A tough truck in a compact package.
by Dean Stevens
Base Price $11,485
As Tested $23,785
Ford's Ranger offers excellent handling, a smooth ride and a comfortable cab. Regardless of trim level, power plant, or drive train, the Ranger offers good value. It's well built and dependable. Interior spaces are consistently ergo friendly. Four-wheel-drive models feature a slick hub-locking system that permits shifting out of four-wheel drive at any speed. It's not hard to figure out why the Ford Ranger is such an evergreen best seller.
For 2000, a new pre-runner package has been added.
Ford offers two trim levels for the Ranger: XL and the XLT. Prices range from $11,485 for a 2.5-liter 4x2 XL to $19,690 for a 3.0-liter 4x4 XLT. A 4.0-liter engine adds $695 to the price of 3.0-liter models.
Ranger XL models are light on amenities, but long on value; they come with the basics: black vinyl floor covering, AM/FM radio, vinyl seats. XLT Rangers get more chrome, handholds, an AM/FM/CD sound system, cloth seats and upgraded door panels. XL models have rear antilock brakes, while XLTs get four-wheel antilock braking systems.
Both XL and XLT Rangers are available in Regular Cab and SuperCab configurations; SuperCabs are available with either two or four doors. SuperCabs are based on a long 126-inch wheelbase, while Regular Cabs are available in short-wheelbase (112 inches) and long-wheelbase (118 inches) versions. On SWB models you cab opt for the stylish Flareside.
This year Ford added a Trailhead group to its menu of options. This off-road package includes a torsion bar suspension, extra ground clearance, and 16-inch tires, along with tow hooks and other features that transform a 2WD truck into a 4WD look-alike.
If you want a truck that gets 0 miles to the gallon, you might consider an electric Ranger. Based on a Regular Cab, SWB, 4X2 configuration, the battery-powered Ranger is a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV). Prices start at $35,100 for the DC Ranger, but there are some sizable incentives for buying one that reduce prices: $30,000 in California, $28,505 in New York, and $25,000 in the other 48 states.
Ranger owes its smooth ride (the ride is even smooth in 4WD models, no mean feat) to a rigid frame that cuts down on vibration. Four-wheel drive Rangers (and 2WD models with the Trailhead Group package) have front torsion-bar suspensions with rear single-stage leaf springs. Two-wheel-drive models have coil springs in the front and two-stage leaf springs in the rear. The torsion-bar suspension is smooth, and the coil-spring suspensions are smoother still. The rack-and-pinion steering found on all Rangers is responsive and precise.
Two-wheel-drive Rangers come standard with a 2.5-liter, inline-4 engine that puts out 119 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 146 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm. While the engine is economical, it might be a bit light for a truck that tips the scales at a minimum of 3068 pounds.
A 3.0-liter V6 that turns out 150 horsepower at 4750 rpm and 190 foot-pounds of torque at 3650 rpm is standard on four-wheel-drive Rangers. Not only is it powerful, but it's a flexible fuel engine that can run on either regular unleaded gasoline or E85 (a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline).
But if it's power you want-power to pass anything on the road or climb any hill with ease-try the optional 4.0-liter V6. Available on all models, it cranks out 160 horsepower at 4200 rpm and 225 foot-pounds of torque at 2750 rpm. It compares well against Toyota Tacoma's high-revving 3.4-liter V6 (190 horsepower at 4800 rpm and 220 foot-pounds of torque at 3600 rpm). If you opt for the Ford 4.0-liter you'll find your pockets lighter by a paltry $695-but it adds a lot of zip.
As for transmissions, you can choose to mate a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic to any of the three engines. Or, if you get the 4.0-liter V6, you can opt for a 5-speed automatic ($1,145). That's the combo we had on our test truck and we loved it. It zipped down the highway, always smoothly shifting into just the right ratio for the given situation. Our 4.0-liter Ranger certainly had more zing going up Cajon Pass on Interstate 15 east of Los Angeles than a 3.0-liter model we recently drove up that same pass. With the 3.0 engine, a 4X4 gets 16/20 mpg, with the 4.0-liter a 4X4 gets 15/19. You'll see a 1 mpg improvement around town with a 4x2.
Ford's pulse-vacuum hub-lock system introduced last year allows nearly instantaneous shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive at any speed. When the system is disengaged, the front drive train is disconnected at the wheels. The truck gets better fuel economy with less vibration and noise.
The Ranger is a people-friendly truck. It has more than adequate headroom and legroom for plus-sized passengers and drivers. The rear passenger compartment of the SuperCab models is no place for your average-sized grown-up, however. It's best used for groceries, toys, or kids. In fact, just getting into that space is difficult in two-door models.
Instruments are well placed and quite readable, and the controls are in the expected places. Visibility is good all the way around. Most important (to us, anyway), the 60/40-split cloth seat in our test truck was plush and comfortable.
Perhaps acknowledging that smokers are now regarded as social outcasts, there is no ashtray in the Ranger's dash. Instead, Ford supplies a round ash cup that fits in a floor-mounted cupholder. You can remove the ash cup when it's not in use, but storing it might be something of a challenge.
All Rangers are equipped with driver and passenger airbags, with a passenger-side deactivation switch for improved safety with children.
A four-hour drive from Los Angeles to Bishop, California, in our 4X4 SuperCab XLT Sport was pure joy. At times, it was hard to believe that we were driving a 4WD truck with torsion-bar suspension and 16-inch all-terrain tires. The ride is that smooth.
There was a fair amount of wind noise in the cab-more than one would expect from such a well-built truck. Fortunately, the superb AM/FM/CD sound system that comes standard in XLT models did a good job of canceling out the noise.
On-road handling is precise and responsive. The Ranger tracks well and holds firmly onto the blacktop, even in sharp curves. The back end will lose traction and start to swing around if you are forced into a radical maneuver, but the same can be said for any empty pickup. In an emergency stop, the ABS holds the truck straight and true.
Where this truck showed its real character, though, was on a trek into the Coyote Mountains, which lay at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevadas. While the Sierra's Mount Tom dwarfs everything in sight with its 13,652-foot elevation, the 11,200-foot Coyote Ridge we reached in the Ranger is no walk in the park. The track leading into the Coyotes is narrow, twisting, rocky, and occasionally has holes big enough to swallow a lesser truck. We purposely held off putting the truck in 4WD as long as we could. With its big tires and limited-slip rear axle, the Ranger did quite well. It wasn't until we came on one particularly steep, rough section that we felt it prudent to flip the 4WD selector switch to 4WD-high. The Ranger climbed the hill like a mountain goat. We left it in 4WD the rest of the trek. The only time we shifted to 4WD-low was to gear down on a steep descent. The Ranger didn't falter once on our 50-mile round-trip adventure into the wilderness. In fact, it had better traction and handling than the full-sized SUV that accompanied us. A passenger swap part way up confirmed that the Ranger was a better ride over the rougher spots, too.
The powerful engine, smooth transmission, stable ride, and responsive handling of our test truck inspired driver confidence on and off the road.
With its many variations, there are Rangers suited for taking off-road adventures, running small businesses, or hauling materials for weekend projects.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.