The Car Connection Ford Ranger Overview
You're looking at the definition of tenacity: years after many folks in the auto industry predicted its demise, the Ford Ranger soldiered on in the company's truck lineup, the junior partner to Ford's massively popular F-150 lineup. It's finally gone--maybe--but not without a fight.
The Ranger is a two- or four-door pickup truck, with compact-truck capability. It can seat five, but it's not a conventional four-door like the Nissan Frontier or Toyota Tacoma or Dodge Dakota. Its rear doors are more like access panels, hinged at the rear, quite small, and allow access to a small cargo area behind the front seats--or to a pair of small emergency jump seats.
The Ranger dates back a long way in the Ford archives. The nameplate was affixed to some Ford F-Series pickup trucks in the 1960s, but in 1983 it was split off and applied to a new compact truck with a six-foot-and-smaller pickup bed. That first-generation Ranger lived off its inexpensive, reliable reputation through a model changeover in 1989, until a new Ranger was introduced in 1993.
The third generation Ranger, sold from 1993-1997, offered a relatively weak four-cylinder engine option, supplanted by either a 3.0-liter V-6 or a 4.0-liter V-6 later in its life. A five-speed manual came on base versions--sometimes called "bug trucks," since exterminators loved the stripped Ranger painted in white--and a four-speed automatic was an option. A five-speed automatic was added later in this generation, as were dual front airbags and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. This Ranger also offered a stylish Splash edition, with a sculpted set of fenders on its bed, and four-wheel drive.
A Mazda B-Series spinoff was sold from 1993 to 2009, and was essentially the same truck as the Ranger, with mainly cosmetic and packaging differences. It was canceled for the 2010 model year.
Ford put much energy into the early years of the fourth-generation Ranger, which remains on sale today. Introduced in 1998, the Ranger added some wheelbase length, saw its four-cylinder and larger six-cylinder engines upgraded to overhead-cam designs, and added flex-fuel capability to the middle-brow, overhead-valve 3.0-liter V-6. This Ranger was typically well-received and earned a reputation for reliability over its lifespan. It also improved on its reputation for a hard ride, thanks to a new independent front suspension. Though it remained, for all passenger purposes, a two-door, the Ranger was spun into popular off-road and city-commuter versions that extended its lifespan much longer than anyone--even Ford--anticipated.
The current Ford Ranger can rightfully be called outdated, but Ford has updated it meaningfully with side airbags. Its four-cylinder engine can deliver up to 26 mpg on the highway; the V-6 engine is powerful enough to be shared with the Explorer Sport Trac. However, though it's added stability control, the Ranger still doesn't offer curtain airbags, and crash ratings are mediocre--though not as poor as its true competition, the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon.
In all, the Ranger remains a decent choice for those simply needing a very basic work truck, without much acceleration or without the ability to haul a 4x8 sheet of plywood. For anyone with tougher chores in mind, the mid-size Nissan Frontier is our choice in that class; and the Dodge Ram is our pick among full-size pickups.
Ford ended production of the Ranger with the 2011 model year. A replacement for other world markets is coming, but plans for a new U.S. Ranger haven't been confirmed.