The Ranger outsells every other compact pick up, both domestic and foreign, and has been the best selling compact pickup in America for more than 16 years running. A pickup doesn't get that kind of repeat customer unless it really has something to sell, and the Ford Ranger has it in abundance. It doesn't matter if you use your pickup as a simple daily driver, a rugged workhorse, an off-road toy or a shiny accessory, the Ranger can do it all.
For 2004, Ford has freshened the Ranger's look, with a more angular front grille and headlamp treatment and new raised power dome hood. The look brings the Ranger more inline with the new F150's bold and boxy look, maintaining the all-important family resemblance between the two truck lines. Changes also appear inside the cab, with a new F-150-style four-spoke steering wheel and upgraded fabric on models equipped with cloth seats.
The Ranger models remain basically unchanged from last year. You can order your Ranger in either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, as a Regular or Super Cab and with the standard Styleside or the more retro Flareside configurations. Ford offers only one extended wheelbase model with a seven-foot bed: the Regular Cab Styleside. All other trucks feature a six-foot bed with quick-release tailgate.
To keep the base truck affordable, Ford equips it with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. This engine was introduced last year and exhibits good acceleration so long as the Ranger is not loaded down with a heavy objects. The five-speed manual is hardly slick shifting, but the Ranger is a pickup after all, so the long throws and tall shift stalk seem appropriate for the genre. For those who do serious off-roading, towing or just like the feel of a V6, Ford offers a choice of two. First up is a 3.0-liter V6 that produces 154 horsepower. Though this engine offers only 11 more horses than the 2.3-liter, you'll find it provides a significant boost in torque. The 3.0 is also a flexible fuel engine meaning it can run on gasoline or on gasoline/alternative mixtures like ethanol.
The real meat and potatoes for the Ranger are provided by the 4.0-liter V6 that produces 207 horsepower and 238 lb-ft. of torque. If you are going with a V6, we highly encourage you to get the 4.0-liter, which will add about $700 to the price of most trims. With the 4.0-liter engine nestled snuggly under the hood, the Ranger can charge onto freeways, pass slower moving cars without trepidation and muscle through the deepest snow and mud. It also provides the best tow ratings of 5860-pounds (4.0 with the 3.55 rear end.)
The Ranger's handling and road manners have been improved this year through a series of suspension changes that include stiffer bushings, springs and shocks. You can feel the difference, especially when traveling over uneven or washboard roads. The Ranger's rear end does not bounce around as much as it used to and the steering response remains firm.
For those of you who spend more time in the dirt than on the asphalt, you'll love the Ranger's generous ground clearance and short front and rear overhang. When equipped with the FX4 off-road package, the Ranger becomes king of all that is unpaved. We found that on several off-road trips through the deserts of Southern California, we didn't even need to engage the four-wheel drive when skirting sandy roads and dried mud flats. Only when it came time to climb over basketball-sized rocks and inclines so steep as to appear near vertical did we reach for the little 4x4 button on the dash.
As for the Ranger's interior accommodations, you'll find them more than adequate for six-footers. Though the Super Cab models do have a set of folding rear jump seats, you really wouldn't want to put anyone you liked back there for more than just a short jaunt; the extra space behind the front seats is best suited to storing valuables that cannot be left in the open bed. The Ranger's front seats, on the other hand, are first rate with tall backs to protect your neck and head and firm foam that helps to keep your legs from falling asleep. You'll find the dash to be logically laid out, with the heating and audio controls within easy reach. There are also loads of storage spaces in the door-mounted pockets, the folding-center-console armrest and the large glove box. You'll appreciate the passenger-side airbag cutoff, useful for when you have a baby seat or small child as your passenger.
If you're looking for more than just a work truck, the Ranger offers a number of trim levels to suit just about anyone's taste. The Edge trim adds the 3.0-liter V6, power windows and door locks, a CD/MP3 player, body-color front and rear-step bumpers and five-spoke cast aluminum wheels. The Tremor adds a five-speed automatic, 510-watt Pioneer audio system, 16-inch alloy wheels, tilt-wheel, bed extender and bed liner, sliding rear window and sport seats. The luxury-oriented XLT offers the option of leather seating and the FX4 Level II off-road package that adds Bilstein gas shocks, a Torsen limited-slip differential, front tow hooks and skid plating.