Fresh styling, more power fire up Ford's popular compact pickup.

by Bob Plunkett

Base Price (MSRP) $11,840
As Tested (MSRP) $26,150

One in three compact-class pickups sold last year was a Ford Ranger. More than 5 million Rangers have been built since the first one rolled out in 1982. A rigid new chassis design in 1998 resulted in agile handling and a smooth ride.

This year, fresh styling, new engines and redesigned components make the 2001 Ranger stronger, more practical, more convenient and more comfortable than last year.

Model Lineup

Ford Ranger comes in two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models spread through three trim designations, two cab configurations, three wheelbase lengths, six- and seven-foot beds, and flat Styleside or notched Flareside fender shape.

The Ranger XL Regular Cab Styleside with four-cylinder power, manual transmission and two-wheel-drive traction totals to $11,800 as the price-leading base edition. Add in a SuperCab, four-wheel drive and an optional 3.0-liter V6 engine and the XL's tab rises to $20,435.

Pricing for the deluxe Ranger XLT trim extends from $13,950 (Regular Cab Styleside with six-foot box, four-cylinder engine and two-wheel-drive) to $24,070 for the SuperCab Flareside 4x4 stoked by a powerful new 4.0-liter V6.

A sporty new trim called Edge goes further by dressing the Ranger in a monochromatic color scheme that includes the choice of a vivid Chrome Yellow. Ranger's new Edge edition cast in monochrome begins at $14,435 with the 3.0-liter V6 in a Regular Cab Styleside design with two-wheel-drive. It reaches to $23,940 for the SuperCab model motivated by the new 4.0-liter V6 with four-wheel-drive and Flareside six-foot box.

Options include a new five-speed automatic transmission, a limited-slip rear differential, power windows and two extra doors for the SuperCab, which can load the bottom line by as much as $3,000.

Walkaround

The 2001 Ranger is distinguished from last year by its revamped front styling, a bulging hood and aggressive fender flares.

Stylists at Ford borrowed design elements from the larger F-150 trucks and applied them to 2001 Ranger models to strengthen all visual cues and streamline the package. As a result, the Ranger wears smooth new sheetmetal forms with a definitive new face in front and wheel blisters on flanks.

Ranger's strong face sparkles from new multi-beam reflector lamps flanking a large honeycomb grille underlined by a thick bumper with round fog lamps and central air intake port.

Sides show rolled shoulders and flat panels interrupted by etched horizontal character lines and the ripples of flares articulating front and rear wheelwells. The Styleside design remains flat in continuous line stretching from tip to tail, but the Flareside version carves a recessed step into each side panel immediately behind the cab and the notch accentuates a rounded rear fender. With the SuperCab extension, a tall and narrow side window mounts in the panel behind each door's window. Indentations in the bed support partitions to segment cargo.

The new Edge trim designation focuses on a monochromatic treatment with body-colored bumpers and hood raised in the power dome bump that hints at a powerhouse beneath the lid. Two-wheel-drive Edge editions reflect the elevated stance of a four-wheel-drive truck because the jacked-up suspension of the 4x4 Ranger is aboard. Ranger Edge adds protective bed rails and four tie-down hooks, and an optional U-shaped extension device in three-bar tubular stainless steel flips out from side pivot points to rest on the tailgate folded flat as a bed-expanding brace for longer loads of cargo. Also, an optional new hard tonneau lid unfolds from front/rear sections divided by a central vertical partition, with a lock added on the forward bin for security.

Interior Features

The Ranger's cab has been revised for 2001 and more features have been added. The most noteworthy improvement -- a new quality of quietness -- cannot be seen because the additional baffles and insulation that surround the passenger compartment are concealed in the structure. Previous versions of Ranger consistently set the standard among compact trucks for spacious, comfortable accommodations and convenient features. 2001 models build on that foundation with new seat designs clad in new fabrics, a revised instrument panel with tachometer supplied to all trims, and a revamped center pod for climate and audio systems with large easy-to-use rotary dials.

The Regular Cab carries a bench seat that can squeeze three aboard. The SuperCab offers an interior storage bay behind the front seat, with a 6-foot (71.8 inches) bed. Two small side-facing jump seats may be added to the bay; each folds down from the back wall. Optional left and right rear-hinged doors for the SuperCab create easy access to rear quarters.

Ranger's new Edge treatment, designed for active lifestyles, adds a textured rubber floor cover for wash-and-wear convenience. The bench splits 60/40, with side bolsters for outboard positions and a center armrest that folds down and contains a pop-top storage bin. Seats in our SuperCab Edge had cloth center sections surrounded by satin vinyl on the bolsters, and they felt luxurious. Deluxe interior components also come with the Edge, including air conditioning and an audio kit with in-dash CD deck, but the SuperCab Edge used for our drive stocked optional power controls for windows, locks and mirrors, plus a six-disc CD switcher.

Driving Impressions

A 4.0-liter single-cam V6 engine built by Ford in Germany caps the power chart for the Ranger lineup. This new option quickens acceleration performance and strengthens the Ranger's trailer-towing ability. An increase of 47 horsepower over last year's most powerful Ranger. It leaps off the line and runs quickly to speed, while also producing strong torque for off-road work in four-wheel-drive.

The new V6 teams with either a heavy-duty five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift logic through electronic controls. In effect, the automatic adds another gear between first and second gears in a four-speed automatic. This produces closer gear 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 a driver to kick up or down a gear with the tap of a finger.

We drove a Ranger SuperCab 4x4 with the 4.0-liter V6 and optional five-speed automatic through Nevada deserts on pavement and dirt. Offering the best power in its class, the Ranger delivered no-fear passing, even in Nevada's thin-air altitude. It could scamper up mountain grades or effortlessly pass a line of freight haulers.

The Ranger handled road bumps and curve sets with confident dexterity. Its rigid ladder-like chassis, with full box bracing of the front section to stiffen it further, combines with an independent front wishbone suspension system to produce smooth ride sensations.

At the same time, it offers aggressive performance off the pavement, as we proved on a primitive track laced with lumps and rocks and tire-sucking mud pits. A high ground clearance enables the Ranger 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 sets front hubs quickly for push-button shifting into four-wheel-drive mode, and it engages while moving at speeds as high as 80 mph. Ford's part-time four-wheel-drive system also adds a rotary dial on the dashboard for seamless switching from rear two-wheel to four-wheel high gear or further down to four-wheel low for serious off-road maneuvers.

Final Word

With fresh exterior styling and innovative add-on equipment like a cargo bed extender and the two-flap lockable tonneau lid, Ford's Ranger pickup for 2001 makes America's best-selling compact truck even more attractive and practical.

The option of a new 207-horsepower V6 engine upgrade propels Ranger to the head of its class.

The Edge brings a sporty trim variation with monochromatic exterior treatment and an easy-to-clean interior.

© New Car Test Drive, Inc.

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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