Despite advancements in vehicle technology, packaging and design, there are some machines that buck the trend, clinging to the philosophy that simpler is better and that a lack of change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In truck circles, one of the best examples is the Ford Ranger.
|1. All North American Rangers are built at Ford’s Twin Cities plant in Minnesota2. The Ranger is priced from $17,440 to $21,925. |
3. Two engine’s are available, a 2.3L 4-cylinder with 143-hp and 154 ft-lbs of torque, or a 4.0L V6 with 207-hp and 238 ft-lbs.
4. 2010 standard equipment includes a class III trailer hitch as well as Advance Trac stability control, seat mounted side airbags and anti-lock brakes.
It’s been around for what seems like the beginning of time, yet the Ranger continues to defy the odds and sell consistently well. Ford has made a few changes to its evergreen small pickup for 2010, including a simplified model lineup and adding a few new features. Three different trim levels are now offered: XL, XLT and Sport (the off-road FX-4 has been discontinued), in a choice of regular or SuperCab configurations, with a six-foot bed (though a seven-foot box is available on XL, standard cab fleet order trucks).
However, perhaps in an effort to sweeten the pot, all Rangers come standard with an Advance Trac system that includes Roll Stability Control, which via a secondary gyroscopic sensor is able to actively monitor the vehicle’s roll rate through corners and keep it on the intended path. In addition, all trucks now get a standard class III hitch and Sport SuperCab models come with standard step bars.
Perhaps one of the Ranger’s biggest strengths, or weaknesses (depending on your viewpoint), is the truck’s basic design. The basic engineering has been around since 1982 and the last major update was back in 1993. That means, that by modern standards it feels rather quaint, yet rugged.
Fit and finish are decent, though perhaps not up to the standard of Ford’s more recent offerings. Inside, the cab and ergonomics are straight from the Seinfeld era, though dual front and side-mounted airbags bring things up to modern safety standards. The truck’s basic interior layout and switchgear, is simple, straightforward and easy to use, though once you’re behind the wheel, everything around you feels quite small and intimate by today’s standards. The seats are decently comfortable, though lack the bolstering found in bigger brother F-150.
SuperCab models boast a pair of rear hinging ‘doorlets’ with access to extra storage and a pair of inward facing jump seats, though as passenger perches they’re all but useless. The six-foot box offers a decent amount of cargo capacity; though don’t expect features like built in side steps or a cargo management system.
Considering the age of its basic design, you’d probably think the Ranger is as gruff and crude on the road as it’s appearance might suggest, but actually, even compared to newer and larger offerings, like the Nissan Frontier and Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon twins, it’s surprisingly refined.
Two engines are currently offered, a base 2.3-liter dual overhead cam four and a 4.0-liter SOHC V6, with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions. The 2.3-liter mill makes 143 horsepower at 5250 rpm and 154 ft-lbs at 3750 revs. It’s best teamed with the five-speed manual in order to make maximum use of its powerband and is surprisingly smooth all things considered. In terms of fuel economy, it’s virtually unbeatable in this class. With the five-speed it’s possible to achieve more than 22 miles per gallon in town and almost 28 on the open road, which betters some small cars, despite a 3.73:1 final drive ratio. The four-banger is only available on two-wheel drive trucks.
The step up engine, the 4.0-liter V6, is the same as found in the base Mustang, but tuned differently. In Ranger configuration, it makes 207-hp at the same rpm as the four-cylinder, but the difference is the torque – 238 ft-lbs at 3000 revolutions per minute.
With either the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, the V6 makes light work of most driving situations and is the most suitable option for towing trailers, small boats and snowmobiles, though when towing, the automatic trans sometimes tends to hunt through the gears.
In terms of four-wheeling; the V6 is your only engine choice and it works well on the rough stuff. Whether you’re creeping up hills in low range or bounding along in 4-high, it’s got plenty of power in reserve to get the job done. But the extra grunt comes at the expense of fuel economy – expect a maximum of 17/23 mpg in city/highway driving.
Skid plates are standard on XLT and Sport 4×4 models, to help prevent damage to the underbelly and ground clearance is fairly decent, even on the Sport. The 4×4 transfer case, although electronically controlled can be clunky at times, especially when going from two to four-wheel drive and in operation feels archaic by modern standards.
Despite it’s old-fashioned engineering, the Ranger doesn’t ride like you’d expect. Instead of choppiness, it’s surprisingly supple with not much rear end jitter, even with an empty bed. There’s also quite an absence of shakes and rattles, even over rough pavement. The steering is nicely weighted and quite responsive by truck standards, plus the front/disc rear drum brake setup does well under virtually all conditions, with the ABS not overtly aggressive, as is the case on many modern vehicles. Body roll is noticeable through the corners, especially on 4×4 trucks, but handling characteristics are fairly benign, with not a great deal of understeer, nor throttle induced rear sliding, thanks to the Advance Track system, which reduces throttle load to the wheels to help stop them from spinning.
Given its lack of change for many years and its small dimensions, it’s easy to write-off the Ranger on a superficial level, but that would be foolish. Although it’s been around for a long time, the Ranger is still a highly capable truck and boasts one of the lowest operating costs for any pickup on the market, plus healthy used residuals. Factor this in, along with some very attractive pricing – $17,440 for the base XL, $20,000 for a XLT SuperCab and $21,925 for the SuperCab Sport, plus heavy dealer discounting and it becomes easy to see that in the frugal days of 2010, as far as pickups go, the compact Ranger is where the smart money is.