with confident dexterity. Its rigid ladder-like chassis, fully boxed in the front section, combines with an independent wishbone front suspension to produce smooth ride sensations.
At the same time, the Ranger offers aggressive performance off the pavement, as we saw on a primitive track laced with lumps and rocks and tire-sucking mud pits. A high ground clearance enables the Ranger 4x4 to clear ruts and bumps easily. And when it doesn't, skid plates shield the transfer case and fuel tank from damage.
A pulse-vacuum hub-lock device engages the front hubs quickly, for push-button shifting into four-wheel-drive, while rolling as fast as 80 mph. A rotary dial on the dashboard provides seamless switching from rear-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive high, or further down to four-wheel low for serious off-road maneuvers.
For a growing number of individuals, even young families, a compact pickup is a sensible choice. Base prices compare favorably with those of entry-level sedans, and many folks feel that a truck has more personality. Virtually any power or luxury item you might order for a compact sedan is offered on a truck as well. A truck can be a versatile weekend workhorse and, especially when equipped with an extended cab and auxiliary rear doors, a competent family car the other five days out of the week.
Ford Ranger remains a popular choice. One in three compact pickups sold last year was a Ranger. More than 5 million Rangers have been built since the first one rolled out in 1982.
Fresh exterior styling and innovative add-ons (like a cargo bed extender and the two-flap lockable tonneau lid) make America's best-selling compact truck even more attractive and appealing. In performance, the 207-horsepower V6 propels Ranger to the head of its class.
The Edge adds attitude with a monochromatic exterior and an easy-to-clean interior.