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.