America's best-selling compact pickup gains a new off-road-oriented model and an additional audio choice for 2002. Ranger offers regular-cab and extended SuperCab body styles. SuperCabs have two rear fold-down jump seats and available back-hinged rear doors. Regular cabs use a 6- or 7-ft straight-side cargo bed; SuperCabs get the 6-ft version. A 6-ft flare-fender Flareside bed is optional. Engine choices include a 2.3-liter 4 cyl and V6s of 3.0 and 4.0 liters. All use manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. Ranger has rear-wheel drive or 4WD that must be disengaged on dry pavement but includes low-range gearing. Four-wheel ABS is standard. New for '02 is the XLT FX4 off-road model with 4WD, heavy-duty suspension, 31-inch tires, heftier skid plate, and tow hooks. Also new is an available MP3/CD audio system. Introduced midyear were Tremor SuperCabs with a high-powered cassette/CD system. Ranger's design is also used by the Mazda Truck--formerly called the Mazda B-Series--but the two differ slightly in styling and available features. And offered through Ford dealers is the SLP Thunderbolt Ranger, a 2WD XLT SuperCab modified by SLP Engineering of Troy, Mich. Available with the Thunderbolt package are cosmetic trim items, sporty suspension revisions, and tuning that adds 10 hp to the 3.0 V6 and 15 hp to the 4.0.
Competition Among compact pickups two vehicles really stand out: The Dodge Dakota and the Ford Ranger (and clone Mazda Truck). Dakota is the only one to offer a V8 engine, full-time 4WD, and near-full-size cargo and towing capacity. Ranger is the most refined and probably the best daily use vehicle.
This year we are limiting our Recommended choice to the Toyota Tacoma. It's every bit as good as the Ranger in daily use, just a tad more expensive.
News Ranger's calendar-2000 sales dipped 5 percent from the '99 tally to 330,125, though that was still 56-percent ahead of class runner-up Chevy S-10. Since then, of course, things have gotten much worse for the market in general and Ford in particular. Ranger sales reflected that by dropping a sharp 21 percent in the first three quarters of 2001.
A redesigned Ranger had been slated for 2003, but some sources now say this may be delayed to model-year 2005 or '06, due to Ford Motor Company's many recent troubles. Whenever it appears, the next Ranger will reportedly use a somewhat wider new platform, which implies a slightly larger Ford compact truck with room enough for a possible first-ever V8 option.