Her mood changed when she heard that the Ford Ranger pickup was coming home. She became chatty, perky. She stayed up past her normal bedtime to watch the weather report at the end of 11 p.m. News. "Bright, sunny weekend weather," the weatherman said. "Unusually warm for October." This made her practically unbearable. "You did say `pickup,' right?," she asked. I mumbled in affirmation, and went to sleep. This was Thursday night. The 1998 Ranger XLT 4x4 SuperCab arrived Friday. It was green with a gray cloth interior. It had a pleasantly molded instrument panel, the most notable portion of which was an "on-off" switch to control the passenger-side air bag. "On" meant the air bag was operable. "Off" meant it wouldn't deploy in a frontal crash. In the rear of the cabin were two fold-up jump seats, mounted on either side of the cabin wall. These appeared too small to carry anything meaningful, such as an adult body or a baby's safety seat. No matter. She was interested in the cargo bed. "Oh, this'll do. This'll do just fine," she said. "For what?" I asked. She evaded the question with a question. "Are the Redskins playing tomorrow?" she asked. "Tomorrow's Saturday," I said tersely, irritated, because I knew that she knew darned well that the Redskins were playing Sunday. "Oh, that means you're free, then?" she asked. "To do what?" I countered. "To go to the mulch pile," she said. "You can test the truck in four-wheel-drive, and see how it handles under a load." Background: Ford Rangers were made for mulch piles, and almost any other work site where the maneuverability of a compact pickup is an asset. But over the years, Ford Rangers, like pickups of all types, have been used more to haul people than stuff. This was a peculiar turn of events, one that created a big marketing challenge for automakers. To wit: How do you make a pickup more like a car without destroying its essence as a pickup? Some automakerswent overboard. They gussied up the interiors of their pickups, softened the exterior styling and softened the ride, making them practically useless for dirty work. Ford took a moderate approach with the Ranger. It plushed-up the interior a bit. For example, the test truck came with cup holders and a premium stereo system. But Ford didn't turn the Ranger into a wimp. It's still one tough little truck, with a body that has been made more resistant to twisting and squeaking for 1998. And to make sure that no one mistakes the Ranger 4x4 XLT for a wuss, Ford gave the 1998 model a more rugged-looking grille and added tow hooks (two in the front and another in the rear). Real pickups have tow hooks, see. Anyway, Ford also did some meaningful stuff, such as adding what it calls Pulse Vacuum Hublocks (PVH), the company's new, patented 4x4 system designed to facilitate shifting in and out of four-wheel drive at virtually any speed. Ride and handling have been improved a bit, thanks t o a new suspension system employing torsion bars in the 4x4 model. The ride is smoother, but not so much so that you can mistake the Ranger for anything except a truck. The standard engine in the 4x4 model is Ford's 3-liter, 150-horsepower Vulcan V-6. But the test truck was equipped with an optional 4-liter, electronically fuel-injected V-6, which can produce 160 horsepower at 4,200 rpm and 225 pound-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. An electronically controlled four-speed automatic with overdrive is optional. Rangers are available in two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive, Regular or SuperCab, and can be equipped with short (71.8 inches) or long (83.8 inches) cargo beds. 1998 Ranger XLT 4x4 SuperCab Complaints: Useless jump seats. I wouldn't put anyone in them. The rear cabin is for cargo, not people. Praise: A workhorse of a little truck. Flip-switch ease four-wheel drive, including four-wheel-low. It handles wel under load, and is quite sure-footed in the mud and mush and other off-road applications. Ride, acceleration and handling: The Ranger offers better ride and handling with a load than it does without one. Sans load, ride is bumpy and rear-end handling is dicey in curves. No such problems with a load. Excellent acceleration with or without load. Excellent braking all around (power front discs/rear drums with anti-lock backup on test truck). Head-turning quotient: No big whoops. It's a truck. Mileage: Estimated 17 miles per gallon overall (20-gallon fuel tank, estimated 330-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded), combined city-highway, running with two occupants and cargo loads ranging from 500-to-1000 pounds. Price: Base price is $18,780. Dealer's invoice on base model is $16,886. Price as tested is $20,940, including $1,650 in options and a $519 destination charge. Purse-strings note: Very good value. Compare with Mazda B-Series pickups, Dodge Dakota, Chevrolet/GMC S-Series pickups, and compact pickups from Toyota and Nissan.
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||June 19, 1998|
|Frank Swoboda||washingtonpost.com||June 8, 1998|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||March 12, 1998|
|Terry Jackson||The Miami Herald||February 12, 1998|
|Tony Swan||Detroit Newspapers||November 20, 1997|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||October 24, 1997|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||October 17, 1997|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||August 31, 1997|
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