Despite the lack of a strong engine, the Ford Ranger has been the best-selling compact pickup truck for more than a dozen straight years. Revisions to the 2001 Ranger promise to keep it at the top of the heap.
Things keep getting more competitive in the truck market, so Ford finally has given the new Ranger a potent V6. It also has slightly revamped styling, smoother ride, quieter interior and more standard equipment.
There also are standard 4-wheel anti-lock brakes for all models; the 2000 rear-drive Ranger came only with rear-wheel anti-lock brakes.
Also, a sporty new Edge model—featuring a monochromatic exterior and popular high-riding 4-wheel-drive stance even for rear-drive models—has been rolled out for younger buyers.
Variety of Models and Prices
There seemingly is a Ranger for everyone. Affordability is important in the compact pickup market, so base prices start at $11,840 for the entry-level rear-drive 4-cylinder XL with a regular cab and short bed.
Prices slowly climb to $24,070, but that figure is for the high-line XLT model in extended-cab (SuperCab) form with the Off-Road package, four doors, new V6, sporty Flareside short bed, and lots of equipment.
As with many pickup trucks, you "can't tell the players without a scorecard" when ordering a Ranger because of the almost bewildering combinations of body styles, powertrains, trim levels and equipment. Don't walk into a showroom without doing homework.
There basically are rear-drive XL and higher-line 2- and 4-wheel-drive Edge and XLT models. All except the XL offer SuperCab extended bodies with two small, uncomfortable fold-down jump seats best suited for kids or—with the jump seats pushed up—for cargo.
Awkward Rear-Door Design
The Ranger's available rear-hinged half doors only open in conjunction with the front doors, which leave back-seat occupants at the mercy of front-seat occupants.
Rival pickups with extended-cab body styles have four car-like doors that open independently. Such a door setup is an increasingly hot feature for the many folks who like to use a compact pickup much like a car.
Rangers with regular cabs have a 6- or 7-foot cargo bed, while SuperCabs have a 6-foot bed. The Edges and XLTs offer a 6-foot bed in the flare-fender Flareside body style.
Handy Bed Extender
A handy $195 bed extender easily flips from the cargo bed and allows it to be lengthened about two feet. The extender is well worth the money because many buyers of compact pickups sometimes find themselves a little short of bed space.
The Ranger always has had a reputation for being solid, and Ford has a fine truck image. Still, it's a little surprising that the Ranger has been such a consistent top-seller despite being generally underpowered—seeing that many younger drivers who like lively acceleration buy compact pickups. The 2000 Ranger's top-line V6 provided only 160 horsepower.
But quick acceleration finally has arrived with the new 4.0-liter SOHC V6. It delivers 207 horsepower and replaces the old-style 4.0-liter pushrod V6.
Carried over is a 3.0-liter 150-horsepower V6. That's a fairly decent engine that's much better than the marginal 2.5-liter 119-horsepower 4-cylinder, which really should be ordered only with a manual transmission. The latter engine will be replaced this winter with a more potent 4-cylinder.
The current 2.5-liter 4-cylinder is hooked to a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic. The 3.0-liter V6 comes with the manual or a more flexible 5-speed automatic, as does the new V6.
The manual has been revised to shift better, and the 5-speed automatic is quieter and more responsive.
All models have a new grille, bumper and headlights, while the Edge has a new hood and wheel lip moldings. There also is increased exterior differentiation between 2- and 4-wheel-drive Ranger models.
The costlier the model, the more equipment is provided. The optional narrow step bars are designed to help entry to higher standing 4-wheel-drive and Edge 2-wheel-drive models, but those with large shoe sizes will find the bars to be mostly cosmetic.
A driver sits high in the quieter cab. The front seats are above average, while the large controls are easy to use. The new available 6-disc in-dash CD player is nifty, and an Edge model I drove was loaded with enough gauges to satisfy a classic sports-car buff.
Good Road Manners
The new V6 delivers strong acceleration, although it doesn't make the Ranger a hot rod. Handling is fine, as are off-road abilities. The steering is almost too light, but is quick and provides good road feel. The ride is smooth for a compact pickup, due partly to a revised suspension, although bad bumps cause the rear end to jiggle.
The anti-lock brakes have electronic brake force distribution, which adjusts rear brake pressure according to vehicle load for the best stopping distances. That's a good feature for a pickup because weight over the rear wheels can vary considerably and make stopping a bit dicey.
The new Ranger is significantly improved. But extended-cab models need four car-like doors to make them truly competitive.