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Ford Ranger has been America's best-selling compact pickup for 16 years running. Nearly a third of all compact pickups sold are Rangers and more than 5 million Rangers have been built since the first one rolled out in 1982.
For 2004, Ranger features a sporty new interior, revised exterior styling and a new Pioneer audio system. And Ranger's suspension has been retuned for improved ride comfort.
Prices for basic work trucks start under $16,000 and there's a wide range of options available, including a powerful 4.0-liter V6 engine, a five-speed automatic transmission, and four-wheel drive. Edge, Tremor, and FX4 models are available. Buyers should watch for big cash rebates that can substantially reduce the MSRPs reported here.
For 2004, the Ford Ranger gets improved bushings, springs, shocks, and tires, all designed to improve the ride quality. The brakes were improved for 2003.
The Ranger leaps off the line and runs quickly to speed when equipped with the overhead-cam 4.0-liter V6 built by Ford in Germany. More important, it provides strong low-rpm torque for off-road work in four-wheel-drive, or for pulling heavy loads or trailers.
The V6 teams with either a heavy-duty five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic with adaptive shift logic. Rather than adding a taller overdrive, the five-speed automatic adds a gear between what would be first and second in a four-speed automatic. This provides 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.
Our Ranger SuperCab 4x4 with the 4.0-liter V6 and 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 handles 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 pamper passengers with 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.
As a work truck, the Ford Ranger offers serious truck capability at affordable prices. Watch for cash rebates and other incentives.
The high-level models deliver strong performance on and off road. The four-wheel-drive system with vacuum-activated hubs works very well and you can't beat the 4.0-liter V6 for performance. Several high-zoot trim packages are available, including Edge, Tremor, and FX4.