When the current Ford Ranger began its life in 1992, it cast a large footprint in the market. Its initial advantages in size over the truly compact competitors gave it an edge, but that was soon tempered by concessions in refinement as fresh competition rolled out by the mid-1990s. Since then, the Ranger has been treated to several minor cosmetic and feature updates, with the key mechanical change coming in 1998 in the form of a suspension alteration.
The continued, slow-paced evolution sees a minor 2006 exterior freshening that masks a dated truck bred to compete with models no longer on the market. Aided by low lease payments and a devoted Ford truck nation, the Ranger has managed to remain a best seller in its class for 18 years, but don't let the numbers deceive you--best seller does not mean best product or best buy. Fresh entries into the segment by Chevrolet, Dodge, GMC, Nissan, and Toyota are all more refined, more stylish, more powerful, and in most cases, a better value.
Ford has hidden an aging platform well though periodic exterior tweaks. For 2006, the Ranger features a fresh face, with revised bumpers and a more aggressive grille that recalls the tougher, full-size F-150 and F-250 Super Duty pickups. New fender flares, parking lights, fog lamps, and taillamps continue the update. Massive, nine-inch Ford emblems on both the grille and tailgate further distinguish the '06 model.
The Ranger is offered in two cab configurations, standard and SuperCab (a.k.a. extended cab), the latter offered with a choice of two or four doors. There are two bed-length choices, six and seven feet, with availability on the longer cargo box limited to regular-cab XL and XLT trims. Unlike every competitor, the Ranger doesn't have a crew-cab option.
Options now include a choice of two different 15-inch Alcoa forged aluminum wheels, body-color side moldings, expanded Bright Appearance Package, new Bright Trim Package, and new XLT 4x2 Appearance Package. A slight trim reorientation sees the FX4/Off-Road package now available in two-door, as well as four-door SuperCab. The Ranger Edge is now called Ranger Sport. Three new colors have been added to the palette: Screaming Yellow Clearcoat, Torch Red Clearcoat, and Redfire Clearcoat Metallic.
Last year's Tremor package continues, taking the Ranger to the street with "hot wheels and cool tunes" in the form of 16-inch aluminum wheels and a 510-watt Pioneer sound system featuring a 10-inch subwoofer. But despite Ford's best attempts to be hip, the Chevrolet Colorado Xtreme and ultra-cool Toyota Tacoma X-Runner are far more exciting street trucks.
Inside, Ford hasn't done quite so well at creating a facade of freshness. Door panels, dash design, and a sad little column shifter date back to the 1990s, although a modern steering wheel, a freshened gauge cluster, and thumping stereos attempt to keep the truck up-to-date. A bench seat comes standard for traditional truck cruising, but sport buckets are an option, as are leather seating and a leather steering wheel.
Stereos range from the standard AM/FM clock radio in the base model XL to a 290-watt Pioneer MP3/CD player with five speakers, which can be upgraded with the Tremor package to include a 510-watt amplifier and 10-inch subwoofer.The regular cab with a bench seat can fit three for short rides, but taller drivers will find that the SuperCab allows the front seat to travel farther aft for more legroom. Although the SuperCab can fit two extra passengers in the back, the small jump seats are cramped and uncomfortable and should be used for only limited distances or small children. Anyone seeking real comfort for four passengers should look at trucks with crew-cab or full-size extended-cab configurations.
With this aging truck comes an antiquated idea of what constitutes adequate safety. While four-wheel anti-lock brakes and legislated dual front airbags are standard, protection systems such as side airbags, traction control, and stability control aren't available. (Most competing pickups offer all these safety aids.) LATCH child-seat mounts are provided in the front seat on all models.
Ranger buyers are offered the choice of three different engines: The smallest and cheapest is a 2.3-liter dual-overhead-cam inline-four making 143 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of torque--slightly less power than a 2.3-liter Ford Focus. Also claiming a horsepower figure lower than the 151-hp Focus is Ford's 3.0-liter pushrod V-6, the next step up the Ranger powertrain line. The smaller of two available sixes is rated at only 148 hp and 180 lb-ft. This mid-level engine is weaker than any other base engine in the class, with the next weakest powertrain in the segment being the 2.7-liter-equipped Toyota Tacoma, rated at 164 hp and 183 lb-ft. However, the Toyota engine is much more refined and smooth than the Ranger's 3.0-liter.
While the top-of-the-line 4.0-liter/207-hp SOHC V-6 is more competitive with other small-truck V-6s, it also is too rough and unrefined to be taken seriously. Besides, Dodge, Nissan, and Toyota offer 260, 255, and 245 hp, respectively. The 4.0L Ranger's 5,580-pound maximum towing capacity is respectable compared with those of the five-cylinder Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, but again, it pales in comparison to the capacities offered by the other segment players. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with each engine; a five-speed automatic is optional.
Without considering any other small pickup, the Ranger is exactly what it needs to be. It hauls loads of wood or dirt, can tow more than 5,500 pounds, and drives like a truck, with a stiff, rough ride, loud engine, and poor chassis dynamics. When driven after any newer offering, it quickly becomes obvious that the Ranger dates back to a time before pickups migrated toward the mainstream; today, buyers are looking for more carlike handling, comfortable ride, four full-size doors, and quiet engines. The Ranger offers none of these attributes. The manual transmission is clunky, the engine choices are rough, and steering is over-boosted and dull.
The main advantages of buying a Ranger are low price and durability. The fact that the truck has gone unchanged mechanically for so long means that Ford has corrected most issues with the engine, suspension, and other systems, making for a truck that should last for the long haul. The lack of redesign also means that engineering costs have long ago been amortized, so good deals abound and leases are dirt cheap. The Ranger is perfect for small businesses in need of an inexpensive cargo mover, which helps explain why the truck continues to sell in large numbers.
Anyone who needs to carry a whole family with a pickup should look toward crew cabs or full-size trucks with extended cabs; the Ranger is simply too small to carry more than two comfortably. If you tow, the Ranger offers a respectable capacity, but Toyota, Dodge, and Nissan all beat it by 1,000 to 1,500 pounds when properly equipped, and each of those trucks also offers more headroom, legroom, cargo space, refinement, and power. Ford's marketing machine tries to breathe life into the Ranger with words like "street smart," "versatile," and "fun-loving," but street-smart buyers would do well to look elsewhere.
A dated player in a recently revitalized market segment, the Rangers harkens back to an era when trucks were trucks and cars were cars. Today's vehicles are asked to be more versatile, earning their keep with both workday commuter and weekend adventure abilities. The Ranger is classic, without any of the charm the term implies.
Mildly freshened exterior Dirt-ready FX4 packages Tremor package for on-road style
Old, unrefined engines People room and comfort Work truck chassis dynamics and safety
Treated to yet another mild freshening, the Ranger features a number of modest exterior updates to keep its appearance in line with Ford's full-size pickups. New colors are available, and a few detail tweaks are made across the line.
The 4.0-liter V-6 is essential, and aluminum wheels and a booming Pioneer stereo dress up this otherwise dowdy machine.