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A Look Back at the Ford Ranger

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author photo by Joe Tralongo September 2015

Rumors are swirling fast and furious that Ford is set to re-enter the compact pickup market in 2018 with an all-new Ford Ranger. Of course, the term "compact pickup" really no longer applies, as similar models from GM and Toyota have ballooned into three-quarter representations of their full-size big brothers. Still, there was a time in this country when small pickups were all the rage, and Ford's Ranger led the pack.

The Humble Beginnings

The Ranger debuted in 1983 as a replacement for Ford's Mazda-built Courier truck. Designed and built by Ford in the US, the Ranger was an immediate success. Looking like a full-size F-150 left in the dryer too long, the little Ranger proved a competent and capable pickup. Initially, the Ranger was offered with a rather anemic set of 4-cylinder gasoline engines and one 4-cylinder diesel engine. Output for the diesel was rated at 59 horsepower, while the 2.0-liter and 2.3-liter gasoline engines pumped out 72 hp and 82 hp, respectively. In 1984, a 115 hp V6 was introduced, along with more upscale trims. Both 2- and 4-wheel drive (4WD) models were offered as well as 6-foot or 7-foot beds. By 1985, a 5-speed manual became standard and a revised fuel-injected 2.3-liter engine replaced the previous carbureted version. The company made improvements to the bed and frame, using more corrosion resistant metals and improving the patented twin I-beam front suspension. Sales for 1985 topped 230,000 units.

The Super Cab model was added in 1986, which provided a small storage space behind the front seats and could be ordered with folding jump seats. A more powerful 140 hp 2.9-liter V6 replaced the previous 2.8-liter engine, and a new electronic "shift-on-the-fly" system was introduced for 4WD models. The following two years brought more new trims, a more capable off-road edition and a rarely ordered turbocharged diesel engine option.

A New Era Brings Changes

Ford made the first major revision to the Ranger lineup in 1989, with a new front face, new interior, new dashboard and more features. The 2.3-liter engine was overhauled, incorporating a twin-spark plug design and electronic ignition, bumping output to 100 hp. Also new were rear anti-lock brakes and an available 21-gallon fuel tank. In 1990, the Ranger received a new 4.0-liter V6 option rated at 160 hp. The Ranger lineup continued to flourish in 1992, adding the 2.3-liter engine to all 4WD models and bringing more features to the STX and XLT trims.

The 1993 model was the second generation Ranger, touting a more aerodynamic shape with rounded edges and flush side glass. A flareside configuration was offered on a new sporty trim dubbed the Splash. Also new was a revised steering column turn signal stalk that included the wiper controls. In 1994, Mazda got its own version of the popular Ford Ranger, rebadged as the B-Series.

In 1995, the Ford Ranger received a driver's airbag, a new double-DIN radio, an available 6-way power driver's seat for Super Cab model and, on models with the 4.0-liter V6, standard anti-lock rear brakes. In 1996, a passenger side airbag was added complete with cut-off switch. For 1997, the automaker gave the vehicle the first 5-speed automatic transmission in a compact pickup, as well as more options for lower trim vehicles and the expansion of the flareside option to all models.

The 1998 model would mark the third and final generation for the Ford Ranger.

The Penultimate Model

Ford kicked off the party with a larger 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and improved 3.0-liter V6. The Ranger's wheelbase was stretched 3.6 inches allowing for a larger cabin. Underneath, the twin I-beam setup was dropped in favor of torsion bars and coil springs for improved ride and handling. A little known electric Ranger was also produced.

By 2000, the Ranger was clipping along at a strong pace with sales hovering around 330,000 units. Of course, the Ranger was facing stiff competition by now. In 1998, Dodge introduced its midsized Dakota pickup, which offered more room and power than the Ranger. Similarly, the Toyota Tacoma began to grow larger, with more features and power. By 2001, the Tacoma offered a full range including a crew cab model. But Ford seemed unfazed, assuming buyers who needed that much interior space would simply look to the full-size F-150.

In 2002, the company had a rugged FX4 off-road model added, and a new Mazda-sourced 2.3-liter 4-cylinder. At 148, the 4-cylinder's hp was equal to that of the 3.0-liter V6, although the V6 still offered more torque.

The Ranger continued relatively unchanged for the remainder of its run. Engine output and fuel economy were tweaked along the way, as were options and packages, but the Ranger began to see sales slide between 2000 and 2005. By 2009, an economic downturn coupled with a shrinking demand for compact trucks seemed to spell the Ranger's end. Ford had initially talked about plans for a new model for 2012, but the success of the EcoBoost F-150 seemed to have killed the idea and the Ranger was simply allowed to run out the clock. The last Ranger rolled off the assembly line in 2011, with sales that year totaling a dismal 70,832 pickups.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
A Look Back at the Ford Ranger - Autotrader