Ford Ranger has been America's best-selling compact pickup for 17 years running. While the entry-level pickups from other manufacturers have moved up in size, roominess, features and refinement, the Ranger remains the only real compact pickup. Bottom line: It's getting long in the tooth but it's still a good truck. It's now sold largely on its low price, with cash rebates to sweeten the deal. Retail prices for basic work trucks start below $15,000.
Recent upgrades have improved this truck. The suspension was overhauled for 2004 with improved bushings, springs, shocks and tires all designed to improve the ride quality, and the brakes were improved for 2003. Last year saw some interior and exterior revisions as well. The result is a solid compact pickup.
A Ranger equipped with the German 4.0-liter overhead-cam V6 leaps off the line and runs quickly to speed. An optional five-speed automatic available complements each available engine with close ratios for better throttle response when accelerating, towing a trailer or driving off road.
For 2005, some new packages are available. The Ranger line is diverse and offers a wide range of options. Edge, Tremor, and FX4 models are available, with upgraded audio and wheel packages. There are Regular Cab and SuperCab extended-cab bodies, but no crew cab.
The Ranger's exterior appearance has changed little since 2001, though minor revisions for 2004 included a raised power dome hood and subtle changes to the front end.
We find the door handles a bit hard to hang onto; they snapped away from our fingers when we were in a hurry. An optional bed extender ($195) flips out and rests on the tailgate, a U-shaped cage of tubular stainless steel. It won't keep dirt in, but it will sure stop your kayak from sliding out.
Full-width Styleside beds sweep a continuous line from tip to tail, while sporty Flaresides carve a recessed step into each side panel immediately behind the cab. The notch accentuates a rounded rear fender. Indentations in the bed support partitions to segment cargo.
The Edge models feature a monochromatic treatment. Edge also features protective bed rails and four tie-down hooks. The running boards/stump guards look tacked on.
Ford Ranger offers spacious, comfortable accommodations and convenient features. The seats were upgraded for 2004 with sculpted bolsters and higher seatbacks for improved comfort.
Regular Cab models get a cloth bench seat that can squeeze three aboard. The seat splits 60/40 for access to the space behind it. Also available are optional cloth sport bucket seats and leather-trimmed bucket seats. A 7-foot bed is available on XLT Regular Cab Styleside models.
SuperCabs offer a larger interior storage bay behind the front seat, with a 6-foot (71.8 inch) bed behind that. Two small side-facing jump seats may be added to the SuperCab's rear bay; each folds down from the back wall. Two optional rear-hinged doors (standard on Edge 4x4s) allow easy access to the SuperCab's rear quarters.
A tachometer is supplied at all trim levels. The center pod for climate and audio systems uses large, easy-to-use rotary dials. In addition to the 510-watt system, Ranger offers a 290-watt Pioneer AM/FM/CD/MP3 system with nine speakers and an integrated power subwoofer.
Edge adds a textured rubber floor cover for wash-and-wear convenience. A 60/40 split bench is standard, but bucket seats with black twill bolters are optional. The fabric in the Edge seemed tough.
Ford Ranger benefits from suspension improvements starting with the 2004 models, with revised bushings, springs, shocks, and tires designed to improve 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. We like the XLT. The four-wheel-drive system with vacuum-activated hubs works very well and you can't beat the 4.0-liter V6 for performance.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough is based in Los Angeles.
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2011 FORD RANGER$11,998 | 69,177 mi
2011 Ford Ranger$14,700 | 67,204 mi
2011 FORD RANGER$15,990 | 76,830 mi
2011 FORD RANGER$16,602 | 37,636 mi
2011 FORD RANGER$19,887 | 36,834 mi
2011 FORD RANGER$19,900 | 57,428 mi
2011 FORD RANGER$21,915 | 14,412 mi
2011 Ford Ranger$21,990 | 43,901 mi
2011 Ford Ranger$22,967 | 60,486 mi
2010 Ford Ranger$11,990 | 64,577 mi
2010 Ford Ranger$21,336 | 29,959 mi
2009 Ford Ranger$14,685 | 73,250 mi
2009 FORD RANGER$17,595 | 52,582 mi
2009 FORD RANGER$19,900 | 55,420 mi
2009 FORD RANGER$20,595 | 35,761 mi
2009 FORD RANGER$21,500 | 17,034 mi
2008 Ford Ranger$11,177 | 118,514 mi
2007 Ford Ranger$9,036 | 101,775 mi
2007 Ford Ranger$14,909 | 87,170 mi
2006 Ford Ranger$10,995 | 73,670 mi
2005 FORD RANGER$8,998 | 106,367 mi
2004 Ford Ranger$8,990 | 132,924 mi
2004 FORD RANGER$9,900 | 72,849 mi
2004 Ford Ranger$9,985 | 115,027 mi
2004 Ford Ranger$9,995 | 123,645 mi
2002 Ford Ranger$7,728 | 109,124 mi
2000 Ford Ranger$6,995 | 92,570 mi
1999 Ford Ranger$4,995 | 143,619 mi